Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

Are IVF babies knit together by God too? It’s a question from Carly. “Pastor John, hello! How can a Christian explain to non-Christians that every child is a gift from God when some children are conceived medically through IVF and other fertility treatments? I’m at a loss and I really want to be able to answer this question. I believe all children are from God. But how do I answer this question? I recently saw a story about a lesbian couple who conceived a child through IVF. The child was fertilized by donor sperm and implanted in one woman and then harvested and implanted in the other woman to carry to term. It’s so unnatural, but I know that child is meant to be here.” Pastor John, how would you help Carly answer this dilemma?

Before I answer that question specifically and directly, let me just say a word about the larger issue of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and third-party assisted reproduction, surrogacy — “renting a womb,” as it’s sometimes called — egg donation, sperm donation, and so on.

Brave New World

There is an entire global industry of baby-making which is shot through with unanswered ethical and medical questions. I think any Christian couple should be very careful, thoughtful, and hesitant to walk very far outside the natural processes God has put in place for making babies.

Now, I know we’ve gotten ourselves into a real dilemma with thousands of frozen embryos, for example, waiting, as it were, for adoption. Now, I’m not opposed to that. There are people at our church that have done that: adopted an embryo, put it in Mom, and raised the baby. But I don’t think we should make decisions that contribute to that problem. We’ve got ourselves with these thousands of frozen little babies because of all kinds of technological things that we didn’t foresee would create all these issues.

Now, if all that sounds fuzzy to you, like, “What is he talking about?” — and it does to me still — I want to recommend a website and an institution called Center for Bioethics and Culture. It’s led by Jennifer Lahl. I’ve met Jennifer, and I think she is a faithful, wise, helpful guide in these matters. They have some very illuminating videos about these things. She’s done a lot of good work to bring clarity and wisdom to the issue of third-party assisted reproduction, making us aware of the significant health and psychological risks that often go untold, as if you can just do anything you want. Not to mention the ethical issues, not the least of which is the looming issue of eugenics — that is, making designer babies by making sure you have a sperm and an egg from people with just the right traits that you want.

But Carly’s question is “How can a Christian explain to a non-Christian that every child is a gift from God when some children are conceived medically through IVF and other fertility treatments?” The answer comes, I think, in two steps.

God Makes Humans

First, what do you say to a non-believer? The first step is you gather biblical texts that show that creating human babies is decisively God’s work, not man’s. No baby decides if he or she is human. No parent decides if their baby is human. No sperm donor, egg donor, or womb donor decides if the baby is human. No doctor, who’s putting all the pieces together, decides if this baby is human. Well, who does? God does.

After you show them these texts, which I’ll point to in a minute, step two is to show the biblical principle that, in the Bible, God often uses foolishness and evil — even evil — to bring beauty into being. So, here are a few texts that you could use in helping an unbeliever at least know why you think that God is the decisive baby-maker.

  • Psalm 139:13–14: “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” — that is, made by God.

  • Job 10:11–12: Job says to God, “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love.” So, not just skin, not just flesh and bones and sinews, but life that can be experienced in relational love. God created that.

  • Job 31:13–15: Job talks to God about why he has treated his servants well and fairly. He says, “If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant, when they brought a complaint against me, what then shall I do when God rises up? When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him? Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?” In other words, every human, whatever class, is made by God in the womb.

  • Psalm 71:6: “Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.” Before the psalmist was born, he was already leaning, depending on God in the womb.

  • Ecclesiastes 11:5: “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” Wow. We don’t know how the spirit, the life, the soul of the human nature comes into this union of egg and sperm. It’s one of those works of God, like so many others, we do not understand. But there it is; he does it.

  • Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” God was already dealing with Jeremiah as a person before he was born.

So, I conclude from these passages and others that humans don’t bring humans into being; God does. Humans contribute genetic material, but God makes the union of egg and sperm the living, eternal human soul. Amazing. That’s the first thing you try to share with your non-Christian friend.

Unswervingly Sovereign

The second step is to show the biblical principle that God often uses foolishness and even evil to bring beauty into being. Now, in general, you can say to your unbelieving friend, “If God really creates a human soul that once did not exist, and now exists forever as a person, then doing this Godlike thing — through natural or unnatural, good or bad, sinful or un-sinful ways of uniting egg and sperm — is a piece of cake. It’s relatively easy. I mean, creating a human being is the great glory and mystery. The how is relatively unimportant when it comes to whether God can do it or not.”

Let me close with this: What would be the most evangelistic, personal, caring way to get across this principle to the unbeliever? And I think the answer is to go to the most amazing text of all, Acts 4:27–28, to show how God used four Christ-haters to accomplish Christ’s saving will — to bring about the most beautiful, glorious, wonderful act of salvation in the history of the world. So, here’s what it says:

Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles [the Roman soldiers who drove the nails in] and the peoples of Israel [who cried, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”] to do . . .

What were they gathered together to do?

. . . to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

I can imagine an unbeliever maybe hearing that and saying, “Whoa, I never heard anything like that before.” If God can orchestrate Herod, Pilate, brutal Roman soldiers, and unbelieving Jews to bring about the greatest life-giving event that ever was — the death and resurrection of Jesus — then making a human baby with sinful humans is not a problem.