The funeral of a still-born child – a pastor’s potential dilemma

It is generally accepted that personhood starts with a baby’s first breath. In the beginning ‘the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground’ physically; then ‘He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person(Genesis 2:7 New Living Translation). However, comments about three other significant Bible persons could cause theologians to raise an eyebrow, chew the ends of their pencils and query their assumption.

King David

In Psalm 139:13-18 NLT) David waxed eloquent on the wonder about his own foetal formation in his mother’s womb. He sang:

‘You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvellous – how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

‘How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered. I can’t count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up you are still with me!’

How awesome we find the experience of just gazing at a newborn’s finger nails! Maybe some such experience set David’s worshipping thoughts rocketing Godward. And, feeling so humbled, he begged his Maker: ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life’ (Psalm 139:23-24).

And how about Psalm 51, his song of pardon and purification after he owned up to his dual capital offences of adultery with Uriah’s wife followed by his arranging for Uriah’s guaranteed death in battle? When his lust subsided and his conscience revived he not only confessed his gross acts of sin but felt so corrupt that he reckoned he had been conceived in his mother’s womb as a no-hope sinner. He wrote:

‘Lord, I have been a sinner from birth, from the moment my mother conceived me. I know that you delight to set your truth deep in my spirit. So come into the hidden places of my heart and teach me wisdom’ (Psalm 51:5-6 The Passion Translation). Was David here stating a theological dogma of “original sin” or using a poetic metaphor, as when the composers of other sacred songs envisaged that ‘the trees of the field [would] clap their hands!’ (Isaiah 55:12)?

In that psalm he went on to pray for:

  • a clean heart newly created (10a);
  • a willing spirit to obey God (10b);
  • restored passion for obeying the Lord (12). Then
  • other guilty ones will find their way back home (13)

He probably revisited Psalm 23 after the illness and death of his illegitimate son borne by Uriah’s widow Bathsheba – a song which he surely composed in his boyhood while tending his father’s flock. ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me [correcting my wandering], your rod and your staff, they comfort me’ (Psalm 23:4, English Standard Version). That was all true for David because of what he had affirmed in verse 1, ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’

Jeremiah – God’s pre-birth involvement

The prophet Jeremiah may be famous for his expression s of exasperations with his fellow Jews, and therefore he was tempted to view his long ministry with disappointment. But God had assured him from the get-go of his pre-conception, pre-birth purposeful plans. See Jeremiah 1:5-8,

(1) I knew you,

(2) I set you apart,

(3) I appointed you as my prophet to the nations,

(4) I (then) formed you, after which,

(5) you were born. Now

(6) I am sending you, and

(6) I tell you to go and tell . . .

(8) I will be with you and I will protect you.

John the Baptist’s pre-birth spiritual ecstasy

When Mary, newly pregnant with her son Jesus, ‘entered the house [of John the Baptist’s parents] and ‘greeted Elizabeth’ [a semester or so into her own pregnancy], ‘at the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit’ and confirmed the angel Gabriel’s promise to her blessed virgin relative (see Luke 2:26-44). Elizabeth added, ‘When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy!

The exalted Jesus still cares today for the unborn and pleads for infants, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children’ (Matthew 19:14). As the good shepherd, ‘He will carry the lambs in his arms’ (Isaiah 40:11).

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