Does God cause Down syndrome?
Nancy H. from the United States writes:
My question is this…
My son was born with Down Syndrome. I have struggled with the question that did God purposely create my son with Down Syndrome or does he have Down Syndrome because we live in a fallen world and our bodies/genes are not perfect?
Scripture says we are fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in my mother’s womb … etc so was he purposely made by God this way?
CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:
Thanks for writing in. I can’t imagine the struggle you’ve faced. I only have the faintest of what it is to have a son who has an impairment; my son is profoundly deaf in one ear. And CMI obviously can’t walk with you through this; that is where church and other special interest groups can be of service in ways that we can’t. The best we can offer, especially in this format, is to provide a few thoughts on why it’s reasonable to trust God in the midst of such struggles.
Second, in more direct answer to your question, your son’s Down Syndrome is clearly a tragic by-product of the fallen world. But, he is still of course a precious bearer of God’s image; no genetic fault can take that away (An inconsistent society—An upside down view of Down’s syndrome abortion). And Psalm 139 is a meditation on God’s sovereign care in moulding and shaping each of His divine image bearers.1
It’s important to add, though, that God knew this would all happen, and still went ahead with creating this world (see Why would a loving God allow death and suffering? and Why did God allow sin at all?). But this doesn’t mean God directly caused your son’s Down Syndrome in the similar sense to how He directly caused Jesus’ resurrection. God works through the fallenness of this world to fulfil His purposes. Indeed, the death of His own Son is a prime example: Acts 2:23); He rarely circumvents the natural consequences of the fallen world. But, the one who subjected the world to the curse will also one day remove it. As the apostle Paul so powerfully said in Romans 8:18–25:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
At base though, I think you may have presented a false dichotomy. Can God have a specific reason for allowing your son to have Down Syndrome even as though it’s an effect of the fallen condition? Yes, He can. Does anyone besides God readily know what that reason might be? No. We creatures don’t have access to that information. Does God reveal such knowledge? Practically never. Remember Job.
But can you trust that God is both sovereign and good in the absence of such knowledge? This I think is the real ‘rubber hits the road’ question, and I think the answer is a definite ‘yes’. Again, remember Job. And Paul. When Paul asked for his own ‘thorn in the flesh’ to be removed, Jesus answered: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). And we must remember that this answer comes from the one who “emptied himself” by taking on human form (Philippians 2:7), was tempted in every way as we are (Hebrews 4:15), and suffered obediently for us even to death on a cross (Philippians 2:8, Romans 5:8). He knows what handicaps and suffering are like; He’s personally experienced them.
References and notes
- This reading of Psalm 139 may help meditate in more fruitful ways on the psalm: Deus Caritas Est, Psalm 139 reflectors reading, youtube.com/watch?v=ewHk_wL_cwk, 17 July 2014. Return to text.