Before this Jenner frenzy goes the way of the magic dress and the ice bucket challenge, I’d like to pause and consider a question: What role does God play in human conception?
Did God make Jenner a man, but Jenner, in an act of human arrogance and rebellion, tried to play God to the unanimous applause of the equally-depraved masses? Or is the genetic process simply a part of this fallen world, and sexual confusion should be just as natural as our moral and intellectual confusion?
Answer #1: God makes us what we are
This answer would affirm a laundry list of scripture about the sovereign rule of God, how he upholds his Creation and sustains it with his power (Col. 1, Heb. 1), how his will is always accomplished (Eph. 1, Job 42). It also affirms several very specific verses about God knitting people together in the womb (Psalm 139), how he knows them and sets them apart (Jer. 1). Is there any way to argue against these passages?
Aside from trying to put together a list of contradictory scriptures and arguments, there are some moral, logical and scientific problems that immediately crop up when we take God’s ultimate sovereignty in one hand, and the condition of the world in the other. Unless, of course, we’re okay with God being a liar.
Would a God that claims to be good “knit together” a child with fetal alcohol syndrome, as if to punish the baby along with its mother? Would a God that claims to be loving allow abusive parents to have plenty of children while making good, Christian parents infertile despite their efforts and prayers? Why give certain people a raw deal from birth, but stack the deck for others? Is God not fair?
To stand resolutely with Question #1 is to praise God’s sovereignty at the expense of his character. Unless, of course, we pull the mystery card, assuming that God wants us to live our earthly lives with no clear proof of his goodness. We’ll just find out how good he is when we’re dead.
Answer #2: God has nothing to do with it
This answer would clear God of any and all responsibility. Sure, he set everything in motion, but he left the day-to-day up to us. We are born, we live, we make choices (hopefully good ones), and we die. God is on the other side with a smile or a frown.
That makes fetal alcohol syndrome a sad but natural part of life. If you choose to drink, you choose the possibility of doing something stupid, like saying the wrong thing, getting arrested, killing innocent people when you drive drunk, or even bearing a child that has to struggle their entire lives. If we embrace the concept of sin, we have to believe in the freedom of personal choice. Does that mean God is only partially sovereign? Can our sins lie outside of his will?
Another thing, if procreation is just a part of nature, we should be able to reproduce the process in a lab. Come to find out, in 2008, researchers successfully created the first five mature human embryos using somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) where the nucleus of a somatic cell was taken from a donor and transplanted into a vacant host egg cell. The embryos were only allowed to develop to the blastocyst stage, at which point they were studied and then destroyed. So we know we can do it, but it is globally illegal, and all our Dr. Frankensteins are either waiting in the wings or keeping quiet about their secret labs.
To stand resolutely with Question #2 is to praise God’s character at the expense of his sovereignty. But what good is a benevolent God that has no power to bring justice on the earth? Does human freedom turn God into a weakling?
In my view, the problem is not that we have a theological knot to untangle, but that we don’t have a clear understanding of what the Bible really teaches. Our churches are packed with people that struggle to read the Bible, and if they do, they don’t really understand it. They much prefer to listen to an inspiring podcast, or read a devotional, or do a book study. Cud.
In my experience, the general churchgoer affirms two universal statements and ignores the contradictions:
- God is in control. Everything happens for a reason.
- To err is human. We are all sinners. We live in a fallen world. We should go to church, pray and lead righteous lives so that God will bless us and be involved in our lives.
Depending on the circumstance, we will stand firm on one of these two statements. At a funeral, for example, we are going to emphasize #1, presenting a picture of grace and hope. Nobody is going to stand up and say, “Well, if grandma hadn’t eaten so many processed TV dinners, she might still be alive.”
With hurricane Katrina we all band together on statement #2. This is a natural disaster, part of a fallen world, nothing more. God is not judging the prevalence of religious or sexual depravity in that city. To even suggest such a thing would be to invite labels of hate or fundamentalism.
We hold one view in each hand, ignoring the contradictions, and use them to appropriately combat the circumstances in our day-to-day lives.
Rather than hunting and pecking our way through the Bible, we need to filter every verse through the overarching storyline of redemptive history. We need to understand where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.
Heaven and earth were created to exist in a relational unity, but that unity was broken. In the third chapter of the Bible, Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden, a state of divorce that is typified as a “veil” through the rest of scripture. Jesus is presented prophetically as a stairway or ladder, connecting heaven and earth, an earth that is presented in the New Testament as one that is under the dominion of the devil. Jesus comes to reclaim what was lost, dying to put the old system to death, and rising again to offer the creation his own resurrection life. This life is experienced now in a limited, spiritual sense, but when the connection between heaven and earth is restored, as expressed in the second to last chapter in the Bible, God’s beautiful and complicated redemptive plan will be fully realized.
Let’s put the challenge of this post in light of the grand scheme:
- God, in his sovereignty, plans to redeem his creation, but the redemption process has been gradual and progressive since the fall of man. We may not understand why he moves so slowly, moving from one covenant to the next, one person at a time, but this process does not contradict his will or his character.
- There is a separation between a heaven governed by God and an earth governed by man. When God handed the earth to Adam, he never took it back. Therefore, in his fallen state, man became a slave to the most powerful creature on the planet—Satan.
- Creation has not been reunited with heaven. Not yet. Why would Jesus pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, if God’s will was already being done on earth? Why does Hebrews 2 claim that all things have not yet been put under the feet of Jesus? When all authority in heaven and earth had been granted to Jesus, why didn’t he just kick out the devil and fix everything right away, rather than sending those twelve men into the world to gradually take it back? Apparently human freedom is that important.
- Since we are still a part of this “not-yet” creation, we should expect the kinds of depravity and corruption that we see on a daily basis. As Romans 1 makes clear, we do it to ourselves. A creation that makes a god of creation should expect to become warped and twisted and ultimately die. That’s what we see. And none of us are exempt.
Let’s take a lesson from the man born blind. The Pharisees asked Jesus why God made the man blind in the womb. Who sinned? Jesus resisted this common worldview, claiming that it was not sin that made the man blind, but that his blindness would ultimately reveal the goodness and ultimate intention of God. God would be glorified by his healing.
This was not just true of the blind man. Every time God redeems or heals, he illuminates his intentions for the age to come. This world is not going to be repaired, it’s going to be renewed. Sure, Jesus gave us a teaser trailer of the age to come when he spoke truth, healed bodies and raised the dead in the first century, but all of those people died again. They were all part of this age.
But the age to come . . . that is what we should be eager to see, that is what we should be working toward. Not just an escape from earth to heaven, but to see heaven reunited with the earth, like a husband coming for his bride, resulting in love, joy, peace and new life. That is our hope.