My Son’s Suffering Helped Me Understand God’s Suffering

The birth of my child transformed my view of the “problem of pain” and divine foreknowledge.

A few months into our pregnancy with Jackson, we received a phone call. The nurse’s thin voice slipped out of the speakers on my phone, and with it, words: words with medical definitions, cleft lip and palate, follow-up ultrasound, high-risk pregnancy. Now, when I lean up against the bricks of the room where I first heard those words, they echo back, the walls keeping a record of the moment that everything changed.

From there we had ultrasounds—what felt like hundreds, but what I now know was only nine. The maternal-fetal medicine specialist ordered a fetal MRI, an unusual procedure, attempting to understand our son’s face. There were second and third phone calls. The news rolled in. Jackson had no right eye, a very small jaw and chin, no external ear. Significant facial cleft, they called it in the genetic counselor’s office when we asked what language we should use to tell family and friends. I inhaled the words and they filled my lungs with cold water, and it seemed that every breath for the next 20 weeks of my pregnancy came out like a gasp.

During those 20 weeks, between the first phone call and Jack’s first breath, we drove hundreds of miles to and from the hospital, to and from each consultation, each proximate diagnosis. When we drove, we listened to songs about miracles. We listened to praise music from our childhoods, gospel choirs, and old hymns. We also began a journey to understand faith and suffering and uncertainty. I prayed desperately night after night that God would not let anything happen to this baby.

As the 18-week ultrasound approached, I became convinced that something was wrong, that we would learn something terrible that Friday afternoon.

The exam was completely silent. …

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