Genetic Mutations and God’s Sovereignty

A good friend of mine recently discovered that her son has a genetic disorder called Williams syndrome. It affects him physically, developmentally, and mentally. Her life and that of her family will never be “normal.” She has struggled as we all do with reconciling the painful effects of sin with God’s sovereignty. She wrote a post on her blog about this that was one of the most well-articulated and well-reasoned responses to this issue I have ever read. She gave me permission to re-post her blog entry and I hope it will encourage you as it did me.

A fellow mom of a child with Williams syndrome recently posed this question in a blog post: Did God Create Williams Syndrome? I’ve been pondering my answer over the past weeks and tonight I take keyboard in hand to pen (or type) my response.

In a general sense, this question reflects the age-old question: Is God the author of pain and suffering?

From a careful study of Genesis, we know that God’s original creation was “very good”–a reflection of His good nature, full of life and joy. He designed the universe so that everything would work together for His glory. As He created Adam in His image from the dust of the ground, He gave the first man (and a short while later, the first woman) a “very good” combination of DNA. He encouraged them to be fruitful and multiply. And, had things stayed the way they were in the beginning, that “very good” genetic combination would have continued combining in “very good” ways as Adam and Eve brought forth children.

Of course, we know that things did not stay the way they were in the beginning, and we have rebellious Adam (and the rest of us rebellious creatures) to thank for it. After Adam disobeyed God’s command concerning that one particular fruit, God placed a curse on His beloved creation–the decreed punishment for the commitment of high treason against the Creator of the universe. Particular aspects of the curse are spelled out in Genesis 3. The culmination of the Curse is separation from God forever through death. As accompaniments to death, we have its bedfellows pain, suffering, disease, and genetic disorders. (Of course, we’re not without hope!)

Generally speaking, Williams syndrome (along with all the various other genetic disorders) isn’t God’s fault. Genetic mutations (including spontaneous deletions on part of the seventh chromosome) are a now-natural result of no longer living in a “very good” world. So, did God create Williams syndrome in this sense? No–we, sinners in the hands of a holy God, did.

However, there’s a more specific sense that I need to address, as well.

The Bible clearly teaches that God is the author of life–He forms each one of us and knits us together in utero. The Bible also clearly teaches He is sovereign over His creation–He is the one who is in control–not a laissez-faire deity that wound up his creation and now lets it go as it pleases. I believe that just as He is in control of the intricate workings of the universe, He is also in control of the intricate workings of conception. As such, I can’t escape the thought that we are who we are–genetic mutations and all–as the result of God’s handiwork. In this more individualized sense, God gave [my child] (and each one of us) a specific genetic combination, which, in [my child’s] case, included a deletion of part of one of his chromosomes. (Let me add this caveat–I understand that our actions have consequences and, in some cases, the actions of parents before the conception/birth of their child can have dire consequences on the baby. However, even in these cases, God is still the ultimate author of that life.)

Does this make God an ogre or less than completely good? Not at all. Because His very nature is good, whatever He does is good. Whatever He does is good. And I believe that He does everything for a reason: to bring glory to Himself.

In answering His disciples’ question about the reason a man was born blind, Jesus said: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:3)

To relate this specifically to [my child] and Williams syndrome, I believe that he (and each of us) is part of God’s plan to bring Himself glory in some way–genetic mutations and all.