Then I would still have this consolation – my joy in unrelenting pain – that I had not denied the words of the Holy One. – Job 6:10
When a child suffers and dies, it is the mother who (apart from the child) feels the pain most deeply. I have experienced this personally in my life. Two of my sisters died in infancy, and though I never saw them alive, I know what need their sickness and death brought to both of my parents, especially to my mother.
My wife and I lost a granddaughter at the age of one month. She had Trisomy 13, and though she did not live long, she affected thousands of people and moves hearts still today. A poem written about her by one of my other granddaughters says it best:
Though her little life was short, the light did not die out –
It melted all our hearts and now we can shout;
Our hearts are opened wide to the message of the child:
Jesus will come again, Amen.
Anyone who has been at the bedside of a dying child will know what I mean when I speak of the fight for life that goes on in each soul and body. This fight is independent of the parents' longing for the child to live; it is independent even of the child's own waiting and longing to be released from pain.
This tenacious will to live is in every person, not only in children. It is even present in the elderly. They may be on the threshold of eternity, completely ready to go, praying for God to free them from their misery. Yet when their time comes – even when the body has begun to shut down – it is still hard to let go of life.
God is with every child who suffers. Often this may seem too difficult, even impossible, to believe. Why should my child, why should we, have to bear the burden of pain? Why does God give us a child to love and then take it away from us again? How can our grief possibly serve any purpose?
Even though no one can answer such deep questions satisfactorily, we know that none of us is exempt from suffering. If we can accept this, even without understanding it, we will find peace and meaning in it. At the very least we should be able to see that suffering can point us to God and to compassion for others.
More than adults, children often have a natural inclination to faith, because they are so close to God. When we experience such faith, we should be careful not to hinder it, but nurture it so that it may become a foundation on which future storms can be faced. My father writes:
Children are closer than anyone else to the heart of Jesus, and he points to them as an example for us. The fact that children have to suffer is very strange. It is as if they are bearing someone else's guilt, as if they are suffering because of the fall of creation. In a way they seem to be paying the wages of sin – even though it is sin in which they have taken no active part as yet. Perhaps the suffering of children has a close connection with the greatest suffering ever endured: God's suffering, Christ's suffering for lost creation. Therefore the suffering of a child always has deep significance.
In a world which aims to avoid suffering at all cost, we can never forget that it was through suffering that Christ redeemed the world. Seen in this way, suffering can change us and deepen our belief. Without faith, it can make us bitter, but with faith it can save us – even when it is hard to bear.
From Why Children Matter by Johann Christoph Arnold.