Why Does God Allow Deformed Babies?
Vol: 20 Issue: 20 Saturday, January 20, 2018
Why is the world the way it is? Why do some people die slow, lingering painful deaths, while others slip away peacefully in their sleep? Why do some people suffer life-long debilitating illnesses while others live their lives through with nary a sniffle? Why are babies born with birth defects?
That was the question that popped into my email box yesterday. Does God make defective babies?
“I have a challenging question you may or may not want to tackle. I am 60 years old, I am a Christian and I have been a nurse for almost 32 years. I work in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) at a big, teaching hospital. In Psalm 139:14 God tells us we are fearfully and wonderfully made. He knits us together in our mother’s wombs. He knows us before this is even done! How do I reconcile the fact that God knits us together in the womb with the fact that we see many anomalous infants born? (I am asking for my own understanding as well as to be able to minister to families who have these anomalous infants and either lose them in death or take them home to care for them long-term). I know we live in a sin-fallen world and things are not what they were meant to be, but does God actually knit a baby with Down’s syndrome together in the womb or one with an underdeveloped brain or heart? I am looking and seeking to understand this myself, but wondered if you had any insight into this. Thanks for considering.”
Virtually every meaningful conversation I have ever had with people on the subject of God and religion has either started with this question, or one like it. No doubt, you probably can say the same thing.
If God is real, then how come He allows evil? Let’s start there.
“Evil” is actually something that is completely beyond our comprehension. As finite human beings, we can discern “good” on a subjective level — if we like the outcome, then it is good.
The same applies to recognizing evil. We can discern that it is evil — subjectively — because we can perceive the outcome will be a bad one.
But the premise that we human beings can know good and evil is part and parcel of the first lie ever told in the universe.
“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)
Instead of knowing good and evil, Adam and Eve learned about bad and worse. Bad was how they felt after they had sinned, and worse was how they felt after they were penalized for their sin. But they couldn’t know good and evil.
We can discern moral and immoral, right and wrong, but good and evil are outcomes, not concepts. Outcomes are known only to God. We witness an earthquake and we wonder why God created such a great evil.
The earthquake swarm that spawned the Japanese tsumani was a great evil because of the deaths and damages that followed. Yes?
It depends on how you look at it. As already noted, evil is subjective.
Earthquakes are necessary to sustaining life on earth. Land masses wear down with time because of rain, snow, freezing, heating, glaciers, landslides, and gravitational forces. If there were no forces that lift the land to replenish the worn away parts, after a while all land on the earth would be under water.
Because the earth is liquid inside, land is constantly being lifted to replace the land that is worn down. So earthquakes are actually good, because without them, the earth could not sustain life.
Death is evil, because we cannot fully understand it, not because it is actually evil. Death is a necessary part of our transition from darkness into light. You cannot go to heaven without dying first. (Unless you happen to make it to the Rapture).
And so, from the perspective of those who perished in Japan, it was only “evil” for those that died in their sins.
Those who were in Christ are presently in the company of their Savior, alive forevermore, beyond the reach of sickness, loss or death.
From the perspective of those who are left behind, the tsunami was a great evil. But that is because we don’t know the whole story. We never do. That’s why it is so hard for us to grasp how God can “allow” evil.
If the tsunami had not struck an inhabited area, but instead swept across an uninhabited desert island, would it have still been considered “evil”? No.
What made it “evil” was our perception of the outcome.
To a secularist, it is a greater evil to allow a defective baby to live with a birth defect than it would be to spare him a life of misery by aborting him in the womb. But in order to make that judgment, one must first put oneself in a position of judging an outcome.
“God tells us we are fearfully and wonderfully made. He knits us together in our mother’s wombs. He knows us before this is even done! How do I reconcile the fact that God knits us together in the womb with the fact that we see many anomalous infants born?”
Helen Keller was struck deaf and blind by meningitis at the age of 19 months. By every possible human measure, this sounds unspeakably evil. Certainly, it would have been ‘good’ had Helen Keller miraculously recovered her vision and hearing.
One might even call such a restoration a triumph of good over evil. Especially from the perspective of pretty much anybody living back in the 1880’s.
But Helen Keller never recovered her sight and hearing. She lived for eighty-seven years in a world of soundless darkness. Had “good triumphed over evil” in this case, American sign language might never have been developed.
Why does God allow anomalous infants to be born? “The Lord works in mysterious ways” isn’t a very satisfying answer. There is good reason for that.
It is because the Lord doesn’t work in ‘mysterious’ ways; He works according to His will. He has a purpose for everything that He does. Whether we understand that purpose is irrelevant — HE does.
“So shall My Word be that goeth forth out of My Mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)
To the unbeliever, this life is all there is — so when God takes it, it seems exceedingly cruel. But this is no more ‘all there is’ than the blackness of the womb is to the unborn child. The blackness of the womb is simply all it knows until it is born.
What seems exceedingly cruel from this perspective of existence may well be an act of exceeding mercy when viewed from the perspective of God.
God allows birth defects for the same reason that he allows for the existence of both good and evil. God uses what we might consider evil to accomplish what He knows is good.
Take the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. His brothers were jealous of Joseph, so they kidnapped him and sold him into slavery. They went back to their father and reported Joseph dead.
They intended to do evil. That was their plan. In those days, slavery was usually a fate worse than death. But Joseph became the most powerful man in Egypt while his brothers were starving to death as the result of a great famine.
Had Joseph not been in the position he was at the time, his brothers, who were not Egyptians, would have been turned away to starve. God had a plan for Israel and it didn’t involve them starving to death before it could come to fruition.
As Joseph himself noted, his brothers meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.
It isn’t a very satisfying answer to the question, does God form anomalous babies? But it is the only logical answer, notwithstanding. Of course God is responsible for birth defects. He is God. But birth defects are “evil” only because of our lack of understanding.
When she was a young child, it would be impossible to see Helen Keller’s life as anything but a tragedy. But God intended it for good and Helen Keller went on to use her disabilities to become one of the most famous educators in American history.
In the end, we can say without doubt that God knits together every person in the womb, including those with birth defects. We can say with confidence that if God didn’t want that baby to have a birth defect, then it wouldn’t.
So that leaves only one remaining possibility. God intended it for reasons of His own that we cannot understand, which is, in and of itself, a point of understanding.
Good and evil are outcomes, and outcomes are known only to God. That’s why He wants us to trust Him.
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)