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The Deathblow of an Unborn Child
All the passages below are taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book “A Path Through Suffering.” It was published in 1990.
Within a few hours (of fertilization) the throb of new life has spread right through the flower, with this first result, that the petals begin to wither. Fertilization marks the striking of the deathblow to all that went before.
IT IS NOT UNUSUAL FOR THOSE WHO take up the cross in the form of self-giving service and go out gladly for God, to suffer very soon some deathblow. Is it a sign that they have made a terrible mistake? Quite the opposite. It may be the harbinger of fruitbearing. The surrender of themselves and their rights, the joyful acceptance of the heavenly vision is like the flower's opening itself to receive the pollen. Lilias Trotter explains how, in the hour in which the stigma is able to grasp the pollen (blown by the wind, carried by bees or butterflies), a glutinous or velvety surface develops which grasps and holds the pollen grains. The grains in turn, with their sculptured points and ridges, lay hold at the same moment. The pollen sinks down into the innermost depths and starts a new creation. In a few hours there is the throb of new life, the protoplasm quickens the seed, and the first result is death: the petals begin to wither.
My dear friends Phil and Janet Linton (as a seminary student in 1978-79 Phil had been one of my lodgers. One day I found him and his roommate Kenny Dodd sitting on their beds wearing parkas and earmuffs, claiming that the room never got much above twenty below zero. We ran a Spartan household, I guess, but it wasn't that cold!)---in 1986 Phil and Janet were on their first furlough from North Africa where they are missionaries. On a Tuesday, three weeks before their second baby was due, Janet's doctor proclaimed all well. On Wednesday Janet became aware that the baby was not moving. That night she could not sleep. Phil prayed with her and tried to comfort her. Finally she slept a little, exhausted, but by 4:30 A.M. was awake again, holding very still, listening, waiting. She knew the baby was gone.
When the doctor's office opened the Lintons were there. He could find no heartbeat. Hospital tests confirmed that the baby was dead. A C-section was performed and the baby was placed in Phil's arms---a beautiful face, a perfect little girl with black hair.
"Through my grief as I watched him hold her tiny body and weep great sobs, his whole body shaking, I saw an incredible picture of a father's love, a father's heart.... The doctor found no explanation for her death. He assumes it was what they call a 'cord accident,' where somehow the baby crimped the cord and the blood supply was cut off.
Phil writes, "I remember standing next to Janet in the bonding room, holding Laura's body in my arms and I kissed her cheeks and talked to her, knowing she wasn't there, but asking the Holy Spirit to help me in my weakness.
"Later when I took Christopher (he was two) to visit, a sweet little gray-haired lady volunteer bent down and asked him, 'Do you have a new little brother or sister?' Christopher answered solemnly, ‘We lost our baby,' and she glanced at me with a stricken expression. I picked up Christopher and almost ran to the elevator where mercifully the closing doors gave me a few minutes to stifle my sobs and regain my composure.... I am surprised to find myself now, three and a half years later, with tears welling up in my eyes as I remember that time. Although the wound was clean and uninfected, it was deep and maybe it will always be tender."
Janet's story goes on: "Phil and Christopher could be with me at any time, and even at two, Christopher knew our hearts were broken and grieved with us. God's people showed us much love, but every step was incredibly painful, such as leaving the hospital with other mothers who had babies in their arms, then going to a clothing store for a little gown and having to explain to the salesclerk that it didn't really matter much about style because our baby was to be buried in it.
"Even though they had given me a shot to dry up the milk, it came in anyway. I had nursed Christopher and knew the deep feelings of nurturing that nursing brings and longed for Laura so much. I knew the Lord Jesus was caring for her in heaven with perfect milk or whatever she needed, but I knew that I wanted to care for her too, desperately, with all my heart and my body.
"Where in all this pain was God's love? I couldn't feel it. I was almost numb with pain. I think I wrote to you that my emotions were like a ship being tossed in a raging storm at sea. I could not feel the truth of God's love for me at that time. What it felt like was that God had dealt me a cruel blow, as with a whip. But underneath all those raging emotions the truth lay. A lifetime of knowing Him had laid a strong foundation that quietly supported me. ... I knew with my mind and heart what went deeper than my pain---that Jesus showed us once and for all what He is like and what kind of love He has for us, by dying on the Cross. And that is fact. History. Nothing, no circumstance, no matter how hard or painful can change that. He has showed us His character once and for all. Our circumstances are not the window through which we understand His love, but rather we must view our circumstances through His love.
"A second avenue of truth to my mind and heart was the blessing of having an earthly father who loves me, and who I know would never deal me a seemingly cruel blow without reason."
I wanted to write to Phil and Janet, but the loss of a child is a sorrow God has not asked me to face. I turned to Samuel Rutherford, the seventeenth-century Scottish minister, who did face it:
Grace rooteth not out the affections of a mother, but putteth them on His wheel who maketh all things new, that they may be refined; therefore sorrow for a dead child is allowed to you, though by measure and ounceweights; the redeemed of the Lord have not a dominion or lordship over their sorrow and other affections, to lavish out Christ’s goods at their pleasure.... He commandeth you to weep; and that princely One took up to heaven with Him a man’s heart to be a compassionate High Priest. The cup ye drink was at the lip of sweet Jesus, and He drank of it.... Ye are not to think it a bad bargain for your beloved daughter that she died---she hath gold for copper and brass, eternity for time. All the knot must be that she died too soon, too young, in the morning of her life; but sovereignty must silence your thoughts. I was in your condition: I had but two children, and both are dead since I came hither. The supreme and absolute Former of all things giveth not an account of any of His matters. The good Husband man may pluck His roses and gather His lilies at midsummer, and, for ought I dare say, in the beginning of the first summer month; and he may transplant young trees out of the lower ground to the higher, where they may have more of the sun and a more free air, at any season of the year. The goods are His own. The creator of time and winds did a merciful injury (if I may borrow the word) to nature in landing the passenger so early (Letters of Samuel Rutherford).
The deepest lessons come out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires. One of God's greatest gifts, parenthood, always includes the gift of suffering, that we may be humbled and our faith refined as gold in the fire. Again we are not given explanations but, to hearts open to receive it, a more precious revelation of the heart of our loving Lord.
"For the Lord will not cast off forever: but though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men" (Lamentation 3:31-33, AV).
Affliction is the opener of the understanding. The psalmist wrote, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.... I know, 0 Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me" (Psalm 119:71, 75, AV).
Occasions of desperation prepare the way for the recognition of Christ Himself, as, for example, when
- the wine ran out at a party,
- a man lay helpless for thirty-eight years,
- a violent maniac could not be restrained,
- the disciples fished all night and caught nothing,
- a baby was born blind,
- huge crowds had nothing to eat,
- a great storm came up, putting the disciples in peril,
- two sisters were left desolate when their brother died,
- a child died, a widow's only son died.
Into each situation came Jesus, bringing His love, His healing, His peace. He still comes to those who ask Him. He is still El Shaddai, the God who is enough.
And so Janet and Phil have proved Him to be. Janet's letter continues:
"How have we grown since God allowed Laura's death? We certainly have experienced the principle of 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4---being able to comfort others with His comfort. Also Romans 8:38---nothing can separate us from His love. And there is more---somehow I felt like I was able to 'grow up' in Him a little more, to know that He is so much greater than I thought He was, that His truth stands any test, and that, as Lewis says, He is not a tame lion. I learned to trust and fear and love Him better. We also have a 'treasure' in Heaven. And the Lord has given us two sweet daughters since then."
The place where we must meet Him today is the cross where the Lord of the Universe dealt finally with death. It is no vague and silly optimism we speak of, no false mysticism, but a bowing in humble repentance and faith at the foot of that cross. We must be crucified with Christ. That is the beginning of the new life---the deathknell and the birthpeal ringing at the same time.
The resurrection happened. We believe it. We bank all our hopes on it. Jesus is alive. And yet ... and yet we sorrow. There is no incongruity between the human tears and the pure joy of the presence of Christ---He wept human tears too. Nor is there sin in grieving, provided we do not give way to it and begin to pity ourselves. It is still appointed unto man once to die, and those who are left must grieve, yet not as those without hope. Resurrection is a fact. There would be no Easter and no basis for Christian faith without it. Hence there is no situation so hopeless, no horizon so black, that God cannot there "find His glory."
Crown Him the Son of God
Before the worlds began,
And ye who tread where He hath trod,
Crown Him the Son of man;
who every grief hath known
that wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own,
that all in Him may rest (Matthew Bridges). [123-129]
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