Does God Cause Childhood Abuse?
In the last post called "What Does 'God is Sovereign' Mean?", I explored the issue of God’s sovereignty and what it means that He is in control. However, I want to address one issue in particular today: childhood abuse.
My pastor strongly believes that God controls everything (even when we sin or reject Him) and that everything that happens is because God caused it to happen.
He says that God has the right to ordain (by that he means “cause”) evil to happen in your life ... but that He is still good and that He does this for His purposes and for your good and because He knows what trials you need to humble you.
And he even included childhood abuse in this list of “God-ordained evils.” He says that the bad things that happened to you are God's "Plan A" for your life, and you just have to trust Him about it.
It’s one thing to say that God causes a natural disaster or loss of a job or an illness, for His purposes. None of those involve causing someone to commit terrible sins. But it’s another thing to say that He causes people to sin or that He deliberately causes someone to do something as evil as abusing a child . . . and that if you were abused as a child, it’s because God wanted it to happen, planned for it to happen, and caused it to happen (his view of "ordains"), for your own good and for His loving purposes for you.
Are you freakin’ kidding me!?! (I’m using stronger language in my head!)
But I say “ABSOLUTELY NOT!” I don’t believe for one stinkin’ second that God causes children to be abused.
God might summon an evil nation to discipline rebellious people, such as God using Assyria to discipline Israel. However, God did not make them be evil or make them choose to do evil. He just worked their self-chosen evilness into His plans. And He was dealing with Israel out of His justice – to discipline them and turn their hearts back to Him and make them want to restore their relationship with Him.
But I don’t think this example is comparable to causing someone to sin by abusing an innocent child, which is not an act of justice, nor discipline, nor restoration. (At least to my way of thinking.)
And He might allow Satan to cause all sorts of tragedies, like what happened to Job. But if you read carefully, you see that God did not decide which tragedies to allow. He didn't cause the tragedies. He let Satan do as Satan wanted, within boundaries. He let Satan attack Job, but He didn't cause it.
God is "in control" in two different ways. Sometimes He causes things to happen (biblically, He has caused things like disasters and illnesses and wars, for punishment or for His purposes or for His glory or to turn people back to Him, etc.), but many other times He simply allows things to happen. He knew what would happen, and He let it happen ... partly out of honoring mankind's God-given right and responsibility to make decisions, partly out of the activity of the spiritual world and Evil, partly out of letting this fallen world go on as it will (within boundaries He's set), and partly out of the fact He can see how it can be worked into good.
God is definitely in control, either by causing or simply just allowing (while knowing how to work it into good). But "cause" is very different from "allow." And we have to be very careful about mixing up the two.
Saying that God causes a parent to abuse a child for His purposes and for their good (and that we just have to trust His wisdom and goodness because He had His reasons) is taking the idea of “God is in control” too far.
What kind of God would He be if that was the case!?! It might make Him a “fully in-control” God, but it wouldn’t make Him worthy of love, worship, respect, or trust.
Yes, God is “in control,” but I do not believe that He causes people to be evil or to choose to do evil. He lets people make decisions. He lets evil run its course, to a degree. And He can work it into His plans. And He is always available to hear our prayers for help and healing.
But He does not make people sin.
Consider for a moment the child sacrifices to foreign gods in the Old Testament. If everything that happens is because God causes it to happen – if He causes people to sin and to do the evil things they do to children – why would He say this in Jeremiah 19:3-5:
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: . . . ‘For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned sacrifices in it to gods . . . they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn theirs sons in the fire as offerings to Baal – something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.’” (Emphasis is mine.)
God Himself says that He never even imagined that child sacrifices should be done. (Not that He didn’t know they would do it, just that He never thought to require this kind of sacrifice from people.) He is not responsible at all for the people sinning in this way. He did not cause it to happen nor did He want it to happen.
But He did let it happen. He let the people choose to sin and to do evil things. But He is in no way responsible for causing it.
To me, it’s clear that things happen that God never intended, nor wanted, nor had a hand in causing. Because He lets people act out of their own free-will.
Abuse of innocent children happens NOT because God causes it, but because God allows people to make decisions, even bad ones. God allowed Sarah to beat her maid, Hagar, but He didn’t cause her to do it or condone it. God allowed Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery and He worked it into His plans, but He didn’t necessarily cause it or condone it.
If someone sins, it’s not because God made them do it. It’s because they chose to go down that path.
“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:13-15)
Just because He allows people to make their own decisions and He allows them to be evil doesn’t mean that He causes them to be evil or to choose to do evil things. He has the wisdom and foresight to orchestrate events to put someone’s sin to good use, but He does not make them sin. God has chosen to give people the ability to make their own decisions. And many people chose to do evil. But it does not mean God causes it or condones it.
In no way do I think He causes children to be abused. He has a heart for children and gives them special provisions. Ephesians 6:4 says that fathers should not exasperate their children. Matthew 18:6 says that if someone causes a child of God’s to sin (and doesn’t abuse oftentimes cause people to turn away from God!?!), it would be better if they were drowned in the sea. And Matthew 18:10 tells us to not even look down on children because “their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”
If people are not even supposed to look down on children because they are like the face of God, I would whole-heartedly say that we are not supposed to abuse them either. God has put up special protections around children and they are especially close to His heart. Abuse is NOT in His plan or Will for them.
And for the record, I was never abused. So this isn't personal for me. But my heart breaks for those who were abused and who have to hear this kind of nonsense ... for those who sat in the audience that day at my church, with their painful emotional scars and their broken spirits, being forced to think, My God made that happen to me when I was a child? My God wanted that to happen? He caused that person to do that to me, when I was too young to defend myself? What kind of a God is that!?!
And this is where it gets personal for me ... in the sense that I can't stand to hear my loving, righteous, just God portrayed this way - as a God who deliberately causes people to be abused by those who should love them and care for them (and as a God who pre-decides whom He's going to send to hell - with no choice on their parts, never having given them the chance at salvation because Jesus only died for the lucky pre-chosen ones, the "elect" - because it somehow glorifies Him more to have people in hell and because He gets to show off His justness by having people in hell, according to my pastor's predestination view).
I know my pastor is trying to honor and uphold God's sovereignty by teaching He is fully in control of everything that happens - that He causes everything for His reasons.
But did you, Pastor, ever stop to think that in trying to uphold God's sovereignty, you are doing damage to His love and justness and character and people's view of Him and their faith?
Maybe God's not saying, "Thank you for making Me sound so completely in-control."
Maybe He's saying, "What!?! What!?! What are you teaching them about Me!?! I chose to let people have a choice, to make their own decisions. So stop trying so hard to deny it and to teach them the opposite! You are hurting people's faith and My character and My Gospel!"
I think this kind of teaching is so damaging to someone’s faith, telling them that they have to trust that God knew what He was doing when He caused them to be repeatedly abused as a child, that it was for His glory and their own good and their spiritual growth, because He loves them and He wants the best for them and He knew what they needed to go through in order to be humbled.
No! NO! NOOO!!!
It's one thing to encourage people to trust in a God who allows people to choose how they want to act, who even allows people to choose to do bad things because it's part of allowing us to have free-will, a God who can and will bring healing and bring something good out of your pain if you let Him ... but it's another thing to tell people to trust in a God who orchestrated the abuse you went through, who wanted and planned for you to be abused for His purposes, for His glory, because He knew you needed it to be humbled.
What the heck!?!
(Once again, I'm using stronger language in my head! My blood is freakin' boiling! Seriously ... what the heck!?!)
I think this kind of teaching goes against the very nature and heart of God. I think it misrepresents Him terribly and that it is detrimental to people’s faith.
[And this sermon was the moment I decided I can no longer listen to his sermons. Maybe he doesn't mean to imply all these things with what he says ... but maybe he does. Because over the years, we've gotten a pretty good idea of his view of predestination and God's sovereignty.
For years, we've put up with his dogmatic teaching on predestination, listening as he hammers on it nearly weekly ... as he constantly says "R.C. Sproul says this" and "R.C. Sproul says that" ... as he subtly and brilliantly tries to strong-arm people into agreeing with him, making them feel like bad Christians if they disagree, shaming them for being unhumble Christians who are not being true to the Bible, who are setting themselves up above God, who are not acknowledging His sovereignty ... as he teaches us that his view is "what the Bible clearly says" and that we "just have to accept it" ... as he reminds us that we only have three options for how to respond to the "truth" of predestination: ignore it, get angry about it, or accept it. (No! How about the fourth option: Disagree with it because you don't think it's what the Bible says and find biblical support to back you up.)
(He also says the Bible commands spanking, not just discipline. Because that's how his family does things. He's got a way of teaching what his family does as what we should all be doing. I, however, believe the Bible commands discipline, but not necessarily spanking.)
And when he gave this sermon about God ordaining all evils that happen in your life, I knew I was done!
If he meant "allows," I could understand and agree. God allows bad things to happen for various reasons. But I know he means "causes" because that's how he views God's sovereignty - that God causes everything that happens for His purposes and glory, that He causes people to be unbelievers because it's somehow for His glory to have people in hell, that He wanted and caused Adam and Eve to disobey for His reasons, that He causes nations to be evil and then punishes them for it, that we have no real choice of our own because that would mean God is not truly and fully "in control."
And to be clear, it's not his view I have a problem with. It's the presentation of his views. If he was humble about it, saying "This is how I best understand it. But there's a lot of debate about it, so we need to be gracious and humble when we discuss this," then I wouldn't be so bothered. If he said, "We don't know why bad things happen - whether God caused it or just allowed it. But we can still trust His heart, His love, and His goodness. He will help us through any pain we have and work it into something good, if we let Him. And someday, He will destroy all evil and sadness and death," then I would be totally okay.
But when you present your view on an unclear, debatable subject as "the only way to understand Scripture," when you snicker in derision and condescension at those who dare to believe in free-will (of yes, he did once, whether he meant to or not), when you present those who disagree with you as foolish and unhumble and dishonoring to God and in rebellion to the Word ... well, then, that's a problem. A big problem! And even more so when it comes from the pulpit. This is when it becomes divisive and just plain inappropriate.
(I didn't want to speak out against his teachings. I don't want to be subversive or to hurt other people's view of him. But I feel forced to because of how forcefully and dogmatically he presents his view as undebatable "Gospel Truth" and how much he manipulates people to agree with him by shaming anyone who would disagree.)
And so my husband and I have stopped attending service. We sit out in the hall reading godly books while our kids go to children's church. We've been there 19 years, and we didn't want to pull the kids out of the classes they grew up in and love.
But now our oldest has "aged out" of his high school group. And since we don't want our kids under the head pastor's teaching, our oldest stays home and watches sermons online as we go with the younger kids. It's so sad to me because now my whole family can't even attend church together because of this. (And we stopped inviting friends years ago.)
It breaks my heart!
And what makes it harder is that it's such a wonderful group of people whom we've known for almost two decades. We've got friends there. We've watched each other's kids grow up. There's great programs for everyone. It's one of the best churches in the area. And it's just so upsetting to me that this issue - this one person - ruined so much for us.
But for our own sanity, we simply have to get our "spiritual food" from somewhere else for now, such as Tony Evans' sermons online. And maybe someday soon we'll visit another church we were just invited to.
To be fair, I'm sure this pastor is trying to honor God and to be true to His Word, as best he understands it. But so am I! And that's why I've written all this, and why I can't listen to how he presents the God I know and love and trust!]
God doesn’t cause people to be evil or to sin, but He does allow people to make bad decisions and to do bad things. And evil things are part of a fallen world where demons run wild.
But even though God didn’t cause it, He can work it into something good. And He knew what was happening to someone who was abused as a child. He knew what that person chose to do to you. And I think His heart broke for you, that He wept for you. Because abuse is never His plan for children. And someday, the offender will stand before Him and give an account to Him for what they did.
But for you, God can help heal the pain – pain He never wanted for you, for humans, when He created the world perfect. He can bring good out of it, if you will let Him. He wants to heal you and to love you and to set you free. And someday, He will make all things right again!
But do not, for one second, buy that crap that God caused your abuse for your own good or for His loving purposes! That it was His "Plan A" for your life. That’s pure crap! (Goodness, am I getting fired about this one! It’s just so damaging and so not what God is like!)
No! Abuse and violence and hate was never God's Plan A. God's Plan A was a life of peace and joy and wholeness and safety and security in the Garden of Eden where we walked with Him and knew Him intimately. His Plan A was an eternity of peace and joy and fellowship with Him. Not abuse and fear and violence and hate and brokenness. God didn't introduce those things into this world, into our lives. We did, through disobedience and rebellion. We - with Satan's help - interfered with God's Plan A. Through our choices and actions.
But we didn't destroy it for good. We just postponed it.
God is still working His Plan A into history, into our lives. Through Jesus' death, we can find salvation from our sins and brokenness. God is still about wholeness and joy and life. He's about peace and forgiveness and healing, about using our sins and mistakes and pain for good and working it into His plans, if we will let Him.
But He lets us decide how to live and how to respond to Him. He lets us sin and disbelieve and hurt others and get bitter and self-destruct and choose death.
But He is always beckoning to us, always offering us peace, joy, healing, wholeness, and eternal life with Him!
His Plan A for our lives!
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