No expecting parent is ever prepared to hear these words: “Your baby no longer has a heartbeat.” And the words the Holy Spirit whispered to me moments before I heard that doctor’s statement were the last words I expected to hear: “David, even if your son is dead, God is still sovereign, and he is still good.”
On December 17, 2015, my wife visited our doctor for what we thought was a routine pregnancy checkup. We learned our son, Mateo Aslan Wise, had died in utero. After 25 weeks in gestation, he would be born stillborn.
Our world was set on its head.
We had loved Mateo since we found out about him. Everything during our pregnancy was normal; there were no indicators of any problems. Doctors don’t know why he died.
I Walked Away
Around Easter 2015, I had walked away from church and my faith. As a child, I had accepted Christ as my Savior. As a young adult, I was an active member of my church, even serving as an intern in our urban ministry. I loved reading Scripture and studying theology. I remember learning about God’s sovereign power and goodness and accepting these truths, but not knowing what they meant for daily life. My faith had not yet become real to me. Though I subscribed to it intellectually, and even practiced biblical morality, it hadn’t sunk into the depths of my heart.
Years later, I was burned by church, hurt by Christians, and weary. I gave up. But when we learned my wife was pregnant, I started asking questions about God again, and two pastoral friends sought me out. They prayed with me, walked through the pregnancy with us, and offered support. People had let me down, but our pastor reminded me to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of faith (Heb. 12:2).
Suddenly, everything changed. I was facing the reality of death. I was facing a choice: cling to gospel hope or give up.
He Came After Me
My faith journey over the last 18 months has not been easy. As we were in the hospital delivering Mateo, I knew Jesus was going to be the only way we’d get through it.
Accepting God’s truth isn’t easy. Living God’s truth is even harder. So we reached out to a nearby church for support and counseling. One of the pastors came to our house, listened to our story, and prayed with us. He invited us to visit their community.
We listened to God speak through sermons, prayers, and corporate worship, as well as through other believers in small groups. God assured us we are not alone; we are loved. He showed us his power in meeting our needs. All the while, I continued wrestling with whether I could trust God again. At times I was angry with him.
But he continued to pursue me.
During this time I discovered life apart from God offered no hope, only despair. I prayed through and lived in the Psalms. I found solace in knowing Jesus suffered and died for us, and that he rose to make all things new. I turned to Scripture and found comfort in passages like Revelation 21:4–5:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
When faced with the death of my only child, God demonstrated his powerful love and goodness toward us. I found rest in the One whose yoke is easy, whose burden is light (Matt. 11:28–30).
At our son’s memorial, the pastor shared John 11:25–27:
Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Then the pastor said, “The most important question you have to ask yourself is, ‘Do I believe this?” By the grace of God, my heart screamed yes.
Sovereign and Good
I believe Jesus is the resurrection and the life, sovereign over even my son’s death. He is also good. Do I understand this completely? No. But is God helping me to trust him? Yes. Our heavenly Father entered into our suffering during this painful season. He wiped away our tears. He comforted us and gave us peace.
We learned three vital lessons during this excruciating time: continue to trust God, continue to pray, and continue to give thanks. Trust was not easy for us—me in particular—but it was essential to our healing and to knowing our King. We prayed for trust, and through prayer God gave us peace. Prayer has the power to heal, to encourage, to help us grasp God’s true identity as our Father. We also praised him and gave thanks for our blessings—including Mateo—and for providing for us. We learned to praise God continually even as we suffered. Through all this, we realized God was and is with us. He is for us. He loves us.
God has blessed us with another son, Pablo, who was born in March. More than that, God has blessed us with knowing him in a deeper way through suffering. During these dark days 1 Peter 1:3–6 brought us great peace. If you are walking through similar trials, may it encourage you, too:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who through God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.