John MacArthur, in his sermon The Eyewitness Account of Creation, preaches on Genesis 1 and 2. He takes the position that these chapters record a literal and historical account of creation and that all history and science stems from the events of the opening pages of Genesis. I have no quarrel with those who hold that literal position (unless they denigrate fellow Christians who think otherwise) nor with Christians who see those passages as not literally but figuratively descriptive of God’s work in creation.
In the sermon, MacArthur compares the Genesis account with Darwinism and finds that Charles Darwin comes up short. Fair enough. Many Christians agree based on their understanding of the Bible. Yet MacArthur does not confine his sermon to preaching the Genesis passage and comparing that record to deficiencies he sees in Darwin’s theory of evolution. He instead turns to ad hominem attack on Darwin himself.
After calling Darwin a “stooge for atheistic humanism” and a “twisted individual by all accounts”, MacArthur then lists all the mental illnesses and physical disabilities Darwin is reported to have suffered:
Entire books have been written on the subject of Darwin’s psychological problems. Listen to this; he suffered from depression, agoraphobia – that’s fear of crowds – insomnia, vision alterations, hallucinations, malaise, vertigo, shaking, tachycardia, fainting spells, shortness of breath, trembling, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, muscle twitches, spasms, tremors, cramps, colic, bloating, headaches, nervous exhaustion, skin blisters, tinnitus, and sensations of loss of consciousness and impending death.
According to Darwin’s own testimony, his problems began at 16 years of age, and by the time he was 28, he was virtually incapacitated by mental illnesses. These maladies were so chronic that Darwin’s scholar Michael Ruse concluded that he lived as an invalid for the last 43 years of his life. You don’t assault God and get away with it.
The list is horrific, and MacArthur immediately draws a conclusion from it: “You don’t assault God and get away with it.” In doing so, MacArthur has transitioned from preaching to prophecy. Nowhere does the Bible say these types of maladies are from assaulting God. Plenty of people who honor God suffer as well, in fact. So the only way to state confidently that Darwin’s condition was a result of his “assault on God” is not by preaching on passages from the Bible but by baldly prophesying that it is so.
This is dangerous territory for two reasons: first, it’s unprovable; second, it attacks not only Darwin but also all other people (including Christians in Mr. MacArthur’s audience) who suffer similar illness.
Mental Illness and the Children of God
The most reckless aspect* of MacArthur’s conclusion about Darwin’s condition resulting from his work is that it gives wrong ideas to those who suffer themselves.
Mental illness happens to Christians. Chemical imbalances in the brain lead to the very conditions MacArthur attributes to Darwin. Psychological trauma does the same. Would MacArthur as pastor tell a member of his church who is debilitated by mental illness that their overwhelming symptoms are due to their assault on God? I doubt he would.
But the sermon preaches that if you assault God you shouldn’t be surprised if you end up incapacitated by mental illness. You say that can’t be what he meant? I agree. But it’s what he said. Allow me to assure you that what he said is not true, and to suggest that a mega-preacher of MacArthur’s stature should be more careful; there are people listening to him who will take him at face value just as he urges them to take the Genesis passage literally.
What does this mean for those who preach, teach and are given responsibility in God’s Kingdom? It means that if you ever see an opportunity to discuss mental illness you should consider:
- Is what I am saying true about mental illness?
- Will my words be encouraging and helpful to those who have a mental illness?
- Should I forgo mentioning mental illness entirely as not being relevant to the matter at hand?
- Is there another resource or a professional I can recommend to better help this person?
And while I would hope no person in God’s kingdom would face this, it is the situation John MacArthur found himself in:
- Am I using someone’s sickness in order to score a point?
MacArthur knew better, too. He relied on the Book of Job extensively in that same sermon (for the proposition that no one should question God’s word on things). If there’s ever someone in the Bible who suffered without it being a result of an assault on God, it’s Job. Yet I am afraid MacArthur fell into the same ungodly philosophy Job’s friends adopted – Look what happened to you. What did you do to tick off God?
But we know that Job was not being punished but suffering the consequences of the Fall, and in his case it was directly from the hand of the one who fell first, Satan. Was Darwin therefor in the same position as Job? That’s not the point. The point is that it is reckless and dangerous to ascribe conditions people suffer as being a consequence of some aspect of their lives.** No preacher knows that.
And it also hurts those God loves. God cares about Charles Darwin as much as he does John MacArthur, and it’s never appropriate to use a put-down in an effort to make a point about Jesus.
God cares about you, too, and he wants you to care for others as well. (1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13.) This is the better way, the way of God’s loving care.
*Another reckless aspect of this ad hominem attack on Darwin is that it was completely unnecessary to the sermon’s purpose. MacArthur said he had three points to make in his sermon but then spent almost all his time on the first one – which included his lengthy attack on Darwin – and then he apologized to his listeners for having to rush through the other two points. If he’d dropped the personal attack on Darwin and confined himself to discussing Darwinism he would have made his first point better and had more time for the other two points.
**This isn’t about obvious cause and effect situations such as eating nothing but junk food and consequently becoming unhealthy.
Here’s something that might help pastors to understand mental illness.