But more often, I hear people talking theologically about adoption, highlighting it as the act that most directly mirrors God's actions toward us. I don't hear many guilt trips or apocalyptic warnings. Instead, I hear echoes of one of J. I. Packer's comments in Knowing God: "Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption."A longer article in Christianity Today by Russell Moore, author of Adopted for Life, furthers that theological argument:
The gospel of adoption challenges us, first of all, to recognize ourselves as spiritual orphans. The gospel compels us to see our fallen universe—and our own egocentric kingdoms therein—as not the way it's supposed to be.No one will be surprised that I'm uncomfortable with this representation of adoption. I don't find it theologically sound -- an analogy to adoption is not an adjuration to adopt. And James 1:27 says we should care for widows and orphans -- and there are lots of ways to care for orphans without adopting them. And if we're going to equate care with adoption, then I want churches to start arranging marriages for widows, too! I also worry that the theology of adoption paints adoption as a way to "save" children, which I think is completely corrosive to adopted children's self esteem, dignity, identity. I also worry that when the focus is on saving children, the requirements of ethical adoption weaken for those with an ends-justify-means mentality.
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The Abba cry of our adoption defines who we are and what family we belong to. That's why Scripture's witness to the doctrine of adoption has everything to do with church unity, away from the divisions of Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, rich and poor (Gal. 3:28).
I recently ran across a brilliant blog post at My Fascinating Life, by an adoptive mom, that sums up beautifully some problems with equating adoption by God and adoption by mortals -- and does so from a Christian perspective:
Having adopted two tiny humans, I have become so much more aware of what God did when he adopted me - not because of the similarities, but because of the differences. . . .I hope you'll go read the whole thing. It's a nice reminder of the hubris of humans who want to be closer to God by mistakenly equating our human behavior to his.
Here are five reasons that I think overdoing the links between human adoption and divine adoption can be confusing - for us, our children, the church, and the rest of the world.
1) When God adopted me, he adopted someone who is totally unlike himself.
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2) When God adopted me, my adoption was a totally good thing.
No grief, no pain, just rejoicing. Out of darkness, into light. How could I not be grateful and glad?
I'm hoping that I don't need to explain how this is different from our children's human experience of adoption. . . .
3) When God adopted me, I needed to be adopted because of my own sin.
All too often, adoption is surrounded by human sin. . . . But it's pretty much never because of anything the child themselves has done. . . .
4) When God adopted me, there was no other way that I could have been saved.
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5) When God adopted me, I was also born again.
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Let's challenge ourselves - as Christian individuals, and as a Christian adoption community, to think hard about the way we talk about adoption. Let's never use Christian adoption as an excuse to be lazy about adoption ethics. Let's celebrate our families, but not confuse ourselves with God.