Why would a loving God let my children die?

Recently, I received an email from someone teaching an apologetics course at her church.

Because you have dealt with so much tragedy in your life and are involved with other people who are going through tough times with their children, I need your help in answering this question from a Christian perspective.

What is your response to the question, “Why would a loving God let my child die?”

I understand if you can’t answer this. It is definitely a difficult question.

Some background — in 2010, Robyn and I lost two sons. Price died in March at 1 week old, from complications of being born premature (26 weeks). His twin Charley is 5 now and requires extra care over a typical 5 year old, and is magic. Eight months after Price died, our first-born Ezra died from neuroblastoma cancer. He’d been diagnosed only a couple days before we found out Robyn was pregnant with the twins.

The question of why God would let my two sons die has been central to my spiritual life these past 5 years. I spent my later teen years and early 20s leading worship at churches in Seattle, came to Tampa doing the same in 2005, and Robyn and I buried our first two sons here in 2010. I did not grow up in church, but have been falling in love with God since I was 15.

Did God let my children die? I find it necessary to think on this before I can even look at “why.” “Let” can mean both “allow” or “cause,” and those two meanings have worlds of distinction. Did God allow my children to die is a different question than did God cause my children to die. It’s not just semantics — “allow” means something else caused this to happen, and God for some reason chose not to heal or change it. “Cause” means God gaveEzra cancer, and caused Price to be born so early — to die at one week old.

I believe those are the only two options — allow or cause. I believe God is real, and He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. He had the power to change both outcomes (and stories along the way). He had always known Robyn’s and my sons were going to die (and when). He was present the entire time. It wasn’t a case of God forgetting, or being busy elsewhere, or not knowing, or it being too big of a thing. God either DID this — killed my two sons — or He allowed it to happen by not intervening. I believe it was the second of the two.

This week, I was reading A. W. Tozer’s book The Knowledge of the Holy. I’d been letting the topic of this post kick around in my mind, and was surprised and excited when Tozer began to address a similar point in his book. If God is sovereign — all powerful, all knowing, and free — how do things like evil, pain, and death exist in the world? Did God create them? Why does He not abolish them? I encourage you to read Chapter 22 of Tozer’s book, “The Sovereignty of God,” as he writes well on this topic.

You will be perhaps as disappointed as I to find Tozer’s answer is, essentially, “I don’t know.” He says:

While a complete explanation of the origin of sin eludes us, there are a few things we do know. In His sovereign wisdom God has permitted evil to exist in carefully restricted areas of His creation, a kind of fugitive outlaw whose activities are temporary and limited in scope. In doing this God has acted according to His infinite wisdom and goodness. More than that no one knows at present; and more than that no one needs to know. The name of God is sufficient guarantee of the perfection of His works.

I land on the same conclusion. God knew of all the issues with our sons, and always knew. For reasons I cannot know, He chose not to heal them, although He could have. As Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32:22–32), so I have spent much time shunning, shouting at, and doubting God since October 4th 2009, the day Ezra was diagnosed with the stage 4 neuroblastoma cancer that 400 days later took his life. I have also spent time wrapped up in His mercy and love, recognizing if I could give explanation to every action or inaction of God, He wouldn’t be God. As a prideful, broken, intelligent man, this brings me as much unrest as it gives me peace.

I have not yet found my way back to a wholeness of trust in God. I do not know how long it will take, though I long for it. Jacob wrestled through a night with God, after much struggle in his life, and came out with blessing and a broken hip. My wrestling match continues. I am angry sometimes, weary others, and my pride keeps me from a fullness of closeness with God. I immaturely idolize my struggle, vainly refusing to say it is well with my soul when these sorrows, like sea billows, roll. I require an answer to sit rightly with me before I can forgive; as if God has wronged me. As if I had any power to forgive Him if He had. (Job 38–42 lays me low on this). And as if the answer Tozer put forth wasn’t enough; “The name of God is sufficient guarantee of the perfection of His works.”

Originally, I planned to write a much longer post on this question. Instead, I will keep it short, and let other thoughts come later.

I still believe God is everything I knew He was before. Holy. Just. Merciful. Good. Sovereign. Wise. If you’ve spent any time in church, you may be saying, as I have heard, “But this is an easy answer! When Adam and Eve sinned, sin entered the world, and that is the source of cancer, and sickness, and natural disasters, and all these things we wonder how could happen if God is truly good. Sin and Satan have temporary and partial reign on earth until God casts them away.” This is wonderful logic on how these things can happen, but it doesn’t answer the larger question; why do these things exist at all? Why must we wait on God eliminating them? Why is “no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Revelation 21:4) delayed? What justifies this reign of struggle and sin on earth today? Why did Robyn’s and my sons die, along with so many other sons and daughters?

I have no answer. I have felt God’s presence, and know He is real. I have faith He is God, and I rest in this knowledge. I hope in my life I can have a greater understanding of why death and pain continue. I hope I can feel more peace than unrest. When I think on the vastness of who God is, logically I find no other response than worship and adoration, and I am humbled in admitting my hurt, my loss, and a foolish pride often keep me from these responses. I am frustrated how difficult this is for me.

You, reading this, may struggle with similar thoughts, and perhaps hoped I would offer clarity. I wish I had better words to put ease in your mind.

Until then, I will keep searching the heart of God.