Where Is God In Infant Sickness or Deformity?

Published on September 20, 2011 by CT in Blog, Theology

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One of the great aspects of blogging as a medium for writing is its form, particularly for a student and proponent of the Bible.  Blogging holds the potential for one of Christian writers’ dearest pastimes, a practice that is far too easy and far too enjoyable to pass up without intentional avoidance.  I’m talking about proof-text posting.

After all, blog posts are relatively short in nature (not this one).  Why build a doctrine in a post when you can cite a verse and, BOOM, make your point?

I suspect we’re all guilty of this to some degree.  Our beliefs are precious to us, and we want to hold tightly to them, probably for the sense of security and control they give to us.  I know there are certain aspects of my faith that I would literally die for, so if someone wants to challenge them, it only seems natural that I would fight for them in the easiest way possible.

I was asked to contribute to another blogger’s Theology Week, and I was more than happy to oblige, so I posted a call for topics.  Each response was thoughtful and creative, and each was attractive for its proof-text posting (PTP) potential.

@hockeypreacher suggested “[a Christian view of] self-defense.” This was an intriguing topic, one that I hadn’t thought much about, and one that seems particularly relevant given the global violence we see playing out in our day.  It’s also ripe for a left jab and an uppercut PTP response:  “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39).  BOOM.  Question answered; problem is down for the count.

@justantinople suggested “cannabis in relation to Judeo-Christian theology and the modern believer.” Another interesting topic given the national debate on the merits of medicinal usage of marijuana.  And this is another topic that has PTP potential wrapped tightly around it just waiting to be lit:  “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” (2 Kings 4:40).  BOOM.  You could take that response and smoke it.

But then @matthammitt suggested a topic that you can’t just drop a proof-text post on—at least not if you have any sort of heart.  He suggested “Psalm 139:13-16 in relation to children who are born sick or deformed.”  If you don’t know this Psalm right away, you’ve likely heard it before.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.”

So what are we to make of this question in light of this testimony of Scripture? My initial reaction was I would be a fool to comment on such a sensitive subject given my lack of exposure to it.  I have a good friend from college whose son has had years of medical issues, but I’ve only seen him once in the last 7 years, so it’s not like I’ve had to face this issue regularly.  And while I am a father of one, our daughter has not had significant issues so far in her first year.  So it feels as if I shouldn’t comment until I’ve walked through a hard season of life like this.

The difficulty of this question doesn’t make speaking to the issue any easier either.  I would like to just cite Genesis 3 and Romans 8 and say that creation has been groaning since the Fall, and then point to John 12 to show that Satan is the rule of this world, and conclude in Revelation 21 by saying God didn’t mean for things to be this way and that He is making all things new, and simply be done with it.  But then we’d be left with the testimony of other parts of Scripture that would challenge my conceptions of this God we serve, and I would be faced with explaining them away or ignoring them altogether.

As the global priesthood of believers, we are given the privilege of speaking on behalf of God—or more accurately, we are given the privilege of passing along the words of God in a way that is faithful to them and glorifying to their author.  But, of course, that’s the trick, and we do well to offer Biblical counsel with the praise Luke gave to the Bereans who “examin[ed] the Scriptures daily to see if [what they were told] was so” (Acts 17:11).

So with the Berean mindset, and with the willingness to allow Scripture to test and approve our own beliefs about God, perhaps we could begin by reflecting on some of the things God is telling us about Himself in Psalm 139.  In this passage, we see that:

  1. God formed him from conception.  “You formed my inward parts…you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”  The actor in this creation was God; the psalmist’s parents conceived him, but it was God’s hand that formed him with deliberate care and purpose.
  2. God formed him with great care.  The psalmist was not simply made—he was “fearfully and wonderfully made.”  He was a miracle from God, formed in mystery and wonder by a God who inspires awe in every act of conception, and he was fashioned with the attention of a careful creator.
  3. God saw him clearly as He made him. “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret.”  Nothing was hidden from God in the making of this child.  He knew everything about him and even saw into the secret places as he was being formed.
  4. God authored the formation of his days.  “In your book were written…the days that were formed for me.”  The psalmist’s life was a book written by God Himself, and his days in his mother’s womb were the opening chapters.  God saw his unformed substance like a blank page, and with careful creativity, He molded and shaped the words of his life into a story with a purpose.

It’s not in the nature of an infinitely perfect being to err, and it seems clear that the psalmist is testifying to the great intentionality and thoughtful care with which He was made.  God formed Him, and He made no mistakes in doing it.

The psalmist was not alone.  God said to Jeremiah:  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5).  Isaiah testified to God’s hand on his life before birth in saying, “The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name” (Isaiah 49:1).  Job tells of God’s care in creating him:  “Your hands fashioned and made me…you clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinew” (Job 10:8, 11).  And the psalmist also testifies to us:  “Know that the LORD, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his” (Psalm 100:3).

So we see that God is the creator and caretaker of life from the very beginning.  But what does this show in relation to the sick or the deformed?  Could not God be the creator of life in one sense, but sin has corrupted His creation in the here and now?

The Bible doesn’t tell us explicitly about the formation of the deformed or sick in utero.  But three passages come to mind as pressing on this discussion, and they reveal for us some truths about God that we may not expect.

The first passage is from Exodus 4 and addresses God’s active hand in deformities.  Moses is making excuses for why he won’t go to Pharaoh and the people of Israel to lead them out from Egypt, and he is appealing to his slowness of speech and tongue.  God replies with this:  “Who has made man’s mouth?  Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exodus 4:11).  Here, God tells us that He makes men mute, or deaf, or blind, or gives them sight.  These deformities are not oversights on God’s part, nor are they out of His control.

The second passage is from 2 Samuel 12 and addresses God’s active hand in sickness.  David has committed adultery with Bathsheba and has murdered her husband.  The prophet Nathan comes to David to convict him and to reveal God’s judgment.  After David confesses to his sin, Nathan says, “Because…you have scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.”  The writer goes on:  “And the LORD afflicted the child [born] to David, and he became sick…[and] on the seventh day the child died” (2 Samuel 12:14-15, 18).  Here we see God afflicting the child from birth—and this is noteworthy—and doing so irrespective of anything the child had done.  It was the sin of David that led to this affliction at the hand of God, but it was God’s hand and purpose nonetheless.

The third passage is from John 9 and addresses God’s purpose in deformities.  Jesus and His disciples passed a man who was blind, and John tells us this man was “blind from birth.”  The prevailing notion of the day was that the deformed were born as a result of sin, and the debate was over whose sin it may be.  Jesus’ disciples asked Him:  “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3).  Jesus passes on His disciples’ initial question because He recognizes it as the wrong question to begin with.  Instead, he points to the point:  This man was born blind so that God might be glorified in him.

All in all, we see God’s hand and purpose in creating us from our very beginnings, carefully authoring the pages in which we live out our lives, and purposefully bringing about our circumstances, whether we consider them to be good or bad, in order that He might be glorified.  These are hard truths, and this question is worth far more time and exploration than these humble thoughts.  For many, the question may seem of little relevance if our lives aren’t touched by these sorts of challenges.  But I would suggest that we are all impacted by our own answers to this question.

Do we believe that God is sovereign over sickness and deformity, and that His purposes in them are good, for His glory, and for our joy?  If He is not, then is He sovereign over our broken family, or our lost job, or our estranged child, or our broken friendship?  As His caring hand molds and shapes us from our first beginnings, and as His narrative plays out in our lives, are we to assume He is not authoring the peaks and valleys of our stories?  Does He not intend to “work all things together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose?” (Romans 8:28) and that these “all things” must include all things?

May we approach these kinds of questions with great humility and trepidation, seeking to find what God testifies about Himself, and careful not to come to any conclusions without great searching and prayer.  May we see that life is not about us, that we are created in order to magnify the glory of God, and that we are to go to war with our conceptions of fairness and good.  May we find ourselves with great empathy for broken vessels in any way we find them, whether in utero or in person, recognizing that we are all spiritually broken as well.  And may we all seek to embrace God’s loving sovereignty as He carries out His own good purposes in our lives, so that He might be glorified in us as we find the contentment of joy in every circumstance, knowing that our Father and Creator never makes mistakes.

Question:  What do you see as God’s role in the hard parts of life?

  • Barbara

    Thanks for your article.. I truly do not believe a loving God would be a God that would cause sickness or deformities. If God caused sickness, then Jesus healing people that God supposedly made sick would be doing so against "His" will… I believe if we interpret scripture that does not line up with a loving God than we are obviously interpreting it wrong.. God is not the author of sickness. The bible says the "enemy" comes to steal, kill and destroy. But I come that you might have life and have it "more" abundantly.. How is that "abundant" life?
    Most people interpret John 9:1-3 wrongly.. As You know the original language the bible was written in, was not KJV.. This passage studied out pretty much says (my paraphrasing) This man born bind because of his or his parents sin isn't of question, but I have come to heal him and bring Glory to the Father.. (also there is no way he could have been born because of his own sin. How can he sin in his mothers womb?)
    Sin is no longer an issue with God.. Second Corinthians 5:19 says,
    “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation,”
    Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice, If He wasn't enough to cover our sins than God would have never sent Him to be our sacrifice.
    Being that we live in a fallen world where satan is the god of this world, bad things happen when we submit to him instead of God, Our Heavenly Father..
    We allow some of the things in our lives.. God is not the destroyer.. He gives life. :)
    If anyone is interested in reading some really good articles that can help your understanding of difficult scriptures, check out Andrew Wommack's stuff. He has really bought out some truth. His ministry has blessed my life tremendously! Here is just one article of many that he offers on his site.. http://www.awmi.net/extra/article/jesus_enough
    He also has a search button located at the top left side of the screen.. He offers all his stuff for free..
    Its the truth that truly sets you free.. If you can get a hold of God's truth, its life changing..

    • http://cravesomethingmore.org Chris_Tomlinson

      Hi Barbara,

      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, and you've covered quite a bit of ground in your comment, which is always welcome at this site =). Thanks also for pointing to a ministry by which you've been encouraged; I thank God for the teachers I've encountered in my life who continually point me to Him above all other things.

      I do have a favor of you to ask, if you're willing to consider it. In the article you pointed to, Wommack makes the point that He has ministered to thousands of people who "just won't let the Bible get in the way of their theology." And I would echo these thoughts–that one of our greatest challenges as followers of Jesus and readers of God's word is to know which parts of what we believe come from God's word and which parts come from something else.

      As I thought about this topic, and as I searched the Bible for what God had to say about it, I found that I needed to engage on a number of passages which shed some light on God's working in our lives, in and through sickness and deformity. Three of these are passages I've shared as part of this post (Exodus 4, 2 Samuel 12, John 9). And what I found is that Wommack was right: I had been unwilling to let the Bible get in the way of my theology. I've done the best I can to say what these verses say about this topic, and whether the conclusions drawn here are Biblical and right, or if they are misguided, is something you and other readers will have to consider as you search the Scriptures yourself.

      I'd love for you to consider these three passages, what they say about God, what they say about our understanding of Him, and what they say about how He works in the world. If you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts on them, I'd certainly welcome those.

      Thanks again for reading and for taking the time to write. I hope you will continue to stop by from time to time!

  • Debbie

    Chris, I am so glad that whether God allows, or orchestrates sickness and/or deformity, that He is sovereign even here. I have a daughter who had a rare form of lukemia and was about 25 years younger than one considered young to get this cancer. She had a bonemarrow transplant and has more complications than you can imagine — many almost unheard of. She has an unrelated and, at the time, unknown doner, who has, over time, turned out to be a Christ lover and one of my daughter's greates cheerleaders, encouragers and friends. I have a husband who had pancreatic cancer (and the month before my daughter was diagnosed was told he was in remission) and has been in remission for 9 years now. There is no doubt in my mind that my loving, all wise, all knowing, perfect, faithful, gracious God is overseeing all of this in an intimate, deliberate, intentional way. He is not merely reacting and responding to what is happening, He is the gatekeeper, the creator, the savior and wonder that holds it all in His hands and His heart. Nothing is beyond His care or His ability. I can rest (although sometimes I am not so good at that :0) ) in the hands and heart of this wonderful Sovereign God. Someday it will all make perfect sense and I will praise Him with a wonder I cannot imagine.

  • Brad

    Hey Chris!

    Thanks for your post. I recently read a book called "Israel's Divine Healer" by Michael L. Brown. It was super-thorough and super-insightful. You might like it too.

    As I was reading, I was wondering why you ended up emphasizing God's sovereignty?

    I only ask that question because when I emphasize God's sovereignty I kind of become numb and intellectual. By that I mean, I cut off my emotions and just say, "Well, God is sovereign. He must want it that way. There isn't much I can do." While my heart feels the pain and horror of sickness, when I apply God's sovereignty to the situation, I feel like my heart dies and I become less human. An example of this was when I had an ultrasound for my son. My heart was hoping that he would be healthy and that such health was a good thing. However, I found the theology in my head saying things like:

    "God is in control."
    "Sickness or healthy doesn't matter, God's glory does."
    "God doesn't really care if my son is healthy because He will work all things for good."
    "Health and sickness are equally good because God is in control and whatever happens is His will."

    I felt like there was a battle going on in my soul over what I had been taught theologically and what my soul really felt and knew was true. I didn't really like the thoughts or feelings of God's sovereignty because I felt like I couldn't really be present in the situation. Also, it seemed like good and evil, right and wrong, sickness and health didn't exist anymore because I could no longer call a deformity something wrong because God is in control and created it. At the same time, my heart was really yearning for a healthy boy.

    So, maybe my real question is "how can believing in God's sovereignty bring emotional health, and not resignation, cynicism, stuffing of feelings or calling evil good?" That's kind of a tough question; don't feel like you have to answer it in a blog comment!

    Just some random thoughts, but God's sovereignty is something I sometimes struggle with when it comes to living life. I think it is because it is hard for me to conceive of having a true relationship with a God who already has everything planned out and calls things that seem so bad in my mind (sickness, deformities etc.), good.

    Brad

  • Beth

    This is tragic in my opinion.  The way our logic has to be twisted around to explain something that clearly goes against the definition of an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God and somehow make it fit in to our preconceived world view.  If we blame the fall of man, we need to ask ourselves, “Wow – isn’t it just a TEENSY bit overkill to make all generations suffer for the sin of a man and a woman in a garden . . . when science and genetics have proven that we do NOT all come from one man or woman at all?  That there was no global flood?  That differing languages could in no way have begun like the Hebrew stories in the Old Testament say they did?  That a religion that says, basically, you either love God or you spend eternity in hellfire is not good?  That perhaps Yahweh is a creation of ancient Jews as clever in their storytelling as say, Steven Spielberg?”   I hope you will all continue to ask questions, because if you say you know there is a God, you don’t.  You believe there is one.  And PLEASE don’t tell a mother or father or sister or brother of a deformed, dependent child ANYTHING about your opinions of God.  He comes out bad anyway you slice it.

    • http://cravesomethingmore.org Chris Tomlinson

      Hi Beth, thank you so much for your heartfelt words.  And your boldness in sharing them.  I take to heart what you say, and all the questions you ask.  I’ve been following Jesus for about 25 years now, and every year, I come across new questions I have of what He tells us about Himself in the Bible.  And sometimes when I ask these questions, I don’t get an answer that feels right, or seems natural to me.  

      So I think that ultimately you are right.  We have to make the choice as to whether or not we believe there is a God.  And I would add to your statement:  we have to choose whether or not we believe the Bible is God’s word.  And we have to choose whether or not we’re willing to believe what He tells us about Himself in the Bible.  Of course, my believing in God doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true, just as someone’s disbelief of God, or someone’s different belief of God, doesn’t make them true either.  We’re all in the same boat; our beliefs have no bearing on the existence of God.  He either IS, or he isn’t.  So faith in the God of the Bible really just means accepting reality, if He is who He says He is, or it means wishful thinking.  There’s not much middle ground on the razor thin edge of reality.

      At the end of the day, I want to be a herald of God’s gospel.  I want to write in such a way that I am passing along God’s word to people, not adding to it or taking away from it.  I have and will fall short in that aim, but ultimately, I want to let God speak for Himself.  And from the passages we read above, it seems as though God is saying some things that neither you or I would probably say (or do) if we were God.  But we’re faced with the choice to take Him at His word or not–and to share it with all humility, and love, and graciousness, and patience, and boldness, as the Spirit leads us, not as we see fit ourselves.

      If you are interested in engaging with more of my thoughts on this topic, whether you agree with them or not, you might enjoy this chapter in Crave called Different.  The chapter sits right in the middle of the dialogue we’re having here: http://cravesomethingmore.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Crave-Chapter-Download_Different.pdf

      Please continue to stop by to read and share your thoughts as you see fit.  And know that you are always welcome here.

      ct