Every so often an email arrives that leaves me dumbstruck. Usually such a question comes with not only a pointed question, but with real-life hurt and pain behind it, from a listener seeking genuine answers to alleviate core identity struggles, like the email I am about to read today. It comes to us from a listener named Elizabeth. Here it is.
“Pastor John, I was conceived using the sperm of an anonymous ‘donor.’ My parents, who are believers, wanted a child very badly, but my father was infertile, so they chose to purchase sperm from a fertility clinic. My biological ‘donor-father’ was paid to give his sperm to the clinic. My parents chose not to tell me about my conception until after I was married. When I was told, I was shocked and hurt. I struggled to find my identity for years. I rest in the thought that God is my Father. I am always drawn to scriptures and songs about God as Father to help settle my confused heart. At least 60,000 children are born through ‘donor’ conception every year in the United States, so I know this is impacting local churches, though it is rarely discussed. Reproductive technology is moving fast, and couples can choose to purchase sperm or eggs from a more fertile person, or use the embryos left over from others who made more embryos than they wanted. My questions are twofold. (1) Does God desire some couples to remain childless to the point that using the sperm or eggs of a third person is resistance to his will? And (2) do you have any Scripture or any grace for those of us who are the product of reproductive technology, who feel a bit like we were sold off as a commodity and abandoned by a biological parent in order to make another family happy?”
Desperate for Children
In answer to Elizabeth’s first question, “Does God desire some couples to remain childless to the point that using the sperm or eggs of a third person is resistance to his will?” my answer would be yes.
“God Almighty has been pursuing not just our healing from corruption, but our inclusion in his family.”
In other words, I don’t think childlessness leads to the kinds of harmful effects that have come from the massive move towards various types of surrogacy and reproductive artificiality outside the womb. These have resulted, for example, in three quarters of a million frozen babies whose natural parents do not want them. Not to mention other harmful effects.
Childlessness is painful, but it is not sinful. It is not destructive of human life, and there is great grace that God has for the childless. I don’t claim by any means to have the last word on the ever-changing world of reproductive technologies, but I would refer Elizabeth and the rest of our listeners to the wisdom of Jennifer Lahl and the work of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, which she leads.
She has drawn clear attention in various videos to the unforeseen damaging effects, especially in regards to surrogacy. I’m very sympathetic with her view that the wisest and most compassionate course of action in all these matters is to stay close to the natural processes of reproduction, which God designed — basically keeping eggs and sperm in our bodies. That’s the way she put it to me when I asked her this question once.
With regard to Elizabeth’s second question, I think the Bible has even more clear guidance and gracious encouragement. She asked, “Do you have any Scripture or any grace to give to those of us who are the product of reproductive technology, who feel a bit like we were sold off as a commodity and abandoned by a biological parent in order to make another family happy?”
The first thing I would say to Elizabeth is that her situation is not peculiar or limited to those who are born through some kind of reproductive technology. There are those who were born because of rape, those who were born because of casual sex in a brothel, and those who were born because of an accident when their parents didn’t mean to get pregnant or didn’t want to get pregnant. There are those who were given up for adoption because of all kinds of motivations — some good, some bad. There are those who have absolutely no idea where they come from or who their parents were.
Now, all of these people must deal with the feeling of being at best accidental and at worst unwanted and tainted because of their origin.
Now my approach to encouraging people with these kinds of roots is not mainly to romanticize those roots and say that the biological parents were probably noble and compassionate and caring. I simply don’t know this, in most cases. I have far better news than that for Elizabeth, for my own adoptive daughter, and others whose origins are unknown or unsavory.
“God is eager to adopt us, to make us his children and heirs with his eternal Son, Jesus Christ.”
Paradoxically, I think making the picture darker before we make it brighter will result in the greatest possible brightness for Elizabeth’s identity, hope, and joy. Here’s what I mean: the darkness that makes things darker is to point out that every human being is born contaminated by sin. “In sin did my mother conceive me,” David said in Psalm 51:5.
Paul says that “by the one man’s” — Adam’s — “disobedience the many” — the rest of us, all of us — “were made sinners” (Romans 5:19). According to Ephesians 2:3, by nature we are all children of wrath. Now that condition is far, far, far worse than any condition created by reproductive technologies.
This condition, if it is not remedied, is going to result in our eternal destruction. No reproductive technology causes that. Things are far worse for all of us than they are for Elizabeth only (because of the circumstances surrounding her conception).
Now, what makes that darker observation about us turn out for greater brightness is that with complete awareness of this corruption, this worse condition, God Almighty in great mercy, and great grace, has been pursuing not just our healing from that corruption, and not just our escape from destruction, he has been — wonder of wonders — pursuing our inclusion in his family, and he has been pursuing that at the cost of his Son’s life.
This is the spectacular center of the Christian gospel. This is what Christianity is about at its center.
Our Adoption Story
Listen to Ephesians 1:4–7: “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood” — in other words, it cost Jesus his life to get this adoption for us — “the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”
“It is a glorious thing to have a foundation for our identity as unshakable as the decrees of God Almighty.”
Then here’s a second text, Romans 8:16–17: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
In other words, in spite of God’s full awareness of the contamination of our souls from their very moment of origin, he is not only eager to remove that contamination, but he is eager to adopt us — make us his children, make us heirs with his eternal Son, Jesus Christ. And he did it all through the redemption by the blood of his Son.
This is the rock-solid, unshakable, always-valid, always-reliable truth about you, Elizabeth. Compared to the sorrow of thinking that biological parents treated you as a commodity — which is a sorrow — compared to the sorrow of that thought and that reality, the fact that God has desired you as a daughter, bought you at the cost of his Son’s life, is ten thousand times more precious and more important than that thought.
That’s what I have prayed over my daughter, that she would feel that as an adoptive daughter into our family — and then, God be praised, into his family — not knowing what was in her biological parents’ hearts.
It is a glorious thing to have a foundation for our identity and our acceptance with God that is as sure and as unshakable as the decrees of God Almighty.