The Lord allows crosses in the lives of married couples, sometimes in the form of barrenness or infertility, but He still places them in families.
by Rev. David H. Petersen
So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth (Gen. 1:2728).
We were created to marry and to have children even as we were created to have dominion over the earth. When Christians lack a spouse or children, the Holy Scriptures count them as enduring a cross as unnatural as death itself. Crosses, of course, are used by God for good, but it is not how or what we were created for.
Barrenness is the most extreme lack of being fruitful and multiplying, but having a child or two is only a small measure of the blessing promised in Genesis. The fullest measure of the blessing is not found simply in giving birth to as many children as possible, though that is certainly a great blessing, but in being Gods mask of father and mother in a community of children.
God always provides
Barrenness might well be a cross lifted by divine intervention, but it might also be lifted, or at least partially relieved, in other ways. Adoption and foster care are obvious ways that couples can fulfill their vocations as husbands and wives, bringing up children in the nurture of the Lord, but those arent the only ways.
Barren or not, we sometimes forget that we ourselves have had many fathers and mothers in our lives. The Small Ca-techism profoundly reminds us of this in the introduction to the Lords Prayer. God, the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, is our true father; we are His true children. All other fathers, including our biological fathers, are but masks of God.
God provides for us through our fathers and mothers on earth. While our biological fathers might be the fullest expression of that, in some cases, such as when they have abandoned our mothers, they are the least expression of it. Whether it is our biological father or not, the fullest expression of God as Father on earth is the man who provides for, disciplines and teaches us, that is, the man we usually call Dad. When we are blessed, there is also a woman who fulfills this role that we call Mom.
The fact that our biological fathers and mothers arent our true Father in no way belittles them. Rather, it elevates them. They are the Lords stewards on our behalf. They fill a divine office and stand in the stead and by the command of God. God serves us through them with goodness and forgiveness that we dont deserve.
But what should be most obvious is that no single person can provide all that the Lord desires for us. Thus, we have other fathers. Our pastors are fathers. Our teachers and mentors are fathers and mothers to us as well. So are our Sunday School teachers, 4-H leaders, bosses, Junior Achievement leaders and others. And even as we have been, and are being, fathered, so also are there opportunities for us to father others.
A couples cross
Despite this intended order of creation, some faithful, married couples are burdened with infertility, even as some people are born blind. We should not act as though this is a blessing or a neutral thing. It is a shocking perversion of our age that our society now acts as though not getting pregnant is a miracle. It is bad enough when fornicating teenagers behave this way; God forbid that Christian couples should take the same attitude. Children are a blessing. Barrenness is a cross.
Couples thus burdened should pray that the cross be removed and that the Lord provide children for them. They should then open their eyes to the children all around them. But it is much the same for couples with children. Having a biological child or two is not fulfillment of the Law any more than refraining from physical adultery is fulfillment of the Law. We are blessed in fruitfulness and multiplication.
Barrenness hurts terribly. It also hurts to be a parent of a disabled child or to be a parent while you yourself are disabled in some way. These things are crosses. But crosses are not signs of Gods disfavor. They come upon Gods children from His mercy. Sometimes they come as a holy discipline, as chastisement, to keep us close to God, but they always come for His glory. And they almost always come unexplained, like cysts in the ovaries that have no apparent cause. Simply put, they come as part of the chaos and death that is all around us in this fallen world.
Abiding together in grace
We abide in the grace of Christ that forgives the guilt of our sin, even our most grievous, stupid and ugly sin. Crosses, even when they are the direct result of our own actions, are endured in faith.
They teach us to pray, to remain fully dependent upon Gods mercy. They teach us that we cannot make our own way through this world or to the next. They teach us that Christ is the way, that we live not by sight but by faith, that we are to refrain from haughtiness and to embrace humility.
For all of that, crosses are not passively accepted. St. Paul prayed that his thorn be removed. We recognize our crosses as coming from God for our own good, but we name them as evil things, realizing that some of our crosses will only be removed when we are transferred to the Church Triumphant.
God’s created order
And so it is that the Lord created us to marry and to nurture children. Living within the Lords created order does not merit God’s favor, but it does bring rewards for this life. The Law is good. It describes the best and most rewarding way to live. Those who love God and their neighbors are more content, more peaceful, and live fuller and more fulfilling lives. Those couples who dedicate themselves, in part, to the nurture of children also find that their lives are richer and fuller.
The elderly parishioners in our congregations who mourn the loss of their children are on to something. We were created to be fruitful, to multiply, to nurture. We are blessed in so doing, and we do well to search out opportunities for this service.
While it may have been nothing more than a political trope, at face value the idea that it takes a village to raise a child is not far off the mark. We simply need to change village to family and then recognize that the family of God is larger than those who live under our roofs.
This is more than mere duty. Children are good for families, and they are good for the Church. They are, after all, not the exception but the very model of faith. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it (Mark 10:15). Suffer them, then, not only to come unto the Lord but also to come unto us. Receive them for what they are: a blessing, an undeserved gift from the Lord.
> Visit www.childwelfare.gov and click on “Adoption” for nation-wide adoption statistics.
> Click here to read “God’s Foster Child” (April 2011).
> Korea was the largest single-country source of foreign-born adopted children as of 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau).
> As of 2000, 2.1 million adopted children lived in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau).
> Find RSO and social ministries at www.lcms.org/rso
About the Author: The Rev. David H. Petersen is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Ind.
Love Given and Received
by Adriane Dorr
For 10 years of marriage, an LCMS pastor and his wife, Philip and Sara (last name omitted for privacy), prayed that the Lord would bless their family with children, either through birth or by adoption. In November 2010, the Lord answered their prayers, turning a family of two into a family of seven with five daughters from Medellin, Colombia: Yuliza (9), Lorena (7), Valeria (6), Yurledis (5) and Yesenia (4).
Adoption, the couple says, flows naturally from the Lutheran understanding of Gods care for His own children. Soon after their legal adoption, The girls received their heavenly adoption in the waters of Holy Baptism, Philip notes. As Christians, we have all been adopted, and we have a permanent place in the family of God.
It is that adoption that tells the story of every orphan longing for a home, says Philip. Mercy toward orphans means placing them into families, even into our families. Our calling as adopted children of God is to build our families by birth and by adoption as God so wills it.
Parenting, admittedly, has its challenges, but Philip and Sara have already begun to realize the greatest joy of parent-ing five young girls. Its love, both given and received, the couple says. The daily journey of love and Gods work of building our family is wonderful.
Every child deserves a family, and as the people of God, we can be that family, says Sara. As it says in Psalms, God is the Father of the Fatherless . . . [He] sets the solitary in families. By birth and by adoption, God grows the family, and the family of God is enlarged.