Friday, October 26, 2012

What God Intends

By now the passing comments of Richard Mourdock in an Indiana Senate debate have made their way around the nation and have become part of the presidential debate.  When asked his position on abortion, he said:

"I know that there are some who disagree and I respect their point of view but I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize that life is a gift from God, and I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something God intended to happen."

The first part of his comment allows for abortion when there is a competing claim on life between the mother and the unborn child.  The second half relates to the question of making exceptions when there isn't a competing life claim.  For example, in the case of rape, is that an exceptional situation?  His answer was that it is not. Being consistent with his view that we have a human being, probably even from the point of the initial zygote where sperm and egg join, he cannot justify abortion in that case because it is taking a life.

There are all sorts of ethical and theological issues here.  For example, does a blastocyst hours or days after conception have the same moral status as a three month old or six month old fetus?  If so, then IUDs and the day after pill should be made illegal (so in Mourdock's position, a raped woman should not be given a day after pill to make sure she doesn't get pregnant from the rape).  Does a fertilized egg have a soul?  To what extent can the religious views of an individual be forced onto American citizens who do not share that view?

But those debates are very old.  Mourdock did not say, "I believe a life is a life and thus that even in the case of rape a woman can't have an abortion."  He went further to say that God intended her to get pregnant.  This is the Rick Warren, purpose-driven-life perspective.

It is not a Wesleyan perspective.  Wesleyans believe that God has given humanity free will in some measure. Accordingly, not everything that happens is God's perfect plan or directive will.

I would go further to say that God gives the creation some degree of freedom as well.  Let's call it "the laws of nature."  God does not decide every time whether I'm going to stick to the ground or fly off into space.  He made something called the law of gravity.

The result is that God doesn't micromanage the creation.  God allows everything that happens because he is sovereign, in control of everything.  But God does not direct everything that happens.  Otherwise, God becomes the direct author of evil, which James 1 disallows.  This is a potential inconsistency in Mourdock's position.  If God intends the pregnancy, he must explain why God did not intend the rape in the first place.

In the end, this is the age old problem of evil.  The best explanation--and even it is admittedly not perfect--is that God has allowed evil to exist in the world for a time.  Evil happens.  Some Christian thinkers, like John Piper and Wayne Grudem, prefer to think that God orchestrates and directs every single thing that happens.  There would thus be no difference between God and Satan, for God would make Satan do everything he does.

At least the "free will explanation" distances God from evil. It says that God, for some reason, has allowed evil and suffering to exist for the moment, but that he will eventually destroy it once and for all, for good.


Alex said...

The word "allow" seems to suggest that God is capable of NOT allowing evil.

I don't think God can be fully good and fully powerful, because of the problem of evil. He must be one or the other.

Ken Schenck said...

I understand your position, but if you go down this road, you would then begin to wonder whether the idea of God even makes sense.

Scott F said...

"if you go down this road, you would then begin to wonder whether the idea of God even makes sense."


This why the Problem of Evil is still a problem. In the end, after all the free-will and love and sovereignty claims, the choice to believe that there is a God who is all-loving and all-powerful has to remain non-rational. Some can live with that, others can't.

Luke said...

Would anything change if by "it" in the last sentence, Mourdock had meant God intended "life" and not "rape"? (Genesis 50:20)

Secondly, David Bentley Hart tackles this issue in his book on the tsunami in S.E. Asia, distinguishing between God's permissive and "directive" wills, and in the process takes Calvin to task for his failure to do sure. (Institutes, Book III)

Thirdly, Scott F., I was tracking with you right up until "non-rational." Did you mean that the problem of evil shows theism to be logically impossible? If so, I think that there are, logically, good reasons to believe the problem of evil is not defeater of the basic tenets of Christian Theism. That being said, I agree that it is a problem, to the extent I wouldn't start from there if I were trying to convince someone of the Christian God's existence.

Ken Schenck said...

I think he did mean life instead of rape.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

If GOD does not control "evil", then, to be "like God", neither should Christians. For "pro lifers", evil is abortion, because it denies the child a "right to life". But, what about the life of the woman? Controlling another human being is about evil, because apart from choice, man is treated as an object to be perfected/conformed, a function within a system or a role within a society. And although man can view or describe the "whole" by roles, functions and objects, "Man" was never to be objectified. Otherwise, life is merely an existence (biological), not truly life (human flourishing). If "life" is more than biology, then, should that not apply to parenting? There are many biological parents that are far from being "parents". The ability to reproduce does not mean that one should reproduce, as there should be many considerations about whether one is willing and able to support the child.
Pregnancy is the result of sexual activity and sexual activity should be about responsible behavior. Pregnancy and parenthood should be a choice, not a mistake or regret. The biological life of the zygote should not determine the future of the woman, nor prohibit scientific research that would benefit many. God's Sovereignty becomes a justification of punishment for/on the woman and prohibits scientific research in such cases.
Abortion is a decision that should be between the individuals involved, as a matter of conscience and as it is a medical procedure, abortion should be overseen by medical professionals.
There are too many children born that are neglected, abused, and abandoned that become burdens upon society. Everyone ends up paying for these children and these children are aware of that, too. Teachers, social workers, and many other resources are spent on the lives of these children that were not valued in the first place. Should we propitiate bringing such lives into the world?
Many Christians believe all pregnancies should be affirmed, because God is the one who gives and takes life and we should never resist "His Will". The natural world is "God's" and humans should not intervene or prevent what God purposes. This is a passive stance towards life and all that is. Science believes that the natural world (whether created by God or not) is to be investigated, understood and honed to advance human flourishing. All Americans believe in human potential that will never be developed or accomplished apart from the right environment. The right environment for the child is "the family", who is to support, encourage and develop the child. Such environments cannot be determined by an ability to reproduce babies, or society's demand by law, but only by a woman's responsible choice.

Keith Drury said...

I just KNEW you’d write on this—you did not disappoint. Who would have thought that the Senate debate would raise this significant theological issue? While I reject the notion that God “intended” the rape to happen, I don’t believe He was surprised by it; indeed he knew of it from the foundation of the world. But for me, God’s foreknowledge does not make it God’s will. Mourdock’s (& Ryan’s) position goes beyond the official Wesleyan Church position, but does represent the views of many individual Wesleyans. As an ironic sidelight (for Wesleyans) the position on Abortion is not a “test of membership” though tobacco and alcohol are. Isn’t that curious? A full member of the Wesleyan church is urged-but-not-required to be anti-abortion but they are downright required to not drink wine or smoke a pipe. Curious. Back to God’s will—in a Sunday school class I think I could make a case for Mourdock’s position… but I’m not sure it was a good witness to do it while running for the Senate. ;-) --keith

Ken Schenck said...

I can't remember exactly the circumstances, but didn't a very influential person on the General Board of the Wesleyan Church argue that the WC should also have an exception clause for abortion in the case of rape? Seems like I remember that his argument was what would happen if a black man raped a white woman and she became pregnant...

Keith Drury said...

In the discussion of The church's first position statement on abortion there was no question everyone would reject abortion... the discussion came on the exception clauses. A few wanted a totally "clean" statement with no exceptions, including rape. And, yes, one of the argument for the exception for rape was one member saying something like, "What if one of our young Wesleyan girls were raped by a black man..."

::athada:: said...

A new question/observation posed to me today was: what are the implications of a large percent (~50?) of fertilizations ending in miscarriage? Do I expect to arrive in heaven and find double the amount of children I raised? I don't know. What is the state of a fertilized egg that is not yet implanted in the uterine wall (medical definition of pregnancy)? I believe many Catholics might push back and say life-potential can be respected even before fertilization. My friend reminded me of the precautionary position of not firing without properly identifying one's target. Could some of the more gray areas be places where Christians do not "fire" personally but allow some political freedom for others in the secular kingdom in which they live? I don't know.

Ed Dobson, Evangelical and good buddy of the late Jerry Falwell, observed in "The Year of Living Like Jesus" that Exodus 21:22-25 (below) seems to treat a fight ending in miscarriage as less serious than other injuries. I believe modern Jews are largely pro-choice. Dobson goes on in the book with several distinctions, observations, and asterisks, of course.

This seems to be fated to remain one of those "really difficult things"... as it has always been I suspect.

22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [or: miscarries] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise."

Keith Drury said...

Adam, Roe v. Wade basically makes a distinction between the three trimesters right? That probably would have satisfied most Christians in 1972... but of all things photography has pushed back the "boy, this is something sacred" line earlier and earlier... there is no doubt in my mind a fetus was considered less valuable than a newborn in the OT (but likewise a woman was of less value than a man). The question about resurrection is delightful! If all fertilized eggs are fully persons, and about 50% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and if Wesleyans are right about children before the age of accountability, then the resurrection will include far more than half of the people ever born? ;-) Back to your point on “sacredness” it seems to me Christians too accept some things as sacred that are not living… but the question is, when does a fetus become a “person” – and perhaps that leads to this question: When did the incarnate Jesus become a “person?” Now we are into serious matters….