Friday, October 3, 2014

Eve's Curse: A Biblical Look at Miscarriage and Infertility


Earlier this year, my husband and I were expecting our first child and went through the pain of having a miscarriage at nine weeks. For more on the first few months of dealing with miscarriage, see this post. After having a miscarriage or struggling with infertility, there are so many questions that surface and resurface  while dealing with the emotional, physical, and mental battles that go along with these issues.

Questions like, "Why has this happened to me?"
"Why do bad things happen to good people?"
And for Christians, the questions go much deeper, “How could a God who loves me take away something that I love so much?"
"Is God punishing me?"
"How could God’s plan include me losing a child, or facing a childless future?"
And then a particular one that I struggled with, "I know that God wants me to surrender everything to Him, that He has given and so He can take away, but what else does He want me to give up?" 

When you google verses about infertility or miscarriage, you will get pages of flowery promises that all things will work together for good, and you will have a child as promised, and your descendents will number more than the stars in the sky. If these verses are meant to comfort the hurting woman, they are failing miserably because it only makes us question more why that isn't coming true in our own lives. As always when a situation is very personal and we are emotionally invested, we are only seeing one side of the story. It is time to look at the Bible for answers, yes, but not just the parts that we want to be true for us, but the entire redemptive story as a whole.

Here is my disclaimer- I am not a Bible scholar. I did not go to seminary. I do not know what the Greek word means. I have a Bible, and I read it, asking God for discernment to see what perspective it has to offer us because it is God's Word, and it is always true and relevant. I'm in the same place you are. That said, let's dive in!

Why do bad things happen to good people?
To begin, let's admit that our definition of good and bad is relative. We look at the evil in the world and anything better than that is considered good. Unfortunately for us, the only perspective that matters is God's. He looks at His own perfection and anything that does not match it in every way is sinful. "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23) "All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Rom. 3:12). I will not be so audacious to claim that I am a “good” person. I am a sinful person who has been forgiven by God’s grace. SInce I did nothing to deserve this grace, I can cannot demand anything of God based on my “goodness”.

How could God's plan include me losing a child or facing a childless future?
Setting the Scene from the Beginning
With that in mind, let's reset our perspectives to focus not on ourselves, but on God, whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and whose ways are higher than our ways (Is. 55:9). To get the right idea about any issue that we face, we have to have a correct view of God, His character, and His intentions for us as human beings. God created Adam and Eve to live in perfect harmony with Him in the Garden of Eden. The Garden was a home for them that was free of sin, death, jealousy, pain, pride, illness, and tears. It was a place of perfect communion with the Creator of the universe and his creation. THIS was the plan- THIS is what God wanted to share with us forever. 

However, humans have free will, and Adam and Eve sinned by breaking the one rule that God had given them, not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. By eating the fruit, they choose a path different from what God had planned and sin entered the picture. All sin comes with consequences, because God is just (I would have Him no other way!). The specific consequence for Eve’s sin demonstrates, in my opinion, one of the greatest struggles that she will have to face as a woman.
Genesis 3:16, "To the woman he [God] said, "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

The second part of the curse is that her desire will be for her husband (a discussion for another day). But the first part of the curse is that she will have pain in childbirth. Growing up I always believed this to be a physical pain in the actual birthing process, but I would like to assert that this curse is a much more comprehensive pain that every woman experiences. This pain could take the form of frustration over not being able to have children, the grief of losing a child before it can be born, the burden that drives some women to take the life of their children prematurely in the womb, or the weight of responsibility that comes with actually giving birth to another human being that is solely in your care. As all mothers know, the pain does not end with birth but continues as they grow- pain when they hurt, pain when they choose not to follow God, pain when they reject you. The pain of childbirth is only one form of this curse. 

The one thing that is unique to women, the ability to procreate, comes with an amazing bond between mother and child, a love that transcends any other kind of love, but now it comes at a price. This love for your child, and this desire for them, brings pain no matter what the circumstances that surround the conception, pregnancy, birth, and beyond. We have been cursed as a result of our own sin, and this is our burden to bear as women. God did not do this to us, and this was NOT His plan. Satan gave us a temptation, and we traded God's plan for our own. Romans 6:23a says, "For the wages of sin is death." And God even warned Adam and Eve that if they ate from the tree they would surely die. We have all chosen sin, and we have been dying ever since. We chose death.

How can a God who loves me deprive me of something that would make me so happy?
I came across a verse months after I thought I had fully processed and “accepted” the miscarriage that said:
Exodus 23 24-26  Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces. Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.

I just "happened" to run across these verses in my daily Bible reading. I stopped in my tracks, reread it, and reread it again. And then I found a similar passage in Deuteronomy 7:14, "You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor will any of your livestock be without young." What does it mean? I am a Christian, a follower of His word, so am I taking this promise out of context to want to grab hold of it and show it to God expecting to get my way? 

First of all, yes I was taking it out of context, God is speaking to the people of Israel at a particular time in history which does not apply to me on either count (I'm not an Israelite and I was not alive thousands of years ago). And secondly, as I began to look closer at the verses I noticed that the condition for this promise was that the people follow God exclusively and not follow idols.  I immediately consoled myself that I was not worshiping any idol besides God! 

However, further thought made me realize that this was not the case. I am not worshiping just one idol, but many! Hobbies, work, family, time consuming things like social media and other time-wasters, but the most consistent and recent idol of all...having a baby. It consumes more of my thought than Christ does on any given day.  So to address the question of whether a God who loves me would deprive me of something I love, the Bible makes it clear that God is a jealous God with one requirement, that He be first (Exo. 4:14). Always. Of course He should not give me the very idol that I am so fervently seeking to replace Him with, and nor should He! That wouldn't be love, but enabling. I have straightening of priorities to do if I am to be the mother that Christ would desire me to be. I am not there yet! I do not want a God who feeds my addictions or spoils me into an inability to focus on His will.

Is God punishing me?
Even in light of this thought, no, God is not punishing you. Punishment is given out of anger, and consequences are given out of love, in the same way that a parent trains a child in the way that they should go. I do not think that my miscarriage was a direct result of the idols in my life, but it does prove a point. You see, our perspective has been a selfish one all along, looking to our own interests instead of God's. And because of that, God can use these broken times in our lives to rebuild us into followers that know and understand Him more clearly. He can fix our eyes on Him (Heb. 12:2).

Whose fault is it?
One of my first thoughts after having a miscarriage was that this was not, and could not be my fault. I had done everything right, I had followed the letter of the law when it came to "what  to expect when you’re expecting" and every other piece of literature I could get my hands on. I was certainly not at fault, and couldn't handle the idea of any guilt on top of the grief I was already processing. However, looking at the story of Adam and Eve, it is pretty clear that all consequences in life that are painful are a result of sin. It may not be a direct result, for example, doing something to intentionally harm the baby, but it is indirectly all a consequence of sin- because before sin, none of this pain existed. It is our fault. God is not punishing us, but it is a consequence of our actions as a human race.

Biblical Examples
There are many situations in the Old Testament where infertility and miscarriage are a direct result of a sin that someone committed.

Here are just a few of those examples:
2 Samuel 6- Michal, the wife of King David, despises and rebukes him for dancing before the Lord, and is never able to have children as a result
Genesis 20- Abraham lies to King Abimilech that his wife Sarah is his sister, and when the King takes Sarah as his wife, every woman in his household is struck with infertility until Sarah is returned to Abraham

But if we continue to look at Biblical examples of infertility, we see many women who struggled with infertility, some for decades, and then were able to give birth, and almost always to extraordinary characters who play major roles in history.

A few examples include:
Genesis 15-21- Sarah, the wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac, the patriarchs of God chosen nation of Israel, was infertile until she was 90 years old
Genesis 25- Rebecca, Isaac's wife and the next generation of patriarchs, was infertile for 20 years, but eventually gave birth to twins, Jacob and Esau
Genesis 30- Rachel, the wife of Jacob and third generation of the patriarchs also struggles with infertility while watching Jacob's other wife bear son after son, she eventually gives birth to Joseph and Benjamin
Judges 13-14- Samson's mother, unnamed in the Bible, struggles with infertility for years before being visited by an angel and given instructions for raising her son, the strongest man who will ever live
I Samuel 1- Hannah, the mother of Samuel, dedicated her son to the Lord after years of infertility, and he became a prophet for the people of Israel
Luke 1- Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist in her old age even though she was barren for many years

As you can see, there are many Biblical examples of women of faith, who follow God wholeheartedly, and still struggle with infertility and miscarriage. However, it is amazing to me to look at the ending of these particular stories, because they always result in being a part of a much larger and more fulfilling plan. Hear this clearly: having a child in the end was not what made their lives more fulfilling, it was the process of faith and releasing their hopes and dreams to the Lord for Him to do His will with, no matter what the end result. You see, tragedy and triumph go together. When we overcome the pain with the love of Christ, when we work through the grief knowing that God will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death to the other side (Ps. 23:4), there is a promise for those who are faithful. This promise is not to make our dreams come true as we so often want to believe, it is not for us to get our way, and it is not for us to be happy. 

God’s Work of Reconciliation
In light of the scripture, we wonder then, is here no hope for Eve? Has her sin cast her and our sin cast us out of ever having the possibility of having children? Are we doomed to this cursed fate forever? Just as in every story, there is a turning point! A point at which all odds seem bent towards destruction, but that is not the end. Jesus is our turning point. Even after we chose sin, God loved us so much that He did not leave us to die in our sins (1 John 1:9). Instead He made a way for us to be restored to Him. 

Throughout history, death and life are closely knit together and are interrelated. Jesus’ death and life overthrew the former system of the power of sin and death. There is a new theme in scripture, and that is that Christ is making all things new (Rev. 21:5). He restores our soul (Ps. 23:3). He is seeking and saving what was lost (Luke 19:10). He is in the act of reconciling all things to Himself (Col. 1:20). This restorative, reconciliatory work will not be complete until we are united with Him in an earthly death, which results in a new, eternal life for those who follow Him and have called on His name (John 1:12). However, we do see the beginnings of this reconciliation taking place on earth through the demonstration of His grace. Children are born, lives are saved, women do experience the joy of conceiving and giving birth, and every time that happens, it is an extension of God’s grace to us, an undeserving people. You see, we have had the wrong perspective all along- it is not God who keeps us from having children, it is God who gives us the opportunity.

This is where our promises from God come in! The promise is that God loves us unconditionally (Rom. 8:38-39), He will never leave or forsake us (Deut. 31:6), He has a plan for us that has hope for our future (Jer. 29:11), He will give us peace through the journey (Phil. 4:7), and He will restore our souls (Ps. 23:3). Once we are able to look at the situation with faith, not a faith that believes that our will will come to pass, but a faith that trusts that God’s will for us is greater for His Kingdom (not ours) then we will receive His peace and have the opportunity to joyfully take part in what He is doing.  In this life we are not promised health and wealth, but instead we are promised hardship and sacrifice (John 16:33). God is not punishing you, it is a result of our sin. But at the same time, He will use even the consequences of sin to work together for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28), even when that good may not take the form we want it to.

My Confession
When people would find out about the miscarriage, they would usually say “I’m sorry that happened.” In the back of my mind I would think, but there is nothing to be sorry for. You didn't do anything. I didn't do anything. It just happened. But I have a different approach now. I do have things to be sorry for, attitudes that I need to confess. I need to be careful that I approach this issue with God’s perspective and a correct view of Him. I encourage you to take down the blame, doubt, guilt, shame, pride, and grief that you are working through for a moment so that you can be real and authentic with God. It is time for me to confess. 

I am sorry that I have put other things before you, God. I confess that I have put my own will above Your will at the risk of Your kingdom. I am sorry that I have questioned your love, that I have been tempted to give blame to you when the true sinner is myself, and for not recognizing that the ultimate blame is on Satan for his temptation in the garden. Satan is so tricky to deceive us into blaming You for his handiwork! I confess that I have wanted my great faith and my own dreams to be an answer and solution to the problem, instead of having faith in You and Your will, that You are working all things together for good. I lift up the cursed women around the world and ask that You would restore our souls. We humble ourselves and and submit to Your will. Forgive us. Give us patience. Give us strength. Give us a renewed mind and spirit. But above all else, give us a desire for You first and foremost. For You are making all things new!