Maternity and the Gospel Part 1: Where is God in Infertility?

Few things are as difficult and mystifying for the Christian as the unpredictable, sorrowful and sometimes joy-filled pursuit of becoming a parent. One does not have to travel far to encounter a couple who has been paralyzed by an empty or failing womb.

Didn’t God say to be fruitful and multiply? Do the Psalms teach that “children are a blessing and inheritance from the Lord” and “happy is the man whose quiver is full of them?” Why are we infertile? Why do pagans rattle off one healthy, unwanted pregnancy after another? Where is the love and justice from a God who delights in new life?

Understandably, many struggle to understand a God Who loves and also allows infertility. There is a silent and expanding fellowship of scarred couples who mourn the loss or possibility of conceiving a baby. Those without Christ have no reference point to make sense of the pain; others know Jesus and love His gospel, yet soldier on in confusion. In this, one of the darkest corners of pursuing parenthood, God is alive, aware and at work.

Some of the worst obstacles in these painful roads are misconceptions. Even if not articulated, three in particular surface in the infertility discussion. The first: I’ve done something wrong and God is withholding a baby from me. The second: I’ve been good…doesn’t God owe me a baby? The third: This has been a struggle for many women in the Bible who eventually bore children; God will grant me this good desire if I pray enough. These ideas simultaneously give false hope and implant bitterness. Why? None are biblical. Peace and understanding through infertility come as they do in every other unsettling experience: filtering life through God’s character and truth. As the One who fully understands the depths of barrenness and the intense desire for children, only He can supply the kind and amount of peace needed.

The first idea (God is punishing me) is a common assumption when it appears God is withholding something good. Because many Christians believe that God’s favor and blessing are gained with good deeds, they also believe sins earn punishment. This is the Christianized version of Karma or “what goes around comes around.” Scripture assures Christians this is not true. It is written in Psalms 103:10, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” The sins of the redeemed were paid for on the cross; for God to require further payment means Jesus’ death was not enough. Sometimes sinful choices have consequences: you indulge in too much alcohol, drive and wreck your vehicle, leaving you paralyzed. Did God do that? No, you did. You experienced sin’s consequences, but not every hardship can be traced to your sin. Tsunamis claim whole communities because creation is under sin’s curse; children get cancer and die because disease is part of a fallen world. God does not wield infertility as chastisement.

Just as sins do not earn the Christian punishment, good deeds do not earn blessings (like babies). Blessings are gifts, not payments. Many believe they can develop a formula for retrieving good things from God. This message comes from pulpits, books and trusted friends. Our culture rewards good work with a promotion, good behavior with candy…why would God be different? Our high, entitled view of ourselves and salvation encourages this. A raw and difficult truth: if God never granted another good thing in our favor, He’s done more than enough for us on the cross. He owes us nothing yet freely offers salvation to all and graciously gives additional gifts. Truly, none of us deserves the blessing of a baby.

Faulty Bible reading and experience fuel the third misconception (the Bible teaches that God blesses barren women who pray). Stories of God relieving a biblical figure of her infertility are not the promised pattern for Christians. The Bible reveals truths about God, not recipes for living. Too often, we choose passages that outline God blessing individuals and emulate them but overlook figures who suffered greatly for His sake with no earthly reward. The record of barren women conceiving teaches of a loving and generous Creator, fully in charge of the whole world and every womb, but whose generosity is His business. These passages are not a contract, binding Him to grant children.

The pain of infertility is great, but more is at stake in life than our pain. Perhaps God is more glorified in the life of a childless couple who choose to serve Him in ways parents cannot. Maybe the lost need to see a reaction to infertility that sings of the gospel rather than of personal pity. If we live only with this life in view, barrenness will surely destroy us. If we live for God’s kingdom work, knowing it’s about Him and not our happiness, infertility hasn’t the power to destroy anything.

After such tough truth, we certainly hunger for great hope and compassion. Proverbs 13:12 teaches: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” This text beautifully displays God’s identification with us. He knows the pain of unfulfilled hopes. He is not removed from the hurt of His children as they pursue parenthood to no avail…He hurts with them. He hears and desires their prayers. He remains the inexhaustible source of wisdom, comfort and provision, worthy of our trust and able to deliver.

Do we pray for children? Yes. Do we allow it to consume our lives, resting not until we hold a baby? No. Are we okay if God does not grant it? If not, we are worshiping children and not the King.

-Emily

(image credit)

6 thoughts on “Maternity and the Gospel Part 1: Where is God in Infertility?

  1. If someone dying of lung disease prays for healing or peace and does not receive it, are they making an idol out of their own life if they are not “okay” with that? Grief is real. It’s a God-given emotion that he does not mean for us to “stuff” for his greater glory.

    This post is sadly very hurtful to Christians facing infertility. If you have not truly experienced the depth of despair and crisis of faith that infertility can bring, please, have mercy and don’t write about it. This fatalistic view of “well, God must not mean for me to have children so I should just move on” is not biblical. The biblical truth is that he has made a promise to all mankind that we will participate in his creation by adding to it. This is not only a promise, but a command.

    He also puts desires into our hearts, and he wants us to be passionate about those desires. God isn’t interested in lukewarm discipleship in the name of “his greater glory.” His greater glory is achieved when we put our desires into his hands and passionately follow his guidance in order to bring them to fruition.

    Why do you think the dozens of infertile women in the Bible are mentioned? They are there to show us God’s faithfulness to those who truly seek him. They also demonstrate what Christian endurance is supposed to look like. THAT is how we bring glory to God. Oh–and we have no way of knowing if their infertility was due to a problem in Sarah or Abraham, Isaac or Rebekah. Yet the burden is given to the woman to carry. What a clear example of how much responsibility God gives to women to move mountains if necessary for their children’s sake, whether born or unborn.

    Glib interpretation of Scripture aimed at shaming those who are suffering and seeking is counter-productive and can actually drive someone who is confused and hurting into despair. I am already praying for others who have read this post and been discouraged by it.

    • This is a sensitive issue for you. I will answer your specific inquiries and then summarize by addressing your three biggest hurdles: your view of God, your view of the Bible vs. experience and your theology of children.

      “If someone dying of lung disease prays for healing or peace and does not receive it, are they making an idol out of their own life if they are not ‘okay’ with that?”

      Excellent question, answered by Paul:

      1 Thessalonians 4:13 “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”

      Christian grief must look different than worldly grief. Many Christians make an idol out of this life by clinging to it relentlessly when in reality, they are supposed to be citizens of another home (Philippians 3:20) and long for that home. We do not cease to pray for healing, but we must understand that physical death is inevitable and if we cannot say with Paul, “Oh death, where is your sting? (1 Cor. 15:55),” and “to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21),” then we are making an idol out of life.

      “Grief is real. It’s a God-given emotion that he does not mean for us to “stuff” for his greater glory.”

      So our grief is not for God’s glory? Where is that in the Bible? Jesus and His disciples disagreed with you. When He came upon a blind man, His disciples asked Him what a man did to deserve blindness. Jesus said:

      John 9:3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

      After being beaten because they preached the gospel, this is how the disciples responded:

      Acts 5:41 “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

      Clearly, our grief, ailments, disabilities, struggles and sicknesses are for God’s glory. I address the reality of grief not being lost on God in the final paragraphs; it’s also mentioned extensively in my subsequent post, Maternity and the Gospel part 2.

      “If you have not truly experienced the depth of despair and crisis of faith that infertility can bring, please, have mercy and don’t write about it.”

      Be careful when presuming what other people have been through. Our first and only daughter died in the womb and I delivered her stillborn. I never claimed infertility wasn’t a crisis of faith…of course it is. Yet, my experience does not qualify me more or less to interpret God’s word (which is why I don’t mention our loss in the blog). That’s like saying only those who have been alcoholics can teach from Scripture about the dangers of alcoholism.

      “This fatalistic view of “well, God must not mean for me to have children so I should just move on” is not biblical. The biblical truth is that he has made a promise to all mankind that we will participate in his creation by adding to it. This is not only a promise, but a command.”

      Where is this “biblical truth” you speak of? Children are gifts and a blessing (Psalm 127:3-5), not commanded promises. First, it can’t be both (God needn’t command us to that which He promises). If you’re referring to Genesis 1:28, God was talking to Adam and Eve, not to you and me. He also told them to name the animals…was that for us too? At this point, only God had been creating things. He is passing the baton to this couple and letting them know they are now the ones physically capable and responsible for producing children. From this point forward, children will be produced not because God “commanded” it, but because that’s what happens when people have sex (and no one seems to need a command to do that). Non-Christians have kids all the time and it isn’t because they believe God commanded them to. If it is a command for all of us, you are claiming every person who has not parented a biological child is in sin. Just because God commands biblical figures to do things doesn’t mean we are “commanded” to (parting the Red sea, building an ark, walking on water, etc).

      A promise too? What do you say to the millions of women who can’t, don’t and never will have biological children (and we know barren and infertile women exist – Job 21:24)? Is God reneging on His promise? If He is a God who takes back promises, He’s not a very good God and we can’t trust anything He says. Wouldn’t this promise be for all peoples in all times in all cultures? If no, how do we know who it’s for?

      Since marriage is not a command or promise in God’s economy (1 Corinthians 7), obviously children are not either. To use the Bible as a point of departure for a good desire turned promise is using God’s word for your own ends and paints false pictures of God’s character. Reproduction is neither a promise nor command. Opening and closing the womb is no one’s business but God’s, as evidenced in these verses (to name a few): Genesis 29:31, Genesis 30:2, Exodus 23:26, 1 Samuel 1:5, Psalm 128:3.

      “He also puts desires into our hearts, and he wants us to be passionate about those desires.”

      Really? Where is this in the Bible? It sounds like you’re saying we should be more passionate about what we want than about the gospel. Consider Scripture’s teaching on the heart:

      Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”

      Genesis 6:5 “The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”

      Ecclesiastes 8:11 “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.”

      Are you ready to trust your sinful heart and say that God Himself put those every desire there? Is every desire we have pleasing to Him? How can we tell sinful ones for God-given ones? What happens when we let good desires become idols (like children)? Does God exist to grant us everything our heart desires? I would encourage you to read another post of mine, “Desires of our Hearts: Is God Santa?” (deals with Ps. 37:4, which I predict is where you might be drawing this false idea).

      “His greater glory is achieved when we put our desires into his hands and passionately follow his guidance in order to bring them to fruition.”

      Once again, where are you getting these ideas from Scripture? If God gets “greater glory” when we get what we want, what happens when you don’t get what you want? Is God less God? Less faithful? If this is how God gets “greater glory,” doesn’t if follow that all Christians should always get every desire? Consider what the Spirit revealed to Paul:

      2 Corinthians 12:8-9 “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

      Here, we see that God allows us troubles and problems so His power can be seen. Paul’s desire was to be relieved, but the Lord said no because His glory was greater if Paul endured the trial. Paul, one of the greatest heroes of the faith, did not throw a fit and demand his way, but exhorted others to this view of hardship.

      “Why do you think the dozens of infertile women in the Bible are mentioned? They are there to show us God’s faithfulness to those who truly seek him. They also demonstrate what Christian endurance is supposed to look like. THAT is how we bring glory to God.”

      Again, where do you find any of this in the Bible? No one truly sought God the Father more than Jesus (the picture of endurance); when He prayed for the cup to pass from Him in Gethsemane, God did not grant it, yet no one ever brought more glory to God than His Son. According to your logic, women who have no children just aren’t seeking God enough, yet non-Christians who never seek the Lord have tons of kids. You bring up Abraham and Sarai: do they fit with your claim? I can’t think of two people who did less seeking of the Lord in this area. They were seeking a child. Neither really believed it would happen so they tried to make it a reality by adultery. Sarai then laughed in the face of God when He promised it but He gave a child anyway. Do you recommend seeking God by mocking Him? The purpose of God granting Abraham offspring was so that ‘all the nations of the earth might be blessed’ (Genesis 12:3) through the Savior who would come from Abraham’s blood line. To answer your initial question (why do I think dozens of infertile women are mentioned in the Bible): so God can make a big deal about Himself, not grant us a temporary blessing. You are right on this point: our endurance does bring glory to God, but endurance is a mark of Christians (Matthew 24:13). Simply because we are enduring hardship does not mean our hardship will be alleviated or rewarded in this life. Our reward for endurance is in heaven (Phil. 3:14, Romans 8:18, 2 Cor. 4:17, etc.)

      “Glib interpretation of Scripture aimed at shaming those who are suffering and seeking is counter-productive and can actually drive someone who is confused and hurting into despair.”

      Please tell me what Scriptures I have “glibly” interpreted…you aren’t very specific. Further, you mention no Scripture to back up your case. How would you interpret these verses?

      Isaiah 54:1 “Sing o Barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who never were in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman that of her who has a husband,’ says the Lord.”

      Psalm 113:9 “He settles the childless woman in her home like a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord.”

      I never condemn anyone for their stage of dealing with infertility (again, the last two paragraphs); only condemnation brings shame. To come away shamed and in despair is to not understand God’s grace or what He’s accomplished through Jesus. Conviction and anger are different than shame and someone could easily feel those. We are irresponsible Christians if we do not acknowledge and deal with the reality of painful, difficult living. Do you really believe Christians are free from confusion, hurt, pain, anguish and loss? Talk to Job, Jim Elliott or Adoniram Judson about their suffering and the call of God. To pretend God does not allow us to walk through these things is naïve (Romans 8 & 9).

      View of God: You indicate God exists to serve us and our desires and is most glorified when we get stuff we’ve been asking for. This is not biblical. God never tells us to pray for things so that He can get glory; He tells us to preach the gospel. Christianity does not promise children, good jobs or long life; it does promise a life of trials (Acts 14:22) but a not without a High Priest who tore the veil, giving us access to the One who provides all the comfort, hope, peace and joy we need.

      Bible vs. Experience: In my response to you, the broken record is this: where is the Scripture to support your way of thinking? Your comments are simply a conglomeration of your own thoughts, feelings and experience, adding up to a worldly view of God. It does not appear the Bible is your authority. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have a child yet; it wouldn’t matter if I had eight. My understanding of infertility, wealth, war and marriage come from the Bible, regardless of what I’ve experienced. If one claims to be a Christian, their understanding of God and the world must come from the Bible or else they will be deceived and deceive others.

      Theology of Children:
      It seems like you are placing the biological family above the heavenly family, something Jesus staunchly warned many of His disciples and listeners about:

      Matthew 10:37 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

      Matthew 12:47-49 “But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!”

      Mark 10:28-30 “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

      The biological family is secondary to our heavenly family. Children are not a command or promise, but a gift and blessing (Psalm 127:3-5). God does not will that all parent biological children. He does will that we nurture any children within our sphere of influence with His love and gospel, whether as aunts, Sunday school teachers, babysitters or social workers. My wife and mommy duties (praying I have them) will eventually cease because I, this earth and all my family will cease as well, but my home in heaven with my eternal family will never cease! That is the family we live and work in view of.

      In closing, consider these passages:

      Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways
      and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

      Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25 “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”

      Our view of God must come from the Bible and nowhere else. Therefore, we must have a high view of the Bible. If it is not our authority for all of life, we are stuck with a mishmash of experience, pop psychology and warm-fuzzy ideas that do not lead to any truth or joy. If our view of God comes from the Bible and we sift all of life through it, things like infertility will be more clearly understood even if they remain difficult. We are finite creatures and the verses above attest that we will not perfectly understand the ways of the Lord and we will be wrong even when it feels we are right. In the midst of this, He is completely trustworthy and the ultimate treasure our hearts are longing for.

      • I know this is years removed, but I wonder if the author of this post has suffered from infertility or the death of a child. And what is your explanation for Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart. I realize wallowing in self pity is not God glorifying, but I don’t see how smacking someone around with the Bible who is clearly struggling…especially if you have never experienced this pain…brings glory to God.

  2. This was so encouraging to me and my husband during our journey through infertility. I have read it and re-read it so many times. Thank you Emily!

  3. Hi Emily,

    Just wanted to send some encouragement your way. Thanks for sharing the truth of our Father with the grace of our Lord. Indeed the Spirit abides in us and testifies of the work of the gospel in our lives. This piece demonstrates that.

    – JV

  4. My soul doth magnify the Lord! Emily you are an amazing teacher of the Word of God!!! You probably don’t even use this blog anymore but six years later it is still drawing and ministering. Talk about rightly dividing the word of truth! I think you may be underestimating the power that your personal story holds for other barren women. I was just as blessed reading your comments asection I was the entry itself. Women who have lived infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss are a marginalized group. We often struggle with shame and anger that causes us to self-isolate and this is further reinforced by well meaning individuals, Christian and non-Christian alike, who heap barbed insults, put-downs, and grandiose philosophies about why this is happening on our heads that just makes us feel at fault. As someone who has walked every stage of grief regarding this issue and may yet do so again, let me say that I think most women who need to hear this won’t receive it. I certainly wouldn’t have been in a position to even a few months ago. It truly takes a renewed mind, spiritual eyes for your life and this world, and the peace of God to receive this Word with joy. Thank you for your wisdom. May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face to shine upon you.

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