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What Happens to Those Who Die in Infancy?

7 Jul

There are few situations that have the potential to cause as much pain as the death of a child. When a young one dies, not only parents, but siblings and others who have a close bond with the child can suffer post-traumatic stress, deep depression, and other forms of emotional, psychological, or even physical pain. The overwhelming grief can put strain on marriages and other relationships. It can test one’s faith and affect one’s work. It can alter the parents’ plans on trying for more children. No single situation can represent the myriad of painful effects such a death can leave. But there is hope with the support of loved ones, the ministry of the Church, the comfort of Scripture, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. There can be peace and growth when faced with such trials.

When faced with this devastating situation, the question arises for the Christian: “What happens to those who die in infancy? Is my child in heaven?” It is true that Scripture speaks to all areas of faith and life, but it does not always speak with equal clarity or detail. Consider the following two examples. Scripture is clear that salvation is only found in Jesus Christ (John 14:6), but there is not an explicit statement in the Bible that says, “God saves all children who die in infancy,” or, “All children who die in infancy are elect.” Even among Reformed Christians there are different understandings and levels of conviction on what Scripture teaches. Because of the different views, the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF)—a Reformed document that summarizes the Bible’s teaching—answers with hopeful vagueness. The WCF states in chapter 10.3 that, “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.”[1] The Confession does not state that all infants are elect and saved; neither does it say that some infants are not saved. It acknowledges what is beyond dispute—that every person God elects is saved, young or old. This is a faithful, biblical stance. The Christian could stop here and be at peace, trusting in God’s goodness and his promise to do what is right. Many others believe that there is enough biblical evidence to clarify this further. If Scripture provides more, then it should not be ignored. What follows is a biblical case for what is arguably the view most Reformed Christians (likely most of Christendom) hold, i.e. the conviction that all children who die in infancy are part of God’s elect people and saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Before giving evidence for this thesis, some truths must first be declared to keep us from falling into error.

PRECIOUS ARE THE UNBORN

The Bible teaches that even the smallest, frailest, most dependent child still developing in the womb is considered a living person. In context, Scripture even speaks judgment against those who cause the death of one of these unborn children—life for life (Ex. 21:22–25). Since every child in the womb is a living person, each is made in God’s image and must have a home in eternity. The question then remains, what will be that home? Every person must spend the rest of eternity either in the blessed presence of the Lord or in the unfathomable dread of eternal hell. There are only two possibilities.

SIN AND THE UNBORN

The doctrine of Original Sin, which is drawn from passages such as Romans 5:10–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 47ff, begins with the notion that God treated the first human being, Adam, as the head, or representative, of all humanity. The way Adam responded to God would have lasting effects on all people. The Bible does not teach that every person was in the garden and plucked the fruit of the tree, submitted to the devil-controlled serpent, and hid in their shame and disobedience. It teaches that the effects of the first sin pass to each member of the human race because Adam was our representative in the first covenant between God and mankind. This principle of headship is also true for all who are represented by Christ in the New Covenant (Rom. 5) where his righteousness becomes our righteousness and we share in his death and resurrection. Headship is not foreign even to us in contemporary America: whole countries can be considered guilty for the actions of their leadership, and when a president or board of a company commits malpractice, the whole corporation can be fined and receive a poor reputation. In both of these situations, all the people participate in the sins of the leadership to some degree and all bear some of the consequences.

While every person did not commit the same sin as Adam, all are found guilty in Adam and all are therefore born into sin, inherit a corrupted nature, are at enmity with God apart from grace, and die (with the exception of Enoch and Elijah). Even a child in the womb carries this dark burden (Psa. 51:5). Like a drop of dye in a bottle of water, once sin entered the human race, it spread to all of mankind (except for Christ Jesus). Given the chance, every person willingly commits sin because of an inherited sinful nature (Eph. 2:3).

By way of review, infants: (1) are precious, living children who bear God’s image (though it is now corrupted); (2) have inherited the guilt and punishment of Adam’s sin prior to willingly committing sin; and (3) like all people, are deserving of divine punishment. Fortunately, we turn to the hope and promise of the Gospel of Grace.

SALVATION ONLY BY GOD’S GRACE

The Bible is clear that salvation from sin and judgment is by God’s grace alone as revealed in passages such as Ephesians 1:3–7:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;

or Titus 3:4–7:

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

 Whether adults or children, born or in the womb, there are no other means for people to be saved than by grace alone. Children who die in infancy can only be saved by God’s grace in Christ Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12; c.f. John 14:6).

SALVATION OF ALL CHILDREN WHO DIE IN INFANCY

While Scripture does not explicitly state all children who die in infancy are saved, it does give considerable implicit evidence—enough evidence to convince a great many Christians, Reformed and otherwise, that all these children are saved. Scripture must be the approach because Christians must rely on the truth of Scripture and not empty hopes resulting from painful emotions.

Consider Job 3:16–17, “ Or why was I not hidden like a stillborn child, like infants who never saw light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest.” In his desperation, Job says that it would have been better if he had died in the womb, for they (the unborn) are not troubled by the wicked but are at rest. It is unlikely that Job was referring simply to death and the grave, for Job later states that he believes in a Redeemer and in the resurrection of the body (chapter 19). He knows that death is not the end; the grave offers no rest in itself, for the soul lives on. It would seem that Job is confident that the unborn are in a perpetual state of rest and comfort (with the Lord), free from the enemies and troubles of this life and surely then from those in hell.

Notable pastor and teacher, John MacArthur, references King David’s contrasting responses to the death of his first child with Bathsheba and the death of his adult son, Absalom. When the first child died very young, David was at peace because he said that he would “go to him” again someday (2 Sam. 12:19–24). Upon hearing of the death of Absalom, however, David wept bitterly and for a prolonged time (2 Sam. 19:24–20:7). MacArthur argues, “This is the exact opposite. He stopped mourning when the baby died, he started mourning when Absalom died. What’s the difference? He knew the baby was in the presence of the Lord. He knew Absalom was not. In that first son there was hope of a reunion, in the second there was horror. No sorrow for the death of the first, almost unrelieved sorrow in the death of the second.”[2] It seems that both Job and David, men of great faith, believed in the salvation of infants who had died.

Supporters of this view also see Jesus’ words as evidence that all infants who die are saved by grace.  Jesus spoke a lot about children; his disciples were amazed at his love for them. In Mark 10:13–16 is the following account:

And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.

 Jesus welcomes the children, calls them to himself (Luke 18:16–17), embraces, lays hands on, blesses, and he says that the kingdom belongs to such as these. When Christ blesses and speaks of the blessed it is significant: the loaves and fishes are multiplied (Mark 6:41; 8:7); the bread and wine are made holy (Mark 14:22); those will be blessed who are faithfully found waiting for his coming (Luke 12); those in the kingdom are blessed (Luke 14:15); the disciples are blessed before Christ ascends into heaven (Luke 24:50–51); those blessed of the Father inherit the Kingdom (Matt. 25); and when speaking of the Kingdom, Jesus blesses children, and says that the Kingdom belongs to such as these (Mark 10).

When Jesus refers to such as these, John Calvin says he refers to the state of the persons that correspond to an infant. This includes not only the child who dies in infancy and has no capacity to believe or not believe, but also to those in a similar state such as the severe mentally deficient.[3] Jesus speaks of little children belonging to the kingdom. This cannot be because they are innocent, for they are guilty in Adam and commit their own sins; it can only be because of God’s grace shown to them.

The basis by which Jesus will judge at his return also lends support to the view that all children who die in infancy are saved by grace. Paul says to the Church at Corinth: “For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). Though it must be stressed that each person is guilty and condemnable in Adam, this verse and others like it have been used to argue that final judgment will not be based upon Original Sin, but that God will judge according to the deeds done in the flesh, i.e. those sins which have been done by the individual. The same could be argued from Revelation 20:11–12, which states,

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works (emphasis mine, see also John 3:19; Romans 1:18–20, 2:6; Matt. 16:27).

People are judged for their evil deeds and unbelief but only ever saved by the grace of God who forgives them in Christ Jesus. If children die in the womb, they have not committed any personal sins. By this argumentation, they would be forgiven their guilt in Adam and saved by God’s grace.

What about those who have been born yet are still young (in age or mental capacity)? They would have already sinned individually. Many would say the accounts from Job, 2 Samuel, the Gospels, and Epistles indicate that God shows them grace, forgiving those who do not have the mental capacity to understand. (Although “Age of accountability” is a popular phrase, it is not really appropriate. Mental capability, not age, is the issue and all sins, Original and personal, must be accounted for and either judged or forgiven by grace. David Russell, 19th century Scottish minister, supports this understanding:

The Scriptures, when they distinguish any from the chosen of God, invariably represent them as walking in the ways of sin, as shutting their eyes to the light, as hardening themselves against God, as left by Him to follow their own courses, and as abusing the longsuffering and goodness of God to the hardening of their hearts in unbelief and impenitence. Now…it appears, that whatever He in justice might have done, it is the fixed determination of God, that none of the human race shall be finally condemned by a judicial act of His will, arising simply from the offence of Adam. It follows, then, that all who die in infancy are chosen by Him in Christ, of his rich and his Sovereign grace.[4]

Russell recognizes that God would be perfectly just to judge a person for any and all sin (Original or personal) but understands Scripture to say that, in practice, God determines to judge the individual by personal sins committed—sins committed by one who is capable of sufficiently comprehending revelation in creation and/or Scripture to make decisions based on that information.

Some criticize this view, arguing that if one cannot have faith in Christ, then one must not be saved. This is a very minority view and would rule out all infants and many others with limited mental faculties. They think this compromises Ephesians 2:8: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (emphasis mine). Salvation through faith absolutely applies to all those who are mentally able to believe or not believe. Scripture is written for those who can hear and/or read, as well as understand its words and truths. It is not surprising then that Scripture’s pages are filled with references to faith and unbelief. But “…the cause of…undeserved election is exclusively the good pleasure of God.” (Canons of Dort, Head I, art. 10).[5] The Canons of Dort explain that faith is not a cause but a fruit[6] of grace already working within the elect person.[7]

God’s electing grace can still be present in the womb or in the infant where sufficient faith is not yet mentally possible. A person can only believe or reject something if he or she has the mental capacity to know and understand. This is why Romans 1 includes those who have not even heard of the Gospel:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown [it] to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible [attributes] are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify [Him] as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools… (Rom. 1:18-22, emphasis mine)

Paul explains that those who have heard the Gospel and rejected it, and those who have only “clearly seen”  in Creation and “suppressed the truth”, are both “without excuse”. In each example, the person is depicted as being able to clearly see (perceive), understand, know, and profess based on that information. It logically follows that those who cannot perceive or understand (e.g. young children who die or severely mentally impaired individuals) have a valid reason (excuse) for not having faith. Their sins still need to be atoned for, but like the believer who is capable of understanding, they are forgiven by God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

CONCLUSION

Every person is born with a corrupt, sinful nature and, given the chance, will personally sin. All people are guilty and corrupt before the Holy God, but out of his good pleasure and love, God saves many people by pouring out his grace through the person and work of Jesus Christ. All those who are capable of perceiving and truly believe the Gospel are saved. Conversely, all who have been granted the mental capability to see and understand God’s power and nature at work in creation and/or his Word are without excuse for not believing. Those who are not given the mental faculties to perceive and understand God’s revelation (e.g. embryos, young children who die, or those with severe mental inabilities) have a reason for not believing what they are incapable of understanding. God forgives their sin and guilt in Jesus Christ according to his good pleasure and will. This should never make us lazy in teaching biblical truth to any age or ability, for only God knows who his elect are.

As terrible as the death of a child may be to experience, Christians can find hope and healing in the pages of Scripture. Not all Christians believe the Bible provides enough evidence to confidently say that all children who die in infancy are saved, but many do. Either way, the Christian can find comfort in knowing God is good and will do what is right.

For the unbeliever, such a travesty may be the means God uses to help them glimpse their own mortality and awaken them to the urgency of knowing the God who made them. If an unbeliever is devastated by the loss of an infant, the Christian should mourn with the unbeliever over this heart-breaking trauma. The Christian who believes all of these little ones are saved can also offer comfort regarding the child’s eternity, and in time, present Jesus to the unbelieving parent with the Gospel confidence that if that parent repents and believes in Jesus, he or she too will meet their child again. That was David’s joy.

May the Lord give his people clarity to see the truth in his Word, Christ-like hearts to bear the burdens of those who have lost a child, and souls afire for the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus.

*This is a summary of a longer paper written for a course taken at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.

Footnotes:

[1] Westminster Confession of Faith, http://reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html.

[2] John MacArthur, “The Salvation of Babies Who Die, Part 2” a sermon. Accessed February 2016, http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/80-243/The-Salvation-of-Babies-Who-Die-Part-2.

[3] Stagg, Calvin,Twisse & Edwards on Universal Salvation of Infants, 46, 60–61.

[4] David Russell, Essay on The Salvation of All Dying in Infancy: Including Hints on The Adamic and Christian Dispensations (Edinburgh: Printed for Waugh and Innes; Chalmers & Collins, Glasgow; and Ogle, Duncan & Co. London, 1823), 202–203.

[5] Canons of Dort. http://reformed.org/documents/index.html

[6] Venema, “The Canons of Dort” in But for the Grace of God, 132.

[7] Venema, “The Canons of Dort” in But for the Grace of God, 150.

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Christ Descended to Hell

18 Mar

Simply speaking, the grave is the abode of the dead; hell, the abode of the forsaken. Yet, in the Bible as well as in our own vernacular, the grave can be used not only to speak of the location of a dead body but the state or experience of death. The same can be said of hell, referring to the location and/or the state or experience. When the Apostle’s Creed states that Christ “descended to hell”, properly understood, it refers to the latter.

Christ’s descent to hell is not an entrance into the physical realm of hell, as some have misunderstood, for Christ said to the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke xxiii.43), and to the Father, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke xxiii.46). Some have taken 1 Peter iii out of context and used it to support the notion that Christ actually went to the abode of hell to preach the gospel, or to a third neutral place—a false, Jewish notion of Abraham’s Bosom (Luke xvi.22). These ideas misunderstand Peter’s reference to the world of Noah where Christ warned the people through his prophet.  It also creates inconsistency in the Bible’s witness concerning the finality of one’s post-mortem state, a separate dealing with Old Testament saints in the afterlife, and a weaker view of serendipity in glory for the faithful who sleep in Christ. Christ’s descent to hell, while not a physical journey, is no less literal, but we must understand it according to the truth of Scripture.

Christ did not merely experience the horrors of a torturous, corporeal death by crucifixion. No, he had to experience the hell of God’s terrible wrath against sin by taking upon himself the chastisement due us. What is the punishment for sin but the Divine forsaking of the sinner under the weight of God’s mighty, just arm. Christ experienced this very thing for his people.

Infinitely more terrible than his physical death was his spiritual suffering. Only the God-Man could bear such weight in a limited time that comparatively would mean everlasting punishment for man. We cannot fully grasp this notion, but rest assured, if everlasting hell is unbearable for man, how much more was it for the Son of Man who took it all at once for countless sinners. I issue a sincere challenge to each of us: to meditate upon the unimaginable sufferings Christ underwent for the salvation of everyone who places their hope in him. If hell is being forsaken by God, remember Christ’s words as he hung there on the cross, crying out in physical and spiritual anguish, “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me!?”

Left to Their Own Devices

11 Dec

A terrible act of judgment it is when God gives the sinner over to his sins. He may do so for a time to show the sinner both his need of God and of divine forgiveness, or he may do so perpetually, insofar that while the sinner does enjoy sin for a time, he does so to his own demise, wreaking havoc not only upon his current life but his eternal state as well.

Such it was for Pharaoh in Egypt; Yahweh left him to his hardened heart which brought plague and death (Exo. 7-14).

So too we find this in the following examples:

“So I let them go after the stubbornness of their heart, That they might walk in their own counsels” (Psa. 81.12).
“18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;…22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,…24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. 26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections:…28And even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30backbiters, hateful to God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, unmerciful: 32who, knowing the ordinance of God, that they that practise such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also consent with them that practise them.” (from Rom. 1)

The Glory Has Departed

18 Mar

1 Samuel 4

A big change occurred that devastated the region – a shift in God’s support. Even the polytheistic, unbelieving Philistines knew the power of God:

The Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God has come up the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. 8 Woe to us! Who shall deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness.”

But God gave favor to the Philistines, allowing them to overtake the army of Israel and capture the ark of God (the special, holy item which meant the particular presence and favor of God). This is the scene we find in 1 Samuel 4. The reason for this massive change was sin. The people of Israel had turned their hearts from God toward the world. They were respecters of people rather than of God. They had lost their first love. God was enacting promised judgment and correction upon them in order to guide them to repentance. Even in their sin, the people knew that this was a big deal. They were the chosen people. They were the heirs of the promise. How could the ark be taken? What would this mean? Has God rejected Israel? Listen to some of the reactions: 

12 Now a man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes torn and dust on his head. [signs of mourning and grief]
When he came, behold, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road eagerly watching, because his heart was trembling for the ark of God. [He trembled not because of the death of his people or his sons, but for what was considered a greater loss – the ark.].

So the man came to tell it in the city, and all the city cried out. [The whole city grieved.]

When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell off the seat backward beside the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for he was old and heavy. [It was the theft of the ark, not the death of his sons that caused him to fall over.]

Phinehas’s wife, was pregnant and about to give birth; and when she heard the news that the ark of God was taken and that her father-in-law and her husband had died, she kneeled down and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. 20 And about the time of her death the women who stood by her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have given birth to a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention. 21 And she called the boy Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel,” because the ark of God was taken and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 She said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God was taken. [She went into pre-term labor and died. It mentions the deaths of her family, but the emphasis is still on the ark.]

There are times when God’s favor abounds in the presence of sin, to bring us back to him (Rom 2.4). There too are times when God enacts consequences, also out of love, for the same purpose. He did this when the people sinned in the wilderness following their great rescue from the hands of the Egyptians. He did this in the time of the Judges. He did this in the time of Eli in the passages above. He did this when Judah and Israel were taken captive by the Babylonians (Jer. 46.26) and the Assyrians (Ezek. 23). He still does this with us today. Our Lord does not take it lightly when we trade what is good for what is destitute and damnable. When we sin, God not only cares because it a great offence against him, but also because he loves and protects us as a good father does his child. When God’s people sin, he urges us to turn back in obedience to what we know is right, according to the example we have in Jesus and biblical truth.

“MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,
NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;
6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,
AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”
7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12 excerpt)

Maybe to you, “the glory has departed.” There’s probably a good reason. There’s a good chance that is because you are seeking ultimate satisfaction in something, anything, other than Christ Jesus. Let me assure you, God is near…he is omnipresent after all. Furthermore, if you are a genuine follower of Christ, His Spirit dwells within you and he promises never to leave or forsake you. You might be in a similar place as Israel in 1 Samuel 4. God might be teaching you what it is like to feel his absence so that you will realize your sin, repent, and set your eyes firmly on him. God spoke about this very thing through the prophet Malachi: “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return’” (Malachi 3.7)? The answer: by whole-heartedly humbling ourselves, asking for forgiveness, turning from our sin to our Maker and Savior who loves us, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and finding our delight in the merciful LORD. Cry out with the psalmist, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Ps 25.16).

Could You Answer The Same?

6 Mar

“Then he said, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.’” -1 Samuel 3.18b

How quick are we to speak these words? In our hardships? In our sicknesses? In our poverty? In the loss of a job or opportunity? In our humility? How about if we’ve spent years of time, energy, money, and sacrifice working toward something we thought was right, only to find it was not going to happen? Surely the Lord does not only ordain the difficult, the let downs, the hardships, yet it is those that are usually more difficult for us to accept.

Consider now that it is Eli the priest that spoke the words above. To what news does he respond thusly? It is the prophesy given to young Samuel by God – a surety of God’s wrath on the sin of Eli’s house, without possibility for reconciliation from the promised punishment. Namely, the contempt, despisement, and disgrace shown to God by his sons Hophni and Phinehas, and Eli’s unwilliness and lack of effort to correct them. This would result in the early deaths of his ancestors – all his household would fall by the sword, save himself who would grieve the punishment. What is more, both of his sons would perish on the same day, and his house would no longer serve as priests before the Lord.

Broken and humbled, Eli acknowledges the Almighty’s just punishment. He knew his sons were guilty, and not only them, but he too shared in that guilt (cf. 1 Sam 2.29). Eli had already been rebuked by “a man of God.” Regardless of Eli’s sorrow now, the consequences were fixed. He did not plead with God; he did not argue. In his pithy response, Eli recognizes God as sovereign: “It is the Lord” – there is no other, nor any more powerful. “Let him do” – Eli understands that God can, and will, do what he purposes to do. Eli accepted his family’s fate at the hand God, recognizing the heinousness of sinning against the Holy God of Israel. He even goes further by calling God’s sovereign decision, “good.”

God’s wrath is not vindictive, uncontrolled, or undeserved. His wrath is not subject to a sinful nature and contains no unrighteousness. God’s wrath against sin is even “good”. God is perfectly holy, and as such, any sin is perfectly, profoundly hellish and damnable. Black is so much the blacker against a white backdrop. So too, sin is infinitely darker against the unblemished purity of God’s holiness. How moved to anger are we when we see a person unjustly treated – when we witness mass genocide, when civilian children are killed by war, when a helpless child is murdered or left for dead, when crime is pinned on the innocent? These are sins against already sinful humans, even if they aren’t their own transgressions. Still, we would demand justice. How much more then is justice deserved against each of us who sin against God. That is why the saints in heaven can cry, “With a loud voice, ‘Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?’ (Rev 6.10)”

Only by his great mercy, does God hold back the Day of Wrath. It is by this loving act, that he keeps the gate to his kingdom (JESUS) open longer, in order that he can welcome into his loving arms, more sinners undeserving of his favor. Take hold of this eternally relevant opportunity. Trust that God the Father has loved us so much, that he would send his willing Son, Jesus, to die for the punishment of our sins, so that we might be forgiven rather than judged by our sin.

What man could not do, God offered a way, out of great love for his children.