by Stephen Jones
This past New Year’s Eve our daughter-in-law lost her baby of 17 weeks in the womb. The hospital treated the baby as an “it”—not a person—and wanted to toss the fetus in the garbage. Since she was not yet twenty weeks old, my son got to take her home. Twenty weeks is the cut-off point in New York State. After that you have to pay for a funeral and legal documents and so forth in order to bury a baby.
At the ceremony we read together these passages from Ruth (1:15-17): “And Naomi said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law. And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”
After we read from the book of Ruth, I said this to the little shoebox lodged in my arm:
“I’m your grandfather and your pastor.
“From where I am now
—living on this earth—
I may not get to know you very well.
But, do you know what?
I really don’t know Ruth very well either.
I don’t know what Ruth looked like
or what she sounded like
or how well she cooked.
But I love her anyway!
I love her because God was with her
and because she will be in heaven
and because I know her story
and because of what she said to her mother-in-law, Naomi.
“Miriam, I know all these things about you, too.
I know God is with you.
I know I will see you in heaven
I know your story, too.
You were born one new year’s eve,
just like my sister.
My sister was seventy this last go-‘round—plus nine months.
You hardly made it to seventeen weeks,
and all in the minus zone.
You struggled with life,
just like my sister and everybody else.
You even ‘resisted unto blood.’
I remember what Job said
that it doesn’t take long after birth before the troubles start!
Before birth as well—?
I remember what Solomon said
about one’s death-day being better than one’s birthday.
I wonder what he’d say
about their both coming on the same day.
New years eve, 2005, must have been quite a day for you!
“My first words,
when I spoke with your father
after he brought you home from the hospital,
‘Here lies Miriam.’
Now that’s coming true so that you will rest close to your family. Most people end up in a graveyard somewhere with strangers.
“You know what, Miriam?
Like Ruth, I also know what you said to your mother….
and your father and your brother and your sisters.
Like Ruth, what you said to them was full of love.
What you said to them was full of hope.
What you said to them was full of peace.
What you said to them was full of joy.
I can tell.
I know what you said
by how they are with your life and with your death.
“I know another tiny child who said those same things.
He showed us something that even Ruth didn’t know:
Death doesn’t separate us….Not any more!
“I guess I know you better than I thought I did, Miriam.
Knowing God helps me to know Ruth,
and knowing God helps me to know you.
“I also remember that the Bible says
‘A little child shall lead them.’
Part of your story is that you are leading us.
You’re going up there first.
Thank you, Miriam.
Say ‘Hello’ to God for us!
According to Scripture, when does life begin? Some say that life begins after leaving the womb and cite Genesis 2:7 and Ezekiel 37:9 in support. In both cases it is breath—apparently, either from God or from the wind—that gives life. The logic is that breath can’t enter our nostrils until we are outside the womb and therefore life must begin on the outside.
Others argue from Scripture that life begins at conception. Here the evidence is much more conclusive. Consider some vivid examples. John the Baptist was three months shy of being born—in the minus zone—when he had enough “life” to know that Jesus was nearby (Luke 1:41a). Moreover, his liveliness may have inspired his mother’s first true Holy Ghost experience as she spoke blessings in a “loud voice” (Luke 1:41b-42). A whole lot happened to gestating Jeremiah while in the womb. “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee,” says the Lord, “and before thou camest forth I sanctified thee, and ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). No ordination exam for Jeremiah!
The earliest skirmishes for the future of two nations occurred in the womb of Rebekah. She conceived, “and the children struggled together within her” (Genesis 25: 21-23). By the time Jacob and Esau were born there was even some resolution to the war. Esau came first but Jacob was holding on to his heel (Genesis 25:26) as if to exclaim, “Look at my trophy!”
The Psalmist marvels at God’s prenatal handiwork when he writes, “For the darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:12b-16, NIV).
God isn’t tinkering with a dead object here, with something incomplete and worthy of murder. He’s creating life. My daughter-in-law spoke with many tears as she described the hands and feet and size and shape and facial features of Miriam.
How different is an unborn child when seen, as a Christian, through the eyes of God than when seen, scientifically, through the eyes of the world! God told Jeremiah “I knew thee” even before “I formed thee in the belly.” In God is life, in God is death, and in God death leads to eternal life. To be sure, Miriam could have been thrown into the garbage can, and we would still know her in heaven. But, oh, the joy and hope we would have missed! God foreknew Miriam. God foreknew Miriam, not in the sense that he knew what she would do or think or decide some day, but in the sense that God already loved her and had a plan for her. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Romans 8:29).
Walking in that faith, we can only thank God for Miriam’s being less than twenty weeks old in the womb and not requiring an expensive funeral. Walking in the faith of Miriam’s eternal salvation, we can only thank God that we could rescue Miriam from the garbage can and give her the honor due someone who will one day be glorified according to what God always knew (Romans 8:30). Life begins at least in conception and maybe in the eternal plan of God. In either case life is a complete and eternal journey in the creation of a God who will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). In either case, we have no business interfering with what belongs to God.
How blessed we are to be Christians!