Adoption is beautiful.
I have a number of friends going through the process right now – from those waiting for notice that they are going to be parents, to those waiting to receive their child, to those who have recently returned home with their family now numbering three (as opposed to two).
Of course, I personally don’t know anything about adoption. My parents did not adopt me nor did my wife and I adopt our daughter. But following the progress of my friends’ adoption process is entirely absorbing. Seeing their deep love for these children whom they have yet to meet, is stunning. They expend huge amounts of money and time in preparing their dossiers, securing the proper legal forms and permissions, purchasing flights (if the child is far away) and otherwise being put though the emotional wringer. And here’s the real kicker, they do this knowing full well that, even if everything goes as well as possible, these children will try their patience, exasperate them, and maybe even hurt them – emotionally or physically…because they are just like every other child. That’s love.
I want to affirm these friends in the strongest possible way: in undertaking the process of adoption they participate in the work of God. Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood: I don’t want to perpetuate the image of the helpless-child-rescued-by-the-beneficent-saviors. I don’t think that an adopted child owes their parents any more gratitude and appreciation than a biological child. Nevertheless, caring for those who cannot care for themselves is part of what the New Testament author of James called “pure and undefiled religion” (1:27). And, further, adoption is precisely the language the Bible uses for the Christian’s relation to God.
First, according to the apostle Paul, the people of Israel were adopted by God (Roman 9:4). According to some scholars, the decisive act of adoption occurred in the Exodus, when God brought his “firstborn” (Exodus 4:22-23) out of
servitude and into freedom. Importantly, however, this freedom was not one of autonomy but one of theonomy (for those who know their Greek word roots), or better, one of freedom in relationship with God. Of course, this relationship was not always flawless. As the majority of the Old Testament attests, Israel caused God much pain.
Second, Paul states that Christians have received “the Spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:15) which makes us God’s children (Galatians 4:5). This “Spirit of adoption”, which Paul significantly contrasts with a Spirit of slavery in reference to the Exodus, is also one of relation with God to whom Christians can cry out as a child to their father (Romans 8:15). For Paul, adoption by God is a moment of redemption, the promise of new life and renewed relationship with God.
While the analogy between the New Testament adoption imagery and the adoption process my friends are going though is not perfect, there is a significant connection. In both cases adoption brings a child in need into a nurturing relationship. In both cases, adoption brings with it the promise of pain. In both cases, one factor far out-weighs all others: unconditional parental love.