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Tim Challies Christian Blog and Commentary

The Intentions of Providence

  • Tim Challies
    Tim Challies, a self-employed web designer, is a pioneer in the Christian blogosphere, having one of the most widely read and recognized Christian blogs anywhere (www.challies.com). He is also editor of Discerning Reader (www.discerningreader.com), a site dedicated to offering thoughtful reviews of books that are of interest to Christians. He is author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, published by Crossway.
  • 2009 Apr 27
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“As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him’ (John 9:1-3).” And, of course, Jesus spits on the ground, creates mud, has the man wash away the mud and performs a miracle so that this man, blind from birth, finally sees. I love this little story—just a very brief episode in the life of Jesus and one that could so easily pass us by. The disciples asked a simple but misguided question; Jesus mercifully answered with wisdom that has comforted so many of his people.

Two years ago the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada recommended that all expectant mothers undergo screening for fetal abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome. This was a break from common practice in which only women who are thirty-five and older receive such screening.

Dr. Andre Lalonde, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Ottawa and the executive vice president of the SOGC, said the society decided to issue the recommendation so that a greater number of women would have the option to terminate their pregnancies should fetal abnormalities be detected.

“Yes, it’s going to lead to more termination, but it’s going to be fair to these women who are 24 who say, ‘How come I have to raise an infant with Down’s syndrome, whereas my cousin who was 35 didn’t have to?’” Dr. Lalonde said. “We have to be fair to give women a choice.”

“How come I have to raise an infant with Down’s syndrome…?” Amazing words, those, and shockingly selfish. They are ones that perhaps any parent may wonder at his or her worst moments, but ones that we would hope not to hear as justification for a matter so serious, so devastating, as abortion. But even this is an old-school argument when it comes to abortion. In recent years the issue of abortion has evolved from “Is this what you want?” (a matter of personal inconvenience) to “Is this what you want for your family?” (a matter of wider inconvenience) to “How can you do this to us?” (a matter of societal inconvenience). Those who learn that their child may be born with Down’s syndrome or another condition will feel pressure to abort this child for the good of society. They will be told, even if only tacitly, that to bring a disabled child into the world is unfair to everyone in society. It is, after all, my tax dollars that will need to support this child through special education and special vocation, and my children whose tax dollars will pay for his retirement.

Not many parents today would wrestle with the issue of who sinned that a child was born blind (or with weak eyes—a condition deemed sufficient by some to abort a child in the United Kingdom) or with Down’s Syndrome. Neither would they wrestle with whether this child should even be born. Blindness would be sufficient cause for many parents, and perhaps even most parents, to abort the child and try again, hoping for a better result the next time. And yet this particular blind man, the one Jesus met, was to serve a purpose that had been sovereignly ordained since before the dawn of time.

F.F. Bruce makes an important point about this story: “This does not mean that God deliberately caused the child to be born blind in order that, after many years, his glory should be displayed in the removal of the blindness; to think so would again be an aspersion on the character of God. It does mean that God overruled the disaster of the child’s blindness so that, when the child grew to manhood, he might, by recovering his sight, see the glory of God in the face of Christ, and others, seeing this work of God, might turn to the true Light of the World.” John MacArthur summarizes “God sovereignly chose to use this man’s affliction for His own glory.”

I love Matthew Henry’s treatment of this passage. He draws out two applications for the fact that this man was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him. The first is that “the attributes of God might be made manifest in him.” Among the attributes of God seen in the life of this man are God’s justice in making sinful man liable to such grievous calamities and His ordinary power and goodness in supporting a poor man under such a grievous and tedious affliction. God’s goodness was specially and miraculously manifested in curing him. The second application is “that the counsels of God concerning the Redeemer might be manifested in him. He was born blind that our Lord Jesus might have the honour of curing him, and might therein prove himself sent of God to be the true light to the world. Thus the fall of man was permitted, and the blindness that followed it, that the works of God might be manifest in opening the eyes of the blind. It was now a great while since this man was born blind, and yet it never appeared till now why he was so.” This man had been born blind so that the power of God might be displayed in him.

Henry draws a final application: “the intentions of Providence commonly do not appear till a great while after the event, perhaps many years after. The sentences in the book of providence are sometimes long, and you must read a great way before you can apprehend the sense of them.” Those who abort their children do not read to the end of those long sentences. Rather, thinking selfishly and looking only a few words ahead, they make the terrible decision to end a life, destroying the gift of God. Henry also writes “Those who regard [God] not in the ordinary course of things are sometimes alarmed by things extraordinary. How contentedly then may a good man be a loser in his comforts, while he is sure that thereby God will be one way or other a gainer in his glory!” (You may, as I did, have to read that last sentence a few times to gain the sense of it.) Those who choose abortion are unwilling to lose their comforts that God may gain His glory. This glory may not be miraculous as it was in the case of the man born blind, but God is glorified in every life that enters this world. Every one of us testifies to the Creator’s wisdom, power, love and goodness. Countless millions have been destroyed and tossed away and we have never been able to rejoice in the gift of life God gave them. We have not been able to marvel in the attributes of God displayed so clearly in their lives.

When we abort those who are infirm, physically or mentally, when we choose not to read those long sentences in the book of providence, we destroy boys and girls, men and women, in whom we ought to see the works of God displayed. We miss out on marvelous opportunities to see the works of God displayed in their lives. We miss opportunities to see God’s glory increase, even if this involves a requisite decrease in our own comfort. This ought to be a small price to pay.