Having just graduated from Covenant in June, this past young people’s convention, which I attended, was probably my last. Holland PRC, the host congregation, chose several topics for discussion groups and sectionals. One of the larger and more controversial ones was the area of genetics and how we as Christians should respond to new advancements. The two main areas of genetics discussed were invitro fertilization and genetic engineering. I know from being in the discussion groups and sectional that this is a heated issue right now, and some people have strong feelings about it. I do not wish to anger or offend anyone in any way by what I am about to say, but I do hope you read with an open mind.
In this article I would like to cover only genetic engineering, or changing the genetic code. As scientists learn more about genetic engineering and how it can benefit humans, they are going to start using it to change genes with disorders into normal genes. In other words, they will take out a gene or genes that cause Down’s Syndrome or cystic fibrosis and insert normal, healthy genes in their place. Now this can only be done when a baby is just conceived and is still in the embryo state, so the parents of the baby must make the decision if they want doctors to change the faulty gene(s). Whether or not we should be permitted to do such procedures lies in how we look at the genetic code.
Many say that the genetic code is the will of God for a specific individual and that we may not tamper with it. God wanted the person to have Down’s Syndrome in order that the person would have an impact on others and would have that kind of a life. I would like to describe to you how I see the genetic code. The way I see it, there are levels of complexity in the body. The body can be broken down from systems (skeletal, circulatory) to organs (heart, brain) to tissues that make up organs to cells that make up tissues to the things that make up cells. Cells are made up of many things including the nucleus, or brain of the cell. Inside the nucleus is DNA which makes up the genetic code. Each person is given his own specific code by God when he is conceived, and it forms the person into a complete human being. However, that code is still part of the body.
In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve sinned and caused God’s curse to fall on Creation. As a result many troublesome things occurred and developed. Diseases, parasites, pain, death, and of course sin are some of them. By far the worst thing was that we fell into sin and our souls were dead in it (“for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”). Sin had to do with the state of our soul, and thus it was impossible for us men to deal with. Our souls are untouchable, and their state cannot be altered by us. However, the physical, earthly troubles that God incurred on us when He cursed the ground were meant to be dealt with. God tells Adam in Genesis 3:17-18 the following, “And unto Adam he said, Because thou has hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, … cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field.” Thorns and thistles will trouble us all our lives, but we must deal with them in order to continue in this life.
All through history man has worked towards healing diseases, and quite often he has been successful. Up until recently, these diseases have all been treated or cured by doing things only to larger, more visible parts of the body. For example, small pox was done away with by the use of vaccines. We don’t need to be afraid of curing diseases because Jesus cured “all manner of diseases” as is seen in Matthew 4:23, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.” I don’t think anyone will argue that we will treat a disease with whatever drugs, vaccines, or surgeries are needed. The problem comes in when we change the genetic code to heal a disease.
Think of it this way: If there was a drug that would somehow cure a genetic disease and make a baby healthy, you would give it to the baby as soon as it was born, right? If you had to perform surgery in order to change an organ of the baby, you would do that, right? I say that changing the genetic code is simply a more complex form of surgery that cures the illness of the baby and gives it healthy life. It’s as simple as this: the genetic code is not part of the soul, it is part of the body, and as such it can be changed and altered to heal disease.
Using this technology is not “playing God” either, as some have said. Since we are not using it in defiance to God’s will and power, we are not attempting to be God. Rather, we are using what God has given us in order to get rid of some of the pain and suffering that is so prevalent in this earth. Jesus gave His disciples power to heal also. Matthew 10:1, “And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.” Although this technology is not in the form of miracles, it is still given to us by God and can be used accordingly.
I would like to finish by giving a word of caution about this subject. As with most things on this earth, there is a right and a wrong way to use genetic engineering. If and when it becomes common to use this technology, we must be careful as to what our motives are in changing the DNA of our child. I believe that changing things for selfish, worldly reasons is wrong. For example, changing DNA to make a taller or smarter person is going too far. I do not believe that genetic engineering is wrong in itself. There is a right way to use it. Through prayerful consideration, God-fearing couples can change DNA to heal genetic diseases. Although it is not yet possible, we should keep these things in mind when it does become possible.