Three years ago almost to the day, on 18 May 2018, I posted an article with the same title as this one about a baby in our congregation born very prematurely. His name was Wilfred Clarke, born to Joel and Hannah at just 27 weeks. Following his premature arrival he suffered many serious problems, the most serious of which was a bowel infection that required surgery. Miraculously, by the grace of God, he survived and the Lord has continued to sustain him through many ups and downs since. He is awaiting another major operation in the next few weeks or months. You can hear his mother Hannah speaking about their experience here.
The reason for today’s article is that in the inscrutable plan of God Joel and Hannah have just this week had another premature baby. Mabel Cordelia Clarke (pictured above) was born on Wednesday morning weighing 1 lb 8oz, just under 26 weeks old. So far she is in critical condition, struggling with breathing and receiving the maximum amount of care that is medically available.
Why does God allow this to happen? Surely Joel and Hannah and their family have been through enough? Why make them relive the same nightmare over again – and who knows how things will turn out this time?
Knowing Joel and Hannah and the strength of their faith, I don’t think they would say anything different than all that they said about their experience with Wilfred. Because the Lord hasn’t changed. His goodness, his power, his wisdom, his mercy, his knowledge haven’t diminished in any way since this time three years ago. All the truths in his word that Joel and Hannah believed last time around are still just as true this week – just as true as they were when they were first written in Scripture many centuries ago.
And so I thought I would repost the article I wrote on Wilfred, simply replacing his name with Mabel’s, to remind us of these same truths that were true then and are still true now, whatever the outcome of Mabel’s struggle might be…
A situation like this one inevitably prompts God’s people to reflect on the mystery of his sovereign purposes. We don’t doubt his power to control all things – he determines all that happens (Isa 45.7) – and we know he is good and kind and gracious. If we – who are far from perfect – wouldn’t let a child suffer, why would God permit this to happen?
There are no easy answers to this question. We don’t know how a situation like Mabel’s can possibly fit into the perfectly wise plan of a perfectly good God. Deuteronomy 29.29 says that ‘the secret things belong to the Lord our God…’ – there are so many things in the Lord’s purposes that are secret. He doesn’t share them with us or explain them to us.
But just because we don’t understand them doesn’t make them any less wise or good. Instead we hold on to what he has revealed; the rest of Deut 29.29 says, ‘…but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.’ And what has God revealed? Amongst other things he has told us that he is working all things together for the good of those who love him (Rom 8.28). We may not be able to see how this or that situation can possibly contribute anything to the good of God’s people, but that is what he says is happening.
Imagine for a moment that God could explain the whole of his purposes for the universe to you. Of course he can’t, because you would need to have an infinite understanding to be able to take it in and make sense of it – but imagine that he could show you how every single circumstance in every single human life fits into his grand plan for the universe.
With our finite, limited vision we can barely understand how the one tiny little sliver that we can see intersects with a few of the other things that are going on around it, never mind all the millions of ways, seen and unseen, that any one event impacts on and interrelates with all the other things going on around it.
We see so little of the picture – we have so little perspective – we are in no position to critique God’s masterplan because we see such a miniscule part of it. If we could see it all laid out in its detail and perfect completeness – if we could understand how each little sliver connects in millions of ways to all the other slivers then we would see that it couldn’t have been any other way. That this was the best way to bring about the best outcome. If we could see everything from God’s perspective we would say, ‘Now I see why it had to happen the way that it did’ and we would want it to happen that way.
Who can say what God is doing through Mabel and her parents in the lives of the nurses and doctors treating her; in the parents of other sick children on the ward who have seen up close how Christians cope with the most distressing situation imaginable; in the friends near and far who are following Mabel’s story?
But we can’t see it. Because we’re not God – we don’t have his infinite understanding and knowledge. Even if God showed it to us we couldn’t take it in – our brains just don’t have the processing power to grasp it all. But just because we can’t see it and understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And so we live by faith not by sight (Heb 11.1). We trust that God does know what is best. That he knows the best way to bring about what is best. That he really is doing all things well. And as we stay our minds on him and as we cling to these truths revealed, we enjoy his peace (Isa 26.3; Ps 119.165).