Last week I had the sad duty of officiating at the funeral of a little three-month-old baby. You can well imagine the unbearable grief and trauma this occasion brings to the parents and to the extended family. Though this was not the first such funeral for me, I never know exactly what to say to a family who has been through such unspeakable pain.
Putting myself in their shoes I thought of two things I would want to know. First, I’d want to know that my baby was alright. Nothing breaks our hearts like a child suffering. A parent wants to know that, while the child is no longer in their arms, he/she is in the strong, safe arms of God. We are comforted in knowing that God takes special care of the little ones. Jesus said, “Their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father” (Matthew 18:10). I take that to mean that God has entrusted the care of little children to a specific group of His angelic beings (“their angels”) who are in constant contact with the heavenly Father.
The second thing I would want to know is that there was some meaning to what otherwise seems a senseless loss. What possible good could come from the death of a child? We will never know the full answer to that question on this side of eternity. But as Christ-followers we have the assurances given to us in Romans 8:28-30.
That passage tells us that God is working all the circumstances of our life together for good. Good for whom? For those who love Him and who are the called according to His purposes. For God-loving, God-called believers, no circumstance, no situation, no disaster, no seemingly meaningless event falls outside of this circle of God’s providential activity.
All believers are called “according to his purposes” (v.28). God has called us into a relationship with Himself through the grace of His Son Jesus Christ. His calling for us has a specified purpose. Everything in life moves us toward that specified purpose. And what is this purpose? Paul explains it in these terms: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…” (v.29). The vision God has for us in our redemption is that we would be like His Son.
And that vision is the gloriously good purpose of God. God was so determined to bring about our glory that He sent His Son to die for our sins. Our salvation is complete, but His work in us isn’t finished. He has begun a good work in us, and He will work to bring it to completion right up to the day Christ returns (Philippians 1:6). He does that by taking every shattering blow that life throws at us, and using it like the brush strokes of an artist, or the chiseling of a sculptor or the hammering of a blacksmith to shape us into the form of His Son.
But this is not comforting to us if we do not fully understand how good it us for us be conformed to Jesus. If I do not understand the great glory that comes in being conformed to Jesus, if I do not cherish the thought of being like Him, I will despise everything God brings into my life to that end. However, if I grasp the great good that comes to me as I am conformed to Christ, I will joyfully embrace everything God uses for that purpose … good or bad.
As hard as it is to comprehend, there is glory that awaits us as believers that overshadows any painful tragedy in this life. So we can say with the great apostle, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).