My own idea, for what it is worth, is that all sadness which is not either arising from the repentance of a concrete sin and hastening towards concrete amendment or restitution, or else arising from pity and hastening to active assistance, is simply bad; and I think that we all sin by needlessly disobeying the apostolic injunction to “rejoice” as by anything else. Humility, after the first shock, is a cheerful virtue: it is the high-minded unbeliever desperately trying in the teeth of repeated disillusions to retain his “faith in human nature” who is really sad.
From The Problem of Pain
Compiled in Words to Live By
The Problem of Pain. Copyright © 1940, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright restored © 1996 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. Words to Live By: A Guide for the Merely Christian. Copyright © 2007 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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.
Finally and Totally Justified
By John Piper
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.(Romans 8:33)
Paul could have said here, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” and then answered, “No one! We are justified.” That’s true. But that is not what he said. His answer instead is, “God is the one who justifies.”
The emphasis is not on the act but on the Actor.
Why? Because in the world of courts and laws where this language comes from, the acquittal of a judge might be overturned by a higher one.
So what, if a local judge acquits you, when you are guilty, if a governor has the right to bring a charge against you? So what, if a governor acquits you, when you are guilty, if the emperor can bring a charge against you?
Here’s the point: Above God, there are no higher courts. If God is the one who acquits you — declares you righteous in his sight — no one can appeal; no one can claim a technicality; no one can call for a mistrial; no one can look for other counts against you. God’s sentence is final and total.
Hear this, all you who believe on Jesus, and become united to Christ, and show yourself among the elect: God is the one who justifies you. Not a human judge. Not a great prophet. Not an archangel from heaven. But God, the Creator of the world and Owner of all things and Ruler of the universe and every molecule and person in it, God is the one who justifies you.
The point: unshakable security in the face of tremendous suffering. If God is for us, no one can successfully be against us. If God gave his Son for us, he will give us everything that is good for us. If God is the one who justifies us, no charge against us can stand.
But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.
The church in Philadelphia was doing its best to take advantage of the open door God provided for its ministries. They were keeping His Word and not denying His Name. They had kept the Lord’s command to persevere, but sometimes they felt they needed more strength.
Recommended Reading: Isaiah 40:27-31
Do you ever feel that way?
Turn to the Bible’s great verses about strength and claim them. Remember the prayer in Ephesians 3:16, that God “would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.” Remember the promise Moses made in Deuteronomy 33:25: “As your days, so shall your strength be.”
As we are faithful to the Lord—as individuals and as churches—He will always give us the strength we need to bear the burdens He allows and fulfill the tasks He assigns. As we wait upon Him, He renews our strength like that of an eagle.
Ask the Lord today for the strength you need.
“Fear not! I am with these; O be not dismayed, For I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.”
“How Firm a Foundation”
Read through the Bible: Deuteronomy 20 – 22
Radical Effects of the Resurrection
By John Piper
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)
Paul concludes from his hourly danger, and his daily dying, and his fighting with wild beasts, that the life he has chosen in following Jesus is foolish and pitiable if he will not be raised from the dead.
If death were the end of the matter, he says, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32). This doesn’t mean: Let’s all become gluttons and drunkards if there is no resurrection. Drunkards are pitiable too — with or without the resurrection. He means: If there is no resurrection, what makes sense is middle-class moderation to maximize earthly pleasures.
But that is not what Paul chooses. He chooses suffering, because he chooses obedience. Ananias came to Paul after his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road, with the words from the Lord Jesus, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). Paul accepted this suffering as part of his calling.
How could Paul do it? What was the source of this radical and painful obedience? The answer is given in 1 Corinthians 15:20: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” In other words, Christ was raised, and I will be raised with him. Therefore, nothing suffered for Jesus is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
The hope of the resurrection radically changed the way Paul lived. It freed him from materialism and consumerism. It gave him the power to go without comforts and pleasures that many people feel they must have in this life. For example, though he had the right to marry (1 Corinthians 9:5), he renounced that pleasure because he was called to bear so much suffering.
This is the way Jesus said the hope of the resurrection is supposed to change our behavior. For example, he told us to invite to our homes people who cannot pay us back in this life. How are we to be motivated to do this? “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).
This is a radical call for us to look hard at our present lives to see if they are shaped by the hope of the resurrection. Do we make decisions on the basis of gain in this world, or gain in the next? Do we take risks for love’s sake that can only be explained as wise if there is a resurrection?
May God help us to rededicate ourselves for a lifetime of letting the resurrection have its radical effects.
In the Old Testament, God brought judgment against Israel and other nations through catastrophic events. Does this still happen?
Is God still God? Is God still the Lord of history? The difference is this: When God used a catastrophe as an arm of judgment in the Old Testament, we know that his judgment was behind the catastrophic event because we have the benefit of the written revelation telling us that this was God's hand in history. As we live out our lives and see nations suffer catastrophes and calamity strike people, we don't know exactly what the relationship is between those catastrophes and the judgment of God.
Let me construct a biblical parallel here. In the ninth chapter of John's Gospel, the Pharisees raised this question about a man born blind: Was this man born blind because he was a sinner or because his parents were sinners? Jesus' answer: It was neither one of them. He was born blind for another reason altogether. It wasn't done as a matter of course, as an expression of divine judgment. That text and the whole book of Job should restrain us in the case of individuals from ever assuming that a person's tragedy or catastrophe or calamity is a direct act of divine judgment. Now, it may be. We see countless cases in Holy Scripture where God does, in fact, bring calamity upon the house of a person who has been flagrant in disobedience toward God. The Bible is saying that if we are guilty, God may withhold judgment until later, or we may receive temporal judgment in this world right now at his hands. We never know for sure whether the calamity we experience as individuals is a direct act of judgment or not. What is true of individuals is also true of nations.
I remember hearing Billy Graham say in a sermon a few years ago, "If God does not bring judgment upon the United States of America, he's going to have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah." Remember, Jesus warned the cities that heard his message, Chorazin and Bethsaida, that the Day of Judgment would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than it would be for them. While we no longer have prophetic interpretation of God's reasoning for bringing judgment, we do know that no nation is ever exempt from the judgment of God.