Why Do Babies Suffer and Die?
A NEWBORN baby—what a joyful reward after months of expectation, preparation and a painful labor! A wise teacher of ancient times expressed it this way: “A woman in labour is in pain because her time has come; but when the child is born she forgets the anguish in her joy that a man has been born into the world.”*
But for many parents pride in their ‘little bundle of joy’ is soon shattered. The child falls sick or dies. The poor parents become heartbroken. Even in countries with a high standard of living, there are millions of children suffering from one form of handicap or another. In less developed lands many more millions of babies die each year. In some countries half the babies born die before they turn five.
This has led people to ask: Why does God allow innocent babies to suffer? Why do so many of them die?
A Worldwide Problem
Due to imperfection in the parents’ sex cells, some babies are born deformed or mentally retarded. Genetic impairment results in many diseases, among them spina bifida, caused when the spinal column of the infant in the womb does not form properly, and anencephaly, in which most of the brain fails to develop. These conditions have been termed “the Curse of the Celts” because of their high incidence in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where one in every 100 babies is born with such a defect.
Another common problem is cerebral palsy, caused by brain damage before, during or after birth, and estimated to strike once in every 170 live births.
In less developed lands millions of babies die from diseases such as kwashiorkor, marasmus, measles, pneumonia and tuberculosis. The book The Competent Infant states regarding a major cause of fatal illnesses: “In most areas of the world malnutrition in early life is directly or indirectly responsible for more deaths among children than all other causes combined.”
Who Is to Blame?
The Bible informs us that when God created the first man and woman, he blessed them and commanded them to “fill the earth” with their offspring. It was God’s purpose that if they and their offspring proved obedient to him they should live forever. But the first human pair willfully broke God’s law and so brought suffering and death upon themselves.—Genesis 1:28; 2:16, 17; 3:6, 19.
They could not pass on to their children the perfection that they themselves no longer had. According to the law of heredity, their children would be born imperfect. As the Bible says: “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” Hence, God cannot be blamed because some babies are born with defects leading to early death. The cause is, as the Bible states, “one man,” the first man, Adam, who brought death upon himself and his future offspring.—Romans 5:12.
This situation has been aggravated by the greed, ignorance and carelessness of mankind in general. It is now well known that pregnant women who take aspirin or tranquilizers are more likely to have defective babies. Many women also harm their future offspring by smoking, which decreases the supply of oxygen to the baby in the womb, sometimes resulting in death to the newborn, especially crib death. Those who overindulge in alcohol or coffee are also more likely to have deformed or mentally retarded babies. When the babies of such mothers suffer, or even die, can God honestly be blamed for it? Is it not, rather, a case of ‘reaping what a person sows’?—Galatians 6:7.
In recent years the 20th-century practice of bottle feeding has been promoted by industry in less developed lands, where formerly most women breast-fed their babies. Reports say that millions more babies are dying each year because of this. Mother’s milk provides a natural immunity to illnesses such as diarrhea, a common cause of suffering and death among infants. Some mothers who use a powdered-milk formula mix it with contaminated water or dilute it to save money. The result is an undernourished and sick baby. For example, a southern Africa newspaper recently stated about one African hospital: The “General Hospital’s paediatrics department was full of bottle-fed babies suffering from diarrhoea.”
Kwashiorkor is a protein-deficiency disease that afflicts many infants. In southern Africa this comes about because, after being weaned, many babies live on maize porridge, which has only about 9 percent poor-quality protein. Marasmus, on the other hand, is a disease that afflicts infants that have been weaned early and are fed with insufficient substitutes. Because of faulty assimilation, they suffer from calorie as well as protein deficiency.
Babies that survive these severe forms of malnutrition suffer for the rest of their life. Regarding this, the book The Competent Infant says: “The intellectual attainments of children who have recovered from . . . protein-calorie malnutrition are consistently lower than those of individuals with adequate nutrition during infancy.” Regarding less severe forms of malnutrition, the authors state that these “might be correlated with a decrease in intellectual development.”
The Creator cannot be blamed for malnutrition. The earth is capable of providing more than enough wholesome food for all. Commercial greed and poverty are the main causes of malnutrition among infants. The facts show that the responsibility for the suffering and death of babies has to be borne by man.
The Creator Desires All to Enjoy Life
Jehovah God could immediately have destroyed Adam and Eve after they had sinned. So why did he allow them to have offspring before they died? It was because he wanted us to have the opportunity to demonstrate by obedience our appreciation for his loving provisions, with the prospect of living forever. Had God destroyed the first human pair immediately after they sinned, we would never have been born.
How does man’s Creator feel about babies who suffer due to inherited sin? In answer, consider his merciful view of even wicked men. “‘Do I take any delight at all in the death of someone wicked,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, ‘and not in that he should turn back from his ways and actually keep living?’” (Ezekiel 18:23) If the Creator finds no delight at all in seeing even a wicked man die, it is obvious that it is not his will for millions of babies to suffer and die.
True Comfort From God’s Word
Sometimes when a young child dies, clergymen “comfort” the parents by saying: “God chose your child because he wanted another beautiful flower in heaven.” Expressions like that are in fact lies. By saying such things people are misled into thinking that God is responsible for the suffering and death of babies, whereas the truth is that mankind has brought these things upon itself by rebellion against God and his rule.
Lovingly, Jehovah has made provision to undo all the harmful effects of inherited sin and death. He has given his heavenly Son, Jesus Christ, a Kingdom government, which will rule this earth for a thousand years. According to Bible prophecies, that Thousand Year Reign is very near. During that time the dead, including babies, will be resurrected. The Bible describes a prophetic foreview of this, saying: “The sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades [the grave] gave up those dead in them . . . And he [God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 20:6, 13; 21:3, 4.
That the resurrection will include children, Jesus demonstrated when he was on earth. He restored to life a 12-year-old girl who had fallen sick and died. Understandably, her parents “were beside themselves with great ecstasy.” (Mark 5:42) And in the near future many more millions of parents will be thrilled when Jesus, from his heavenly throne, brings back all who are in Hades, the common grave of mankind. Think of the joy on the faces of God-fearing parents as they receive back healthy babies—with the prospect of their living forever in perfect surroundings!
How thankful we can be to our loving Creator that his purpose includes such a loving provision!
See John, chapter 16, verse 21, The New English Bible.