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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Hearts gone cold

Yes, mothers can forget their compassion

Hearts gone cold


It was one of those once-in-a-thousand-years things—at least not supposed to happen more than once in a lifetime.

But now it had happened twice. Indeed, for the second time in 25 years, the sober question posed by the prophet Isaiah suggested an altogether ill-fitting response. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast,” Isaiah asked, “and have no compassion on the child she has borne?”

For the second time in 25 years, within an hour’s drive of my office, a young mother had brutally proven Isaiah wrong. Just 25 years ago, Susan Smith had stunned the nation when she deliberately drowned her two young sons by strapping them in their car seats and rolling them into a lake. Now, police said that Krista Madden, a mother here in Asheville with a troubled background not that different from Susan Smith’s, had wrapped her 7-week-old daughter in a thin blanket and pitched her down a steep ravine in a hard-to-access wooded area. There she was left to die.

“How could she?” we ask. But we flatter ourselves. Isaiah’s point was actually very different. We tend to truncate the quote from the prophet because we like to think better of ourselves than we ought to think. It may be comforting to distance ourselves from the Susan Smiths of this world, but it’s ultimately dishonest to do so.

Ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, we’ve wanted to eat the forbidden fruit and still live forever.

For Isaiah didn’t stop where I stopped. “Though she may forget,” he reminded us soberly, relaying God’s words, “I will not forget you.” Only God is faithful. The rest of us are untrustworthy Susans.

Too harsh, you say?

Not if you consider seriously what’s been happening day after day, month after month, and year after year throughout our grisly society. You just can’t help comparing these headline grabbers with the champions of abortion rights in “clinics” all over the nation. No, this isn’t just another desperate attempt to discover some distant, dark, and theoretical linkage. The nexus is too real and the imagery too vivid for anyone to ignore.

Thousands of times every single day in North America, babies who enjoy the snug security of their mothers’ wombs are stunned to have that warm comfort interrupted by a violence even more repugnant than that inflicted on the three children I’ve already mentioned. Of course it’s terrifying to think of deliberate death by drowning or desertion. But how is it different in kind from death by chemicals or dissection?

Can a mother forget? The painful answer from Isaiah is that, yes, mothers of small children can and sometimes do forfeit their God-given propensity for serving as a small child’s last line of defense against violence. It should be an exceptional occurrence, and Isaiah implies that in normal, God-fearing cultures, it is.

But ours is less and less a God-fearing culture. For the last couple of generations, we’ve bent over backward to make it the norm rather than the exception for a mother to turn a chilly heart toward her own baby. When we do that, we’ve got no business acting surprised when we suddenly discover another Susan Smith.

Ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, we’ve selfishly wanted it both ways. We’ve wanted to eat the forbidden fruit and still live forever. We’ve wanted to have it all now, and also to have it later. To “have your cake and eat it too” was a notion unknown before the Fall, but common afterward.

Now, bluntly, we want to be able to kill our invisible babies, and still pretend that we’re a genteel and humane society. We want to be able to be compassionate with every woman who chooses an abortion and still to shake our heads in surprised disbelief when we hear of yet another Susan Smith.

But in God’s scheme of things, the simple erasure of such boundaries isn’t possible. That’s why He set flaming angels at the gates to the Garden of Eden when He banished Adam and Eve. He knew how hard they would try to go back and forth between the two kingdoms. He also knew how hard we, as their fallen children, would try to do the same thing.

But then, along comes another Susan Smith to remind us that God is not mocked. In the recent Asheville case, that 7-week-old baby girl was rescued before succumbing to the elements. Whether the nation where she lives also gets caught up by God’s mercy is another matter.


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  • Stalwart
    Posted: Sun, 06/02/2019 08:16 am


    Your article on mothers is a tragic tale yet beautifully written. Thanks for tour skill, discernment, wisdom, courage, and heart.



  •  Neil Evans's picture
    Neil Evans
    Posted: Sun, 06/02/2019 09:31 am

    I agree with Stalwart!

    Jesus still weeps, still loves, still offers His LIFE.

    Thank you for the reminder!!!