Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer (Romans 12:12 NET).
Two days ago, Aimee and I sat within the four walls of a Restland Memorial Park meeting room in order to approve the design on Hadlee and Jaxon’s burial marker.
We wake up each morning faced with the reality that two people who should be growing inside of Aimee (at what would be almost 22 weeks) are gone. There are two members of our family that we were never able to get to know.
I feel that I mainly grieve over not getting to know my daughter, Hadlee, and my son, Jaxon. Everyone is born; everyone dies, but most people are able to be “known.” What are Hadlee and Jaxon like? What is unique about their personalities, gifts and abilities? What joys would they have shared with us, and what tragedies would we have shared with them? We were with them in their conceptions, their births, and their deaths. We miss and grieve not having life with them.
So, where is the hope in which I am to rejoice? Of course, we endure in suffering, and of course, we persist in prayer. Even the pagan might squeeze out a cry for help during days of intense suffering. But where is hope for the 25 & 27-year-old couple who buries their children? Where is hope for anyone who suffers?
I told a dear friend over breakfast this week that I was surprised by way in which our local church’s worship service caused me to respond. I did not expect to be caused to hesitate so much in my thinking and in my worship. I found myself confronted with trying to reconcile the strength and love of God (in song) with the pain and questioning in my mind and heart. In a few words, I shared with this friend that I was challenged to hold fast to my homologia, that is my confession. BDAG has two glosses for this term: 1) the expression of allegiance as an action (see 2 Corinthians 9:13), and 2) the statement of allegiance, as content of an action (see 1 Timothy 6:12). In my inability to reconcile my understanding of who God is and my experience, I am challenged as to whether or not I will remain in allegiance to the triune God and his way or to revoke my allegiance. I am choosing by the aid of the Spirit to hold to my allegiance to God and the gospel of his Son, Jesus Christ even though I struggle to reconcile his goodness, his power and his love with Death’s “freedom” to enter in and cripple me and my wife.
There is a theological issue that has helped me to maintain my confession. Many times, Aimee and I have discussed the eternal destiny of infants – both before and after Hadlee and Jaxon’s deaths. She has always stood firm in her belief that God applies the work of Christ to infants by his grace and takes these little ones to be with him. I, however, was not always comfortable with this. I believed that God is gracious and that he is righteous. I felt that it was too much for me to say that in every case, God has chosen to distribute his grace because I trusted him to be righteous from which I reasoned that he is right no matter what he chooses to do regarding the eternal destiny of my children. However, through many conversations with many dear friends, I have become more confident and comfortable with believing that Hadlee and Jaxon are indeed with God and that their eternal destiny is one of blessing and joy in his presence.
Here is my confession regarding the eternal destiny of infants:
I trust God to apply the redemptive acts of Christ to infants because of who they are, because of who he is, and because of the whole of the redemptive story.
Regarding infants, a dear pastor friend brought three things to my attention when counseling with Aimee and me. First, how would infants who did not have the cognitive ability or opportunity to form thoughts about God view his justice if they found themselves in a place of eternal condemnation? Would they be able to confess that he is just and their condemnation is just? This is related to the second observation. In Revelation 20, John writes this concerning the judgment of the unrighteous dead,
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened—the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds.
The preposition kata (“according to”) is used to express “the norm according to which a judgment is rendered, or rewards or punishments are given” (BDAG). The basis for the judgment of the unrighteous are their deeds. This is consistent throughout Scripture. Hadlee and Jaxon have committed no deeds worthy of God’s judgment. Furthermore, Romans 1 condemns those who have suppressed the knowledge of God as revealed in creation. Hadlee and Jaxon were snatched away before any possible suppression of this knowledge could have occurred.
Cyprian, in his epistle to Fidus on the baptism of infants, writes,
But again, if even to the greatest sinners, and to those who had sinned much against God, when they subsequently believed, remission of sins is granted—and nobody is hindered from baptism and from grace—how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins—that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another.
While I am not necessarily an advocate for infant baptism, Cyprian defends the practice by emphasizing the personal sinlessness and purity of infants. He acknowledges that infants have inherited death and the sin of Adam, but alludes that the infant, “who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins—that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another” [italics mine].
Further, Cyprian notes that infants do nothing less than “entreat” the mercy of God,
And therefore, dearest brother, this was our opinion in council, that by us no one ought to be hindered from baptism and from the grace of God, who is merciful and kind and loving to all. Which, since it is to be observed and maintained in respect of all, we think is to be even more observed in respect of infants and newly-born persons, who on this very account deserve more from our help and from the divine mercy, that immediately, on the very beginning of their birth, lamenting and weeping, they do nothing else but entreat.
Lastly, is it possible that the song of Revelation 5:9 may speak to us in this matter?
They were singing a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals
because you were killed,
and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God
persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation [italics mine].
We often struggle with the question of those who have never heard the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. Could it be that from among those tribes and peoples, God redeemed for himself infants who knew not the world but only the afterlife? I know I am speculating and perhaps not dealing enough with the range of meaning for “tribe” and/or “people,” but it seems possible.
Returning to God, the salvation of infants is not inconsistent with his righteousness or any attribute found in his character. Actually, having known God for eight years now, I find it much more difficult to affirm the alternative. While his righteousness is not bound to the salvation of infants, it certainly is not opposed to it; therefore, considering his grace, his mercy, his kindness, his comfort, the Lord Jesus’ reception of little ones (Luke 18:15), even the allusion to the sanctification present in the home of believers (1 Cor 7), and many other things, I maintain my confession in the triune God and the gospel of Jesus Christ and my belief that Hadlee and Jaxon are present with God – today.
As I consider the redemptive story of the Bible, I rejoice in the hope that God will soon make all things new. Death will be defeated and destroyed, those found in Christ Jesus by the grace of God will experience the long awaited resurrection and newness of life that has been promised. Here, I continue to roam as a stranger. My children, Hadlee and Jaxon, have preceded me, and they have arrived safely and securely at home with my Father, my Savior, and my Comforter. Days will come when Aimee and I will get to know them and learn of the unique way in which our God has created them. When days of suffering enter into our journeys here, I invite you to join me – rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer.