Luther's Counsel for Miscarriage
Today, as I begin writing this, it’s Mother’s Day, and what a joyous day it is. This day is particularly special because as I look at my wife’s belly, I see the hope of new life. She’s due in a few, short weeks to give birth to our firstborn, a baby girl. This whole process has been wonderful to watch. It’s been funny to see how the sight of a pregnant woman inspires and entitles everyone in the vicinity to give the unsuspecting mother and father birthing horror stories, parenting advice, and name suggestions after an avalanche of questions. Most of the people my wife and I have encountered have been perfectly charming and said wonderful things. The only line that has quietly bothered me throughout is, “You’re going to be a dad soon!” To be fair, these people can only see the life welling in my wife’s womb. It’s impossible to see or know that her womb, which now is the cradle of life was also a grave for our first pregnancy. They cannot know that I am already a father, but, this side of eternity, I won’t ever meet my child because of a miscarriage. We searched for a heartbeat and were met only with silence. In that moment, no one could speak. When I think back, no one actually said it at all. Visit after visit, doctor after doctor, no one said the words: “Your child is dead.”
And I cried. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Ps. 22:1) “My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD-- how long? Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love” (Ps. 6:3-4) “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1) In 1542, Luther published a short letter entitled, “Comfort for Women who have had a Miscarriage” to address the looming “Why?” over this tragedy; a tragedy we now know affects 1 in 5 women and their families.
Strangely, neither King David nor Luther give us an answer to this question. No shallow pious platitudes, religious one-liners, or pop-Christian Bible verses. Instead, Luther cuts right to the heart and takes away the most common and crushing answer couples who go through miscarriage jump to. It’s the same line of thinking the disciples in John 9 use when looking at the man born blind. “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Who sinned that my child is dead? Jesus replies to His disciples and parents today, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). In other words, it’s not your fault. God is not punishing you for some hidden sin or a broken commandment. In fact, Luther says consistently in his letters of spiritual care that if you want to worry about a commandment, worry about the first one: “You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Turn away from yourself, turn to God, and believe in His promises.
At first pass, part of the problem with miscarriage is that in turning to God, the situation doesn’t seem to get much better. God has attached His holy word of promise, which gives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to water, bread, and wine. But this child has not received any of the above. What promise, if any, is left for my miscarried child? Here, Luther appeals to something oft-forgotten but that we do well to remember in these dire times: prayer. He writes, “One should not despise a Christian person as if he were a Turk, a pagan, or a godless person. He is precious in God’s sight, and his prayer is powerful and great, for he has been sanctified by Christ’s blood and anointed with the Spirit of God” (LW 43:248). This has always been true of the people of God. God hears even the unexpressed and deepest desires of a mother’s heart because she has a Spirit and a Son who intercede for her with groans too deep for words and with blood that makes her a child of God the Father.
Furthermore, Luther writes, “Who can doubt that those Israelite children who died before they could be circumcised on the eighth day were yet saved by the prayers of their parents in view of the promise that God willed to be their God. God has not limited His power to the sacraments, but has made a covenant with us through His word.” The weakness and humility of a mother’s prayer is her hope. As Luther writes in the Catechism, God the Father has, in fact, urged her to pray because He has promised to hear her.
The Old Testament even provides us with a glimpse of how God has answered the prayers of his people. The eleventh chapter of Isaiah opens with a promise of the Christ, the Root of Jesse, who will come in the power of the Spirit with wisdom and power. Isaiah also gives a picture of what Christ will finally accomplish. The chaos, evil, and enmity of the old world will be no more. The wolf will lie with the Lamb, the leopard with the goat, the calf with the lion. And leading this Last Day parade of the perfected New Creation with baton in hand will be none other than a little child. Likewise, the serpent, previously the dread foe of all humanity, will now be the plaything of a nursing child. Death and the Devil have lost their sting, and to the children, God has given the victory.
The New Testament is likewise rich with pictures of those who were given over to God in prayer. By a simple prayer, the paralytic is healed, the demons are cast out, and the dead child is raised. Biblically speaking this is the power of a parent’s prayer, not because of how hard we pray, but on account of the strength of the One who saves: the resurrected Jesus Christ. So when we, as those claimed by Christ, gather around the body and blood of our Lord we confess that we gather, “with angels, archangels, and the whole company of heaven,” including our lost children, to sing God’s praise and partake of the feast of the Lamb which has no end.