I recently attended a memorial service for an infant. As grieving family and friends gathered, I was in the foyer talking with one of the church’s volunteers who was assisting with the service. One of his observations caught me off guard.
He said with confidence, “You know, this [the death of an infant] is hard, but you know, this is God’s will.”
I wanted to say, “No, I did not know that.”
Instead, I froze. My mind immediately began doing theological hula-hoops as I pondered the frightening thought: Was this man saying God just committed infanticide?
I left troubled, discerning the moment was not the time and place for a theological discussion concerning the will and ways of God.
Sure, he simply could have meant that God allowed this baby to die, not necessarily that God wanted or caused this baby to die. He certainly could have meant that, but I’m afraid he meant the fate of the child indicated this death was within God’s good will, and if we just had enough faith, we would understand this infant’s death was actually somehow a divinely orchestrated good.
Relying on fate more than faith
Fate—the idea that circumstances and outcomes necessarily correlate with God’s will—is deep in the Western gut. A particular expression of fate—the idea of manifest destiny—is ingrained in our culture. According to this idea, we have a destiny individually and collectively that is going to happen no matter what. As the thinking goes, whatever happens must be God’s ordained will.
In accordance with our belief in fate, we even have baptized cultural clichés, such as “everything happens for a reason,” “we’ll just see what happens,” “it is what it is,” or “whatever will be will be.” These notions undergird a faith-less and fate filled theology.
Fate-based theology is a lazy, culturally developed theology that deserves closer examination and strong rebuke.
Are we people of fate or people of faith?
As Christians passionately rebuke bills allowing late-term abortions, perhaps we also ought to consider our own “God-talk,” taking care that our theology does not reflect a God who kills infants.
When discussing disputable matters, Paul told the church at Rome, “Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves” (Romans 14:22).
Perhaps Paul might call out the hypocrisy of those who decry infanticide by humans but approve of theologies attributing infanticide to God?
People are listening when we talk about God, and I wonder if Paul might say to us, “Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by [the theology] he or she approves.”
We have to approach the subject of human suffering with humility. After all, who are we to know the ways and mysteries of God? We certainly can’t and won’t figure it all out, which is no excuse for lazy, irresponsible theology.
We can, however, read the Bible and allow the Holy Spirit to work in our God-given brains to develop a thoughtful and informed perspective when it comes to human suffering and God’s will—one that is better and more biblical than resigning our theology to fate, which is not an accurate indicator of God’s will.
As Christians, we are not resigned to circumstances and fate but are called to faith in a relational, dynamic God working to will and move us according to his good purpose.
A biblical theology in response to human suffering
A faith-based relational theology rooted in biblical Christianity understands God is for us (Romans 8:31), and no matter what we face, God never will leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).
A biblical theology of human suffering understands we are in a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:12) with an enemy who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). If it is theft, death or destruction, it must be attributed to the work of the enemy, not the hand of God!
In the words of Isaiah, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20).
Jesus came so we might have light and life, and have it to the fullest. Although this world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19), Scripture reveals a God of life who desires that no one should perish (2 Peter 3:9) and is working in all things for the good of those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
Not all things are good, but God can and will work in all things for good.
Poet Ilya Raminksy imagined the trial of God: “At the trial of God, we will ask: ‘Why did you allow all of this?’ And the answer will be an echo: ‘Why did you allow all of this?’”
I don’t think God is guilty of infanticide.
Woe to those who call evil good.
John Whitten is lead pastor of the gathering, a minister of Pioneer Drive Baptist Church in Abilene, Texas, and is a member of the Baptist Standard board.