Tuesday, October 2, 2012

God Doesn’t Give Deformed, Retarded or Handicapped Children, Sin Does


You have heard the testimonies over and over again. They are sincere and moving but sincere and moving does not always equal correct. The testimonies to which I refer are those by parents of children born with deformities, retardation or demonstrative handicaps which commonly result in some form of social stigmatization and of which they speak about God as having chosen to form their child in this distressed manner for a special purpose of divine intent, usually to teach the parents about God’s grace, mercy, and love and so on.

This is not to say that Christian parents do not rightly gain godly illumination through the process of parenting children who present (often lifelong) special needs and challenges, some to very severe degrees. But this is no different than any other Christian learning in any other situation with its unique set of circumstances and the enlightenment it offers as a result of interacting with all of its variables.

And when it comes to the formation of children it seems that for many, the exceptional circumstance of the birth of a handicapped or special needs child is an event which must have blame laid at the feet of God. However, instead of pointing to God as if he has done something wrong, a narrative is created to go along with this blame toward God in which God really means this for the good of the parent, no matter the suffering of the child or some such rationale. And understand, this narrative does not stand alone from the Bible, rather the Bible is appealed to (or should I say certain Scriptures) as support for the narrative that it is God’s fault.

Why Christians are Compelled to Blame God for Their Child’s Handicap

There are a number of reasons why Christians feel the need to compensate in this case and overreach, claiming God made their child, deliberately, with his or her deficiencies. And certainly I am not unsympathetic to any such parent's desire to find answers in such cases which is precisely why I have written this piece.

The Special-Purpose Theory - When things out of the ordinary occur we see them as exceptional circumstances. And because they are exceptional there is a natural tendency to want to explain them as if they have some inherent special purpose so that its exceptionalism can be understood. It explains why the event occurred outside the norm. And with Christians it is even more so because we indeed are a special people, God’s people, who are seated with Christ in the heavenlies, just to name one of the many special properties we possess.

But the truth is, in a single day, while many of its elements are the same day after day, many are not, yet we do not go about trying to explain those with a special divine intent in view. A good example is going to your favorite restaurant. Maybe every Monday you go out to eat spaghetti but each time you are seated at a different table. One is consistent and the other is not but you certainly do not try to find a special purpose in the unpredictable seating event. Why?
The reason is because it is not life-altering or at least one that will consume more than its moments or minutes in time. But with handicapped children, these are life-changing events therefore they must have a special purpose.

It is true that there are special divine-purpose events in the Bible but as described above, I see it no where that we may selectively prescribed the “special-purpose theory” and ignore it when it does not fit. However, this is precisely what is done with cases where there is an elevated profile of difficulty, suffering and so on; they are interpreted as special-purpose events placing ourselves in a privileged circle while other unique events are ignored because they do not rise, experientially, to a place of substantial self-consciousness. We are not given the liberty from God to inconsistently use the Scriptures this way nor to use them in this erratic fashion to interpret our lives.

What you should begin to already understand is that for the Christian, everything is a special-purpose event. Every day, hour, minute, second and moment and all of those things which are part of the life of every single Christian has been elevated to a special-purpose event by means of Christ. In Christ you are now the recipient of endless, boundless and eternal love in which “all things” are worked for your good. Christ is the cause of your whole life being a special purpose. When you believe on Christ you are placed in Christ, therefore, making every single element of your life a divine special-purpose.

Confusion and Embarrassment – It is quite natural to be proud of our children when they receive attention in a positive manner. We believe it is a reflection of ourselves, to a fault usually. The same is true when children receive attention in a negative manner. We believe it is a reflection of us (the parents), though we often resist that thought. And with respect to the negative attention imposed upon us by our children, customarily we seek to change or modify this so it does not occur again (or at least less often). But the parent of a deformed or handicapped child rarely may actually change that, it very often is permanent.

Now, there is no reason for embarrassment but it happens all the time. Parents instinctively ask themselves, “What is wrong with me that I would produce a child like this?” Added to this is confusion for many in which they ask, “Why would God give me a handicapped child?”

So, though many do not come right out and say it, Christian parents routinely are confused and embarrassed in these cases and in order to compensate for this they seek a narrative which alleviates, from themselves, the greater embarrassment and reassigns blame, in part or in whole, to God. And part of this narrative entails the explanation that though God has done this, there is a hidden and good motive which God had in mind (though the baby was born suffering, screaming in agony and dying a slow and painful death over months, or the baby faced a lifetime of agonizing surgeries and personal suffering). Ultimately, the confusion and embarrassment is handed off as God's doing and not that of the parent's fallen genetics.

The Divine Sovereignty Theory – The divine sovereignty theory is, of course, based on a shallow and theologically deficient view of God’s rule of the universe. That theory basically stems from the Augustinian/Reformed/Calvinistic view of divine sovereignty as one of absolute control instead of ultimate rule.

To Augustinians or Calvinists, divine sovereignty is viewed as that of control. This specialized or proprietary understanding of sovereignty stems from the rationalistic outcome of trying to understand the mechanics of divine sovereignty instead of taking, at face value, the expression in Scripture of divine sovereignty, both in definition and exercise. That is to say, in Scripture we observe that God allows freedom of choice and action in which he (God) is not the one controlling (see the book of Job and Satan’s persecution of Job). However, the Calvinist cannot bring himself or herself to see this as it is because it would force a change in their definition and understanding of divine sovereignty. Their commitment to a school of theology and its properties (definitions) is greater than what they, at times, find in Scripture which contradicts their system. Hence, these eager and sincere but errant theologians wittingly and unwittingly, reduce God to something less than even human sovereigns.  

Much of this has to do with a misunderstanding of the general decree of God. The general decree of God refers to what is observed in Scripture, namely the working of the omniscience, omnipotence, and sovereignty of God in all matters, whether it be the events of nature, elect angels, fallen angels, and men.

There is no such thing as one single passage which states the doctrine of the general decree of God. It is a theological conclusion based on many passages whose principles, when compared and related to one another, results in the dogmatic certainty that God, indeed, gave the general decree that all which ever will be, shall be, and is. One passage which may help, reflects, in part, some of the whole of the Bible which gives us the understanding of the general decree of God is Psalm 139:15-16 (NASV):
15 My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.
It is well defined by Robert McLaughlin:
his eternal [always existed], holy [having perfect integrity], wise [application of omniscience to creation] and sovereign purpose. God simultaneously comprehended all things that ever were or ever would be. He comprehended every event that would ever take place, along with its causes and interaction with other events, and he knew in eternity past every decision mankind would ever make.
So, with this in mind the over-simplistic conclusion is made that because God can and did decree that all that ever will be, shall be, and is, then God is the one who decided to create a handicapped child. He issued the decree (ordained it) and it happened. But it isn’t that simple because one must understand what the decree of God involves, particularly when it involves other volitional agents, consequences of sin and laws of God. To over-simplify the general decree of God is to remove from it essential properties and elements which are critical in order to form right conclusions about many things concerning the person and work of God and other free agents God has created.

The General Divine Decree and Human Volition

Remember, the understanding of the general divine decree does not say, “God would determine all that would be”. Rather, God decreed that “all things which would take place, will take place” (all that will be, shall be, and is). And there is a consequence here which should not be understated.

One of the variables in God making his general decree is the operation of human volition or the human will. And that is just one of many of the variables God’s decree took into account when the general decree of God was made.

That is to say, God saw down through the corridor of time that you would make this decision and that decision and decreed to permit that history to take place thus, he ordained it to be so. Therefore, those decisions you made and will make are not ones God has forced or predetermined that you will or must make, rather ones God decreed or ordained to permit you to make them and his decree or ordination makes that a certainty.

Divine Foreknowledge - God’s foreknowledge informs him that you will make all the decisions and take all the actions you will in your lifetime. Hence, God is able not only to decree to permit your making of these decisions but his foreknowledge, combined with his greater omniscience, enables him to take all of these into consideration and make his general decree of bringing to pass, all that will be with many volitional agents doing as they will, while never, himself, being the cause of the decisions and actions of others.

God’s power is so great, his being so immeasurable, that he is able to allow human volition and/or human freedom - with all of its decision making, consequences and accountability - not only to exist but to function without disruption to his sovereign rule and work.

But the Calvinist believer who defines divine sovereignty as that of absolute control is forced into fractional view of God where God is small and unable to permit human volition without, ultimately, ascribing to God himself, the responsibility of the decisions of humans in exercising their volition. “If God is not in control then he cannot be sovereign”, they assert.

What the absolute control Calvinist is missing is the understanding that sovereignty (and particularly divine sovereignty) is not about control but about rule. I am going to borrow from an earlier piece I wrote on divine sovereignty to bring home this point. Romans 8:28 gives us this promise from God (Romans 8:26-30):
26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
27 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
Romans 8:26-30, with special emphasis on verse 28, was posted for a reason. You will find, rather astonishingly, in its context, God communicating to us about suffering, about God working all things together and immediately following a reference to God’s foreknowledge and predestination (that we be conformed to the image of his son and this cannot be overstated in helping people understand what predestination is and is not). Frankly, you could not find a more fitting place to consider divine sovereignty and how it works.

And so, when God revealed himself to us through Paul who wrote about divine sovereignty “working all things together”, did God describe divine sovereignty as absolute control of all the details or instead, did God describe divine rule and ultimate control of all the events, hence, using them for his ends and purposes?
Do you see the point? Paul cannot be clearer. Things are against us. There are volitional agents who are not God and who are working their will against us. Does Paul resort to the Augustinian/Reformed/Calvinistic error by trying to tell us that God is in absolute control of these bad volitional agents making them do bad things for our good? No! Not at all. But he does tell us that God takes these bad things and, in fact, "all things" and works them for our good.
Getting the Cart (Sin and its properties) before the Horse (God)

For the Augustinian, the Reformed and the Calvinist, the cart comes before the horse with regard to God’s sovereignty and his working of things for the good of the Christian. Bad, sad and difficult events are part of our life. The Scripture plainly states that these are not good things but that these “not good things” are worked by God for our good.

However, to the class of students and teachers above, they see God as assigning these bad things to us in order to work his good (because his divine sovereignty makes him responsible for everything that happens in their mind). In other words, “God does bad in order to do good”. Wrong, wrong and wrong.

The Horse (God) before the Cart (Sin and its properties)

God has always worked his good through sin and through evil but he does not initiate evil or sin with its consequences (such as genetic deficiencies) as his work. God’s work is not to create or sponsor sin and evil with its properties rather that though sin and evil are present with their consequences in our lives and in the universe around us, not only can these not subvert God’s work but God will use them, without being their author or cause, for his purposes. This is most effectively reflected in Joseph’s reply statement to his brothers in Genesis 50:20:
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
As the saying goes, God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick but it doesn’t change the crookedness of the stick nor makes it God’s intention that the stick be crooked.

Where Do Deformed, Retarded or Handicapped Children Come From?

Retarded, deformed or handicapped children in general come from the same place you and I come from, sinful human parents who carry with them the properties of sin. And as a consequence of falleness we are genetically deficient. We are fallen thus, death is within our genetics and it manifests itself in many ways with the ultimate genetic expression of death to the body.

God did not create Adam and Eve to sin but they decided against God’s will and sinned. God did not create them to die but because they sinned they did die and so will we. Yet, God used both occasions to accomplish his purposes. This does not mean we are to try and reverse rationalize and somehow conclude that God made Adam and Eve to sin and die because he decreed to allow its history to occur. Had they made another decision God would have known that, too, and would have decreed that, too. God is responsible for decreeing to permit volitional agents to exercise their volition but God is not the cause for the decisions and actions with their consequences themselves. God, however, is responsible for and has promised to use all things to accomplish his sovereign rule and ultimate purpose which includes our sinful state and all of its consequences.

If you decided to have children and possess in your genetics or in your life circumstances that which would result in a handicapped child, God did not do this, sin did. Sin is the culprit, not God.  Today we die; today sin takes its roles as giver of death, disease, deformity and dysfunction.

Why Do You Have What You Have? Let us move from the extreme to the less extreme. Let us go from great handicaps to lesser imperfections that, while within the range of being present in a substantial part of the population, are still imperfections and genetic deficiencies which can be disturbing at some level. Consider:
  • Extreme freckles
  • Bright red kinky hair
  • Wide eyes,
  • A missing finger,
  • A large forehead, and
  • Disproportionate fat deposits on the body.
Obviously the list can be must long but these suffice to make my point. There is one of two things here. Either God is busy working all kinds of deficiencies and dysfunctions in our formation for our good or all kinds of these deficiencies and dysfunctions are being worked (synergized) by God for our good. I believe the latter describes how God redeems every portion of our sin-affected lives instead of the former where God creates people, each with special deformities and problems (making him the culprit of sin's consequences) so he may work them for our good.

On an important side-note, the view that our disease and deformity is not a special creation by God but the consequence of sin, removes from the narrative the creation by God of an especially attended people of God in having severe deformities with those who are apparently less specially attended by God because they lack such severe handicaps. This is important to the dignity of all of God’s children who, in Christ, are equally valued in an immeasurable and eternal way.

This is not to say that among humans those of special needs do not have a special class and care nor that our sympathies, grace and mercy need not be directed toward them. Not at all lest someone suggest I am forwarding this view. But that has to do with our brotherly care of one another, not with matters of assigning to God consequences of sin.

Isn’t God Involved in Our Creation?

The Bible says of Jeremiah 1:5:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.
But just as that, the Bible says God makes the sun to rise Matt 5:45:
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Does God actually manipulate, on a daily basis, the motion of the earth in order to cause the appearance and disappearance of the sun from our vantage point or has God set in motion physical laws in which he accomplishes this? That is right; he has set in motion physical laws which accomplish this.

In the same way as God makes the sun to rise he forms us in the womb via the laws he set in motion. This does not, then, have in view that he created sin and its consequences which are part of our formation. That is our contribution in which the law of procreation has been affected.

Both of these references are with respect to God’s superintendence of his general decree or his sovereign rule. It is true that along with the superintendence of the general decree of God, in the case of Jeremiah, God involves himself directly in determining Jeremiah's life as that of a Prophet to Israel with the gifts/capacities to fulfill that role but it is not attempting to inform us that there is cause to believe a specific manipulation of God occurred to form Jeremiah. Rather we are to understand that it occurred as it would from the copulation of his parents and God incorporated that into his general decree of all that will be, to be. And this is precisely how divine sovereignty works.

Procreation - It is clear from Genesis it was God’s intention for Adam and Eve to have children in their state of innocence (before they sinned) seeing that part of the consequences of their sin was painful childbirth (as opposed to the implied painless before hand). So the law of procreation was set in motion. The consequences of sin which has, at times, serious handicaps of deformity and/or retardation in human offspring, are not God’s contribution to the procreative process but man’s. The genetic distortions are not there because of God but because of man. And God does not manipulate genetics in the womb to produce a handicapped child so he can “bless parents” with this. The genetic alterations and deficiencies which are present in our chromosomes are inherent due to our fallen state.

The Law of Procreation, Divine Sovereignty, Human Volition and all Other Divine Laws - When a baby is conceived, apart from exceptional involvement of divine intervention (Hannah’s prayer-that there are exceptions demonstrate that there is the rule) it is done so by a law already established by God. God does not need to regularly intervene and make sperm travel nor to position the unfertilized egg in an advantageous location. A woman’s cycle places the egg where it needs to be and the male sperm is programmed to travel toward the egg.

God decreed to establish and allow operating, under their divine regulations, the law of procreation. So God does not need, each time, to force the egg and the sperm to their locations. They take their course by law (divine law and the effects of sin combined) and God uses that course for to his ends.

This is no different than gravity. If you drop a ball from a height, it falls to earth. God did not choose to drop the ball, you did. God did put in place the laws of gravity and from that people involve their own decisions in accordance with those laws.

When parents choose to engage in sexual activity they are like the person who drops an object from a height. There are potential consequences. Various factors will go into the process each time with different but similar, results. No more than God seizes upon an object dropping from a height does he seize upon sperms or eggs because he has already set in motion laws (again, the Bible points out exceptions which demonstrate the rule).

If you become pregnant you chose to become pregnant by virtue of engaging in sex (I am speaking only to voluntary participants here). If the person dropping a ball from a height says he did not wish the ball to fall but only to release it from his hand, he is ignoring the divine law of gravity and blaming God, the gravity law creator, and not himself for the ball falling.

When someone conceives it is not God’s fault, it is theirs. They chose to copulate and with it come the laws of procreation which were already set in motion (again I only have in view the normative voluntary context with regard to the sensitivities of other contexts but even in other contexts, physical laws are not suspended).

Direct Divine Work and Special Circumstances

This does not mean God does not work directly in the case of any or many things. That is to say, it is clear God intervenes in many ways determining or influencing the outcome of an event which, otherwise, would have alternate results. However, to state that “God intervenes” is to declare that this is exceptional rather than the constant.

This point highlights the fact that God’s sovereignty is not one about control but about rule. If God was in absolute control then it would not need to be said of God that he “intervened” since he is in absolute control. If one is in absolute control it does not allow for that person to intervene since, by definition, that person is already in control.

The Direct Acts of God of Divine Volition in Action - As we see in Genesis, God directly creates humanity, it is not a product of the will of another. This is God’s direct act. Humanity, in its state of innocence, is God’s product.

Another case of God acting directly, which was already covered, is answering prayers such as Hannah’s request for a child. God directly acted in insuring the conception, birth and life of the Hannah’s baby, Samuel.

And in fact, the Bible makes it explicitly clear that God directly involves himself in the lives of his children in answering their prayers. Matthew 7:7 states emphatically:
Ask and it shall be given, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened unto you.
One cannot pray to God and those answers be given without God directly involving himself. Interestingly, however, is that God gives you the freedom to ask for things that he might not, otherwise, give. It is not an sound Biblical assumption that because God answered a prayer of yours it was his will all along and because of divine sovereignty he would have done it anyway. That is a very bad assumption and the Bible, no where, teaches that, even though God does directly involve himself (often unbeknown to ourselves) in our lives. Thus, it is an erroneous assumption that everything which happens is God doing what he will, with or without us.

The Special-Purpose of Abraham and the Nation of Israel – We need only read in Genesis and throughout the Old Testament to the Gospels where God had a special purpose for Abraham and his off-spring. God directly called out Abraham and formed the nation of Israel from his descendants. And through out its history until the inauguration of the Church Age, God is recorded as acting directly on behalf of individual Israelites and the nation as a whole.

And much more can be said but the point is simple, God does act directly, at times. This is not to be removed from our understanding of God’s person or work. However, when we define God’s sovereignty as absolute control we remove the distinction of God working directly from the indirectly (but purposefully). We obliterate the work of God through other agents and sinful conditions and make God responsible for everything.

Then What Does God Give?

God gives grace, grace and more grace. My grandparent’s death was not due to God but due to sin. The affliction of Alzheimer is not a creation of God’s nor his work but that of sin. God’s work is within that construct in which he bring “all things” to work together for our good and his ultimate purposes.

The parents of the handicapped child are no different than the parents of the child who is born with exceptional genius. God will use them both and all of these are intended to be cared for and attended to with the glory of God and the overflowing measure of his grace in mind.

The genius child requires his or her special set of instructions and God’s grace is there, just as it is in abundance for the deformed or mentally and emotional handicapped child. It may be that visibly the genius child physically manifests less of the consequences of sin than the other but even then, what about what you do not see?

God gives good gifts; salvation, His Spirit, wisdom, grace and mercy. There is no doubt a child with unusual or extreme disabilities can result in experiences and enlightenment which are different than others. Yet, those others, remember, are also experiencing enlightenment that you are not.

This is the point. God gives us grace in this life to meet the challenges of a fallen world. He does not assign bad so he can bring good, he assigns his good so that bad is defeated in being worked for his purposes.

Joseph told his brothers, “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good”. God did not make Joseph’s brothers commit evil against him nor desired it. But God used this evil of his brothers (selling him into slavery) to work his purposes. Joseph’s brothers could have made another decision and we would be reading a different account but with the same ending, God working his purposes.

You see? This isn’t divine micromanagement this is divine macro-rule. All babies are special, not because God assigns deformed or non-deformed ones to you but because he assigns his work of grace to all things in the life of the Christian.

John 9 The Man Born Blind for God’s Glory – Some may, at this point, call into their argument that God creates handicapped people on purpose with a reference to John 9. I will post the relevant portion, verses 1-3:
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
Understand that the Pharisees were not asking about the effects of sin from Adam but from the assumption that handicaps were punishments from God for sinful behavior of either the person or their parents.

Secondly, notice the answer our Lord gives, “this happened”. He does not assign blame to God; rather he acknowledges its occurrence. So on this day God chooses to use the handicap in a redemptive manner, to display the works of God.

Our Lord is being instructive regarding the nature of God, not who is to blame for handicaps. And this echoes just what is being said here, that God brings his glory to the effects of sin while not being its author of either sin or its consequences/by-products.

Concluding Thoughts

Think of the parent who is taught to assign blame to God instead of taking responsibility for the condition of their child when they are handicapped. All of their lives they blame God for this (because of the incorrect understanding of divine sovereignty as one of absolute control, thus absolute responsibility) yet force themselves to create a narrative where the good God gave a handicapped child for good reasons.

Their thinking is forced to follow a course like this:
God is good to me, even when he gives handicapped children, because he is sovereign. As well, I cannot understand the purposes of his sovereign work and I must not question this rather, simply understand it as divine sovereignty at work and nothing else or else I am questioning God's honor and integrity in giving me a deformed and/or mentally handicapped baby.
No, you are questioning, and rightfully so, some very bad theology. It is mind-bending if you attempt this for some time. In fact, it will slowly destroy the soul.

The unpleasantness of this world is from sin, whether it be cancer, losing a limb, depression, financial loss and poverty, or handicapped children. This is not the work of God but of sin. God gives good gifts and one of those good gifts is to take the products of sin and use them for his purposes. He redeems everything in our life for his purposes. It does not make him the blame for these miseries; rather it makes him the redeemer of these miseries.

26 comments:

Andy said...

Alex,

This is a great article. It is probably one of the best descriptions on God's sovereignty I have ever read. I reposted your article on my facebook page and got quite a response from some of my calvinist friends. I encouraged them to pose their comments to you, but I seriously doubt they will. Nevertheless, would you mind addressing some of their points? I include them as follows:

"John 9 is the right response. The opinion of the author is weak and could be refuted of his rendering of John 9...Also God: "worketh all things after the counsel of his own will"...Ephesians 1:11...your author does not appear to believe this."

"Yet another verse that should be considered that this author must not believe...regarding Gods intricate involvement in my creation. Psalm 139:15-16: My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being UNperfect; and in thy book were all my members written, which in continuance were fashioned, and when as yet there was none of them."

"And another verse that should be considered by the author....Romans 9:20, 21 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing say to him that formed it, Why has thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel into honor, another unto dishonor?"

"I have to laugh here as I was going to post that John 9 is a Scriptural case where this author is shown to be in error. God transcends us in every way, why is it so hard to accept that God is sovereign in details?"


Some help in responding to these comments would be appreciated.

Andy

Michael Woody said...

Hi, One of the Calvinist friends who wasn't likely to post. My concern is that we see instances where God is involved in the details, and even the cause for something that is "bad" in our eyes. The primary example of this is John 9 where Jesus states that this man born blind was born this way so that He might be glorified. There is no doubt as to the cause of his being born blind; it was not sin because even the disciples erred in assuming sin was the cause.

Mike Woody

Alex Guggenheim said...

Andy

I will try to cover both your questions and the second commenter, Micheal Woody's objections. I will use numbers 1-4 to refer to each paragraph as they appear in order.

1. The objection is that what I state could easily be refuted. Okay, that person needs to refute it. As to their reference to Ephesians 1:11, what is the objection? It says just what I stated, ultimate sovereignty, not absolute control. If God is in absolute control he does not have to "work out everything" since God is in control of everything. But more importantly, it refers to God working out everything for his will. It does not negate the wills of others, it only affirms that the sovereign rule of God is true and that while God's sovereignty works all things out for his purposes it does not make God the one responsible for those "all things" only that he is responsible for working them for his purposes (the text itself is in the context of the pre-determined plan of God with regard to Christ and our salvation but its truth that God works out everything for his purposes can be pointed to but it only supports what I am arguing).

2. The Psalmist is using poetic language to describe biological laws God put in place. This really should not be difficult. It still does not make God the author of sin, it makes God the author of his laws which are still in tact. Thus his laws are what we must acquiesce to in order for life to be created. It may be said that God knits us together, no doubt, but he does not contribute sin and its consequences, that is man's contribution. God's work is wonderful, ours is sinful. Thus, the down syndrome child should be said of that God fearfully and wonderfully made them and we, Adam's race, woefully contributed sin and its damages.

3.As to the reference in Romans, I am confident by way of exegesis that this is a national reference and not individual ones which would change the use of the text altogether. But to argue that exegesis here, well, that would take far more than comments can accommodate.

4. Saying God transcends us and then asking why it is so hard to accept God being sovereign in the details isn't an argument, it is an assumption. But further, it ignores what I have said. God is sovereign in the details, he is sovereign in everything but divine sovereignty in major things or details is not about God being in control but God ruling - i.e. working everything for his purposes.

Let me say something to M Wooddy on the man being born blind. It was the common view among the Jews since Moses that physical defect were due to specific sins committed by a person or their parents. This came from the event of Moses' sister, Miriam, being struck with a disease for rebellion. It was not the consequences of our fallen condition that they had in mind in asking Jesus "who sinned". If that was the case they would know who sinned, Adam. They were referring to who can they condemn for this man's condition. It was a self-righteous question.

Our Lord's answer is just as Joseph's to his family. "God meant it for good". God ordained that the consequences of sin (a bad thing) be used for God's glory. It only is affirming God's work here, not negating the truth of the consequences of sin.

And clearly, our Lord had the opportunity to make it explicitly clear that if we are to view God the Father as the one who made this person blind, he certainly missed that opportunity in simply saying, "it happened so that...."

The thing that is being affirmed is not God being responsible for the blindness but God being responsible for using it for his glory. That is divine sovereignty, ruling in all things.

Alex Guggenheim said...

Andy,

Allow me to add something here which is even more pointed. Exodus 4:10-13 states:

10 Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

11 The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

13 But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

This is, again, precisely what divine sovereignty is, the work of God with the results of sin. He does, indeed, create life but he does so through his laws, namely biological laws.

He isn't accepting responsibility for sin, here, and its consequences, rather for his law (creation) and its consequences (life) while accepting along with it the consequences of human freedom (which ended up being sin and its consequences) and incorporating it into his divine rule.

God decreed to not only create life but to continue to create it after man contributed sin and its affects. God method of creating life, biological laws which carry with them the consequences of sin.

God uses the sinful properties of mankind which man created and contributed which lies within his chromosomes, to create life. Thus God accepts responsibility for creating that life, in its defective form but not for its defect. God, in his grace, works with man's sinful distortion of his own being, still creating life.

We are the ones which give God the faulty chromosomes, he is the one that gives life from them, rather miraculously. Thus he ordains (is it not I, the Lord?) all that will be, to be, and is.

Andy said...

I think what is difficult for our finite human minds to comprehend is due to the fact that we are linear beings. What I mean by that is we are bound by the constraints of time. Time moves in a linear fashion, one event leading to the next. God is the creator of time and therefore, in addition to being INfinite, He is outside of its constraints. He sees all of the sequential events as having already taking place. The calvinist would argue that this is because He was the cause of the events. But there is a great difference between being the CAUSE of an event vs KNOWING BEFOREHAND due to infinite knowledge and thus using those events to accomplish His will.

Alex Guggenheim said...

Andy you make a very germane observation and comment which is one I find existing in the Calvinist construct, namely that our view and experience is hoisted upon the divine view and experience, hence making God linear thus fashioning a linear divine sovereignty with linear expressions, though they would protest such a description.

As well and very critically, being the cause and knowing beforehand is often not given the distinction it should and it does end up being the force behind claims of God being the cause of something when he is not.

Andy said...

A perfect example of this (and one that calvinists like to cite) is found in Exodus 4:21

"And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go."

From Moses' point of view, this was a future event, but as far as God was concerned this had already happened. God already knew that Pharoah would not respond positively to the signs Moses was to perform. In fact, the hardening of Pharoah's heart was God's judgment upon him for his wickedness.

Alex Guggenheim said...

Thanks again Andy. The expression, "I ill harden his heart" is no more confusing that, "I will agitate him". That is as you said, God knows Pharaoh's heart hence, he brings to Pharaoh the very things he knows will provoke him to an even harder heart seeing he has rejected God/God's people and God's Word via Moses.

I do want to re-emphasis the point about being "fearfully and wonderfully made" again and understanding God as our creator. Indeed, it is God's laws which God established to create us. But it also requires, apart from the special initial creation of mankind and the conception of our Lord, a human sperm and a human egg and two humans willing to do this to make this happen.

God does not suspend his laws and perform a "special creation" each time, he uses his laws which bring with them, in part, our wills and the properties of our falleness, to create life. We have a say so with regard to participating and God brings that say so to fruition by his general decree and incorporates our decisions into his divine rule or sovereign rule.

God does not go and remove a sperm from a man and an egg from a woman and secretly place it back in a womb. God creates life via our decisions to copulate.

Dave Cox II said...

To The Pedestrian Christian - I have made some comments on my blog which I believe you may want to read, http://mysoapbox2.blogspot.com/2012/10/our-sovereign-god.html appreciate this post! Also you might like this, http://mysoapbox2.blogspot.com/2012/02/on-skinning-my-knee.html

Ian said...

Alex,

This was easily one of the most thorough and Biblically-grounded treatments of the issue that I have read. It was balanced and entirely practical in its teaching.

I have struggled with how God - even (especially?) in His sovereignty - could make imperfect and even sickly babies. I would often go back to John 9 without considering the understated but clear teaching Jesus gives about 1. so-called "original sin" and its past and ongoing application and 2. that "this happened" to the man, not "God did this". Such an important distinction.

Thank you and God bless.

Ian

Alex Guggenheim said...

Ian

I appreciate you taking the time to read and contribute your thoughts. Your comment prompted me to do a bit of long needed editing. Not a great deal, just some word choice, typos and such. I am sure I will find a few more. But that aside.

I do believe this is a topic that is sorely approached and believe that the "control" view and particularly the absolute control language is very damaging and simply not reflective of the whole of how God reigns.

Thanks again for your input.

AG

Anonymous said...

Oh, NOW it all makes sense...NOT!! You have a theory. It is conjecture. Many other humans have many other, differing views and ideas. What makes your ideas factual and theirs invalid? You come across as sanctimoneous, egotistical and full of unwarranted hubris. To believe that you above all have THE ANSWER to this eternal universal question. Oh Mighty Guru, he who thinks he knows all knows nothing...

Alex A. Guggenheim said...

Clearly you don't believe yourself to possess any answers thus, those who do propose answers exist to your frustration for which your answer to that is throwing rocks.

If you have a specific objection to something I have said, lay out your rebuttal or at least where you believe I err.

Your descriptions of me don't do me justice, I am far worse.

Jen said...

This is an interesting position to view these things from, and in some respects it makes a lot more sense than the micro-managing God idea. However, I would like to have an intellectual argument about it. Not to say my way of understanding is perfect (of course it isn't), but I'd like to present my way of viewing things as an alternative for your consideration, and in doing so must point out where I think the logic falls apart in your own argument. Warning ahead of time: my way of interpreting the Word of God is not popular or mainstream. Like nearly all major preaching based on the "original sin" concept, this logic still falls apart when an all-knowing God created Adam and Eve despite knowing what they would do and all the evil that would come of it, and basically undermined Himself. Many also believe this same all-knowing God created His own "nemesis" in Satan/the serpent to further the spread of sin. Most also believe that God did NOT want Adam and Eve to eat of the tree and did NOT want them to know sin and did NOT want the serpent to deceive them, and then had to just "deal with" the things that ended up happening as best He could to try to work it back towards His original purpose. Supposedly this whole foiling of God's original plan is due to the free will He gave Adam and Eve. Ultimately, this means the people who believe this think that God knew what would happen, and that His original will and purpose in creating the world and man would be foiled, but enabled it anyway, which makes no sense. This means either God doesn't actually know everything, OR that God is not actually all-powerful, as He couldn't even manifest what He *really* wanted and *really* purposed things to be - even from the early times right after the beginning of Creation. So we are forced, under this logic, to believe either A. God is not all-knowing, B. God is not all-powerful, or C. God *purposely* enabled and purposed for Adam and Eve to be deceived by the serpent and to sin so that we could experience all this awful suffering and be saved by Jesus. Those are our basic choices when faced with this conundrum, and since most people don't want to believe that God would allow, or generate, or purpose anything evil, they opt for A or B. They do this despite the vehemently *repeated* truth that God is all-knowing and all-powerful and that NOTHING can happen outside His will.

Jen said...

ALL the scriptures point to option C. Let's look at the evidence. God created Adam and Eve as innocent and naive, because they couldn't possibly know better (couldn't know good from evil) without eating from the very tree they were ordered NOT to eat from (the tree of KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL). People who believe God is not the source of evil as well as good are positing something like a parent (God) putting a good apple and a poisoned apple in front of an innocent young child (Adam and Eve), and saying "Now don't eat that poisoned one, or you'll die." Even though the parent knows the child is innocent and naive and can't possibly understand the consequences, and can't possibly understand what "You'll die" even means. I invite you think about this - there was no death before these events occurred in the Garden of Eden - Adam and Eve couldn't possibly have even comprehended what "You'll die" meant. PLUS they COULD NOT know good from evil before eating from the very tree they were ordered not to eat from. So it's not a bad analogy. So then, when the truly innocent child who cannot yet tell good from evil (Adam/Eve) picks up and eats the poisoned apple, Christians like to think God (the parent) said "Well, they chose it, they have to suffer the consequences. It wasn't my doing." And yet if a human parent did this to their young child, who would be truly responsible? We all know the answer is: the parent. The parent who KNOWS that the poison apple will harm the child, and KNOWS that the child can't possibly understand the parent's warning well enough to be expected to obey. Yet that is exactly the sort of position you (and many other Christians) are standing from here, and you want to blame the child. Wiping God's responsibility from the evils of the world due to your own inability to reconcile it by claiming He's not a micro-manager (which makes sense), does NOT remove God's still ultimate responsibility for ALL THINGS, both good and evil, in the original creation story.

Jen said...

We couldn't sin or be led astray in the first place if God did not enable it. None of this could've happened if God didn't decide upon such an incredibly harsh and unreasonable punishment for innocent Adam and Eve's very FIRST and ultimately NAIVE disobedience of Him IN THE FIRST PLACE. It also wouldn't be possible if God didn't create His own (supposed) "nemesis" of Satan/the serpent, who isn't REALLY God's nemesis anyway, since Satan is just as subject to God's sovereignty as everyone else. Satan had to ask God's permission for everything he did to Job, and there is nothing that Satan (or man, or anyone else) can do without God's BOTH enabling it and allowing it. Of a mortal, non-omniscient and non-all-powerful ruler, it could be said "the king isn't responsible for every little thing that happens in his kingdom, he just rules it". This can be said of a mortal ruler because mortal rulers cannot possibly know, nor have the power to prevent, all evil that occurs in their borders. But God DOES know everything, even BEFORE it will happen, and DOES have the power to prevent it, and yet allows it to happen. And "allowing" evil is the same as enabling it. Accessory to crime is punished just like crimes are for a reason; accessory and allowance of evil is, itself, evil too. God created Satan (and KNEW what would come of it beforehand), so even if you believe Satan and sin are the source of evil, God still created it and is still the *ultimate* source of evil! God *ensured* that Adam and Eve could *not* comprehend or understand the true consequence of what they would do (and remember, He KNEW they would do it) in eating the fruit, by making it so they could not know good from evil UNTIL they ate from it.

So then what exactly needs to be reconciled here? It all makes sense just as it is, and does not need complex psychological acrobatics or excuses for God to explain it. We are the creations of an ALL-knowing, ALL-powerful God, who created us TO SIN. Because NOTHING can happen without HIS approval and ultimate *instigation*, and NOTHING can happen outside His PURPOSE. To suggest ANYTHING happens outside of GOD'S ultimate will is to suggest that He is, indeed, NOT all-powerful, and is most certainly NOT in control. We are allowed free will ONLY because God *wants* us to have it, even though He KNEW we would sin with it, which ultimately means God *wants* us to sin, to accomplish His purpose, since nothing can happen outside His will and His purpose! He created us with free will and capable of sin and knew we would do it, therefore it MUST be part of His ultimate plan that we sin in the first place! It was all part of the plan, and by ALL, that includes the evil parts.

Jen said...

If God knows everything, you can bet your pants He knows evil as well, and that is why we ought to fear God, because He is the source of all things, both good and evil. He is the source of ALL things. He knows ALL things, and nothing can exist without His allowance and His generating it. Even if you don't believe Satan is the source of evil (since God directly created Satan), even if you believe man and man's sin is the source of all evil (an equally legitimate belief), God still created *man*, and nothing can exist that does not come from God, and we are even said to be created in His image, so what does that mean? Our ability to sin comes from God.

He's God. If He didn't want us to sin, He easily could've made us unable to. He COULDN'T make us able to do evil if He weren't capable of evil Himself, because you can't get something from nothing, and because nothing can exist that doesn't come from God. Most Christians just can't accept that God is the source of ALL things, and knows ALL things, and don't want to accept that means the bad and the evil things too. So in order to keep their illusion of a simplistic and cotton candy-coated God, they come up with twisted psychology to try to free Him from responsibility for that which He is obviously and ultimately responsible. Fortunately, God also KNOWS everything and so He knew Adam and Eve would eat of the tree and PURPOSED it to happen. (I mean He put it right there in the middle of the garden, might as well have put a big flashing "eat me" light on it.)

Fortunately, we can be confident that God PURPOSED for Adam and Eve to fall into sin, not only because we have faith that God knows and has purpose to everything, but also because the Son/Word existed since BEFORE the creation of the earth, because God KNEW we'd need saving BEFORE He even created us in the first place... He KNEW we'd need saving and PLANNED for our saving BEFORE we even fell into sin because all of this - the good AND the bad - is part of God's plan. We can't really KNOW something unless we experience it, and we couldn't know good and evil just from eating a fruit - we have to experience it to really know it. And you can't know or appreciate the good without evil to compare it to.

So here we are, fulfilling God's plan, to learn good and evil, so we can be like Him - after all, He knows both good and evil. But only when we choose Good over evil, only when we accept Love over hate, ultimately only then can we really be like God. Our life is the school of hard knocks, and the end of time will determine whether or not we passed. And then there will be no more death or suffering. There will be no PURPOSE for evil or death or suffering, because the plan will be complete, and we will all know good from evil, and no one will choose evil anymore. So death and suffering will have no use, as they are products of evil and evil will be no longer. And God will wipe away all our tears, so even though we resent the evil we must endure now, just like a kid without training wheels whose dad allows him to fall down so he can learn to ride that bike, the wounds will be gone and we will forget the suffering. The pain will fade and we won't know those things anymore.

Jen said...

The fact that God wills it, that Good will ultimately prevail once this part of God's purpose is complete, the fact that all the suffering and pain will be healed and gone in the end - THAT is what the Good News is. The Good News is that God, despite His temporary enabling and allowance of evil for His purpose, does not ultimately want evil and suffering to be the way of things in His grand end product. The Good News is that our God values - and IS - love, above all, and just as any loving parent, allows His children to make their own choices. Just as any good parent, he allows us to experience bad and evil so that we may truly grow in our souls and learn to appreciate the good, and appreciate the huge weight and consequences and effects of our choices. That is our hope and our Good News, that there is a PURPOSE to ALL things under heaven, and that once the PURPOSE of our experiencing evil and suffering and death has been fulfilled, they will be done away with, because God doesn't inflict evil and suffering and death for no reason - because He is not a God of chaos. It is all for a purpose and a reason, and there is a perfect and loving light at the end of this tunnel, and we will be able to truly and perfectly understand and live in His love and His goodness BECAUSE we will truly *know* both good and evil, and so we will always be, do, and live the good. God didn't make a cosmos just for it to be taken over by sin and evil and suffering that He couldn't control and did not will to happen. He did not create beauty and children just for them to be lost to sin and suffering and destruction forever. It is all for a purpose, and all part of the plan. That’s my argument. I’m happy to hear an elaboration of your views, as listening to the views of others enhances and expands my own understanding, and I hope the same applies to you. <3

Alex A. Guggenheim said...

Jen

Please forgive the delay in responding. I am working on a full rebuttal.

AG

Anonymous said...

God is a really a fucking Retard for making us innocent people to suffer on this Rotten Earth.

Alex A. Guggenheim said...

I'm not sure if you are aware of the irony of your response but that aside I'll take the bait.

If you read the article as it presents Scripture, our suffering is not due to God but our own sin, evil and the immeasurable depravity of the Evil One and his army of demons in opposition to God.

However, the Bible is clear that God provides the ultimate and eternal remedy for our sin and unrighteousness before God.

We are not innocent unless we are sinless.

Anonymous said...

Did any of you guys ever dream of playing with, walking with, talking with, taking on vacation to build sand castles with, a new born child?
Only to have your heart ripped out, your mind, soul, life, marriage and career destroyed into fragments of your own worst nightmares?
Why did our so called 'saviours' commit to such unforgiving decisions, to present my ex wife and I with a little bundle of joy, in a vegative state, so severe, that he will never be able to function, not even in the basic, rudimentle form of life?
Where was god? What is his excuse?
If he is punishing me, why did he chose to take it out on an innocent baby?
Why not simply punish me for my sins?
I know the answer!
Why don't you?

Alex A. Guggenheim said...

Anonymous

After reading your response I feel like you either did not read or ignored what I wrote. Many of the questions you posed were answered in the essay.
Regardless, I am just like you and understand the trauma and personal heartbreak of tragedy which befalls us and is amplified when it touches, throughout a lifetime, a member of our family and most pertinently, one of our precious children.
Still, I will answer your questions, though not exhaustively, in spite of your believing you know the answer(s).
You ask why our Savior committed an unforgiving decision.
What you suggest is that first, you are in a position to charge God with sin and secondly, in that sin, he is not to be forgiven, if I understand what you said correctly. You should also understand that you have set yourself up to be, in this instance, God's replacement because you have judged him.
As to the charge where you accuse God of deciding to present you and your ex-wife with a bundle of joy in a "vegative (sic) state, so severe, that he will never be able to function, not even in the basic, rudimentle (sic) form of life."
God did not make that decision. You and your wife chose to engage in sexual relations knowing both that conception could take place and that within your genetics lies the potential for serious deformities, though the percentage is low. You appear to want to take zero responsibility for these choices and realities
Where was god? What is his excuse?
The answer is above. God is omnipresent, everywhere. But to be more precise, he put in motion the laws of procreation and man introduced sin into that context which brought death and degradation. When Adam sinned, death and degradation entered into man's existence. We inherit flawed genetics which we have passed onto us, that is, the genetic flaws of our forefathers.
God is the one who set up the wonderful process of procreation and we injected into that process our sin which affects us, all the way to our genetics, causing death and deformity. That wasn't God but man. God did not change anything. He kept in tact the procreative process. Only man changed the potential outcome through Adam and Eve's sin which was and is passed down seminally through all generations and results in imperfect offspring, some with less issues and some with great problems but all of those are the result of man, not God.
If he is punishing me, why did he chose to take it out on an innocent baby? Why not simply punish me for my sins?
God is not punishing you for your sins. The Bible does not teach that. There are only two times God punishes for sins. Once, he punished Christ for the sins of all mankind on the cross and whosoever believes on him is saved (from the punishment to come). The other punishment is that to which I just referred. Those who reject Christ as the pure and holy lamb, God himself in human form who never sinned but was punished for our sins (all of them, past, present and future) are judged at the Great White Throne of judgment of God (referred to in Revelation) and because they rejected Christ as their substitute to have been punished for their sins that they may be declared righteous before God, they are sentenced, eternally, to what is called the lake of fire where they will be punished for their sins forever.
So you are not being punished for your sins.

Alex A. Guggenheim said...

As to the claim he chose to take it out on an innocent baby, again, the above applies. God only has two occasions when he has (in the past with Christ) or will (in the future at the Great White Throne judgment seat of God) where he will punish for sins.
This might lead, then, to asking why your innocent baby was permitted to suffer. That is not an unreasonable question but it has been answered already.
Remember, God put in motion laws. One of those is the law(s) of procreation and the other is the consequence(s)of sin.
Man's disobedience and sinful nature brought death and degradation to himself.
Yes, your tragedy is real and my greatest sympathies to your real and ongoing suffering are extended and beyond that may you find believers who can minister to you in your painful, aching and wearisome hurt.
Now let me address, in a more broad sense, not just your special needs but the need of us all because, while your difficulties are elevated and likely greater than the average persons, they are not so proprietary that they cannot be ministered to by God in his Word nor do they place you in a position which legitimizes your anger and hatred of God, though again, your being upset and tormented is understandable but only in that you do so, unaware of the full grace and revelation of God regarding such matters.
The Old Testament person named Joseph was severely abused by his brothers, they hated him via their jealousy of him, and eventually sold him into slavery. And in slavery he was neglected and suffered false accusations yet, he was one of God's children.

Where was God?

God was at work, using the will of man, the evil will of man, mind you, to bring about his purposes.

Finally, at one point Joseph was summoned from the dungeons by Pharaoh to interpret a dream which he did and from that he was promoted to Prime Minister under Pharaoh in Egypt. During this time his brothers and father lived in a country next to Egypt. They were experiencing crop failure and came to Egypt for help.

The came to the court of the Prime Minister (Joseph) and did not even recognize Joseph. Of course Joseph helped them and in the end revealed to them that he was their brother.

The point of all this is Joseph's summation of what they did to him verses what God did to him. Joseph said to them about them abusing him and selling him into slavery:

"You meant it for evil but God meant it for good."

Joseph did not deny the evil or badness of what his brothers did but did not assign it to God, either. Joseph knew God permits free will but Joseph also knew that God will and does use the free will of man, even evil free will used against his children, to bring about his ultimate will and purposes.

Our problem, often, is having expectations as to what God's ultimate purposes are suppose to look like and how, exactly, he is suppose to bring them about. And usually it involves us expecting God not to permit harmful and painful things occurring in our lives. But that simply is not true nor taught in the Bible as a reasonable expectation because of the consequences of sin and not only sin but much worse, Satan or The Evil One, who is alive and well on earth working his sin and destruction.
Anonymous,

Your child's suffering is real and it is not a good thing. No one, not even God, says it is a good thing. But God can and will take that and use it for his glory and will enable you and your ex-wife, to love and care for that child as long as he lives as an instrument of God's love to that child but as well, will be working in you and in the process to bring about in you both, what he wills and purposes.

I don't expect this response to change your life on a dime but it is honest and frank and seeks to reflect a Biblical answer from God's Word. May God comfort you and his mercy abound.

AG

Anonymous said...

Well God made a lot of women that are like that Unfortunately which is the real reason why many of us Good men are still Single today.

Alex A. Guggenheim said...

Your comment does not reflect what I have taught here as the Biblical perspective. The loss of beauty in God's creation is from sin, man's doing, not God's.

I am sympathetic to not being able to find a mate to whom you are satisfyingly attracted. My hope is that you are not one of the endless numbers of people who have over-estimated their worth (men and women) and as well, permitted the whorish beauty standard of the world one you would place on a potential mate,particularly a godly one.