The Gospel in the NICU

It’s a strange feeling. A mix of sadness and awe. A glimpse of both heartbreaking brokenness and beautiful hope. It brings tears to my tired eyes while at the same time I can’t help but smile. It makes me want to curse the Devil and bless the Lord. First, I despair, then I hope.

I’m standing among machines and monitors as they beep and pulsate and chart the life of my newborn daughter. Her eyes are closed and her limbs are limp. She has tubes going in and out of her tiny body. Needle pricks cover the bottom of her foot. Instead of being gently caressed by the warmth of her mother’s arms, she is cradled by medical tubes and artificial light. She’s here because her lungs were unable to get enough oxygen after she was born. It is necessary that she is here, but it is a sad necessity.

My heart breaks because this is not the way things are supposed to be. Almighty God created this world wonderful and perfect. In His created world, life would come forth from the womb and never be in danger of infection or defect. Every baby born would be healthy and full of life. There would be no neonatal intensive care units. Yet, here we are. Because of sin. Because we humans have made a mess of God’s good creation by thinking we know better. It hasn’t turned out well.

I’m not the only parent watching over their child with loving, but tear-filled eyes. There are at least four or five other parents. We are dressed in gowns and have face-masks on. In many ways it is a sad scene: for a brief half-hour, parents stand vigil over their sick babies being kept healthy by a combination of doctors, nurses, machines, and medications. It is terrible. We want to celebrate this new life, but instead we have been smacked in the face by the hard reality of sickness and disease. You may be an eternal optimist who always looks on the bright side of life and lives it to the fullest, but in the NICU that doesn’t get you far. Here, it is impossible to duck and hide from sin’s ugly presence.  

But that is not to say I feel hopeless. As I said, my sadness is mixed with awe; my heartbreak with hope. Despite sin’s ugly presence, and its terrible consequences, life is happening here. Without this neonatal unit, and what it represents, the life of these babies would be squeezed out by death’s grip. It’s hard to see my daughter like this, but the alternative is much worse.

God has created this world to be explored, researched, discovered, and utilized for the flourishing of human life. He’s given us the raw resources of his world and a mind made in his image so that we might use them to his honour and glory. God is honoured when we cultivate creation to promote and produce life. With our hands we build hospitals to care and cure the sick. With our intelligence we research and discover medicines to counter disease and death. With our hearts we sacrifice time and comforts to ensure the health of others. Here in the NICU, so much of this life-giving is on display.

I marvel at the medical procedures beyond my understanding and capabilities. I’m in awe at the skill of the doctors and nurses who have dedicated so much of their lives to understand the human body and give it life. I’m grateful for the engineers who have carefully designed the machines keeping my daughter alive. And I smile as I watch the love of the parents evident in their faithful presence and constant concern. They speak soft, reassuring words to their child and gently hold their fragile bodies with strong hands. This is love. And love shines bright against a backdrop of pain and sickness.

So yes, I smile and have hope because I see it all around me. But more than that, I have hope because I know that our great effort to combat sin’s intrusion on life is not in vain. I know full well that each one of these precious babies will die one day. All our efforts can only give them temporary life. Our small acts of love and mercy cannot overcome the domain of hate and death. They are good and righteous, but we must not deceive ourselves into thinking that we are saving the world. We cannot. The wound of this world cannot be cured by any human, save one; and that is where the gospel comes in.

The God-man, Jesus Christ is the cure we all are crying out for. In him our hope is found. He became human and suffered the daily effects of our broken world. He looked upon the faces of the diseased and dead and he wept. He took upon himself the full weight of our sin. He groaned and cried out under its weight as he carried it to the cross. His body bled and broke as he nailed sin in its place. He felt the darkness of death muffle his cries and lead him away to the grave.

But, on the third day Jesus demonstrated that death does not have the final say. Jesus, and all those united to him by faith, will have life after death. It will be a life free from pain, tears, disease, and brokenness. Our bodies will move and function as they were meant to. There will be no doctors or hospitals in heaven. There will be no NICU. The wound of the world will be healed once and for all.

As I stand next to my daughter, struggling for life, I have hope. God has made this world very good, and even though at times it is very bad, He will one day redeem it. God is still present and active in our world. Just as these sick babies can be coaxed and loved to full health, so also this world will be restored to beauty and glory through the power and love of the Triune God. What a day that will be!

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