1. Owen was and is a human being created in God’s image.
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
To show that subsequent generations of humans bear this same image, we have Genesis 5:1–3:
This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.
Millions of people don’t believe this. They say he was just an evolutionary product of time, energy, and matter. Their hearts know better. Others say he was not human because he had not reached viability. The Bible has a different view. When Mary, pregnant with Jesus, approaches Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist, the word used to designate John in the womb is the same word as babies outside the womb. Elizabeth says to Mary,
Behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby [brephos] in my womb leaped for joy. (Luke 1:44)
Owen was a baby — a human being created in the image of God.
2. Owen was and is your son.
Someday when you have sons and daughters, perhaps four, people will ask you, “How many children do you have?” And you will say, “We have five children. One is in heaven and four are still with us.” He is your son. He will always be your son.
And you say with David in 2 Samuel 12:23 when his baby died, “Now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”
3. Owen is safe and uncondemned in the presence of Jesus Christ.
I want you to be sure that Owen is safe and uncondemned, but there is something that is more important to be sure of than that — namely, that God is sovereign and wise and good and trustworthy.
- “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25).
- “Good and upright is the Lord” (Psalm 25:8).
- “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1).
- “Praise the Lord, for he is good; sing to his name, for it is pleasant” (Psalm 135:3).
This is your rock, first, and all other comforts are secondary. But I will give you biblical reasons for why I believe Owen is safe and uncondemned. It is not because he wasn’t sinful by nature. Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Ephesians 2:3 says that we are all “by nature children of wrath.” What we are by nature — not experience — Paul says, is hostile to God (Romans 8:7–8). A child does not learn it. A child expresses it.
Our confidence that Owen is safe and uncondemned is not that he was innocent, but that he was forgiven and he was counted righteous because of Jesus Christ. The Bible is very plain that we are saved from our sin and from God’s punishment by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who died in our place and rose again from the dead.
But what about tiny children who do not yet have the physical ability to even know the basic facts of the gospel, or even of any of God’s revelation in nature? Does the Bible teach that God will judge them in the same way that he will judge an adult who consciously rejects the truth of God that he knows? No, there are clues that God does not condemn those who are physically unable to know the truth that God has revealed in nature or in the gospel. I’ll mention two clues.
Destined for the Promised Land
The first comes from Deuteronomy chapter 1. God is angry because the people would not trust him to help them take the promised land. They rebelled against him.
So he says, “Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers [except Caleb and Joshua, who had trusted him]” (Deuteronomy 1:35) Then he adds a word about the children: “And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it” (Deuteronomy 1:39).
Not having the “knowledge of good and evil” takes away the judgment. They were not yet physically able to know what they needed to know, and so God does not sweep them away with the adults who wouldn’t trust God.
Accountable to What We Know
The second clue confirms this principle from the New Testament. It’s found in Romans 1:19–21. The text is not about children, but the same principles of justice apply. Listen to the relationship between having available knowledge and having accountability.
What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him
The point is this: to be held accountable at the judgment you need two things: (1) available knowledge of the glory of God whom you should have adored and thanked; and (2) the physical ability to know it, to perceive it. If this knowledge were really not available, then, Paul implies, there really would be an “excuse” at the judgment. No adult, except perhaps profoundly mentally disabled or ill ones, have this excuse. That’s Paul’s point. We adults are without excuse.
But children are in another category. They do have this excuse. They don’t have the physical ability to know what God has revealed. Therefore, we believe that God will apply to them the blood and righteousness of Christ in a way we do not know. We adults can have this pardon and righteousness only through faith. That is the clear teaching of Scripture (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 3:28).
How are infants united to Christ? We don’t know. And speculation would not help us here. We leave it at this: Owen will glorify Christ all his everlasting days for salvation by grace on the basis of the death and righteousness of Christ. There is no other name under heaven by which he could be saved (Acts 4:12). Jesus Christ will get all the honor for Owen’s salvation.
4. Owen was created to glorify God.
- Bring my sons from afar, . . . everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:6–7).
- “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5).
- “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace . . .” (Galatians 1:15).
God’s designs for Owen were decided before he was born. He would exist for the glory of God. Ten minutes of that work was on the earth. The rest will be in heaven. None of us can even begin to estimate the magnitude of either. Who knows what has been set in motion on earth by the birth and death and life of Owen? It would be wild and unwarranted folly to think he has not changed the world.
His conscious life — his obedience to his Maker — was appointed to be lived out in heaven. That is a good place to live for the glory of God. Woe to us if we think that the only place to glorify God is on this tiny planet!
God glorifies his grace in many people by the pardon and power he exerts to make them in some measure Christlike here. But he glorifies his grace in many others — perhaps more — by the pardon and power to perfect them instantly, and put them to work in the realm of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12:13).
Owen was created to glorify God. He did and he is.
5. The length of Owen’s ten-minute life on earth was virtually indistinguishable from the length of ours.
Oh, for eyes to see things from the standpoint of eternity!
- “You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
- “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
The longest life of any person on earth is like a vapor’s breath on a cold winter morning. If the distance between the walls in this room represents eternity, the distance from the wall representing Owen’s life, and the distance representing ours would be so infinitesimally small, you would not be able to see the difference with the naked eye. We will all be gone very soon. That is one of the great truths Owen was sent to teach us.
6. Owen is happier today than the happiest person on earth has ever been.
That he missed earth’s pleasures of marriage and children and food and friends do not cause him the slightest regret. He took a much shorter route to the One in whose presence is fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11). By comparison the pleasures that Owen enjoys today make all of ours boring in the extreme. Philippians 1:23: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”
7. Owen was a test for your faith.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2–3)
Losing Owen was not in itself a joy; it was an agonizing test. If it were not agonizing, it would be no test. But now that it has laid you low, it is a test. And what is being tested is your faith in the goodness and power and the love of God — and his call on your life. Owen has become a test of his parents’ faith. I know it seems backwards. It is a strange kind of homeschooling. You, the parents, are to be the teachers. You should teach the lessons and give the tests. But God’s ways are not our ways. Owen has become the teacher and he has given the test.
Count on my prayers, Mom and Dad, that the testing of your faith will produce steadfastness. When it does, Owen will give the grade. And when you come home, he will say with his Master, “Well done, Dad. Well done, Mom.”
8. Owen is a gift to you and to the country you are serving.
When Job lost his children he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). The Lord gave. Owen is a gift. Yes, he has been taken away. But that does not change the fact that he was and is a gift. You had him, and you have him still — not in your arms but in your memory; not at home but in your heart; not on earth but in heaven.
And Owen is a gift to the people whom you seek to reach with the gospel. It is no accident in God’s design that this is missions week at our church. Owen has had his ongoing influence for the sake of the nations — already more than many adults have had who throw their lives away on trifles and never give a thought to eternity or to missions.
But he is a gift in particular to the country you are seeking to reach. I don’t get to say it very often at funerals. Generally, I say it to college students: Suffering and death in the path of obedience to Christ is not only the price of missions, but the means of missions. God has ordained that in our own suffering, we complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ by showing them to the world.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. (Colossians 1:24)
In the path of obedience in your nation, you have now suffered much. And Owen has paid with his life. That is the way it will be recorded in heaven. And it will not be lost on the people you are called to serve. Owen has not died in vain. You have not suffered loss in vain. “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Our time is very short. We will all be gone quickly. Nothing done for Christ is in vain. No life, no death, no loss is in vain.