Why would God design a baby to live for just two minutes? That’s not a hypothetical question, even for some of you listening right now. And it was certainly no hypothetical question when it was asked in a 1994 article published in Christianity Today, written by a grieving dad named Marshall Shelley. Marshall had lost two children to genetic defects. He and his wife, Susan, lost a daughter just shy of her second birthday, and they lost a son, who lived for just two minutes. Their children passed within three months of one another.
Their son, born with the rare genetic disorder called trisomy 13, lived for only seconds, as was medically expected. “The doctor cut the cord and gently placed him on Susan’s chest,” Marshall recounted. “He was a healthy pink, and we saw his chest rise and fall — the breath of life. Thank you, God. Then, almost immediately, he began to turn blue. We stroked his face and whispered words of welcome, of love, of farewell. And all too soon, the doctor told us he was gone.” Later, Marshall reflected on the experience and wrote this:
I was with my son his entire life — two minutes. He entered the world of light and air at 8:20 P.M. on November 22, 1991. And he departed, the doctor said, at 8:22. It seemed a very short time. Too short. My wife, Susan, and I never got to see him take his first steps. We barely got to see him take his first breath. I don’t know if he would have enjoyed softball or software, dinosaurs or dragonflies. We never got to wrestle, race, or read — would he have enjoyed those things like his older sisters do? What would have made him laugh? Made him scared? Made him angry? Those questions swarmed around my soul in the days following my son’s arrival and hurried departure. So many things I wondered. But one question loomed larger than all the rest, haunting me for months: Why would God create a child to live two minutes?
The question is pointed. Why would God create a child to live for only two minutes? Following this season of pain, after the loss of his two children, Marshall Shelley attended his high-school class reunion, and was asked to stand up and share what he had learned about life. The story got back to Pastor John, who recounted it in a 1995 seminar on God’s providence. Here he is.
‘Two Minutes to Eternity’
Marshall Shelley is now one of the vice presidents for Christianity Today and oversees Leadership Magazine and Partnership Magazine and Christianity Today and the new one that they’re putting out now, Books and Culture. He’s a bigwig down there.
“Two minutes is not that much different from seventy years when you consider forever.”
Marshall has suffered a lot. He had a child born who was profoundly disabled and lived two years and died. Then he had a child that lived two minutes and died — same as some of the people in this church. They just asked him, “Stand up and tell us a word, Marshall” — and they didn’t know what they were going to get. Someone said it was the most profound moment at a reunion you’ve ever been to. Noël has told me some profound moments at reunions that she’s had.
It’s funny, these things that go on in people when they go to twenty- and twenty-five- and thirty-year reunions, and they’re asked to just say something about life. It’s so different than when you were eighteen, you know?
What he said was, “Life is hard. God is good.” Then he told the story of this little two-minute baby. I read the article about three months ago, and it just came back to me. I said, “I’ve got to get this article for some families in our church,” because I remember he was wrestling with, Why would God design a baby to live for two minutes?
This Seven-Decade Vapor
You see, Marshall Shelley didn’t even ask the question of whether God did it. Marshall is just so saturated with the sovereignty of God that he asked the next question: Why would God design a baby to live for two minutes? The answer he gave was, “He didn’t. He designed him to live forever.” And two minutes is not that much different from seventy years when you consider forever.
Now, think on that. Just think on that: We don’t believe in eternity most of the time when we’re murmuring about why we lose this or that. Two seconds is not much different. I mean, picture the width of this building as eternity. You can imagine, then, how miniscule both seventy years and minutes would be. Just think on it. God didn’t create that baby to live for two minutes. Well, that’s one answer, and there are others. There are others.
This life, folks, is not the main thing. This is not the main thing. This is preparation, testing ground, laying up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20). Jesus talked like we get a few years to invest. Invest right because then you spend. We’ve got a totally different mindset: we have seventy years to spend, and then it’s over. We really need to listen to Marshall. We need to listen to people like that.
Prayer for Sufferers
Well, let me pray.
“This life not the main thing. This is preparation.”
O Father in heaven, I know, I know that when I say this, there are some incredibly raw nerves that could hear it and feel it as very painful. But Lord, I pray that in all tenderness, and in all meekness, and with all hugging, and all caring, we might believe the biblical view of life. I pray that those suffering most among us would become our best teachers, as many of them have.
I pray that you would sanctify to us our deepest distress and make us ask Marshall’s question, even if we can’t answer it, rather than asking an atheistic question. Help us to ask his question — Why would God design my baby to live for two minutes? Why would God design my baby to live for two years? — and then look for biblical answers and live with them in peace.
O Lord God, we want to be a biblical people. We want to be a loving people. We want to be a strong people. We want to commend the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of everybody that we meet. Help us I pray now. In Jesus’s name. Amen.