25 February 2008

We Decided to Call Him Job

All mankind fell in Adam's fall; one common sin infects us all. From sire to son the curse descends, and over all God's wrath impends.

But Christ, the second Adam, came to bear our sin and woe and shame, to be our life, our light, our way, our only hope, our only stay.

We were expecting our tenth child. He was eight weeks in the womb, by the doctor's reckoning. I say "he," but we are not privileged to know whether this baby is a son or daughter; perhaps in heaven we shall know. It is sufficient for me that he was our child, either way, and thus a human being, not a random conglomerate of cells and tissue. The Author and Giver of life opened the womb and knit the little one inside; he was fearfully and wonderfully made in that secret, hidden place. What is not known to me is known full well by his Father in heaven. Not yet with any hairs on his head to be numbered, he was and is more precious to his Lord than are the sparrows or the lilies of the field. In Christ Jesus, we are all adopted and reborn as sons of God by grace.

He has no birthday on earth for us to celebrate, but he was delivered from the burdens of this mortal life and borne unto Abraham's bosom this past Wednesday, the 20th of February, Anno Domini 2008. God grant that his poor little body may now rest in peace until the day of the resurrection of all flesh.

That same day, I had earlier received word of another miscarriage, of another baby who had died in the womb (in anonymity). The serendipities of life are sometimes not amusing at all, but surreal. I went directly from such news of prenatal death to the impending death of my own unborn child. I do not recall the point at which I was turned from worry and concern over what might happen, to the realization of what had already occurred. The day proceeded with all its other cares and occupations, and I did what I was given to do. My sermon for that evening was on the Apostles' Creed — Creation, Redemption and Sanctification — or, life, life and more life, as I have often described in the past. This is most certainly true. It was only after the fact that I would realize the extent to which I was preaching to myself.

We had not yet shared the news that we were expecting a new baby. Our tradition has always been that we take the whole family out for a meal and let the other children be the first to know. In this case, we knew that wasn't going to be possible. We won't have our children all together again until May, and there would have been no secrets left to share by then. The baby was due in October, right around the time of our Nicholai's fourteenth birthday. We would not wait until May, but we were waiting for some final word concerning our Zachary, who fell and hit his head quite hard this past month. As it is, we are still waiting on the official results of a recent MRI to let us know that he has fully recovered from his injury. We should have that news in hand this Friday, and so I had anticipated an announcement regarding our baby this weekend.

Instead, as it has pleased the Lord, according to His good and gracious will, we are given to share the bittersweet news that our little one has gone ahead of us to abide in the nearer presence of his Savior and ours, Christ Jesus.

We have been granted peace and comfort in the Gospel, and in the precious words that so many brothers and sisters in Christ have written and spoken to us. We have taken firmly to heart that our Lord Himself, the very Son of God, was conceived in the womb of His own Mother, and that He also lived as true Man, our Brother in the flesh, through the same eight weeks of life as our little one. We know that Christ Jesus our Lord does not despise the little children, but receives them to Himself in love and mercy and tender compassion, with free and full forgiveness of sins. For death itself is the irrefutable testimony that our baby, even in the womb, was conceived a sinner like his parents. But Christ is the Savior of sinners, and He does not withhold His Word of forgiveness from even the least of these, His brethren. He causes His Gospel to be preached in all the world, "to all creation" (St. Mark 16:15). And if He has hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, He has revealed them to infants (St. Matthew 11:25, the Gospel for St. Matthias).

Woe to those who cause one of these little ones who believe in Him to stumble! But Christ be praised that He permitted no such scandal ever to afflict our infant child, who has now departed from the inner sanctum of his mother's womb to the safety and eternal Sabbath Rest of heaven.

As my own pastor has so wisely and beautifully counseled us, we did everything we were given and enabled to do for this child. For the eight weeks that he was entrusted to our care, while in the womb, we loved him and prayed for him and immersed him in the catechesis of the Word of God, both at home and in the congregation of the Church. We have not caused him to stumble, but have laid him upon the mercies of God in Christ, and have entrusted him in confidence to the One who created him for life with Himself forever. The Lord our God has exercised His own Paternal prerogative in this case, and has thus removed from us any cause for worry or anxiety. In how many ways, over the years, have we fallen short in parenting our other children? Always in our own works, there is such imperfection, and therefore uncertainty and fear. Even at our very best, the outcome of our efforts is beyond our control. Well-catechized children sometimes fall. There is certainty only in the Word and works of God, and we shall rejoice that He has acted.

We shall rejoice in Christ, the moreso as time passes and the tides of sadness retreat from washing over us so often. In the meantime, I am assailed and tossed back and forth betwixt the peaceful confidence of faith and the turbulence of grief and fear. Probably the most poignant moment was this past Friday night, when we told our other children that they have a younger sibling who has already died and gone to heaven. Such terrible sorrow I have never seen in my dear children all at once, though each of them reacted differently, in his or her own way. Poor Nicholai had guessed and happily anticipated that we would be announcing a new baby, and he was devastated to hear and comprehend the additional news of that child's death. Little Frederick was perplexed and frightened by the fact that his whole family was suddenly crying. Monica and Oly'anna wanted to know everything that could possibly be known about the baby, and it was heartbreaking to have so very little we could tell them. Justinian retreated to his bed with a sad little look on his face, while Ariksander simply sat in silence, his head bowed and his shoulders sagging. What could any of them do? They all cast about in their own ways, as LaRena and I have done, for some kind of handle on their grief, some way of mourning the loss of a sibling they never got to see or hold.

For myself, too, it has been difficult to know what I should do. The Lord has taken out of my hands all that I would have done for this tenth child of mine. I will not feed or clothe him. I'll never change his diapers or burp him. I won't take him for walks, to the movies or out for ice cream. LaRena and I were granted the profound privilege of being the instruments by which God the Father Almighty created and gave life to this little person. And for a little while, I was privileged to preach the Word of God to him, to pray with him and for him. But now what?

One of the primary ways that I have exercised and expressed my vocation as a father is by naming each of my children. Already I had begun the joyful task of ruminating over names for our new baby, considering combinations, rolling possibilities over my tongue, and testing them on my wife for her reactions. But there will not be a little boy or girl for me to name in October. The names I had in mind are just words again, not children. Nevertheless, I wanted to name this baby who has died, so that we would have a way to think of him as a person, to remember him rightly as best we can. So I suggested that we call him Job, after the faithful Old Testament father who did not curse but continued to bless God when his ten children were put to death by Satan's wicked machinations. This name has pleased our family, too, and has been helpful to us.

The world in which we live does not know how to think about life and death, because it does not comprehend the Word by whom all things are made. Only days before Job died, our DoRena was home for a visit and shared with us a discussion and debate over abortion that has been taking place in her medical ethics class. I was appalled at what she told us. Evidently, there is equivocation, even among conservative pro-life proponents, as to whether a fetus is really a person in the first two weeks of life. Theological arguments are out of bounds in the medical ethics class, but one can't get this right without theology. Science and legalities must finally bow before the divine Logos. In Him there is the bedrock of our human personhood, to begin with, as well as our eternal life and salvation. His Incarnation fulfills and perfects our humanity, even as He is the Image and Likeness of God in which we are created to begin with. And He did not cease to be a Person when He was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This Son of Man, our dear Lord Jesus Christ, was born of the Woman to redeem us from the curse of sin and death. He has become flesh and blood like us; He has borne our sins and carried all our sorrows in His own body to the Cross; and He has conquered sin, death, the devil and hell, by His atoning sacrifice as the very Lamb of God. So has God the Father sacrificed His beloved and well-pleasing Son, in order that we and all our children may live forever by His Gospel, by His forgiveness of all our sins.

"Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Cor 4:16-18)

9 comments:

Rev. Richard A. Heinz said...

Rick,

I will never cease to be amazed at your profound, yet accessible insights! You wisdom is a great gift, and I thank our Lord that He leads you to share it so fully and so eloquently.

Our hearts are heavy for you, and we grieve for your loss.

We pray that the sweet comfort of the Gospel, with the divine knowing that your Redeemer lives, will be your strength and tower.

You abide in our prayers!

Rich

Scott said...

Thank you, Pr. Stuckwisch, for posting this.

I am sorry for your loss, yet thankful that in your expression here you have comforted others.

We lost a little one several months ago. I'm afraid I have not been a good husband for I did not know how to comfort my wife. It is certainly a strange and uncomfortable place to find yourself.

Thank you for your words of comfort. I pray they are as comforting to you and your family as they are for me.

"In my flesh, I shall see God."

Zaripest said...

Oh, how blest are they whose toils are ended, who through death have unto God ascended! They have arisen from the cares which keep us still in prison. We are still as in a dungeon living, still oppressed with sorrow and misgiving; our undertakings are but toils and troubles and heartbreakings. They meanwhile are in their chambers sleeping, quiet and set free from all their weeping; no cross or sadness there can hinder their untroubled gladness. Christ has wiped away their tears forever; they have that for which we still endeavor. By them are chanted songs that ne'er to mortal ears were granted. Come, O Christ, and loose the chains that bind us; lead us forth and cast this world behind us. With you, the Anointed finds the soul its joy and rest appointed.

Emily said...

I have been praying for your family this week, and I weep to hear about the sadness of your children and yourselves at this loss. Each child God has given is 'precious in His sight', to quote the song, and little Job has always been in His sight, if not in ours.

M. Carver said...

Pastor Stuckwisch,

My condolences. I dedicate the work of this Gerhardt translation to Job and your sad occasion; though Rektor Spengler's son was older, there is much I find helpful.


Dear Father, oh, dost thou still weep?
And weep ye who have born me?
Why fret ye yet? Oh, lose no sleep!
Ye know, ye have not lorn me.
Oh, would ye saw how I am well,
And how the Son who conquered Hell
Hath up to Heaven caught me;
I know that then you would not cry
But that your mouths would glorify
The One who rest hath brought me.

The bitter struggle which I must
Needs suffer in your world,
It is by God's good grace and just
Already quite o'erhurled
My fate hath been as ever is
For him who trusts Christ's promises
And not the world knoweth
Who follows Christ must share with Him
The cross, affliction cruel and grim,
While on his way he goeth.

Now I am done. To God be Praise!
Here life anew commences
Here now I grasp at last by Grace
What long in life was sense-less:
An endless Heaven full of Light
A Light that makes my face all bright
More light than sun expressing
Here spreads a sea of endless joy
Wherever I direct mine eye,
Is every sight a blessing.

There nothing is so perfect fair
Which here a man may cleave to;
Whene'er He pleaseth, God shall take
And in His realm receive you.
And set you there upon His knee
And from lament shall make you free
And never woes may sink you.
But ye, who think to understand,
How this or that on earth be grand,
Ye cannot scarce bethink you.

Who dies a blessed death retires
The gates of black despondence
And there before him angel-choirs
Will sing their peaceful sonnets,
His ash is changed for ointment glad
His flesh put off, his spirit clad
In whitest raiment flowing:
He leaves the earth with joyful leap
Like all the Shepherd's little sheep
In rosy pastures going.

Wherefore, belovèd hearts, commend
Your souls to God's good willing;
With wisdom He will you attend
And surely will be stilling
Those heartaches which were once your plight.
Now go, your son bids you good-night!
With wishes pleasant-hearted.
The time will come when ye and I
Will be made one again on High,
By Him who hath us parted.

Your stalwart love, your faith sincere
When we were all together,
For these will I give thank-yous here
In Heav'n, when ye come hither.
I will recount how ye have made
Yourselves aggrieved and me allayed;
As Christ and all behold you.
And for each warming river-tear
I'll give you more than kisses mere,
And in my arms enfold you.

Gauntlets said...

I am so sorry. I am so very, very sorry.

We also named our little one upon his death. It helped me heal, to feel as though I were his mother and not merely his grave and only tombstone.

Tell your wife that I pray for her. God bless you all.

Past Elder said...

I've been there and that about says it all.

She is remembered in a sanddollar ornament on our Christmas tree each year.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Our prayers are with you, your wife, and your family. It is a blessing to know our babies are in Heaven, but always a grief to know that we will not see their face, hear their laughs, hold them in our arms, and watch them grow and thrive here on earth.

We have three in Heaven, Mara, Jessica, and Noah. I am glad you named Job. It proclaims the reality of his existence, since conception and forevermore.

God did not intend for us or our little ones to be tainted by death. Christ wept at Lazarus's tomb.But it is truly a blessing and a comfort to know that they are in Heaven, being held by our dear, sweet Lord, where we will someday be as well.

Cheryl said...

Thank you for posting this, Pastor. I have a young friend, my husband's music assistant at church, who was married in September. She and her husband recently found out they were expecting their first child but then found out at 12 weeks that their baby had died several weeks before. Your post speaks great words of comfort--I am going to encourage her to read it.

Praying for you and your family in this time of grief.