Theodicy, Eschatology, and Rape as a Gift
It was disappointing, but not surprising, to see that yet another GOP politician had said something ignorant and stupid about rape this week. Richard Mourdock, a Republican candidate for senate in my neighbor state of Indiana had this to say about pregnancy that results from rape:
"I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God," Mourdock said. "And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."
“Sigh,” I thought to myself as I watched my feminist friends on my Twitter feed go nuts over this comment. “Another one?” Then I reached over to the white board that exists in my mind, scrubbed it clean and wrote a ZERO above “days since a GOP politician said something stupid about rape.” I figured I didn’t need to say much because everyone else was already saying more than enough.
Then Christianity Today got in on the act, proclaiming (emphasis mine):
Many media outlets are expressing shock, unable to concieve of a God or a world in which God might actually make something good from something horrid, that the child of rape or incest could be considered a divine gift. Note the tone and disgust of the Atlantic Wire summary of the story.
It's hard to believe that anyone would really believe what Mourdock seemed to say, that rape itself is intended by God. And in fact, even he doesn't believe it. He later clarified: "What I said was, in answering the question form my position of faith, I said I believe that God creates life. I believe that as wholly and as fully as I can believe it. That God creates life. Are you trying to suggest that somehow I think that God pre-ordained rape? No, I don't think that. That's sick. Twisted. That's not even close to what I said. What I said is that God creates life."
Though a prime example of gotcha-politics, this incident raises other issues, issues weighted with glory even. It almost goes without saying that for Christians, while rape is a terrible thing, in the providence of God, this too can be redeemed, a tragic event from which love can emerge. And yet we live in a society in which many find this view intolerable, outside the bounds—anathema. This is a delicate conversation we're a part of in America, one that requires us to eschew the cheap advice or platitudes of Job's counselors, to be sure. Then again, it may be even more "disrespectful to the survivors of rape" to fail to tell them about the wondrous redeeming power of God, even in the most horrible circumstances.
And I sighed again, because I knew that this meant I now had to respond. And now I was angry.
Part of me just wants to yell and kick and scream.
And another part of me just wants to curl into a ball until the election’s over (but then, I’d miss my flight to England).
Here’s the thing: I know there are massive, theodicy style problems with the idea of pregnancy from rape. It invokes the philosophical problem of evil – if we believe children are a gift from God always, universally so, then rape that creates a child, quid pro quo, becomes a gift from God. It’s not that I don’t understand the thinking or that it needs to be explained again – I know and like eschatology, I know and like theologies of redemption, and I understand the struggle to understand why sin and evil and violent crimes like rape exist.
But here’s the other thing: rape victims are not players in your narratives of redemption. People suffering through some of the worst, most traumatic events of their lives aren’t interested in going through more pain just so you can point to it as a redemptive show of God.
Rape victims are not a sermon illustration. They are human beings.
In orthodox eschatology, do we believe that God will eventually redeem the bad in the world? Yes. But we warp and destroy the beauty of that eventual redemption when we insist that those who are suffering in the here and now play the part we want them to play, just so God’s eschatology will look nice.
God’s eschatology doesn’t need you to persuade a rape victim to keep their pregnancy. What God does need you for is to understand and support the suffering, no matter what decision they may make. What God does need you to do is shut up and listen. This is not your battle to fight, except insofar as you can come alongside the one who is suffering. This is not yours to explain. This is not your area and God doesn't need you to persuade a person to suffer more just so They could eventually redeem. It is disrespectful to God to presume to be someone else's Holy Spirit in a decision that has nothing to do with you.
In one of my favorite songs, David Bazan (performing as Pedro the Lion), says a line that keeps popping into my head this election season:
“You were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord to hear the voice of the Spirit begging you to shut the fuck up."
I cannot be your Holy Spirit, but I can be myself, and I can say this: if you’re going to open your mouth and explain why a rape victim should keep her pregnancy because you believe that in the eschatological scheme of things, that that pregnancy exists to be redeemed … take a minute, think about it, and then shut the fuck up.