Mourdock’s “God intends” comment; or, Much ado about sovereignty
October 27, 2012 Leave a comment
A new abortion/rape gaffe broke out this week, this time from Republican senate candidate Richard Mourdock. His offending words:
I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.
As with an earlier comment by fellow GOP senate candidate Todd Akin, unmitigated outrage poured from certain corners. But Amy Sullivan, at The New Republic, is to be commended for at least taking some time trying to see through the liberal cloud of anger.
Sullivan is charitable and sympathetic to Christians of various stripes. But clearly, her beliefs about God are not orthodox. And like the anthropologist who reported with amazement on a strange tribe called “Evangelicals,” she’s addressing an audience to whom the basic tenets of Christianity are alien and confounding.
We see this most clearly in her disagreement with “the understanding of God as an active, interventionist deity.” She also believes that Christians often misread scripture, in a way that leads to frustration at God’s unfilled promises. Now this is a valid observation and an appropriate concern. We’d do well to heed apologist Greg Koukl’s advice, “Never read a Bible verse.” The implication is to not read a verse in isolation by itself, but in context, including with an appreciation for the genre of literature being read.
Sullivan illustrates her concern using part of Jeremiah 1:5 where God states, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” Her take is that God is describing his own intention as specific to Jeriamiah alone, and that Christians are applying it, without warrant, to their own lives as well.
Later in the piece, she challenges the idea of a sovereign God who is strongly concerned with each of his created beings, proclaiming “it is hard to square this interpretation of Jeremiah 1:5 with miscarriages or stillbirths or fatal birth defects.” This is leaning hard on the problem of natural evil.
But on Christian orthodoxy, it is true that God “loves you and has a plan for you” despite any natural evil that may befall “you.” And surely, bodily death will befall us all, whether in the womb or after a century of walking around on this Earth. At least, God’s salvific intent is clear when Jesus speaks to a broader audience of the shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to find the one (Matthew 18:12-14).
Still, there are those who can’t reconcile that “God intends” much of anything given the fact of evil. Take Open Theism. On this view God is winging it, with no certainty of how things will wrap up in an eschatological sense. But holding this belief robs the Gospel of its power. Despite God trying his best, Christ’s faithful might still end up in Hell, or ultimate justice might go undone. We might as well be Vikings stoically anticipating the defeat of the gods. Contrary to this, we know better as to what “good news” is supposed to mean.
A strongly sovereign God is much more consistent with the Christian message than a weak God who either doesn’t care or isn’t able to act on evil. Simply combining God’s omniscience and perfect benevolence means he does know each of us in the womb, and has a positive intention for each of us. It may not be what Aunt Edna saw in her quiet time last Tuesday, but surely, it’s there.
Sullivan’s dismissal of the classically sovereign God paves the way for her pro-choice policy view. She’s entitled to that view. But to chalk the orthodox understanding of God up to a widespread, long-running exegetical error seems incredible given the moral stakes.