Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why God’s Church is Feminine with a Feminine Feel, Not Masculine with a Masculine Feel: A Further Response to the Errant Theology of John Piper and His Claim that Christianity was Intended to have a Masculine Feel


In July of this year I posted a brief response to the claim by Neo-Calvinist Bible Teacher, John Piper, that God intended for the church to have a “masculine feel”. Piper’s claim can be found at his own website linked here (Piper does attempt to qualify or justify his "masculine feel"categorization of God's intention of the church with appeals to understanding the feminine side and the role of the bride of Christ. However, Piper remains fundamentally wrong. But this tactic of acquiescing to orthodoxy while asserting heterodoxy and novel concepts by Piper, as if giving credence to orthodoxy makes his foreign doctrine acceptable, is seen in much of Piper's dysfunctional logic and messy theology found in his proprietary effort, "Desiring God: Meditations of A Christian Hedonist" and subsequent publications).
 
However, in my article I failed to fully explore the issue and came away with deficient arguments for the benefit of my readers. That is to say, I stopped too short of both explaining why Piper erred and allowing myself to discover the very opposite to be essential and true which is that God’s church or as is nicknamed “Christianity”, is emphatically intended by God to be feminine with a feminine feel.

Here it is necessary to plead with my readers to follow, carefully, if they have any immediate objections and listen to the presentation. I am as manly as the next guy. I am one who prefers anthems and ballads and dogmatically believes that the offices of Pastor/Teacher or Elder, Deacon and Evangelist are reserved for certain gifted and qualified men and no woman may fill these divine offices.

Exegesis/Grammar

The immediate and most obvious consideration regarding the issue of whether God intended the church to have a masculine or feminine feel (I will use Piper’s expression in many places though not necessarily favoring its construct) is found in the word, itself, ekklesia or ecclesia (ἐκκλησία). The word is feminine noun. Let me repeat this fundamental point, it is a feminine noun. Why? Because it is describing a categorically feminine body, both in construct and in operation. And we will see why in a bit.

But what is most critical and what must administer the direction of our thinking is this grammatical fact. In other words, while feminine words are not always intended to represent something exclusively categorically feminine , when other elements affirm its unique feminine categorical view or property, we are not free to ignore it for other intellectual, academic or theological/philosophical pursuits. So we begin with the clarion property of the word, ecclesia, which is that it is a feminine noun.

Theological/Scriptural Treatment

The next thing we must examine is the theological treatment of the church or Christianity in the Scriptures. Is it treated as a masculine or feminine body, does it present a masculine or feminine feel (One cannot divest the church or Christianity of each other, they cannot be dichotomized, they are one in the same. I say this lest some foolish mind be tempted to rationalize a distinction)?

I believe any student of Scripture beyond the first year or two can answer this question. But let us not assume so much and make the argument.

The Bride of Christ. In the Scriptures, repeatedly, the Word of God presents the church as the bride of Christ. In fact, it is rather astounding that Piper or anyone else would make the claim of a masculine feel for Christianity in light of this demonstrative truth.
Ephesians 5:25-27 (ESV)
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Revelation 21:2
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
2 Corinthians 11:2
For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.
A bride is categorically and unquestionably feminine. There is no possibility of the role of a bride being fulfilled by a masculine person. The allegory is not merely anecdotal. That is to say, the Holy Scriptures are not simply using a convenient analogy and if they so wished they could flip it and make Christ the bride and the church the groom. In fact, how offensive would it be to those who understand the paramount nature of this order to hear some such claim?

Not only do we have a grammatical precedence but we now have a theological one. But trust me, you will find friends of theological folly still battling with the obvious. Additionally, you will not find a masculine description of the church in Scripture. So again, we have not only a grammatical boundary we now have a theological one where the church or Christianity is dogmatically to be viewed in a feminine context.

The Body of Christ and the Mistake of Transferring the Masculinity of Christ to the Church. One might decide that the above is all well and good but what about “the body of Christ” where it says the church is the body of Christ? If Christ is masculine and the church is his body, wouldn’t the church then be masculine, too? Wouldn't his masculinity be transferred to the church, to Christianity? Let’s first cite a few passages which might be used for such an argument:
1 Corinthians 12:27 (ESV)
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Colossians 1:18 (ESV)
And he is the head of the body, the church.
Remember that this is a description of an analogy with a purpose. What one must ask if the purpose here is to imply that the church is to now be viewed as masculine seeing that they are “the body of Christ” and he is masculine or something else such as the nature of the church’s relationship to Christ?

In Genesis we are told by God that when a man and woman marry they become one.
Genesis 2:24 (ESV)
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Clearly, while they become one flesh they do not lose their masculine or feminine properties. The divine construct of marriage where the husband and wife become one flesh has with its intentions, not an implication that one becomes the other, that gender properties are transferred, rather that in their marital offices functioning together as one unit, still operate with their distinct roles and gender properties in tact.

And the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that the one body of marriage has a head.
Ephesians 5:23 (ESV)
For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
Neither the wife who has the husband as a head nor the church who has Christ as the head is viewed as having transferred to them the masculine properties of the other. In fact, to assert this would remove both the wife and the church/bride from qualifying as being either seeing they are suddenly masculine.

So when we encounter passages about the body of Christ with Christ being the head, we are to view it as it is presented in Scripture, with the head (Christ) as indeed masculine and the body of Christ (the church/Christianity) as being feminine, responding to the head.

The Nature of Femininity

There is a divine order with regard to creation. Many these days seem to struggle with this but that is due to sin, not due to the divine construct or its failure to consider alleged social emancipation for women in various settings. Human femininity is fundamentally designed to respond to human masculinity. Women are primarily responders, men initiators.

This does not mean women do not initiate in various contexts, far from it but with respect to God’s intention of the administrative order of the relationship between a husband and wife, it is male-initiator, female-respondent. A good husband will be one who concentrates on planning and policy for his family (which does not mean necessarily mean he does it alone, his genius wife as the Executive Officer is a resource many wisely use to the fullest extent in consultation but ultimately he must form the conclusion) and does all he can to set up a system which will insure that such planning and policies can be carried out.

A good wife will accept her responsibilities and respond as the Executive Officer in a marriage. She will either accept this construct or fight against it and be miserable (hint, pay attention before you say “I do”.  Ladies, you are accepting a head and if you ignore what you should pay attention to you might find a head that you are miserable following). And a good Executive Officer seeks to execute the plans and policies of the “one body”. Her authority, responsibility and freedom to accomplish these things is based in the doctrine of her husband.

When you have a husband with no doctrine you have a body or wife that fills it with her own ideas, good, bad or indifferent but ultimately you have an absent Commanding Officer. When you have a husband with abusive doctrines you have a wife that hates her husband and is provoked to undermine him. When you have a husband with good doctrine but a wife with a dysfunctional soul based in rebellion, you have a good head and a disobedient body. But when you have a good head with sound doctrine and a respondent body, you have a healthily functioning relationship.

Christ is our head and possesses perfect doctrine, perfect plans, perfect policies and protocols; we are his body, the bride of Christ. We are to be respondents to Christ, not initiators. We are to carry out his plans and his policies, not our own. We are to concentrate on his wisdom, not ours. We are to identify with him. We, the church are his bride, we are not the groom.

Putting Away Masculine Egotism

I think what disturbs Teachers like John Piper is that for a man to have to consciously view themselves as taking on a feminine role, never mind articulate it in Teaching about the role of the church, is something simply too severe for his ego. Now this may seem uncharitable toward John Piper but along with many of his others demonstrations of bravado and posturing, I believe Mr. Piper provides the profile of a very confused and misled man regarding his own impetus in some areas. But let us lay that aside. 

The fact is, unless he or anyone fully receives the call to be one who receives from Christ, one who is dependent upon Christ, one who is led by Christ, one who must be the submitter, the Executive Officer and not the Commanding Officer, one who carries out policy and does not formulate it and ultimately, one who is the bride and not the groom, the feminine and not the masculine in the nature of the relationship, then you will forever have men whose egos must be tended to in the manner expressed by Piper in claiming the God intended for the church to have a masculine feel. Seeing there is scant cause, if any, in Scripture for such a ludicrous claim leads me to only one conclusion, that it is a personal/ego matter for Mr. Piper and *anyone else staking such a theological claim.

God is not asking you to abandon your human masculinity for goodness sakes; this isn’t about you or your masculinity, John Piper, or any other person who is listening. Your human or anthropological gender, its masculine or feminine properties, has nothing to do with the church’s feminine relationship to Christ, the groom. But the church’s rightful identification as feminine, as the responder to Christ, our head, has everything to do with how the church carries out its responsibilities.

The Mistake of Transferring Human Masculinity from Church Government/Leadership to the Church

The last paragraph in the previous section leads me to a final point before closing comments about the church’s view of itself and the possible argument that if the church is to be viewed as feminine, then why did God order it to be led by men? And if it is led by men isn’t there some kind of transfer of the masculinity to the church?

First, to ignore all that has been presented in order to forward this argument would disqualify anyone from being taken seriously. That is to say, it is abundantly clear by now that language such as Piper’s categorical “I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel”, is theological inept at best and simply overwhelmingly confronted and dismantled by exegetical/grammatical and theological content to the contrary.

But for the sake of entertaining another overreach let’s consider this line of reasoning. Is it possible that there is a conflict in understanding the church to be feminine yet called by God to be led by men? And in that context is there not a masculinizing of the church by default?

No, and I will tell you why.

It is not masculinity which God has assigned to the govern the church, though this property does have a role. God has designated the offices of, Pastor/Teacher or Elder and Deacon for governing the church. These offices have with them requirements based partly in gender (male only) and significantly in spiritual gifting and moral/ethical/dispositional properties in order to be filled.

Their roles are to carry out the protocol plan of Christ, not their own. While it is true that the exercise of their authority, in part,  rests in their masculinity, their authority itself, is not derived from the property or personal expression of their masculinity. Rather in its derived from cooperation with and submission to Christ. In simple terms, they are to lead the church into submission to Christ. It is not to lead the church into masculinity because it is not about masculinity. In fact and rather ironically, their masculinity, if anything, is to guard the church's  femininity. They are to be examples of robust, demonstrative and exemplary submission to Christ. So if I were to appeal to any function of the masculine property of men in church government, I would state it this way.
The masculine property of Church government is for the guardianship of its femininity.
The ironic design of God is to use that masculine strength and guardianship to lead Christianity, the church, into its own masculine demise and to dependence upon Christ, the ultimate feminine yielding to the headship of another, namely Christ.

Final Thoughts

As I said, I prefer ballads and anthems; I like deep voices and robust masculinity. I have no interest, for the most part, in the fragile and dainty. But that is me, my person. However, the church is not about me, my person. In Christ, I am but a fragile man made strong by his might. He is the man, I am his bride. My doctrine and strength are provided by him. He has not called me to enlarge myself but that he be enlarged. God calls us to divest ourselves from our egos when it comes to living a life for him and being the body of Christ.

Do not be mistaken, God has not called anyone to abandon their femininity nor their masculinity where it is intended to stand guard and provide its role as it should. A father and mother, a brother and sister, a grandfather and grandmother and a husband and wife are all involved in other divine institutions which are based, quite explicitly, in their masculine and feminine properties. Those are not to cease.

But if we are going to claim a feminine or masculine property and feel for the church, we and it must understand, we are the bride of Christ. We, the church should understand that God has given, if anything to Christianity, a feminine feel in our submission to Jesus Christ as head.

_______________

 *An interesting side bar. If you have not heard of Ellerslie School of Honor you should, it is a growing concern which many believe has taken on cultic kinds of methods to recruit and indoctrinate Evangelical young people. It it is led by a man named Eric Ludy and its doctrine ranges from perfectionism and puritanism to Neo-Reformed. It views itself very exclusively and has a remnant philosophy, us against the world and what they call "namby-pamby" Christianity. The present themselves as a spiritual utopia, in my view. I found the kinds of theological excess, grandiosity and novelty found in John Piper to be present in Eric Ludy, but less tempered.  In fact, almost paralleling John Piper, Eric Ludy made this statement at his school's website on the introductory remarks in the Advanced Training guide in quoting a man named CT Studd about the intent of the training at Ellerslie, Ludy communicates, “we will have a masculine holiness”. It appears they are using the same playbook on this one which isn't the Bible.

Friday, October 19, 2012

To All My Egalitarian Readers: Rachel Held Evans is Taking You for a Ride

 



Rachel Held Evans is presented as one of the leading feminist Evangelical voices of marital egalitarianism. To use a worn out but apt phrase, she is their darling. Personally, I could care less who may be the darling of what group because this is not really about egalitarianism or darlings per se, though in being a darling of a group one can and often does become a sacred cow (no pun here of course), which results in blind devotion by adoring worshipers. Rather, this is about you, the egalitarian, and your being exploited by Evans with her latest stunt, namely the claim she spent a year living as a “biblical woman”.

Understand clearly, I am not here to try and argue whether egalitarianism, complimentarianism, governmentalism or some other form of marital doctrine is right or wrong. I am here in principle about people being exploited, about being used. And my egalitarian friend, just as other Christian groups get used by book publishers and Christian personalities, you are now the target of Rachel Held Evans and her publisher. She wants your money and has a book to sell you, regardless of its theological value.

If you are going to be Egalitarian, Rachel Held Evans Is Not Who You Want to Follow – Let Me Explain

Within the Evangelical/Fundamentalist world of Christianity there have always been those who began with what seemed to be with modest attention, thus gaining a hearing from others but who, somewhere along the way after gaining the power, prestige and followers which accompanies a rise in one’s profile, seemed to switch to a person who is willing to do and say things that at one time you would have never imagined them doing. Not that they are horrible things, necessarily (sometimes they are, though) but that they are oriented around attention seeking. Instead of getting attention for soundness they compromise what was assumed to be a certain degree of decorum, seriousness and consistency.

I will give you one example, Al Mohler. Al Mohler is a very competent Bible teacher. I do not believe that is in question. And he has risen to a position of leadership within Evangelicalism, some might say conservative Evangelicalism (I believe he would).  But strangely, along the way, Al Mohler’s words and actions quit lining up on some important issues.

His association with and promotion of charismaticist CJ Mahaney is one of the most bizarre dis-affirmations of critical elements of historic Baptist doctrine Mohler claims to represent that I have seen by someone who, on the one hand claims conservatism in his Evangelicalism and has aggressively taught the importance of sound hermeneutics while on the other hand is constantly praising and transferring trust and confidence to Mahaney who is anything but one who has sought to preserve historic Baptist doctrine or sound hermeneutics. CJ Mahaney is the antithesis of both sound doctrine and sound ministerial ethics. A child can see this.

So because Al Mohler is a competent Teacher and can articulate some Bible doctrine well, do I simply look the other way with his CJ Mahaney justifications and practice? No, not at all. This is part of Al Mohler. I cannot allow myself to simply take the good parts of Al Mohler and ignore the bad parts of his ministry and go happily on my way. What integrity to I have? What self-respect do I have? I am only deluding myself. In fact, it calls into question, in a rather significant way, his integrity, gifted Teacher or not.

I could spend quite a bit of time with example after example within Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism to drive home the point. But I do not want to write, at length, with examples because I want to get to the subject at hand, Rachel Held Evans and her exploitation of those who hold her in esteem.

A Woman’s Year of Living Biblically

First let me say to those of you who have already made up your mind that what Rachel Held Evans does is fine and that you are simply going to ignore any criticism, I encourage you to stop reading now because you are wasting your time. But for the women and men who might agree with egalitarianism but have a degree of self-respect, you might want to consider what I am about to say. You are being used.

Evans’ book claims to be one of spending a year living Biblically as a woman. Now, it does not take very long for anyone to find out that this is not what Evans did at all. What she did do, however, is pull off a gimmick to sell you a book which appeals to your egalitarianism by creating many straw man arguments.

Here are a couple of examples of the gimmick based exploitation by Evans:

1. Slate magazine, last year, wrote about this and reported:
“Before Easter this year, Rachel Held Evans camped out for the weekend in a purple tent she had set up in her Tennessee yard. For nine days after this adventure, she abstained from sex and even from touching her husband. She stayed home from church, and toted around a stadium seat cushion to avoid sitting directly on chairs outside her home. Evans' goal was to obey the Bible's commandments for menstruating women in Leviticus Chapters 15 to 18, a passage that takes a lot of shalls and shall nots to make a simple point: Women on their periods are untouchable.”
While the article admits that even fundamentalists do not hold to this requirement, one must ask, then what is the reason for this stunt by Evans? How is this informative? How does it help the believer with regard to understanding the doctrine of marriage? It doesn’t, but it does sell books.

2. Master. 

Evans accounts in her book that she referred to her husband as Master. Does anyone, anywhere, find any credible or even half-way credible Bible Teacher, even of the most conservative kind, teaching wives to call their husband “master”? Right, if it exists it exists as a known aberration rejected even by Fundamentalists (not that Fundamentalists necessarily deserve the "even by" reference by default, rather it is to make a point to Evangelical readers). Again, what is the point?

The point is to sell you a book by appealing to your feminist outrage that one of your sisters had to go through this and that many women did actually go through this in the past. But is anyone requiring this, now? No. It isn’t an actual argument, it is a straw man. It pretends that calling your husband “master” is an issue (I won’t go into the fact that Evans failed to do her homework on the word, itself, but that isn’t important because it would have undermined her disingenuous use of the word to make a non-existent point).

Egalitarian Men and Women Who do Attempt to Live Biblically Ought to be Disgusted

Remember, this is not about arguing the case of marital doctrines, rather about pointing out exploitation. I am not so dumb as to believe that if someone disagrees with me on the doctrine of marriage that I should view them as default non-biblical in the rest of their lives. There are many egalitarians who seek to live by Biblical standards, earnestly. And in much of their lives you would see nothing remarkably different than that of a complimentarian, governmentalist and so on who differ in marital doctrine.

Rachel Held Evans thinks of her readers and potential book buyers, in my opinion, as fools, as stupid and so uninformed that they believe stunts like Evans’ somehow will inform them and have a point. Not that the book does not have a few points but the worthy points Evans makes could be summed up in one or two paragraphs which is basically that we ought to give consideration to context.

However, informing you isn’t her objective, separating you from your money is, with bigger-than-life stunts. She is a showman, now, of the first order. You are her subjects and she believes that you are willing to swallow anything all because she is the darling of egalitarianism.

You really should have more self-respect. There are Bible Teachers and Theologians who both sympathize with and aggressively take the egalitarian view without lowering themselves, but more importantly without seeking to lower their students and readers (you), with gimmicks and exploitation to sell books, to whom your ears ought to be given. She has made herself a clown with this effort and you will only join yourself in a brigade of fools in believing this book is worth your investment. Be egalitarian if you will but before you become like conservatives following Joel Osteen or Rick Warren with their gimmicks, in buying into this nonsense, just understand you are about to become the very thing you do not like.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Why it is Never, Ever Your Pastor's Business or Anyone Else's Business When, What and How You Give Money to God Through the Church

I have heard every kind of justification there is claiming that it is acceptable that Pastors, Elders, Deacons or Stewardship Committee members make it their business to seek to know what you give to God through the church. It might be that a Treasurer or those responsible for sending out statements become immediately knowledgeable purely from the duty of counting and sending a statement But from that they are certainly obligated to keep the matter private. Most know this trust and observe it. However, this is far removed from them "seeking" this knowledge where it is none of their business.

But outside of that exception where the person does not seek to know, there are Pastors, Elders and Theologians at large who espouse the anti-biblical premise that as part of pastoral or elder care, as a watchman-so to speak- such persons have a right to know what one gives. Wrong. 

The passage below is emphatic with all of its explications and implications. 2 Corinthians 9:7:
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Do not ever allow yourself to be manipulated or violated with respect to your giving. When you give to God through the church, you are giving to God through the church.  The church government receives the offerings to God and their responsibility is to rightly administer it, not interfere with the privacy of the givers to God and the determinations they make in their heart before God. The church government is not the rewarder of your investment in the Kingdom of God, God is and that day is yet to come.

Anyone who ever claims that your giving to God is their business because they are in some ministerial position within your church ought to be a warning signal to you. Either that situation needs to be resolved or you need to depart to safer grounds. If they are willing to violate a clear principle here, they will do it elsewhere.Your giving is purposed by "you" and no one else. As the passage says, "each one...as he has decided....not under compulsion".

A final note. There is a fundamental reason people, particularly those in ministry but not limited to those in ministry or ordained as non-vocational Elders, feel it is their right to know what you give to God and believe they have the right to some say it this process. It is because they have an arrogance-complex. An arrogance-complex stems from psychological immaturity and with Christians it combines with spiritual immaturity to form the unique psychological/spiritual arrogance-complex. The results are ecclesiastical tyranny in various forms, sometimes by one man (*Philsopher King) and sometimes by a group of people (Elder Oligarchy) or a completely dysfunctional cult-like church.

When a man (or woman) disregards the clear boundaries of Scripture "in the name of God" (normally crusadership mentalities borrow God's name for their causes) you can be certain that there is some form of arrogance-complex involved. Hopefully, such personalities are growing out of this and not into this but what you need to know, whether they are maturing out or regressing into this form of spiritual dysfunction, is that you should not subject yourself or loved ones under your care and influence to their misery. 

Remember, your giving is to God and it is a matter of your concience and yours alone (remembering always, of course that marriages and families operate as a unit and they will share in these concerns and contributions but nothing outside of the privacy of self, marriage or family as the various contexts arise, should be assumed to be something any minister or anyone not in these contexts has a right with which to interfere).

*Philospher King is a term I learned reading Paul Dohse's blog, Paul's Passing Thoughts and found it very apt in many cases.


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.