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The world is a bleak place these days.  Long about the time one had gotten used to having an abiding sadness and sickness over the war in Ukraine, along comes a bloody war in the Middle East.  Maybe it’s just me but it feels like the ferocity of this one is more intense.  It started with the indiscriminate act of terror by Hamas in which so many men, women, children, and infants died unexpectedly in the blink of an eye.  Now Israel has been using its sizable stockpile of weapons to flatten Gaza and if these attacks are not as unexpected as the initial one by Hamas, they are every bit as indiscriminate.  The images of weeping fathers cradling very small wrapped bundles have been ripping my heart out day after day.

For most of us I suspect that the suffering and death of children always feels like the height of evil.  Some years ago it was the image of 2-year-old Aylan Kurdi that woke up the world to a refugee crisis after the tyke’s little body washed ashore in Turkey after the rag-tag boat he had been on with his family sank.  Yes, the picture of an adult in the same condition would have been sad but it was the spectacle of the little boy in his tiny sneakers, blue shorts, and red-striped shirt that stopped the world in its tracks.

[A Turkish paramilitary police officer carries the body of 2-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, found washed ashore near the Turkish resort of Bodrum in September 2015.]

How does God view the death and suffering of children?  Maybe there is always a theological danger in projecting onto God our own feelings and reactions.  We need to be ever vigilant in not remaking God over in our own image lest the day arrive when we are just sure God agrees with every idea we have on politics or the economy or lifestyle choices, etc.  True enough.

But I don’t think we make that theological error in suspecting that for God, too, the death of a child stings God in particular ways.  There is simply too much in the Bible to indicate that God does hold a special place in his heart for infants and children.  Yes, yes, we could note the low-hanging fruit of Jesus scolding the disciples when they tried to shoo the kiddos away from Jesus.  Or how Jesus told the disciples they had to become like little children to enter the kingdom of God.

But there are also those other images of God as divine Parent/Father/Mother nurturing and protecting little ones.  “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (Ps 91:4).   Or Jesus in Luke 13: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” 

We also get a lot of sentiments like this one from Psalm 72: “May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor.”  And of course from Psalm 103, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”  And in Luke 23 on his way to the cross, Jesus says to the women weeping for him, “Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.”

In this time of war, God weeps for the children.  The children of Ukraine.  The children of Israel.  The children of Gaza.   It is said that when the old die they leave memories but when the young die they leave dreams.  Even well outside of war zones, in this country we have seen the deaths of children far too often.  Some of us remember that after the slaughter of 1st graders in Newtown, we saw something most people were sure they had never seen in public before: a sitting President of the United States openly shedding tears for the lost babies of Newtown. 

No, we cannot always know that God feels about things the same way we do.  But we are on more than solid theological ground to assert that when it comes to the death of innocent babies and boys and girls, God does not feel the sorrow of all this less than we do.  The God of sorrows feels it more.  Lord hasten the day when you will—with tears still in your own eyes—wipe the tears from each of also our faces.

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • RZ says:

    The ancients referred to “The Wrath,” often translated/inferred/projected as the “wrath of the gods” or the “wrath of God.” One might presume wrath is God’s favorite go-to emotion, since it would seem to be humankind’s auto-response. Jesus denounced this depiction decisively. And God’s “curses” described/pronounced to Eve and then to Cain certainly portray a God of sadness. Creating a God in our own image is nothing new. Thanks for this insightful reminder, Scott.

  • Henry Baron says:

    Thanks, Scott. The visuals carry and underline your message memorably.
    This truly is a time for lament, in our worship time as well as in our personal devotions.

  • Pamela Spiertz Adams says:

    Scott, When we see people suffering for their children we see people who are made in the image of God.

  • Marlyn Visser says:

    Oh! how your post resonates in my mind. It was forty three years ago on a Sunday we celebrated my son’s 2nd birthday. The following Wednesday he died in a undescribable farm accident of which I felt totally responsible. I am convinced that if I were not a thorough Calvinist I would this day be in a different state of mind. I look forward to the day I will be reunited to him that I will be able to hug him.
    How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?
    All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will
    they can neither move nor be moved Heidelberg Catechism
    Lord’s Day 10 Q&A 28
    Job 1:12 ;2:6; Prov 21:1; Acts 17:24-28

  • David E Timmer says:

    This reminds me of a quotation from Marilynne Robinson: “Love never ends, the apostle tells us. Projected forward it is hope. What it would be, fully realized, we can only imagine because we experience hope as absence. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who mourn, for you shall be comforted.”

  • Tom Hoeksema Sr says:

    A beautiful expression of my heart’s cry. Thanks for your pastoral care, Scott.

  • Ken Kuipers says:

    On reflecting over the title of this article I can find very little in scripture that supports the idea to God suffering for children. It seems a stretch to make the verses cited to support the idea that God suffers for the pain of children. The pathos that I read of God in the Bible is most often for the unfaithfulness of his people. The pathos of God probably can best be left to the area of God’s thoughts, which Isaiah tells us are beyond our thoughts.
    That being said, I rather want to focus to be on the use of children in Scripture. I am writing to say that scriptural references to children are almost always as a status of relationship rather than as the age of children. I am seventy seven years old and consider myself a child of God. Age is not a factor in my relationship as his child. Even in the famous two passages where Christ takes a child and holds them up to say how we need to become as a child , the passages both are in the context of questions about pride, privilege and power in the kingdom. Christ only uses the child to illustrate how in the kingdom there will no reference to power, privilege or power, we will all be as children.
    I think a strong case can be made for us all being connected to the “Son of Man” as he is seen in Daniel 7…coming on the clouds with dominion. Jesus refers to himself some 80 times in the synoptics as the “Son of Man” as his vision and message focused on the establishment of his kingdom. Through his great redemptive work we also inherit the status of sons and daughters who are reconciled and restored to our original status of Sons of ‘Adam’ sharing with the Lord this dominion of “the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and over all the creatures on the ground.” As Christians we join Christ and express our faith through vocation.
    I would submit that this “Sonship” status is what the Bible is referring to when the word “child” is used. While I would wish for more biblical revelation of heavenly sympathy, I think the Bible more often than not directs such sympathy through us who have been given agency and shared dominion in this “already but not yet” period of the kingdom. One day we hope and long to hear the words “that the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” May we all hear the cry of the children everywhere and do what we can to help.

    Ken Kuipers
    Holland, MI

  • Tom says:

    Just a detail, perhaps, but I think it matters – regarding the word ‘indiscriminate’:

    Granted, when a bomb explodes it does not discriminate between children and soldiers, it kills or maims everyone within reach. But calling Israeli bombings ‘indiscriminate’ implies that they are randomly dropping bombs on Gaza, which is not true. Hamas’ strategy of locating military installations in or next to schools and hospitals certainly increases the number of innocent children and civilians killed. This does not reduce the tragedy of each child’s death and families suffering, but is an important distinction.

    Neither was October 7 ‘indiscriminate’: Hamas clearly targeted Jews, and clearly targeted civilians, including children, and reveled in the excitement of doing so. I would say they were highly discriminating in their choice of targets, their clear goal being to terrorize the Jewish population.

  • Gordon says:

    Thanks for this reminder, “ We need to be ever vigilant in not remaking God over in our own image lest the day arrive when we are just sure God agrees with every idea we have on politics or the economy or lifestyle choices, etc. True enough.“

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