You’ve just murdered Beethoven (or history, as it turns out)

We’re doing a lesson with Year 9 groups at the moment on the Christian view of abortion which seems to be working very well with students and staff. Anyway, one illustration we’re NOT using is the one that goes something like this…

If you knew a woman who was pregnant, who had 8 kids already, three who were deaf, two who were blind, one mentally retarded, and she had syphilis; would you recommend that she have an abortion?
If you answer "Yes" you’ve just murdered Beethoven.

There are two reasons why I’ve come to conclude that this is a ridiculous contribution to any discussion about abortion.

The first is that the story doesn’t match the historical facts. Maria, Ludwig’s mother, had seven children in total of whom only three survived infancy; tragic, but not uncommon for the time. Ludwig was the second born and the oldest of the survivors including his two younger brothers. Although his father is known to have been harsh and prone to drunkenness, there is no record of syphilis or mental illness in the family, though Ludwig later suffered from Hepatitis and probably from Systemic Lupus Erythematosus as well as the onset of deafness from around the age of 30.

The other objection I have is theological. At one level, aborting Ludwig would indeed have denied us the music of Beethoven. But it didn’t. God has not given us the option of living in every possible outcome from every possible decision ever made in history. What if Hitler hadn’t come to power? What if my parents hadn’t divorced? What if that person had left for work 2 minutes later and not been killed because of a careless driver? What if Judas hadn’t betrayed Jesus? What if…? Are God’s plans so easily derailed by our stupidity, ignorance or rebellion? I somehow doubt it – I believe God is bigger than that, more capable, wiser and all this in ways that we can’t fully fathom. Stuff happens and as it does, God walks with us shaping our lives for the best and guiding history towards his intended destination.
Did God have plans for any of Ludwig’s brothers or sisters beyond a death in infancy? It’s a huge question with profound implications – I don’t know. But I suspect that the tragedy of their short lives did not limit God’s plans for the rest of the van Beethoven family, for history or for us. God is not just creative, he’s re-creative, or redemptive.

There are bigger questions here too, about the limits or otherwise of God’s plans and the age old debate about how much is down to him and how much is down to us.

But please don’t give me any nonsense about Maria van Beethoven aborting any of her children – that’s just shredding good history for the sake of a shoddy illustration.

There’s stuff about Beethoven here and here (as well as lots of other places!)
Also, check out for this and other possibly unreliable stories.

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