A caution about orphan care and Adoption Theology

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The theology of adoption is a beautiful thing. I’m eternally grateful for it as a child of God. I have been adopted. I was not God's child. Now I am. My inheritance is now with my Father in heaven (Romans 8:15)  He is the author of adoption. He sacrificed so that, through faith, I live and have been made a part of his family.

In many profound ways, adopting our daughters has been a picture of this beautiful truth. 

At the very beginning of our adoption journey I would read books and articles on the theology of adoption and how it should inspire and convict Christians to give homes to orphans. I would engage in conversations that further drove the comparison home and would nod an emphatic “YES!” with each word.

Four years and two finalized adoptions later, I still nod –  just not quite as enthusiastically. Why? Because this theology can only capture part of the story. God himself cannot be fully understood by pondering one aspect of his character or work (or one thousand for that matter). There are many truths about God that need to inform how we view earthly adoption.  I’m now concerned about some practical ramifications for adoptees if we only tell them that their story is a beautiful redemption story -- that it was God’s plan from the beginning of time for them to be with their adoptive family. While these things are true, this is only part of the story. What do our dear ones do with the pain?  The loss?  The desire to find their birth family?  Birth culture? 

So following are three of my thoughts on where we need to clarify and broaden our understanding of adoption as it relates to a gospel theology.

1.  One aspect of the gospel is reconciliation with the Father. Adoptees can experience this fully with respect to our heavenly Father, but  but they may never experience reconciliation with their birth family. We are reconciled to our loving Father through Jesus.  We have been able to return to him. We can now commune with him and walk with him as he has desired from the beginning. All is made right. But adoptees aren’t reconciled to their adopted families! Reconciliation would happen with a return and renewal of their birth family.  Had sin not come into this now dying world, children would be with their birth parents. This was God's created intention.  Thankfully, he is also a merciful God who redeems and sets the lonely in families through adoption. But that precious redemption comes after there has been deep brokenness.  Earthly adoption is a beautiful picture of the gospel but not a complete one.

2Another aspect of the gospel is renewal and regeneration. A new Christian convert makes a clean break with the past. We change and don't go back. All children of God are made to be new creations. We don’t go back to find our “old life” – let alone live and have relationship with old sin habits. While a new adoptive family may provide greater stability and growth than time spent in foster care or during life as an orphan, the relationships built during this time of life may be very important for a child's growth. Adopted children should feel free to discover their past, previous caregivers, and their birth family and culture when and if it is wise to do so. 

3.  We need spiritual adoption because we are sinners. It's not the same with earthly adoption. We need to be clear.  It’s our fault that we need God to adopt us. We sinned. But our adopted children needed us to bring them into our family through no fault of their own.

The church’s passion for adoption needs to be informed by the whole counsel of our loving God.  We shouldn't merely latch on to talking points that deeply moved us in a sermon or a book. Children can suffer if we lack clarity. Do we ever pause and ponder how our conversations in the Christian world may impact the way thousands upon thousands of adopted children process or repress their story? Praise God he gives wisdom to those who seek and ask him. God, help us be balanced and wise as we teach the gospel to adoptee children.