Unless you live in a cave, you are probably well aware that the US elections are on next Tuesday, which means that we should have some relief from US politics by late next week. Due to the US’s international position both militarily and economically, I’m not terribly surprised that headlines about our little elections make their way onto the homepage of the BBC, DW, the ABC and Al Jazeera. However, I was quite surprised when the senate race in Indiana, where I’m currently living, started making international headlines. Now, for those of you who know nothing about Indiana, don’t feel bad—it is primarilya farming state that hosts a big car race each year (yes, the Indianapolis 500 is in Indiana). Apart from that, the only thing of note near Indiana is Chicago, which is in a different state and a different time zone. Given that Indiana boasts at total population of 6.5 million and isn’t a “swing state” (that is, a state that is frequently undecided politically and thus a key area for presidential candidates) it is no surprise at all that people in the US, let alone the world, seldom pay much attention to Indiana politics. For a few days last week that all changed as the world took note of Richard Mourdock and his comments about rape, abortion and the will of God.
Reporting on the shockingly tactless, uninformed or simply incorrect comments by American politicians is one of the more enjoyable parts of any US election and thus, when Mourdock said that pregnancies that result from rape are “something that God intended to happen,” it is no wonder that newspapers around the globe reported his remark. While it would be interesting to explore the odd placement of women and religion in this election cycle, what is more important in Mourdock’s comment is not his position on abortion but his position on the divine will. Mourdock’s thinking apparently runs something like this: rape may be bad but God is the giver of life. Thus, if life (i.e. a pregnancy) results from rape, and life by definition comes from God, then God must intend that any child conceived in rape exist.
Let’s consider Mourdock’s comments in light of a tiny bit of biology and the biblical narrative. If God being the giver of life means that he individually intends each and every specific life, then he must want each particular pregnancy to take place. Thus, the non-contingent (independent), perfect, divine will intends this particular life to exist regardless of the circumstances in which the child is conceived. But what does it mean for this child to exist? It means the child that is not only the offspring of a particular man and a particular woman but the child of a particular egg, not next months ovulation, and a particular sperm. Thus, rape as the mechanism by which this specific egg is joined to a particular sperm, must also be God’s intention as no other means could have brought about this particular egg/sperm joining and this new individual. However, to say that God intends rape is is an outright rejection of a whole host of biblical commandments on human sexuality; clearly rape is not something God desires for his creation, so it is problematic to say that God intends pregnancies resulting from rape.
Furthermore, while there are a few divinely intended children in the biblical narrative, children like Isaac, John the Baptist, Jesus whose births are foretold by angelic visitors, there are also a whole host of children whose existence is, apparently, ambiguous. Consider Ishmael who was conceived when Abraham tried to bring about God’s promise of a son through the only means that seemed possible to him: sleeping with his wife’s much younger maid…or David’s son conceived in his clearly condemned adultery with Bathsheba. These children are not heralded by angelic messengers; there is no sense that they are part of God’s original “plan.” In fact there is a sense in the narrative that their existence is a problem, a source of future narrative tension and action. These biblical children with problematic origins suggest that such children are not divinely intended but rather allowed or permitted to happen within the circumstances and conditions of human biology where sex sometimes results in pregnancy.
To give Mourdock credit, his comments are attempting to uphold the belief that life is “precious” and a “gift from God” (as he explained when standing by his comments the next day) and to maintain the sovereignty of God in the face of evil. The problem is that, in attempting to maintain God’s sovereignty, he ends up saying that God actually wants some women to fall pregnant as a result of rape. The second mistake Mourdock makes is assume that, because life is a gift from God, it is an unqualified good. He forgets that the world is broken and that, consequently, nothing in human life is an unqualified good, not even life itself. Everything human is marred and broken by sin. And a life conceived violence, fear and shame will be painful to mother, child, and the wider community even in the best of circumstances.
The truly good news is that and there is no evil that God’s grace cannot ameliorate and in some way redeem. At its core, this is what the idea of God’s sovereignty means—not that God intends evil actions and painful consequences but that God’s goodness and justice will not allow evil win. It means that no matter how terrible people’s actions are and no matter how difficult the consequences and decisions brought on by those actions (for perpetrators and victims), God’s mercy and redeeming power will find a way to bring light and life into the darkness.