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Carla Barnhill

A Vocabulary for Suffering

A conversation with Nancy and David Guthrie

Why does a loving God allow people to suffer? It is sometimes those who have suffered the most who are most at peace with this question. David and Nancy Guthrie are such people.

In 1998, Nancy gave birth to the couple's second child, a daughter they named Hope. But within hours of her arrival, Hope was diagnosed with Zellweger syndrome, an extremely rare chromosomal disorder that is always fatal, usually within the first six months. There is no cure, no treatment. Neither is there much of what we call "quality of life." These babies are blind, probably deaf, unable to suck, coo, or respond in any intentional way. So the Guthries went home with a baby they knew would move closer to death with each passing day. Soon after she reached the six-month mark, Hope died in her sleep.

The odds of the Guthries having another child with Zellweger were one in four, so David underwent a vasectomy. Several months later, his wife came to him with the news that she was pregnant. Prenatal testing revealed the awful truth that this child, too, had the disease.

Gabriel Guthrie was born on July 16, 2001. He died in the arms of his dad one day shy of his six-month birthday. Two births, two dead children in the course of three years. It's more pain than most of us can comprehend. The experience led Nancy to write a book, Holding on to Hope (Tyndale), which uses the book of Job as a sort of primer on suffering.

How did you deal with the news that Gabe had Zellweger syndrome?

Nancy: For me, there was a clear sense of the sovereignty of God. It sounds strange, but I had a sense of anticipation. There is something thrilling in knowing that God is at work. God had to be up to something for this to happen. It reminded me of Genesis 45:8, where Joseph says to his brothers who had sold him into slavery, "It wasn't you who sent me here, but God." Joseph had a picture of the invisible hand of God behind the circumstances.

It was a very hard thing to tell our ten-year-old son, Matt, about the baby we were ...

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