Today my daughter Zoe turns four year old. The following is something I wrote shortly after she was born:
Sometime about three weeks after conception—before my wife even knew she was pregnant—the small ribbon inside her that should have become our baby’s spine didn’t form correctly. By the time we found out about the spinal bifida, the damage was already done. When the specialist told us there was very little chance that our unborn child would ever be able to walk without assistance I got clammy and lightheaded and I had to sit down. I felt like all my blood had just evaporated.
The car was very quiet as I drove my wife home. By God’s grace, she was being very strong. I was having a harder time. Suddenly a thought ran in front of my mind. “Did God plan this? Some people would say that if God is responsible for this then He is to blame for this.”
Rewind one year: I had just finished my master’s thesis on God’s sovereignty, using Jonathan Edwards’ Freedom of the Will to critique openness theology. One openness theology book is titled Is God to Blame? Its author, Gregory Boyd, says no. God does not know the future until it happens. God does not plan our pain and suffering. If they were part of God’s plan, then God would be to blame for them. We can’t get God off the hook by appealing to some higher purpose that supposedly makes pain acceptable. Boyd writes, “If every evil event could have been avoided had God so willed, how are we to avoid thinking of God as a conspirator in evil?” (Boyd, 56.)
This was the theology I had examined and rejected. After years of studying this subject, I had come to some settled conclusions. But now it wasn’t abstract. Theology can look different when you are driving home after a doctor’s appointment.
As I drove, the question suddenly divided like the lanes in front of me. Is God responsible? Is He to blame? There are two questions, not one. “Is God responsible?” is not the same question as “Is God to blame?”
Was God responsible for the spinal bifida? Did He plan it? Yes. Was God to blame? No.
Yes, God was in control of my baby’s problem. God has revealed too much in His Word for me to believe anything else. If a sparrow can’t fall without his permission, how can a human be born paralyzed apart from His ordination? I couldn’t deny God’s sovereign plan just because I didn’t like part of it.
But was God to blame? No. Definitely no! That is a completely different question. Being blamed for something means having done something wrong. It means being blameworthy.
Thus Greg Boyd and I agree that God is not to blame for my child’s birth defect—but for different reasons. Open theists say it is because God does not control the situation. I say it is because God has done nothing wrong. God has committed no fault. As I continued to drive, I felt indignation—not at God, but at the idea of accusing God of guilt.
Pain and tragedy force Christians to ask ourselves if we really believe what we say we believe. Be sure of what you believe before hurt hits home. To do otherwise is like waiting until the car crash to strap your seat belt.
As the c-section grew closer I grew in experiential—not just theoretical—knowledge of God’s providence and goodness. I pray that Zoe might someday be able to walk, but even more that she would walk with Christ. I don’t know God’s plan, but it is up to Him to decide how He wants to be glorified. I don’t say this as if it’s not hard. God knows it’s hard. The Father is no stranger to the pain parents experience when their children suffer. My daughter was born with a hole in her back. God’s Son was born to have holes in His hands and feet.