-- Book of Job
In a subdivision in Nashville, Tenn., live David and NancyGuthrie. They own no sheep or camels, but they have a late-modelInfiniti and a wide-screen Sony TV. They would never lay claim toblamelessness, but they are regarded as upright and God-fearing amongtheir friends, who place high value on those traits. Sometimes thosefriends compare the Guthries to Job.
The odds of carrying a recessive gene for a terrible disorder calledZellweger Syndrome are 1 in 160. The odds of two carriers meeting andhaving a child who suffers from the syndrome are about 1 in 100,000.David and Nancy, already the parents of a healthy son, Matt, drew that 1in 100,000 chance, when 2 1/2 years ago Nancy gave birth to a severelydisabled daughter named Hope, who struggled with life for 199 days.After Hope was found to have the ailment, David got a vasectomy. Theodds of a woman's becoming pregnant after her partner has had theprocedure are roughly 1 in 2,000.
It is a warm, hazy day at the Harpeth Hills Memorial Gardens. Nancy,wearing a pink maternity suit, kneels down to wipe dirt from a plaquereading Hope Lauren Guthrie. A woman whose son lies nearby has hintedrepeatedly that Hope's plot is due for a resodding. "I'm gonna have totell her," says Nancy wearily. "You know what? We don't need to replantthat grass because we're gonna dig it up again soon. We're gonna havethis baby," she glances at her belly and then at the grave, "and wealready know that's where he's gonna go."
Her new child is due on July 16. He will almost certainly be deadwithin a year.
Such a situation would call out to God regardless of the humansinvolved. But the language of faith is particularly apropos to theGuthries, who inhabit the center of progressive evangelical Christianthought. David is a vice president at Word Music, a Nashville Christianmusic power. Nancy is a publicist whose clients include inspirationalauthor Max Lucado and Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham's preachingdaughter. Their reaction to their dilemma--their "Christian witness"--presents a window into modern evangelicalism's approach to questionsthat obsessed Job's author 2,500 years ago.
At birth, Hope Guthrie had clubfeet; she would not suck. The doctorsaid, "There are a few little things we want to look at, but it's notDown's or anything." It was in fact far worse. Zellweger devastatesessential bodies called peroxisomes in every cell. Zellweger newbornsare severely brain-damaged, often blind and deaf, unable to take foodorally.
To celebrate Hope's short life, Nancy and David threw her monthlybirthday parties. But in between, the details were grim. In month three,Hope developed seizures. In month four, doctors inserted a gastric tubeto make feeding easier. They said she lacked the brain capacity tosuffer, but Nancy is not so sure. Some nights her daughter whimpered forhours. One night in the seventh month, David went to check on her. "Ijust touched the back of her leg. Her body was really cool. Even thoughyou prepare yourself..." He woke his wife and said, "She's gone." Nancychanged her daughter's diaper a last time.
Hope's memorial service, at Nashville's Christ Presbyterian Church,was a showcase of faith's bulwark against sorrow. For all the tearsshed, one guest called it a "victory," not just for Hope in heaven butalso for David and Nancy, who had emerged with faith intact. There was,without boastfulness, a sense of a challenge met and of completion.
And then, 1 1/2 years later, David and Nancy, informed by aplacenta-sampling test, stood before their congregation again. Davidrecounted Hope's brief history and reported on his "medical procedure."Then he announced that "amazingly, in spite of that, we're now expectinga child, a little boy." His listeners oohed, aahed and applauded. "Thankyou," David said. "And this little boy will be born with the samesyndrome Hope had." Quite audible on the videotape of the event is thesound of several hundred people gasping.
In the 1600s, such a couple might have seen their plight as evidencethat they had sinned or were passed over for salvation. But AmericanProtestants have largely abandoned such harsh Calvinism. At Hope'smemorial, the Guthries' pastor, the Rev. Charles McGowan, recalledJesus' encounter with the blind man. When asked, "Who sinned, this manor his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus replies, "It was not thisman...nor his parents, but that the works of God might be mademanifest in him," and Jesus heals him.
Evangelicals' insistence on God's active presence inclines many ofthe Guthries' friends to regard them as singled out, maybe in a goodway. "I think David and Nancy have been entrusted with something Hecouldn't entrust to anybody else," says Dan Johnson, a Christianfilmmaker. He turns to David. "I think God is intrigued with yourfaithfulness." David does not reply. He refuses to believe Godcustom-tailored this situation, although he holds out hope that throughit he may learn something of his ways. "I don't think this is a lessondesigned FOR us," he says. "I think this is a situation with lessons tolearn IN it."