Are Birth Defects Really Part of God's Plan?
"Your baby has hydrocephalus, a possible chromosome disorder, and what appears to be a cleft lip. We don't know what his odds for survival are."
When my friend Jen Gibson heard those words back in April of last year, her heart dropped. She and her husband Tim had known there were complications with their son Eli's development in the womb, but now their fears were confirmed.
Birth defects are more common than we think. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention report:
Every 4.5 minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect…. Birth defects are a leading cause of infant death, accounting for more than 1 of every 5 infant deaths. In addition, babies born with birth defects have a greater chance of illness and long-term disability than babies without birth defects.
Within just a few weeks of my friend learning about her son's condition, my midwife called me with sobering news: I was carrying conjoined twins, something that happens in only one of 200,000 live births.
After an MRI, I found out my girls had developed almost no lung tissue and would not survive for long outside of the womb. It was devastating.
Christian mothers who receive news of birth defects or fatal diagnoses for their babies face overwhelming questions. For me, the question of whether to continue the pregnancy was the most black-and-white choice I had to make. I believe life is sacred and that my daughters deserved as much life as I could give them.
The tough questions came when I tried to make sense of verses like: "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made" (Ps. 139:14). Did I believe God created my children just they way they were meant to be, birth defects and all?
I struggled with Exodus 4:11, where Moses expresses his reluctance to speak in public: "The Lord said to him, 'Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?'" Is God taking credit for all physical defects?
In the passage, God is frustrated with Moses to the point of anger. Moses is worried that God won't be able to help him with a small speech problem, just after God has shown Moses some convincing miracles to demonstrate his power. As Terence Fretheim observes in his commentary on Exodus, the point of this passage isn't to show that God reaches into every woman's womb and singles out who becomes blind or mute or deaf. Rather, God emphatically tells Moses that he is in control of the world, a world that includes speech problems, hearing loss, and loss of sight. God shows Moses that he can work around these things and still accomplish his purpose.
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