For most parents the death of a child is the most destructive, tragic, unforgivable situation they can imagine. Each day we send our children out into the world doing our best to ensure their safe return… but there are never guarantees in life. Children die every single day, from illness, abuse, accident… sometimes at the hands of their very own parents. When I read a story about an “accidental death” such as a child being run over by their own parents vehicle, or a parent leaving their child locked inside a car to burn from the inside out… my heart breaks for every person who was touched by that child’s life. I start thinking about all of the ways that it could have been prevented, I run through scenarios in my head where I would find myself in a situation similar to theirs and prep myself with an arsenal of ways to keep my child safe. I don’t claim to be a perfect parent- the majority of the time these accidents are not a matter of malice but simply human error… we are not without fault and thus have to continue our education even when we feel like we know it all.
It is when we become complacent that accidents like this occur. The intellectual, secular side of me knows that the way to make an impact is to get as much information into the hands of parents as possible. If you go to bed each night and pray that you make it through another day without killing your kids you are essentially doing nothing and thus putting yourself one step closer to failure. I was inspired to write this when a debate came about in a parenting group concerning the legal side of a child dying from being locked inside of a car. One person cited the website Kids and Cars, this site shares tips, techniques, and heartbreaking testimonials from parents who have suffered the loss of a child through an automobile related accident.
I spent hours reading these stories, I don’t recommend you do this because it will rip your heart out. As I worked my way down the list I realized a common theme. There was an abundance of parents who were comforted by the loss because it was “God’s will”. One woman even stated that she knew God planned for her baby to “bloom on earth to blossom in heaven”. These reactions don’t surprise me because believers will use “God’s will” to justify anything from the death of the child to getting the wrong sandwich at the delicatessen. No issue, big or small, is within their control- there is a reason for it and it isn’t for them to question.
So here’s the rub… the same parents who are not questioning “God’s will” and have made peace that their child was only brought here to die a tragic death are apparently not as confident in his plan as they seem to be. I say this because many of the parents ended their story by stating they are now going to dedicate their life to making sure this doesn’t happen to other children. Okay, from a secular stand point I am thinking “What a wonderful way to honor their memory, educating others, well done!”…. but wait a minute believers, you cannot go double dipping. According to you this accident was unavoidable, it was part of the plan before your child was even born, so why are you trying to rebel against God now? How arrogant to think that you can go out and change his plan. If God wants these children to die, well it looks like there is nothing you can do to stop it.
One of the stories that clearly displays the contradiction was written by a mother who tells us that her child was “created for eternity“. At just over 6 months of age this little girl was killed when her father left her in the car. You can use the link to read all of the details, but basically it was a classic case of a change in a routine causing a tragic mistake. The mother explains that though she did question God at times she knows that it happened for a reason stating “my faith & belief in God tells me Mika’s life & death was written in God’s plan long ago.”. She tells us that she praises God for keeping her husband out of jail, keeping the rest of the kids together and for helping to get their truck back (so they can sell it)… to her these are all examples of the power of prayer. She tells us that all of her family, her pastor & “church family” and even people they’d never met were all praying together on the day the father went to court, and the prayers are the reason that everything came up roses.
She goes on to say that this could happen to anyone and that she needs to raise awareness and that sharing her story could save a child’s life. As an Atheist I think that all of those things are great but if you are a Christian are you really able to think it is true? Can it happen to anyone? Not according to the believer, as was said earlier, it happened because God made it so. If God decides who will live and who will die, does any amount of awareness to the issue really help? Had these parents learned more about car safety would God have changed his plan and spared their daughter’s life? These are terrifying questions that just illuminate the dangers of religion and a true faith in God.
Now let’s look at it from another angle. What happens when the act that caused the death is purposeful. Should the person be punished by the law or is it once again “God’s will”? In another story from Kids and Cars a woman discusses how her babysitter left her child locked inside the car while she went shopping. The babysitter stated that he was sleeping and she didn’t want to disturb him, then left not one but two children alone in the car for 2 hours. She was sentenced to 13 years in prison for this act, being released after only 8. The charges were manslaughter, criminal abuse, and endangering the welfare of a child. One thing that she did not receive was praise for helping to fulfill “God’s will”. In this case, what was previously seen as a message from the lord was now revealed for what it is… a tragedy. I believe this woman should have been punished, in fact I don’t think 13 years is enough to make up for the death of a child. Is there any punishment that fits the crime of taking a life so young they never even saw their first birthday? I don’t think so. You could make an argument that it was still just an accident. That leaving the child in the car was an intentional act but killing him was not. If this is so should the church, pastor and community have been praying for her to be spared a prison sentence just as the previous family had? Should it all have been viewed as a divine act that allowed them the honor to see one of God’s children return home after their work was done. No, of course not. Endangering a child to the point that it results in death is the ultimate crime. Whether it be a forgivable accident, an unforgivable act or straight out malice the result is still the same. A child has died and they will never come home.
If we allow God to serve as justification we are doing a disservice to our children. If we continue to pray when we need to act we will never truly be able to protect them. I cannot imagine the intensity of the pain that is felt when you lose a child, and I hope that I never do. If you need “God’s will” to get you through another day, I won’t try to stop you. Just please, whatever you do don’t push it onto others in an attempt to avoid the truth of the matter. The reality is that sometimes in life terrible things happen and we never get to find out why. Reality may not always be what you want, but it cannot be willed away.