How to help those living through the loss of a child

January 12, 2015

The experience of watching a family live through the last few days of their child’s life will never leave you. The loss of a child is perhaps the most painful thing one can experience. Regardless if it’s a miscarriage, a toddler, a teenager or a 50 year old, parents are not meant to outlive their children.

I have no idea what it’s like to live through it, and I hope and pray that I never will.

Through my training as a general pediatrician in a busy pediatric hospital, I watched a child slowly die. I observed her family experience her decline over the week leading up to her death. I saw people come and provide support. I overheard conversations that were immensely helpful and some that undoubtedly caused more hurt. From that experience, I’d like to help you know what to say to a family walking through this horrible loss.

Things you should not say

1. “Everything will be OK.”

Everything will most certainly never be OK. Something simple like seeing another child that is the age their child should be or a toy that belonged to their child will bring back all the hurt. Even though life may start to look more normal in time, everything will not be OK.

By trying to move a parent through their grief toward resolution, you are ignoring the fact that many of our spiritual forefathers mourned openly before God. You see examples of this throughout the Psalms (see chapters 31, 35, 55 and many more).  In Job 30, he says, “I cry out to You for help, but You do not answer me (v 20). Therefore my harp is turned to mourning, and my flute to the sound of those who weep (v 31).”

2. “I understand (or I know how you feel).”

You don’t, and you never will.

Even if you lost a child in the same way, there will be something unique to their situation that makes this statement false.

If after some time, the parents realize that you might have an experience similar to theirs, they may come to you with questions. At this point, you may share your experience but not until you have been invited to do so.

3. “God works in mysterious ways.”

God does work in ways that we do not understand, but no one wants God to work in this “mysterious way” in their life. So, this statement is not helpful. Many people are tempted to want to find that little phrase that will be the groundbreaking spiritual moment for the heartbroken parents. Resist doing this. You could easily end up causing them more harm than good.

The best case scenario is that you become a clanging cymbal. You might be speaking truth, but you can do so in such a manner that you cannot be heard (I Cor. 13:1). By saying these things at the wrong time, you are not loving the parents well. At the worst, you are actually being selfish. Honestly evaluate if you’re trying to say the magic words for the parents or for your own selfish ambition and vain conceit (Phil. 2:3)?

Superficial, trite statements have no place in a situation like this. “She’ll be an angel now,” “You can always have more children,” and “It must have been God’s will,” are three other statements that are best left unsaid.

Things you can say and do

1. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

It may seem like it’s not enough to say—and it really isn’t—but, if said with sincerity, it is probably the best way to express exactly what you are feeling. The most helpful way to live in God’s community and to serve those in that community is to mourn with those who mourn. It may actually be your only role in this situation (Rom. 12). Don’t place expectations on the parents to react in any way; if they have a negative reaction, that’s OK.

2. “We care about you and will pray for you.”

Community is incredibly important in these situations. You should care about the parents and, when appropriate, find a way to tangibly care for them. This might mean fixing a meal or cleaning their house. Tasks like these are overwhelming to someone who has experienced such a tragic loss. Like Aaron and Hur holding Moses’ arms, we should come alongside them and help in any way we can. Even if it seems small or insignificant, it could be helping on a larger scale (Exod. 17).

In addition, you should offer to pray for them. Then, actually pray—don’t say it just for show (Heb. 4:6, Matt. 6).

3. Remember birthdays and death anniversaries.

A quick note on a birthday or on the anniversary of the child’s death can mean so much. It’s a chance to say, “We know you will be thinking about him/her today, and so are we.”

4. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day still apply.

Mother’s and Father’s Day are some of the most painful days in the lives of parents who have lost a child. Remembering to tell them Happy Mother’s Day or Happy Father’s Day let’s them know that you are thinking of them and reminds them that you know the life of their child matters.

In the end, you’ll find yourself to be the most helpful to a family who has experienced the loss of a child, not by doing or saying anything, but by being there for them. Don’t try to do too much. Don’t try to say the magic spiritual words.

Just be present and available—and trust the Lord to do what’s best for the family.  

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24