Everything Happens for a Reason?

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Everything Happens for a Reason
The Help and Harm in this Common Saying

Cry from Distress

“I know everything happens for a reason, but why . . . ?” Anguish is speaking. Life has betrayed a person’s trust in goodness – life’s goodness or perhaps God’s. Fear has displaced confidence. Chaos threatens to take over, and this affirmation of some hidden reason rejects chaos as the person’s conclusion. She or he is badly shaken and deeply distressed but refuses to abandon completely the trust that life makes sense and that God cares. I would consider it wrong to dismiss this cry from distress as merely an empty platitude – indeed, worse than wrong. It would be cold and cruel but also arrogant. The person crying from distress is saying, “I matter, and my life matters. I am not just a passing shadow. All that has been good, all that I have been thankful for in my life, was not a deception or a sand castle built in childish delusion that it meant something.”

“Life has turned against me.” “This hurts.” “I am shattered, but I will not yield myself to despair. I will not give up on life (or on God), and I will not give up on myself. I will stand and affirm, however unsteadily, that life makes sense even though I cannot see right now what that sense could be. I will not give up my faith or my hope, either.”

Such fortitude is to be respected. As an affirmation of life, the cry from anguish, “Everything happens for a reason!” speaks a truth deeper than anything reason or science has to offer. It is an assertion of human strength from within the context of human weakness. It keeps faith without explanation to justify that faith. Defiantly, it says, “No!” to the void and, “Yes,” to the future.

Attempted Assurance

Here we listen to a different speaker: not the person in distress but another seeking to comfort the one expressing anguish. I must speak here with care because the line between compassion and self-protection blurs, and people trying to help and support the anguished find themselves in very uncertain territory where good intentions may be misunderstood and words meant to console misinterpreted.

Psychologists speak of something they call “the empathic wall.” At issue is how much we can afford to let other people’s feelings get to us versus how well we must protect ourselves so we are not too easily drawn into another’s fear, rage, or grief. Witness a room full of infants playing contentedly and watch what happens when one starts to cry. The crying builds steadily to a full-throated wail of distress, but see (and hear) what happens to the other infants. They too start crying in what is the empathic form of music’s sympathetic vibration where one struck tuning fork placed close to another of the same pitch will start the second vibrating. For infants, such empathy is natural and fine; for an adult, it would not be healthy. The philosopher Martha Nussbaum writes of an incident in the experience of the Stoic, Seneca. A Roman aristocrat lamented tearfully to Seneca that the shipment of peacock tongues from Africa he had wanted for his dinner party had been interrupted. Seneca laughed. (Upheavals of Thought, 309). Why did Seneca not feel empathy with the man in distress?  He considered the problem trivial and, therefore, the anguish laughable. It would not require a particularly high empathic wall to protect someone from sharing anguish over the loss of a delicacy for an aristocrat’s dinner party. After laughing, Seneca could have offered the ambiguous comfort of, “Everything happens for a reason.”

From the standpoint of the person responding to another’s anguish, saying that everything happens for a reason may come from sympathy’s attempt to comfort or from self-protection’s desire to block empathy. The effect is another matter.

As a Platitude

Minus empathy with the anguished, the saying become a mere platitude, a bromide for the suffering that puts forward false comfort with no heart in it. As a platitude, the saying that “everything happens for a reason” falls far short of the gospel, and the hope it offers is meager by comparison. Worse, it can be cruel. Do we tell parents whose child has been raped and murdered that such a grievous outrage fits somehow nicely into the will and purpose of God? Really? God wanted their child raped and murdered? What monstrous God is that? Women who have conceived by rape have been told the conception was God’s will. Is God in cahoots with rapists? Does God give children cancer or cause dementia in even the most brilliant or most loved of people? If so (and I contend it is not so), what justification can there be for grief or even for compassion? If declaring as a truism that everything happens for a reason meant everything, however horrible, happened in accordance with “God’s good pleasure,” then faith could not mean anything better than surrender to unfathomable power, certainly not trust in God’s compassionate love.

Biblically, God is faithful and just, filled with compassion for even the undeserving, and grieved by human misery. In the hands of the powerful, theology and religion became justifications for the status quo and all the systems of power and authority in place for their benefit. In contrast, the God of Israel enters the stage of human history as the lover of slaves and destroyer of systems of oppression which benefit the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else. God intervenes in misery, changes so-called destiny, lifts up the downtrodden, casts down tyrants, and transforms the ways of life on earth. Israel’s God is the breaker of chains and destroyer of convenient platitudes that burden people without power in the world. The book of Job protests innocent suffering, human suffering that makes no sense, and rejects all rationalizations of it. Jacob (Israel himself!) wrestles with God and prevails. Abraham and Moses stand up to God’s righteous judgment upon the wicked, and God is pleased with their impudence and so relents, withdrawing punishment. The Bible, even before we get to Jesus, is a book of protest, not an accommodation to the way things are. God does not send Moses back down into Egypt to tell the Hebrew slaves to resign themselves to their subjugation because “everything happens for a reason” that will be made clear someday. Moses must tell them to get up and get ready to move out.

Jesus of Nazareth and the Kingdom of God

Jesus’ beatitudes have been neutralized too often into platitudes. They are not inspirational nuggets of Christian virtue but promises of radical change in this world. Jesus declares the poor blessed, not because he sees some virtue in poverty, but because God is coming to lift up the poor and cast down the rich. The kingdom of God belongs to the poor, the humbled, the grieved, the merciful, and all who look to God with hope for the promise of a world in which love and human dignity at last triumph over power and oppression.

“Thy kingdom come!” is not a plea for heaven someday but the expression of longing for the transformation of earth into a realm of compassion and justice. It prays for the passing away of the status quo of earth’s domination by wealth and power. It expresses the longing of the faithful, especially the powerless, for a world in which nothing is allowed to hurt or destroy life. It longs for the very opposite of what those in charge presently maintain for their own benefit.

“Thy will be done on earth . . . !” voices Jesus’ opposition to everything that happens contrary to God’s will. For him, sickness is not God’s will. Suffering is to be overcome, not rationalized. God’s people are to meet life with hope and courage, not resignation to the way things are and to whatever happens. Death makes no sense to him because it is not what God wants for us, even though we and everything else born into this world live currently under the dominion of death. Look at the evils in life and throughout this world, and believe that God’s will is otherwise! Then act accordingly.

A leper, an outcast regarded as sinful and not merely sick, challenges Jesus’ representation of God’s will: “If you will, you can heal me.” Like Abraham, Moses, and the great prophets, this leper challenges Jesus and calls God out on God’s commitment to compassion. And the impudent leper is vindicated. Jesus answers, “I do so will; be healed.”

People use Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane as the model for resignation to the hurtful and destructive. That’s wrong. There was something Jesus had to do, and he knew it would be terribly painful and humiliating, but he had to do it for the sake of God’s love for this world and its people. He did not give us the right to say of every horrible thing that happens in this world, “It’s God’s will.” No, it is not! As Christians, we believe that Jesus represents God’s will and purpose truly and embodies God’s empathy with us and compassion for us. As the theologian Jürgen Moltmann boldly proclaimed (The Crucified God), Jesus’ suffering on the cross reveals and represents God the Father’s suffering all along since committing to this created world, to Israel, and to the people of all nations and ethnic groups. If God would not simply destroy evil and all who belong to it, then what was left was for God to do but suffer it with us? The Bible presents a God who refuses to go on being God without us, and the crucified Christ represents in his own body what refusing to give up on us means for God.

All Things Work Together for Good? How?

The eighth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans plunges the apostle, the Roman Christians, and us into the conflict between what happens in life on one hand and what God wants for us on the other. Romans 8 presents, not a study in resignation to evil in blind trust that it somehow makes sense to God, but a resolution to live with hope and expectation in a world groaning under its bondage to decay and death. Paul sees the world as given over to its present systems, however futile they may be on their own, in hope for liberation when the children of God are liberated from their own bondage to death. So, yes, bad things happen and will continue to happen until God’s work is consummated and all creation is made new, made as it should be in accordance with God’s will.

What does Romans 8 mean,“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (NRSV)? Does that knowledge not amount to resignation to whatever happens in trust that it will all work out? No, Paul is no champion of determinism but, rather, a proponent of hope. He is not calling evil somehow secretly good, but calling people to faith that God will transform the harm done by life’s chances and cruelties into something better than ever. I call this process “redemption,” not just in the ultimate sense, but in the present sense of taking up our griefs and putting them into the service of something good.

The past is past, and the events of the past are done and gone. Paul is not talking about some divine version of time travel to go back and undo the past but about transforming the effects of the past. Redemption of the hurtful in our past does not make that evil into good but redeems it by turning the effects of the bad toward the creation of something good. It’s not, “Oh, thank goodness the child died because it made her parents much more compassionate people.” No! I refuse to buy into that kind of pious and pitiless sleight of hand. What is grievous is grievous. What is unjust is unjust. What hurts and destroys is evil. We may thank God for the newly compassionate lives of the dead child’s parents but not for that child’s death. The grief remains within the compassion.

I have made mistakes, and I have done wrong I regret. I cannot go back and undo what I have done, nor can I go back to do what I regret not having done. Neither can I “just turn it all over to God” and no longer regret it. How convenient for me it would be if I could, but then how would I change, learn, and grow?  My regret would be wasted. God’s Spirit is not brain wash like the mythical waters of forgetfulness. I can, however, work toward trusting God to bring good out of evil, service out of regret, understanding and empathy out of pain, and compassion out of shame. Please note that I tend to see the good God brings out of harm as turned outward for the sake of other people and not merely for my personal improvement. Is that noble? No, it’s realistic. As Jesus was sent to represent God to us, so he sends us to represent him to others in the world.

Conclusion

While I will never like the saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” nor agree with it in principle, I do understand how it helps people who find in it an anchor for hope when life no longer makes sense but just hurts. I will not accept the notion that evil in and of itself happens for some good reason or higher purpose, certainly not for “God’s good purpose.” I do believe in God’s will and power to redeem the hurtful and senseless, in both the immediate (here and now) and the ultimate (when all tears are wiped away and all hurts healed). I believe that God’s will for us is for good and not harm, for hope and not despair, for courage and not fearfulness, and for life not death. I base this belief upon the primary belief that in Jesus of Nazareth we see the will of God as it truly is, for us and for all creation, and that will is for life and wholeness.

 

Which Christianity, Which Bible, and Which Truth of God?

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As I read letters to the editor in our area newspaper and posts or comments on Facebook, I see many written for or against a Christianity that is alien to me. Often I find myself thinking, “If that were really what it meant to be a Christian, I would be ashamed to call myself one.” At other times, I feel only a sadness.

I have friends who detest Christianity because of their experiences with it or what they have heard about it or heard coming from Christians. More than a few people, I suppose, imagine what they hear and see on television to be what Christianity is and all it is.

On March 25, 2012, two Sundays before Easter in my final Lenten season as pastor of a church, I preached a sermon called, “First Things First,” based upon (the Bible readings) Amos 2:6-8 and Mark 3:1-6. I post that sermon here in hope that it speaks helpfully to the confusion over what Christian faith is, what kind of God we Christians strive to represent in the world, what our Bible is about, and what sort of truth that Bible offers people. Obviously, there is disagreement among Christians to such an extent that, I suggest, the world is confronted by two different kinds of Christianity which in effect read and follow two different bibles, even though their contents are the same.

First Things First

God is to be trusted. God is to be feared. God accepts us. God rejects us. God loves us and longs for relationship with us. God judges us as we deserve and can quite coldly brush us away once and for all, as easily as a person brushes dust from a sleeve. I have alternated the two views of God. Which one is true? Which is biblical? Which gives us our life and message as a church?

Some of you have heard me say that I think there are two very different Christian Bibles which contain the same books with the same words but are as unlike each other as those statements about God I just alternated. One I call the salvific Bible, meaning it communicates to us God’s desire for human salvation and the redemption of the entire created order God made and loves. Calling it salvific or saving does not mean we put on rose-colored glasses to read it so that we find nothing harsh or even unpleasant. No, the process of salvation is not all pleasant. It is a hard matter to be forgiven because forgiveness makes me see myself more clearly than I like. Salvation takes us through remorse, guilt, and shame, but they are not the objects of God’s work within and among us, much as surgery is not itself the object of the surgical procedure but is, rather, a necessary means toward healing. So, please don’t misunderstand reading the Bible as salvific to be a convenient way of avoiding the Bible’s harsher, more painful truths, but please do understand that the Bible’s truth is always that of God’s redemptive love.

The other Bible I call the vindictive. If we read the Bible as vindictive, we consider God’s goals to be reward for the few and punishment for the many. We see as ultimate truth God’s separation of the deserving from the undeserving. For the vindictive Bible, truth happens when judgment falls, when God finally gets done being patient, terminates the work of salvation, and destroys the unbelievers.

All God is to us is the God who loves us.

These two Bibles are exactly the same in their words but completely different in their meanings and messages, and the difference is more than just a matter of how we interpret this passage or that verse. The difference comes from two profoundly divergent views of the will and purpose of God, and they result in two very different types of Christians and churches. “God is love.” The Bible makes that statement, not as a definition of God, but as a declaration of God’s one, undivided will and purpose for dealing with humanity. All God does is done for love. All God is to us is the God who loves us.

Still, the God who loves us is also deeply offended and hurt by much that we do to each other and to ourselves. So, realizing God’s love for us is neither easy nor convenient. I learned early in life that knowing my parents were angry at me was a bad feeling, but knowing they were disappointed in me was far worse. The God we meet in the Bible is sometimes very angry and sometimes deeply hurt and disappointed.

but God’s perfection is love – self-giving love

But, if we were to accept the classical view of God and God’s perfection found in philosophy and shot through much of the older faith-thinking of the church, we would have to admit that God could not possibly be disappointed in us or in anything we do because God would have perfect foreknowledge of everything, seeing it all before it happened, and so would be perfectly immune to disappointment or any kind of distress. The God of the biblical prophets and of Jesus is, however, quite the opposite of such sterile, all-knowing perfection. The one thing God is never toward us is indifferent, unmoved, detached. God always cares. Indifference is false perfection. The unmoved God is a philosophical lie. God is love, and love makes itself vulnerable to the one loved. We who are so vulnerable to countless forces around us and within our bodies, minds, and emotions may quite understandably imagine perfection to be invincible and invulnerable, but God’s perfection is love – self-giving love. Therefore, God’s perfection is revealed to us fully, not on a heavenly throne but on an earthly cross.

Jesus embodies God’s self-willed vulnerability to us, the best and the worst of us alike. Flesh is vulnerable. We humans are subject to the countless limitations of bodily existence in time and place. We age, we get sick, we break our bones; we also suffer grief, shame, and disappointment that hurt far more than a broken bone. Being human can hurt a lot. Jesus is one of us. He represents in his teaching, healing, life, and death the empathy and compassion of God for all of us. In him, we know the will and purpose of God, and they are salvific – saving, redemptive, reconciling, healing, life-giving, loving.

When judgment is their truth, people turn cruel.

The Gospel of Mark shows us how the difference works. Jesus’ critics are strict commandment keepers. They put first things first, and what they put first is the commandment: the Sabbath. But what they really prize is the authority the commandments give them to know what is right and what is wrong, who is deserving and who undeserving. So, when they notice a man with a withered hand, what they see is bait – Jesus bait. They know he heals people, and they suspect he will not let the Sabbath regulations stop him from healing. Eagerly they watch to see if he will take the bait. When judgment is their truth, people turn cruel. They view compassion as weakness. They calcify knowledge of God into standards by which to evaluate and judge. They worship norms and learn to feel nothing but disgust for people who do not measure up to those norms.

Judgment is not the purpose for which God gave Israel the commandments. Before giving any commandment, God had adopted this band of slaves as the covenant people God would love faithfully down through the ages. The commandments teach them and guide them in the ways of responding to God’s love and making it their way of life as a people. That’s why Jesus sums them all up in the two commandments to love God with all we have and all we are and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Notice that the healthful kinds of self-love are not excluded. Because God loves us, we ought to be able to come to love ourselves – not to be narcissistic, to be in love with ourselves and act as though the whole world revolves around us and exists to grant our wishes – but to care for, respect, and value ourselves as people God loves. That kind of self-love makes better and deeper changes in us than mere standards could ever possibly make. Tell children what they must learn because they will be tested on it and the test will reward or punish them, and they may learn something for a short time (long enough for the test); help them come to love learning, and they will never stop. So it is also with faith. Scare people enough with threats of punishment or lure them with promises of paradise, and they will believe whatever you tell them to believe, at least long enough for the test. Help them learn to be and live as people loved, forgiven, and set free by God, and they will never stop.

Jesus is clever, although not in self-serving ways. He sees what his critics have in mind, but he will take the bait anyway because he refuses to see the afflicted man as bait. The self-righteous commandment keepers put first things first, and so does Jesus, but they differ sharply over what the first things are. Their view is vindictive; his view is salvific. He has not come to judge and condemn but to heal and set free. Why do I say Jesus is clever? His critics think they are forcing him to choose between his way of compassion and their way of authoritative standards, but he turns the tables and makes them choose. Jesus calls forward the man with the withered hand. Now, he asks his critics, what do you want me to do? Should I send him away unhealed? Or should I send his affliction away? Which choice honors God and the Sabbath? The man is standing there before you and before God. Which choice can be made in the Spirit of God?

Notice, however, that Jesus is not content to win by turning the tables. He does not feel triumphant over outsmarting his enemies; rather, he is angry and grieved because he has failed to win them over for God. He heals the man’s hand, but he cannot soften their hard hearts. When we fail to put the true first things first – God’s love and compassion, God’s desire for human well-being and for justice with mutual respect in the human community – then we feel righteously free to trample on people we regard as undeserving. But when we put the true first things first, we and our lives are transformed, and so is Christ’s church. The third of our three visioning questions reads, “What is Jesus Christ calling us to be and to do (as a church)?” We are striving to put first things first, his way. We will do so as a church as we learn to do so as individual believers and as families. Then we will learn to know and serve the truth of God this world needs so desperately. Amen.

Follow-up to Conception by Rape, a Bum Rap for God

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I have been asked by a friend of faith whether God is not the one who opens and closes the womb which is biblical language meaning the one who blesses people with children or makes them unable to have children and, also, how that understanding of God as the one who gives and entrusts children to their parents fits into the view expressed in my previous post of God as NOT the author of conception by rape.  My friend offered examples of women in the Bible, one of whom is Hannah, and I take my response from her story.

The Bible is not a book of doctrines.  Neither is it an encyclopedia of divine knowledge – the secrets or facts of the universe and all its workings.  The Bible bears witness to God’s salvific dealings with people within their specific times and places, and it bears its varied witness in terms of the views of life, nature, and the world which were accepted at the time.  God meets people where they are in life and history, in terms they can understand.  So, chapter one of Genesis presents creation theologically as being done by God within the framework of a three-story universe: a flat earth founded upon the nether sea and beneath a body of water supported by the vault (firmament) of the heavens, which God opens to send rain or snow.  I believe this Genesis creation story offers us very important truth about God, the created order, and life including human life which is to be responsive and responsible to God.  I do not believe in a three-story world with a flat earth between two great bodies of water, one below it and the other above it.  The world view of the times provides the framework or setting for the message, but it is not itself the truth of God.

In terms of the source of evil (harm) that happens to people in life, the Hebrew Scriptures show some development in faith thinking over the time of the various biblical books, but for most of the history of ancient Israel, the people accepted both good (benefit) and evil (harm) from the hand of the LORD God.  They acknowledged no power of evil in opposition to God.  When the figure of “the Satan” appears in the later-written book of Job, he is a member of the heavenly council of God and is better understood as the accuser who argues against human righteousness than as the Medieval world’s lord of the underworld, his Satanic Majesty.

In First Samuel we read of the young woman Hannah who would become the mother of the prophet and judge Samuel.  Hannah’s husband has two wives.

4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; 5 but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the LORD had closed her womb. 6 Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb.  (1Samuel 1:4-6 NRSV) [Italics mine]

On one level, “because the LORD had closed her womb” is an ancient way of saying she was unable to conceive, but on a deeper level, it is faith’s way of saying God had not given her children.  Like her people, she understands children to be given by God and entrusted to their parents’ love and care so they can be brought up to adulthood in the knowledge of God.

I think that to this day a woman of faith might well ask God, “Why have you not given me a child when we want one so much?”  Certainly couples who suffer repeated miscarriages are tempted to wonder why God is punishing them or, if not punishing, withholding the blessing they desire.  But this way of people of faith in taking their distresses and disappointments directly to the God they trust and look to for life does not equate to a principle that all miscarriages are acts of God or all conceptions acts of God.

It simply is not true, Jesus teaches us, that everything which happens is in accordance with the will of God.  Lepers did not contract leprosy because God wanted to punish them for some sin they had committed.  Sickness was not God’s doing.  Poverty was not God’s will for certain people.  Neither success nor failure in business enterprises was determined by God.  Jesus cut through the smug judgmentalism of the healthy, wealthy, and fortunate by which they declared themselves favored by God and others not so.

Being Presbyterian and knowing only too well that at times my faith tradition has turned its doctrines of God’s will, election, and predestination into what has amounted to Christianized fatalism, I find it imperative to insist that not all that happens in this world happens in accordance with the will and design of God.  God does not work evil.  God will work redemption in our lives.  That is, God will take the harm done by sin, by chance, by nature, or by other people’s malice or carelessness and turn it to good for those who persist in seeking God’s redemption, but that redemption does not make God the author of the evil that happened.  We must not make God the doer of evil.  It’s not fair to God or people.

Today, in our scientific mind set, we recognize natural processes as natural, including that of conception.  We say it’s just nature: if this is done, that might happen.  God has set the created order in place, and it follows its own rules.  Do I believe God sometimes intervenes for human benefit, to rescue us from harm?  Yes, I certainly do.  But evils continue as long as we live under the conditions of this present world, and as Paul puts it, the created order continues to groan under those conditions which hurt and destroy life.

Rape is a terrible evil, and I have to regard conception by rape as a further terrible evil resulting from the first violation.  A woman’s body has been invaded and violated, and the invader left his foul, unwanted seed in her, and by the natural process she has conceived.  Let that which is invasive and foul be removed, if possible before she knows whether it caused conception.  It has no right to be there, within her body.  Its presence is wrong.

But what if the woman herself chooses to redeem the evil of the conception by accepting it as if from God rather than from the man who invaded her body and did such foul evil to her?  She certainly has that right, if she so chooses, but to so choose she must be allowed a choice to make.  And surely if she so chooses and a child is born, the rapist should not be acknowledged legally or in any other way as the child’s father, thereby continuing to connect him to her and her child.  But I think the default position of society should be that she be enabled to cleanse herself of the invasion.  Otherwise, the law has sided with the rapist.

Hannah conceives and gives birth to a son.  Thanks be to God!  For such was her prayer, and God heard and respected her prayer.  Even the most scientifically minded people of faith still pray for the children they desire and thank God when those children are born.  Receiving their child as given to them by God, they recognize also that God has committed the child to their loving care to be raised as God’s own child entrusted to them.  But we do not need laws that afflict the victims of rape on the false grounds of naming God as party to the rape and, indeed, the real cause of it.  That’s a bum rap.

Conception by Rape: a Bum Rap for God

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Apparently a U.S. politician has said something to the effect that a conception that results from a rape is, the offense of the rape not withstanding, an act of God, which therefore makes the conception’s resulting in the birth of a child the will of God.  I have no desire to pursue the matter politically in terms of this one politician, what he actually said, or how his statement affects his approval ratings and with whom.  It’s the theology of the matter I wish to challenge.

Christians see and acknowledge God as the Creator and so thank and praise God for all that is good in the world.  Christians see and acknowledge also that there is evil in the world that does harm contrary to the will of God.  Jesus rejected the then-popular notion that everything which happens in this world and in people’s live happens in accordance with the will of God, and thereby he called us away from the idea that God is the author of the world’s evils.  He clearly saw in our world a clash of wills, and so he taught his followers to pray that God’s will would prevail in life (“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”) That petition of the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father would seem rather silly if everything were already done, automatically, in accordance with God’s will, would it not?  Why pray for something that is already a foregone conclusion, an unalterable reality, a done deal whether we like it or not?  Why then speak of injustices at all?  Or of evils?  If it is God’s will, how can it be evil?

Here’s another highly significant factor: the Creator has turned the world over to its own systems and rules, its own nature, including its evils and randomness.  The apostle Paul says God has subjected the creation to its own corruption, but in the hope that it will eventually be redeemed and share in the life and freedom of the children of God (see the Letter to the Romans, chapter 8).  I take that to mean that the terrible, sinful act of rape can, by the natural process, result in conception (despite what some unscientific wishful thinkers may dream up about the female body’s magical ability to prevent conception if the rape was “legitimate”).  That is, the evil deed of violating the woman can perpetuate itself.

Why should a girl or woman who has been violated by the evil of rape ever have to know it has resulted in the further violation of conception?  Biblical truth is relational, not detached, objective, and coldly biological.  Children should be conceived in love.  Why should a woman who has been raped not have the right to rid her body of the invasion?  Is God really in cahoots with the rapist?

There has been within the church and continues to be the unbiblical notion that the sole purpose of human sexuality is progeneration.  The second chapter of the Bible’s book of Genesis disagrees.  There human sexuality is placed within the context of relationship, the context of love.  It is presented as God’s response to the observation that, “It is not good for the human to be alone,” and it is offered as a matter of delight in the other person whose loving presence offers the continually renewed solution to the problem of aloneness.  The church’s unbiblical view of sex for reproduction only (plus, sometimes, for the regulation and restriction of the male sexual urge) effectively turns women into birth machines with no say in the matter.  Women are thereby reduced to receptacles and incubators.

Liberating Christian principle: Not everything which happens in this world happens in accordance with the will of God.  There are evils which are not to be accepted as good: cancer, bigotry, repression, murder, and rape among seemingly countless examples of the evils done to people and communities by other people or by the apparent randomness of a natural world turned over to itself.  Among the deliberate evils is conception by rape.  That evil is actually used as a weapon against life by hate-filled people seeking to terrorize a group they despise, as in Darfur where the Janjaweed raped women because they knew (1) the women would not seek to prevent or terminate pregnancy and (2) the woman’s own tribe would ostracize her and her child because they recognized the child as belonging the tribe of the “father” (that is, the rapist).  So, the child was born Janjaweed, in the belief system of the people.  In this way, the terrorists were able to rape a whole community as well as an individual woman.  This situation is not unique.  Rape has long been a weapon of warfare and oppression, of humiliation and intimidation.

Does a woman who has conceived as the result of having been raped not have the right to choose to carry the fetus to term and give birth?  Yes, she has that right, but it is her right to choose only if she has that choice.  She may choose to do her best to redeem a terrible act of evil, but it is such a redemption only if it is her choice.  She is not a birth machine governed by men, and there is no redemption in the birth if it is forced upon her.

I believe Christians need to accept Jesus’ liberating principle and oppose the evils done to people and to stop calling their harmful consequences “the will of God.”  We should not be sanctifying rape or conception by rape, and we should not be trying to legislate women into second-class human beings, slaves to the will and whims of men falsely equated with the will of God.