Thursday, January 16, 2014

Glorifying God in Life and Death

My wife is 20 weeks pregnant with our son Joses. We were recently informed that Joses has a neural tube defect known as Anencephaly. It is a condition where my son never developed a brain. Since he has a brain stem and spinal column, he has a strong heart beat and will continue to grow while inside my wife. However, if my son survives being in the womb and the birthing process it is guaranteed that he will only survive a few minutes or at most a few days. While we are all destined for death (c.f. Hebrews 9:27) my son is destined to die shortly after being born.
A great deal of comfort has been given to me in these first few days by studying the book of Jeremiah. I first started applying it to my son when I read Jeremiah 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." Just as God knew Jeremiah before he was formed, God has known my son from long ago.
The story of Jeremiah is a difficult one. He was given the task to preach to a stubborn and rebellious people that God said in Jeremiah 7:24 “will not listen to you.” However, Jeremiah had a purpose in life. If Jeremiah fulfilled his purpose by preaching, God would be glorified. Even when no one listened and Jeremiah was persecuted, God's name would be exalted through him.
In a prophecy talking to the remnant that would survive captivity, Jeremiah writes "'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope'" (Jeremiah 29:11). God had a plan for them and He also has a plan for my son. According to our doctors, that plan includes dying within the next 5 months. However, just because there is death in his future, doesn't mean he does not have a purpose.
Jesus also had a purpose when He came to this world. He says in John 12:27-28 "Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. "Father, glorify Your name." Then a voice came out of heaven: "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." Instead of glorifying Himself, Jesus came like a servant to glorify His Master.
Everyone in this life has the same broad purpose: to glorify God. My son's purpose is no different. The details of that purpose are unclear. God is certainly capable of miraculously and instantly healing my son and then use him as a servant in this life. It is easy in my mind to see how this would be glorifying to God. Selfishly, this is what we would love to happen. However, it is not our place to ask why. Romans 9:20 teaches “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’" My son's purpose is to glorify God. If it glorifies God more to take my son home, that is what we want to desire. Perhaps his death will lead people closer to God. We hope that it will bring my wife Megan and me closer together and make us more like Jesus. Perhaps through our example of faith someone else will be brought to the Lord. We desire the same faith as seen in Paul when he said “for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:19-20).
Jesus said that the Pharisees and the lawyers in Luke 7:30 "rejected God's purpose for themselves." If God chooses to take my son in these next five months, Joses will have no control over fulfilling his destiny or not. He will do everything God wants him to accomplish. On the other hand, I have the option to reject God's purpose for me. Figuring out what my purpose is and how to fulfill it has been so strongly on my mind lately. Now, more than ever, I want to go to heaven to first meet my Savior but also my son.
First I realize that I have been created to be a servant. I have a Master who created me and has the authority to tell me what to do. My job is to serve the Father. I want to be like Jesus who said "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 6:38).
One way I can serve my Master is by serving the people He loves. Passages like Mark 10:42-45 and Philippians 2:1-8 use Jesus as the ultimate example to show me how to unselfishly, humbly, and without conceit see others as more important than myself. Not only is service what I am made for, but also what will give me the most joy in life. Worldly wisdom doesn't understand because it does not grasp the initial premise that man is created to be servants. However, even Lumiere from Disney's The Beauty and the Beast understands, "Life is so unnerving, for a servant who's not serving! He's not whole without a soul to wait upon." When I am not serving others I am not doing what I was made to do.
Second, I am created for "good works". Ephesians 2:8-10 says "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (9) not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." While this passage clearly says that we cannot earn salvation by works, it also teaches that we are "created in Christ for good works." It is only by God's grace and mercy and our faith that we can be saved. But the question is, what kind of faith do I need?
Jesus "gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14). This passage does not teach that we save ourselves through works, but that Jesus saves His people through His sacrifice. His people are those who are "zealous for good works." God wants people who are "zealous" to serve Him. This is more about what kind of heart you have and less about the details of the work you do. God does not need us to do anything for Him. For example, why do we give money to others and to serve the purposes of the local church? He does not need money (He is the Creator after all), but He does want giving hearts. The reason we give, attend worship, pray, sing, are baptized or do anything that can be called a "work" is to display our willing hearts to Him. True faith in God submits to His will and causes the faithful to do anything they can to make their Father happy.
Instead of going into details about more specific works, we should step back and see what Jesus teaches about the purpose for works in Matthew 5:14-16:
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
When people in the world see our works and our attitude toward them, they will give glory to God. This should be my motivation to work hard for my Father. I should live my life as if Jesus were living in my place.
"Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him" (2 Corinthians 5:9). This is my purpose.

By Seth McDonald
January 12, 2014


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  2. Thank you for sharing this. We are 3 weeks away from meeting our daughter with the same diagnosis. It's refreshing to see another person of faith walking through this. You're so right, His glory is the goal, whatever the outcome. The things I've learned about His heart since our diagnosis are incredible. And how he's worked in hardened hearts of friends and relatives is precious. He won't waste a second of this. May He bless you guys abundantly during this time.

    1. We are due Feb 15 with our son with anencephaly. As I recently wrote on our blog for Brody - "We all have our different experiences in life that cause suffering and I think there are two things we all have in common. We want to know we are not alone in our pain, and yet we want everyone to know our pain is unique and can’t fully be understood by others."
      Somehow it helps to know we are not alone in that we have brothers and sisters in Christ that will be saying hello and goodbye to their sweet miracle at the same time that we will...

  3. This is beautiful. I lost my daughter to anencephaly in November 2012. You're explanation and Bible verses explain it perfectly as to why parents like us carry and give our children the longest life possible. God knows what He is doing.

  4. This is beautifully written. My son, Joshua, was stillborn in October of 2013. I know Joshua had a purpose on this earth. Although we only had 41 short weeks with him and his life was only known inside of me, Joshua was a huge blessing to us. God showed me so much love and life through our baby. I know God is using his life for good things. As He will with Joses!

  5. Wow so well said. And to breezeley - we are also expecting our son in 3 weeks with the same!
    I echo what you have said. God's love and faithfulness through this all is truly indescribable. If you'd like to share in our story I too have written a bit here -
    Praying for you all that God would continue to reveal the many blessings that can be found - though an excruciating trial!