Asked by a retired Baptist minister if I had any insights to help him conduct a funeral of a still-born baby prompted me to track down my notes of a message I had delivered decades ago at the funeral of a baby boy of only six months, whom we will call ‘Desmond’ The church leaders felt they would be ‘swimming out of their depth’ and invited me to join them for the occasion. I hardly knew the parents and their other three children and, if my memory is correct, Desmond’s conception had been the result of a moral lapse by his mother. Her husband forgave her and agreed to accept the child as his own months before his birth, and they gave their lives to Christ and joined the church where godly Grandma was a member. Here is the message I gave the mourners.
2 Samuel 12:15-23, New Living Translation
‘David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin. Nevertheless, because you have shown utter contempt for the Lord by doing this, your child will die.”
‘After Nathan returned to his home, the Lord sent a deadly illness to the child of David and Uriah’s wife. David begged God to spare the child. He went without food and lay all night on the bare ground. The elders of the household pleaded with him to get up and eat with them, but he refused.
‘Then on the seventh day the child died. David’s advisers were afraid to tell him. “He wouldn’t listen to reason while the child was ill,” they said. “What drastic thing will he do when we tell him the child is dead?”
‘When David saw them whispering, he realised what had happened. “Is the child dead?” he asked. “Yes”, they replied, “he is dead.”
‘Then David got up from the ground, washed himself, put on lotions, and changed his clothes. He went to the Tabernacle and worshipped the Lord. After that, he returned to the palace and was served food and ate.
‘His advisers were amazed. “We don’t understand you,” they told him. “While the child was still living, you wept and refused to eat. But now that the child is dead, you have stopped your mourning and are eating again.”
‘David replied, “I fasted and wept while the child was alive, for I said, ‘Perhaps the Lord will be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But why should I fast when he is dead? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him one day, but he cannot return to me.”‘
David recognised four lessons about this infant son:-
A loan had been recalled
Desmond’s mother said to her other children, ‘Let’s thank Jesus for letting us borrow him for six months.’ When all is said and done, all our children are only on loan to us – as are all our other family members and friends. It was a lesson that Moses’ mother was told directly by Pharoah’s daughter who had found him in his little water-proofed basket in her bathing pool on the river Nile. She said, ‘Take this baby and nurse him for me.’ (Exodus 2:9).
- A mission accomplished
David realised that this particular child had brought him into a rich awareness of God’s grace. He had been conceived through adultery – and not all adultery results in a child! David could then have covered his illicit lust-inspired tracks, as Bathsheba’s husband was away from home on military duty. Nowadays David could have murdered the foetus instead of Uriah! I personally thank God that, conceived out of wedlock, I had not been aborted in the womb when my mother discovered that I was expected.
David learned: conviction of sin; the peace of God’s pardon; and relief from fear, guilt, anger and resentment. And since baby Desmond’s work was now completed on such matters, he could ‘go home’ early.
- A door firmly closed
This was good news for David back then and for us who were currently mourning. David would attend no séances for he testified, ‘he cannot return to me.’ After all, he knew that King Saul his predecessor had been to a medium to try to contact his departed adviser Samuel. The medium could only normally conj our up familiar spirits. She got a horrid shock at this séance! Such illicit practices lead to despair and nervous breakdowns and, in Saul’s case, suicide (see 1 Samuel chapters 28 and 31).
We can grow mature through a variety of bereavements; as when our teenaged offspring go off to college, or get married and emigrate, or we retire from work and become pensioners.
- The assurance of hope
‘I will go to him one day,’ said David, who knew assuredly that ‘I will live in the house of the Lord forever’ (Psalm 23:6)
The following epitaph graces a tombstone in a cemetery in St Andrews, Scotland”:
‘Pause and consider as you pass by;
Beneath this stone three infants’ ashes lie.
Say, are they lost or saved?
If death’s by sin, they’ve sinned for they are here.
If heaven’s by works, in heaven they can’t appear.
Ah! reason how depraved.
Turn to the Bible’s sacred page – the knot’s untied:
They died for Adam sinned;
They live for Jesus died.’
‘Desmond,’ I affirmed at the funeral, ‘is very much “at home” today. As Jesus said, each child has an angel answering on its behalf in the presence of his heavenly Father (see Matthew 18:10) And we can be certain those angels are not sucking celestial dummies and waving heavenly rattles!