By Tom Bushnell - Summer 1993
This is a question that most of us raising special needs children will probably face. (If we haven’t already.) The scripture in question is found in Exodus 20:5 ".....for I the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me." (NIV) Some take great liberty with this passage and use it to say: "....maybe the reason your child is ‘not normal’ is because either you, your father, your grandfather, or great grandfather hated God."
When building a doctrine from the Bible we should always look first at the passages with a clear meaning and interpret the more vague passages in light of the clearer ones. We should also interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament.
R.A. Torrey once said, "A text without a context is a pretext." First let’s look at the clear meaning of Exodus 20:5 using context to determine the correct interpretation. Then let’s look at another passage from the Bible that deals with the special needs child as the context. It is not within the scope of this article to address those special needs children that have a proven medical link to parental behavior during pregnancy such as children born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Looking at Exodus 20:3, 4 and 5; verse 3 states "....have no other Gods before me." verse 4 "...to make no graven images" verse 5 ".... and not to bow down to them or serve them." It is a call to worship God alone, who is the only one worthy of our praise. The clear point of the passage is to forbid idolatry. The question of how children are punished for the sins of the fathers is not defined.
Could those punishments have been God letting the law of reaping and sowing run its natural course? The options being....Love and serve God and reap spiritual benefits for you and you family? Versus....Reject God and reap the negative result; a sinful carnal mind, debauchery and evil practices for you and your family?
If we want light from God’s word on this subject we should look at a scripture that has the question, "Why is this child born with special needs?" as its context.
In the New Testament John 9:2 and 3 is a very clear passage relating to this issue. In reading it we will be able to discern whether the questionable interpretation of Exodus 20:5 in relating to a child’s disabilities is reliable. John 9:2 and 3 states, "...And his disciples asked him, saying, ‘Master, who did sin?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.’..."
Could it be that this man was born blind so that Jesus might be glorified? In reading through to end of the chapter could it be that "...In all things God works for the good of those who love Him?"
A true story from my own life illustrates this point nicely.
In August of 1987 our daughter Tally was born with Down syndrome. Three months later she went home to be with the Lord. Through this trial God caused us to grow in many ways. Unknown to us at the time as a direct result of Tally’s going home to be with the Lord, my own brother came to know and accept the Lord. Six years later he is still faithfully serving our Lord and Master. This truly brings glory to His Name.