When were you conceived by God?

(Jennifer Judson) #1

What is your understanding, whether it’s biblical or something you’ve heard from the pulpit or in Sunday School, of when you–your individual self–were conceived by God? When did you specifically become part of the story, the plan? Was it at your human conception? Before?

Not necessarily looking for any “right” answers here, but what your understanding is no matter how you got there.

(Jobina Westman) #2

Interesting question! @Jennifer_Judson
I would say that my belief is that God, because he is not bound by time, had always known me (meaning knowing the essence of who I am and when and where I fit into his story). I would guess that I came to that belief when I discovered (was told by parents and Sunday school teachers) that God is all knowing, is not surprised by the present or future, and knows more about me than anyone else could possibly know (Psalm 139).

(Jennifer Judson) #3

Thanks Jobina. I appreciate your response.

(SeanO) #4

@Jennifer_Judson The following article seems to do a fairly good job of addressing what appears to be at the core of the question.

It list 3 alternatives:

Traducianism: Your soul / essence is passed down from parents at moment of conception / as you grow
Creationism: Your soul / essence is given by God (created) at conception
Attachment: Your soul / essence pre-existed your body and is attached at conception

I think the article is correct in stating that Attachment is not a Biblical position and is generally associated with the New Age movement.

So - I think we come onto the scene at conception or as we grow. But I have no idea what that looks like - Traducian, Creationist or otherwise. That’s def a mystery that would be intriguing to talk with God about one day.

(Carson Weitnauer) #5

HI Jennifer,

Thanks for raising such an interesting question! I’m curious: what is the motivation behind the question?

As one piece of the puzzle, I think we need to wrestle with Psalm 139:13-16:

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

For me, this passage is suggestive that we were conceived by God in our mother’s womb. Pairing this together with modern biology, it seems to me that the beginning of a human life is upon fertilization, when a human zygote is formed.

Here is another resource that may be helpful in this dialogue:

(Jobina Westman) #6

Funny, I took the question to mean something very different than biological conception. I would be interested too to find out more behind the original question, it might very well change the answer!

(Jennifer Judson) #7

I’m sure explaining why I’m asking would be helpful. I am currently in Week 4 of the RZIM class: Why Suffering?. Lecture 4.1 by Vince Vitale is based on the Non-Identity Theodicy (subject of his thesis), and I’m trying to wrap my head around a few things. Here is a summary of the theodicy (Theodicy is literally justice of God–but also used as a proof of God’s justice).


My understanding of item (1) in the Theodicy is that if I long for a world without suffering and God delivered on that by creating a world where evil and suffering were not possible, then I, personally, would not exist in that world. My exact combination of DNA, genes, personality, etc. that came down generation after generation to make “me” would not be in place–thus I would not come to be in this “better” world. To me this implies that “I” began when I was conceived by my parents. (Note: I’m not really concerned about when the soul attaches, as much as when I (my unique “personness” if I can invent a word) became a part of God’s plan.

I’m just not sure how that jives with what I’ve been taught in Sunday School since I was a child–that God created me, my unique and personal self, from the foundations of the world. Now that may or may not be good theology and/or biblical interpretation, but it’s definitely at the core of the Christian culture in which I was raised.

So my feeble brain, which has a tendency to twist logic inside out, is telling me that it may not follow that if God did a “reset” after Adam and Eve transgressed, that the same individuals planned by God would not have come to exist in this new and improved world. Perhaps I would not have come from the same familial line, but the “me” described in Psalm 139 might still exist.

My intention is not to disprove anything, but to understand better. Am I missing anything or misinterpreting anything? The goal of the theodicy is to be a tool in the toolbelt when communicating with persons who are resistant to believing in a God that created/allows evil and suffering–or that if God exists why would we consider Him to be a good god. Is it a good tool for my toolbelt if it’s an argument that I’m unsure of?

(SeanO) #8

That’s deep.

I do not personally think that whether or not you specifically would have come into existence if God reset the timeline back to right after the fall has any bearing on “those who come to exist could not have in a world without evil and suffering”. I think Point I of the theodicy argument is more general - evil and suffering have allowed people to grow and develop in ways they could not have without evil and suffering - which, I suppose, has made it possible for the unique you to exist. But that is slightly different than the inevitability of the unique you existing.

To me, the point about the unique you coming into existence feels more like an argument for God’s unique love for each individual person - even from before the foundations of the world. However, I think that the Scriptures tend to emphasize that Christ was predestined before the foundations of the world and that our value comes through identifying with Him, rather than our value coming from God having predestined us specifically.

(Jennifer Judson) #9

Very helptul. Thank you.

(Jimmy Sellers) #10

I believe that at the heart of non-id theodicy is the understanding that God is not accountable to a person who never existed. If you never existed God is not accountable to you and the question about uniqueness is irrelevant.
For me non-id brought a lot of clarity to my life and my theology.

(Jennifer Judson) #11

Thanks Sean and Jimmy,

My interpretation of what I heard in the lecture may certainly be off. And remember this is about framing a discussion with someone who likely A)considers evil/suffering as evidence that God does not exist, and/or B) if God exists, he cannot possibly be good. The non-id theodicy seems to mainly address “B.”

But this jist of the lecture seemed to be that God’s love for you (the unique individual) is so immense, that loving you in the midst of a world where evil and suffering exist, was the more loving choice than doing a reset where “you” would not exist–it would be an entirely different humankind.

Now if I’m presenting that argument in a discussion, how do I respond if asked?
Why couldn’t an all-powerful God remove evil and suffering from the world without wiping out me and all my familial lineage? When I was a kid my Grandmother took me to Sunday School and they told me that God planned me before the world ever came into existence…if God exists and I go back that far, then why is it impossible to alter creation without wiping all planned humans out of existence? Why must it be a different set of people?

The theodicy as presented was very centered on showing God’s love for the person, and I think it goes a long way in expressing that love. I think it illustrates to the questioner the tremendous value God places on their life, that their existence and the love He had for them more than outweighed any hardship their life may have, and they have the promise of eternal life with God if they accept that love.

Of course my prayer would be that the questioner begins to feel that love and soften. But I’m used to the skeptic trying to poke holes in the logic–had lots of practice with my Dad. So where I see my “starting point” in the story of creation and mankind seems to be very significant. That’s what I’m trying to work out.

Perhaps this struck me because I had just recently re-read the first week of “days” in the Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Here are excerpts from Day 2 / You Are Not an Accident:

Long before you were conceived by your parents, you were conceived in the mind of God. He thought of you first. It is not fate, nor chance, nor luck, nor coincidence that you are breathing at this very moment. You are alive because God wanted to create you! The Bible says, “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me.”

God prescribed every single detail of your body. He deliberately chose your race, the color of your skin, your hair, and every other feature. He custom-made your body just the way he wanted it. He also determined the natural talents you would possess and the uniqueness of your personality. The Bible says, “You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.”

God’s motive for creating you was his love. The Bible says, "Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love."
God was thinking of you even before he made the world. In fact, that’s why he created it! God designed this planet’s environment just so we could live in it. We are the focus of his love and the most valuable of all his creation. The Bible says, “God decided to give us life through the word of truth so we might be the most important of all the things he made.” This is how much God loves and values you!

If God can do all of that…why would it not be possible, assuming God chose to do so, to create a modified world where the same persons came into being.

I do get the philosophical argument. But is the theodicy considering God’s all-powerful capacity? If this is where my feeble, non-philosophical brain immediately went, then what about the astute, logical, intellectual questioner?

(Jimmy Sellers) #12

Please don’t take offense but being the skeptic myself this sounds a lot like “groundhog day”. You can’t have it both ways. This almost begs the question, Can God do the impossible or just the possible?

(SeanO) #13

@Jennifer_Judson Personally I would not respond to that type of question directly. I would reframe my response in a more positive light rather than focusing on the question of God being capable of changing history to lessen suffering while maintaining our identity.

In Romans 8:18 the Apostle Paul says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

John 16:33 - “In this world you will suffer, but do not be afraid, for I have conquered the world.” - Jesus

The Problem of Suffering tends to assume that suffering is so severe that it calls into question the existence of a good God. But Paul and Jesus simply do not frame suffering in that way.

Jesus suffered “for the joy that lay before Him” - “looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”.

In some ways, I think the Problem of Suffering makes this temporary broken world feel bigger than God’s eternal Kingdom - and I think that for me personally I’d rather focus on making God’s Kingdom big than trying to work within the framework presented by the Problem of Suffering to justify God’s reason for allowing suffering (which I don’t fully understand even in a Biblical framework) to other people.

Many of the great writers - George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis, Tolkien - have an amazing capacity for taking suffering seriously while also making God’s Kingdom ‘above and beyond all that we could ask or imagine’.

Here is an excerpt from C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia after the children discover they have died in a train wreck and are finally to stay with Aslan forever:

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them….

“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.

And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Another quote from Tolkien when Sam sees a star while treking through Mordor:

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach."

(Jennifer Judson) #14

Hey, I really appreciate both of you helping me through this, and don’t worry, I won’t take anything the wrong way. I get all the points you’ve made–they are all valid. My issue here is in grasping and framing the theodicy correctly, should the need arise.

Like I said, Vince Vitale was proposing this as one possible tool in the toolbelt when addressing the Problem of Evil. So ultimately I have to decide if it’s the right tool for me to use in such a discussion. Ultimately that’s what the whole course is about…what are the various arguments a skeptic will likely present on evil and suffering and how can we address them?

It’s interesting that for centuries the Problem of Evil was one that the church struggled with within a Christian context–how to we help parishioners understand why bad things happen. But in the last century atheists have taken the Problem of Evil as evidence of God’s non-existence. The essence of the “problem” is the same, but the starting point for the argument is completely different. One asks “why would God do this,” the other asks “how could you possibly believe a in God that…”

We began the course viewing this clip of Stephen Fry going after God, which is a good indication of what we are up against in discussions on the Problem of Evil with non-believers:

Philosophically I think the argument does pretty well. But I’ve yet to have any skeptic NOT try to undermine the discussion with God’s all-powerful nature. Far as I can tell it’s the go-to tool in their toolbox.

(Jennifer Judson) #15

Again, just want you to know how much I appreciate your responses. Thanks for taking the time.

(SeanO) #16

@Jennifer_Judson By ‘skeptic’ do you mean professional skeptics who have a public profile or people you know that are skeptical? Just curious. I would expect public skeptics not to budge an inch regardless of what point is made.

I’ve seen William Lane Craig dismantle someone’s arguments right before their eyes and then his opponent will just continue saying exactly the same thing regardless. It’s very disorienting.

(David Cieszynski) #17

@Jennifer_Judson in Jeremiah Ch1 v5 it says “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

As God is out of time I believe this means he’s always known us.

(Jennifer Judson) #18

I guess my comments were the generic skeptic…but I’ll qualify it now as persons that I’ve spoken with. Some having an actual intellectual basis for their discussions, others just reacting to feelings. But generally ones who find no authority in either God or the Bible and dismiss any Biblical references, such as “the fall” in their attitude toward evil and suffering.

And yes, like the professional skeptics, they rarely budge from a position. Being right is a pride issue–not a truth issue. They’ve come to a conclusion and their heels are dug in pretty tight. To give an inch means rethinking not truth, but whether they are willing to admit an iota of “wrongness” or defeat. I remind myself that they are blind. I’ve come to believe that so much of our blindness is rooted in pride.

Just because they do not believe in the Bible as authoritative, it does not mean they are not knowledgeable. My Dad had a library of Bibles and was armed with scriptures that he found inconsistent and therefore untrustworthy. So a skeptic may not allow me to use the Bible in an argument, but they will use it to poke holes in it’s accuracy and my veracity.

In the specific case of my Dad (skeptic and heretic–which believe me is an odd combination), he attended the Methodist church ALL his life. He’d heard teaching and preaching from many different persons from all over (we moved a lot). His grandfather was a very moral man that held firmly to universalist views. His parents were devout, born-again Christians with a life long faith. He didn’t necessarily doubt God’s existence, but his views on the Bible, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the problem of evil, the wrath in the OT vs. the love in the NT, etc. were way outside orthodoxy. His beliefs were an odd mix and trying to move him into understanding that he needed a personal relationship with Jesus was extremely challenging. But boy was he good practice for discussions with other skeptics. He loved to argue. He chose to always challenge conventional wisdom. He was an engineer and very analytical. A good question is why did he go to church? It was both an established pattern in his life and the core of my folks social life. It was their community, not necessarily their beliefs.

I suppose when I hear an argument like the Non-Identity Theodicy, my mind goes to how Dad would react. So if my responses feel like I’m not giving any ground, it’s more me trying to think from his skeptical point of view in the process of the argument.

(Donna Perry) #19

I believe God knows our life, purpose and death even before conception. In Jeremiah 1:4-5 God tells Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and set you apart, I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Romans 9:11-15 tells us God set Jacob apart before the twins were born saying, “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated.” Also, the Lord knew John the Baptist before he was born and John’s purpose and plan was in place before the child was conceived. Luke 1:13-17. Isn’t it wonderful to know God knew us and our purpose before we were even conceived.