Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Just the two of us: So many questions

Is it ever right to question God? Those facing infertility will almost inevitably have many questions arise from their situation. As the opening chapters of Just the two of us emphasised, just as there is no typical couple facing infertility, so there is also no typical response.

Perhaps you can already sense the internal struggle which many who find themselves in this boat go through. When our plans don’t match up with God’s, the process we go through to try and understand can cut to the heart of the way we view ourselves, our lives and how we understand God himself. Questions about providence, guidance, desire, godliness, wisdom, patience and faith may arise, and throughout this process of questioning, many mature Christians will wonder, is it right to even ask? When we first found out the news of our infertility, questions flooded in to my mind. “Why me?” “Who will look after us in our old age?” “If God wants what’s good for me, how does this fit into his goodness?” So many questions! And as Christians, the questioning rightly leads to God.

Is this a bad thing? Is it wrong to question God? How can we approach the questions infertility raises in a godly way? The authors of Just the two of us in chapters 2-4 provide a helpful method: placing our concerns within the broader framework of God’s dealing with humans.

In the midst of suffering it can be difficult to believe that God is good and wants what is good for us. God did create the world good and gave good gifts to humanity, as we see in Genesis 1-2. Children are a part of God’s good creation, and the desire to have children is a godly one. But the suffering we experience now and the good things that we feel we miss out on are a result of the fall (Gen 3). And “if we understand the consequences of the fall in Genesis 3, then we will consider it inevitable that our childlessness will be marked by deep frustration” (p34-35).
In my own frustration I have often tried to lean on my own strength and problem solve my way out of the situation. I like to feel independent and in control. What I have come to realise though, is that in every aspect of my life I need to submit to God. He wants what is best for me and nothing will ever satisy me as much as He will. God gives us life and sustains our life, and he cares to carry us through infertility too. But it can be hard to surrender to him, particularly when we may be feeling confused about our faith and be questioning God’s goodness.

One of the potential difficulties for people experiencing infertility is the high profile couples in the Bible who were infertile. If infertility is mentioned at all, it is usually in the context of God granting them relief from the barren womb to give them the long-hoped for child. This gives the ill-informed many an opportunity to give unhelpful counsel to those struggling with infertility. But it is helpful to see these biblical accounts as descriptive (describing what happened) rather than prescriptive (describing what everyone should expect). God’s purposes in giving children in the Scriptures is often especially in line with his plans for salvation.

To take one example, the bigger picture of Abraham and Sarah’s story was that their infertility was preventing God’s people from coming into being. If Abraham and Sarah did not have a child, there would be no descendants to lead us eventually to Christ. That would mean no salvation for us fallen sinners now. How great it is that God did give them Isaac (Gen 21:1-6)!

In the case of Abraham’s story, it is not to show us that if we have enough faith we will eventually have a child, it is to show us that God is faithful in keeping his promises and bringing about his plan to save humanity.

These chapters are my favourite in the whole book, and gave me much needed perspective on our childlessness. I saw the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah in a new light – a blessing to them, a picture of God’s faithfulness, and a blessing to us now, as ultimately Jesus was born to bring forgiveness and eternal life. “God in his goodness teaches us that the main purpose of Isaac’s birth was not to relieve Abraham and Sarah of their childlessness. It was to provide me today with the possibility of a relationship with God” (p45). God has met our greatest need. What perspective!

At times it feels like my greatest need is to have a longed for child, but in his word God continues to show me that my greatest need is in fact to be made right with him by trusting in his Son, the one who brings new life to us. In Christ, God has given us everything we need.

Again I feel I must stop to highlight that though this is great news (the greatest news in fact!), there is the potential to be dismissive of the grief and pain of infertility. Treated coldly, even the great comfort of God’s redemption can be dismissive of what people go through, and what some will bear for their entire life on this earth. It is helpful to note that even though the emphasis is so often on God giving children, the pain before that joy is also often mentioned.

All too often we want to answer people’s questions with perfect Christian answers about God being in control and that all we need to do is trust him, however these responses can at times seem quite glib. Although true, we need to find the right balance between loving and comforting the couple where they are at, as well as providing spiritual nourishment. This is not to mention the advice such as “God will give you children”, and the numerous other personal stories recounted in the book of advice people have been given that is not at all biblical.

We have many questions and the only proper way to ask them of God is from the perspective of his great salvation through Jesus in which he pours out his love to us and has already blessed us in every way. And yet we stop again to realise that though there is great comfort in knowing every tear will one day be wiped, we must not be callous in the way we comfort those who shed tears in the meantime over godly desires which in God’s wisdom, for this season of life, he chooses not to give.

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