A Theology of Adoption & Fostering
This is a short piece on the Theology of Adoption and Fostering, written by one of our guest writers, Neil Dawson. Neil is married to Judith, and together they have four children. He leads Grace Community church in Richhill, Co. Armagh and he and his wife have been foster carers to a child for nine months. Neil is on the advisory board to Home for Good, a Christian organisation who seek to mobilise the church to interact in this sphere.
I love reading the Bible, I love talking about the Bible and I even enjoy engaging with people who see things differently than I do in the Bible. We often view things through our own traditions and preferences.
But I want to suggest that there is no area the Bible speaks more clearly on than how we treat and look after the vulnerable and the lonely. In Exodus 22:22-23 we read the instructions given to the people of God, "Do not take advantage of a widow or orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry".
Later in Deuteronomy, we read "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing".
In Deuteronomy 24, further instructions remind God's people “not to deprive the fatherless of justice" and when they are harvesting their fields, leave enough for the fatherless and the widow with the promise that if you do 'the Lord your God will bless you in all the work of your hands”. These may seem like isolated verses but I believe we see its thread woven from beginning to end of our Bibles.
Nowhere is the heart of Father God more on display than when speaking of the stranger, the widow and orphan. Psalm 68:5 states that God is a “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows, this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families”.
We hear His voice, we catch a glimpse of His heart and the stories of adoption are scattered throughout our scriptures. In Exodus 2, we are told the story of how Moses life began. To save his life, his mum placed him in a basket and set him among the reeds in the river Nile. Pharaoh's daughter rescued Moses and eventually adopted him into the royal family.
The story of Esther is an incredible one. Her parents died, and she was adopted by her cousin. She later became queen, and God used her to bring deliverance to the Jewish people. In 2 Samuel 9, King David asks, “Is there anyone left of the house of Saul to who I can show God's kindness?”. He is told about Jonathan's son Mephibosheth, who has been left disabled following an accident. David welcomes him into his home with these beautiful words, “you will always eat at my table”.
Even in the story of Jesus, we again see the example of Joseph, who took Jesus in as his own child and raised him with Mary. Just in case we had missed it through the Old Testament, Jesus came to reveal exactly what the Father is like. It's so amazing to watch how Jesus lived. He seemed most comfortable with those everyone else had rejected, with those that many didn't think were worth the trouble. Jesus was, in element, revealing the nature of the Father. He is the one who tells us He is; Father to the fatherless, the one who insists on calling the “least of these” his brothers and who tells us, the first time we hear his voice, that he will ask did we do the same? (Matthew 25:35-45)
The Good News Jesus came to bring was for everyone. In the society of his day, children were viewed as burdens with little value to community life. So, it's maybe no surprise to read of the disciples rebuking the people for bringing children near to Jesus. As we see on other occasions through the Gospels, Jesus went against expectations and said “Let the children come to me, don't stop them. The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt 19v14).
Towards the end of his life Jesus said “Just as the Father sent me so I am sending you”. When it comes to how we respond to the most vulnerable in our communities, the life of Jesus reminds us we have an opportunity to become good news in our society. It is my strong belief that the church should be leaders in adopting and fostering children into our families. We need to be continually reminded that adoption is our story. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:14-15 “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received the spirit that makes you fearful. Instead you receive God's Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him 'Abba Father'”.
I love the language the great theologian J.I Packer uses,
“If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God's child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all......ADOPTION IS THE HIGHEST PRIVILEGE THAT THE GOSPEL OFFERS!”