Our church children were assigned Bible reading at home every week and they were told to write a comment or two. The comments were to show that they read them with some thought. One day, our children’s ministry director showed me a question that was asked by a fourth grader. I don’t remember her exact words, but it went something like, “This is so unfair. Why didn’t God protect John the Baptist? He was a good person, but he was killed. Why didn’t God help him?”
The fourth grader was alluding to the assigned reading about the death of John the Baptist. I’m not going to go into how that was assigned reading for her age. But Mark 14 begins with that story.
John the Baptist was arrested for speaking critically of the royal family. That’s still illegal in Thailand by the way. And it was illegal in the kingdom of Herod Antipas (son of the more famous Herod the Great of Matthew 2). And so John was arrested and put in prison. And as the story goes, Herod, having acquired a new wife who used to be his brother’s wife, wished to please his new wife’s daughter, Salome. Salome asked for John the Baptist’s head. And so it was done. That’s how John the Baptist died, to the shock of his family and friends, and his disciples and followers. And even Jesus took time off to be by himself when he heard the news (v.13).
So the fourth grader complained, “This is so unfair. Why didn’t God protect John the Baptist? He was a good person, but he was killed. Why didn’t God help him?”
My first reaction was to celebrate the child that asked such a thoughtful question. The second was, how should I respond to this? Here it goes.
In a larger sense, John had completed his God-given task – he was the end-time Elijah who came to announce the coming of the Messiah (Matthew 11:14). That’s how Mark portrayed him to open the gospel – John’s ministry ended as Jesus’ ministry began (Mark 1:14). And John’s disciples transferred their allegiance to Jesus (John 1:35-37). That part is clear. His assigned work was completed with the launch of Jesus’ ministry.
But he’s still got a life to live, right? He’s only 30 years old and he’s got plenty of life ahead of him. He can now get married and raise a family and continue to make an impact in the world for God, right? But he died. He was killed. And God didn’t do anything about it. Why?
Closer to home, one of my old youth students (she’s in her 40’s) went to be with God a few weeks ago. She lost her fight to cancer. She left behind a loving husband and three great boys in their teens. My daughter was a flower girl at their wedding some 20 years ago. So yes, we were close. And we are all heart-broken at her passing. And we all worry about the family that she left behind. And people ask, “Why?” Why did it happen to such a lovely, kind-hearted, faithful woman of God?
But if we can take an eternal, heavenly perspective, does our question of why take on a different response? We sing, “no tears in heaven, no sorrows given, all will be glory in that land; there will be no sadness, all will be gladness, when we shall join that happy land” (from “No Tears in Heaven”). Rather than struggling with the agony of cancer and the absolute helplessness that accompanied her and her family, wasn’t it a greater blessing for her to go to a place with no tears and no sorrows, and all gladness? Why remain on earth with suffering, when she can be free of that and dine with God in heaven? And in John the Baptist’s case, wasn’t it a greater blessing to join God in heaven to hear the affirming words, “good and faithful servant” and receive God’s loving embrace now that his work was completed?
Of course, we need to grieve and weep over the loss of life, and lift up those who are left behind to cope with the hurt. Jesus wept, and we should too. But John the Baptist’s tragic story demands that we apply a heavenly perspective to our life stories. We can complain about how it’s totally unfair for John to die, but John is smiling broadly from heaven and telling people he has left behind – “I’m doing great, y’all!”