What do you tell a child—or anyone—who is dying of a terminal disease? Today’s Little Lesson is very much on a serious note, but we do get questions like this one. People face a lot of tragedy.
In fact, most of us, at some point or another in our lifetime, face what could be called tragedy. Some to a greater degree, some to a lesser degree. And during those times we begin to ask questions. We begin to wonder, “What’s going on? Is there a God? If there is a God, does He really care? Because if He cared, it seems like He would do something about this.”
Well, this is a very complex issue. It’s not something that can be answered in one Little Lesson. Books have been written on this subject and the Bible does have something to say about it.
A Scriptural Example of Suffering
You might recall that there was a man in the Old Testament by the name of Job who went through severe trials. Job lost, essentially, his entire family. He lost his wealth and he lost his health. And he was clueless as to what was happening.
Although the curtain is pulled back for those of us who are able to read the Book of Job and see that all this happened because of an argument that the devil and God were having about Job. The devil made an accusation and said, “Well, the only reason he serves You is because of all the blessings. Take away those blessings and He’ll curse You to your face.” So God let Job be tested. He was severely tested and he, to some degree, passed the test. But to some degree he also failed the test.
Suffering as Testing and Judgment
Now, are we being tested every time we face tragic circumstances? That is a possibility, but I don’t think that this encompasses the entirety of the answer.
We find in Scripture that God is a holy God who disciplines people, and He’s angry with people at times, and He judges them. Again, He’s motivated by His love in many respects in that He’s trying to get people who need to repent, to repent. So He sends some indication of His temporal wrath in hopes that they’ll repent and avoid His eternal wrath.
So when people ask questions like “Why do bad things happen to good people,” they might first of all ask the question “How do I define a good person?” Scripture tells us that none of us are good, all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). People who have never repented of their sins and made a heart change to begin to follow Jesus and to serve God with all their hearts, well, they’re not in a position to be saying, “God, I deserve your blessings.” Right? Not at all.
In these cases, tragedy could be a result of God judging or disciplining people, trying to get their attention.
Suffering as Persecution
But the possibility of being tested or disciplined does not encompass all the potential reasons for suffering. There are still things that just don’t seem to make sense when very wonderful followers of Jesus suffer, especially if the circumstances are totally beyond their control.
Now we know that following Christ can actually guarantee many cases of suffering. If you don’t at least get some ridicule or persecution because of your faith in Christ, that’s probably an indication that you may not really be a believer in Christ. Because Scripture says,
Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. – 2 Timothy 3:12
So that’s a promise. And you don’t have to claim that promise for it come to pass in your life! If you just follow Jesus, you’re going to get some negativity from some people. You’re going to encounter some degree of persecution.
So one possible explanation for the reason you’re suffering is because you’ve decided to follow Jesus.
But what about tragedies that there doesn’t seem to be any explanation for at all? Someone wrote me and asked, “What do you say to a five-year-old who has a terminal disease?”
Of course, as a Christian I would talk to this child about Jesus and His love. When they ask, “Well, if He loves me, why is He letting this happen to me?” Then I would have to say, “You know, I really don’t understand that, but that doesn’t change some facts.”
This is probably the best advice I’ve ever heard from anybody in regard to these situations we face that we don’t understand: when you face what you don’t understand, fall back on what you do understand.
We know that nothing can separate us from the love of God. When Paul wrote this in Romans 8, he listed a litany of things that would make people question whether or not God loves them! Because they all come down to suffering.
We know that nothing can change the fact that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. And whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have everlasting life (John 3:16).
So fall back on what you do understand.
What About a Child Dying of a Terminal Disease?
I would say to any adult who’s dying of a terminal disease, “I have no right to judge you, but it would be worth your while to examine your relationship with the Lord. Are you serving Him? Are you endeavoring to please Him in all respects? Do you feel you’ve been obedient to His commandments?”
Again, I have no right to judge. I’m not going be Job’s comforters who told Job, “There must be some kind of sin in your life, and that’s why you’re suffering so much!” We don’t ever want to fall into that trap! But to suggest this as a Biblical possibility would be a loving thing to do.
But to a child who is suffering a terminal disease? You would never say to that child, “Well, examine yourself to see if you’ve been following the Lord.” Again, this is just a little child!
Jesus said, “…the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16). I believe that all children who die before they reach that age where God holds them accountable for their sins will be saved. All will go to Heaven.
Talk About Heaven
I believe that God’s power is able to heal anybody, but that doesn’t always happen. Obviously it doesn’t always happen. Children die tragically.
So if that child was not going to be healed, I would talk to them about what Heaven is like.
Nobody in Heaven would ever want to come back to Earth. We know that, right? Heaven is way beyond anything that is offered on this Earth. It is where we receive spiritual rewards.
So Heaven would be something appropriate to talk about to a terminally ill child.
A Short Answer to a Big Question
I’ve run out of time and I feel like I’ve given a very insufficient answer to this question (and to a number of questions that have been sent in along these lines). But I’ve done the best that I can do in this short timeframe. All right?
Remember, when you face what you don’t understand, fall back on what you do understand. And weep with those who weep. That’s what the Bible says (see Romans 12:15). And sometimes that’s all that we can do. Thanks for joining me. Hope to see you next time.