In his new book publishing later this month, Matthew Arbo explores what the Bible says about infertility. The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 2: Christian Discipleship and Human Affection (pp.54-57).
Author: Matthew Arbo
Publish Date: June 30, 2018
Pages: 128 (Paperback)
Christ’s disciples are as variegated and eclectic a crew as you can imagine. He draws his church from all corners of the earth. He saves all types. The relationship he offers us with him is pure in two senses: pure in that he in his perfect righteousness is our atonement and reconciliation with God, and pure also in that discipleship precludes exceptions or conditions. When we attempt to insert an adjective to qualify the kind of disciple we are, we have at once erred. I am not a “white” Christian or a “straight” Christian or even an “American” Christian. I am simply a Christian—by God’s grace—and all other identities are interpreted in light of that reality. I am first a Christian who happens to have other associative roles. All that I am is subject to Christ. The same goes for all Christ’s discipleship, for all who have been crucified with him (Gal. 2:20) and whose lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). We are most who we are because of him, in him.
Do we sometimes place qualifications on discipleship when it comes to children? Unquestionably. We harbor tacit expectations about the exact shape our discipleship should take. These expectations often function as controls we wish to place on our futures, to fix the plot points of our stories and coordinate the specifics of our destiny. We look on our respective horizons and, if we’re honest, we simply want Jesus to come alongside whatever it is we want to do. Things need to go the way we’ve already decided they should go, including a dreamed-of family.
Jesus’s call to discipleship inverts all that. He puts a question to our certainties and pretenses. Isn’t that part of what’s going on when God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac? Abraham relishes the fruit of God’s promise, relaxes in the knowledge of its certainty, until, quite suddenly, everything is threatened; the son of promise is to be slain by his own father (Genesis 22). That story illustrates a great many things, but one of its truths relevant to parenting and childlessness is this: children are received as a gift from God to be reared in faith for God. The command to Abraham is all the evidence we need that Isaac was always God’s child. Abraham’s obedience is all the evidence we need that he grasped the authority and power of God.
Our penchant for placing conditions on how God must use us in the mission he has called us to is one of the more glaring indicators of disbelief in the Christian life. We somehow become committed to a future of our own desiring and construction, rather than to what seems an unpredictable, even risky adventure with Jesus. We think we know better than God what he needs from us. It is a crafty, recurring lie we tell ourselves. As Jesus reminds us in his Sermon, no one can serve two masters (Matt. 6:24).
This same lie is at the root of all the mistaken identities we assume. We don’t just want to possess and achieve certain things for ourselves, we want others to see us possess and achieve certain things for ourselves. Optics are a personal priority. We devise elaborate strategies for protecting and projecting our image. We dread embarrassment and delight in accolades. And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we recognize the superficiality of our antics and perhaps even feel the Spirit’s conviction.
What we’re doing is trying to find our identity in something or someone other than God. Even parenthood can become a form of identity-seeking, possibly with a desire for children exceeding the desire for God. Or, similarly, a parent can turn children into a project of self-fulfillment, and neglect the responsibility to point children to Christ and to help form them in wisdom and love. Parenthood, too, can become an idol.
Whether we have children of our own, discipleship enables us to understand our place in the world. Jesus invites us to life with him, and in following him we accept that he sets the terms of our existence. There’s no such thing as discipleship without surrender. In this surrender, paradoxically, our agency is fully realized. We are Christ’s. We are his children—sons and daughters of the Most High. He is our King. We are employees or employers, teachers or students, buyers or sellers, runners or bikers, elders or deacons, defenders or prosecutors, parents or children as disciples of Jesus Christ. A disciple is how we are those things.
For infertile readers, my purpose in expounding at length on discipleship and human affection is to remind you that following Christ is not merely a matter of acknowledging his authority, but of being content in his authority. Contentment implies zealous excitement for God on the move, a readiness to put oneself at his disposal, a hope in his kingdom at hand. Contentment requires deep, prolonged formation in the Holy Spirit. Contentment is learned by abiding in him and dwelling with him. It is one of his fruits. We learn what it means to have children, or not to have children, as children of the One who made us and redeemed us, and who keeps us to the end.