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The Christadelphian | May 2013

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial One event happens
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning The tender mercy of our God | Terry Fearn
  • The Prophecy of Nahum 05 – “The whoredoms of the wellfavoured harlot” | Mark Allfree
  • “The LORD is my shepherd” 02 – Psalm 23: Prophecy | Peter Heavyside
  • 100 years ago
  • For better, for worse … 05 – Hannah & Elkanah | Mark Vincent
  • To my dear young sisters … | Laura Morgan
  • Medical ethics and the Bible 02 – Infertility & medical intervention to aid conception | Simon Parsons
  • Israel's Geography 05 – Caves & dens of the earth | Nathan Kitchen
  • Faith Alive! Fighting Giants | Michael Movassaghi
  • Readers’ Q&A
  • Book review In the Image of God | Andrew Bramhill
  • Signs of the times Power struggles in the Middle East | John Morris
  • Israel and their land More rockets from Gaza
  • Epilogue The blessing of Shem | Irene Jerome
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Medical ethics & the Bible

02 – Infertility & medical intervention to aid conception

MOST couples are able to have a child, with peak fertility occurring when the female is around 20 years of age and gradually declining thereafter. However, about one in six couples is infertile – though there is plenty of help that the medical profession can offer which if pursued will allow many infertile couples to conceive and have children. As a God-fearing community should we make use of medical advances to have the children we desire or should we accept the childless state as God’s will and not interfere with nature?

The desire for children

The wish to have children with our partner “in the Lord” is both natural and commendable. We are a community that puts a lot of emphasis on the family and raising our children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Most childless couples have the same desire for children as any other couple but are unable to have any for some physical reason. This desire becomes ever stronger as time passes, especially when their friends and peers are having children and completing their families. Every month the couple is trying for a child and hopes become raised, only to end in disappointment. They may feel like they are failing as a couple and may wonder who is ‘to blame’. Most couples would prefer to keep such a problem private or confide only in close friends or family. This may result in others asking when they are going to start a family and receiving answers which might suggest that the couple aren’t interested in having children. Such enquiries can turn into advice that they really should have children ‘before it’s too late’ which, though well intentioned, can be insensitive and upsetting for the couple involved.

As part of a wide ecclesial family, we may attend annual events such as a particular fraternal or Bible school. These are great opportunities for us to catch up with people we might only see once a year. We celebrate with these brethren and sisters that their family is growing in number and in stature and are pleased to hear how they have reached various milestones and to look at photographs. For the childless couple, however, it is just a reminder of how everyone has changed except for them. They still have no children, no photographs to show and no contribution to the excited conversations about childhood development and progress. For them, our family-based community may be a community in which they feel they do not really fit. The scenarios above are those which have been described fairly frequently during the workshops on this subject and in other articles written by those brethren and sisters affected by infertility (see April page 167).

For the one in six couples who are having trouble conceiving, what should they do? Of course, they will make it a matter of earnest prayer. Of course, they should discuss it together and support each other through this trial. But should they seek medical help because it may be a simple problem that can be easily corrected? Or might it be that they will find out that they will never be able to conceive naturally and can then come to terms with this, or move on to other methods of conception? Having said that, if it is a problem with one partner only (e.g. the man doesn’t produce viable sperm) then might there be a tendency for that person to feel guilty or even for the other to lay blame? Tests may involve minor operations that carry small risks particularly for the female. Once the couple has started on the road of medical intervention, how far do they go and when do they stop? Figure 1 shows different interventions that are possible from ‘no intervention’ right up to so-called ‘designer babies’. Where would you draw the line?

Examples from scripture

We should always seek guidance from the Bible. Childlessness or barrenness is a common theme in scripture. We should firstly learn the lessons that nothing is impossible for God, even if the physicians tell us it is. John the Baptist is an example of such a child.

“And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:36-37)

Abraham and Sarah are the first, and maybe best known, example of a childless couple in scripture and yet God’s promises to Abraham were all dependent on an heir being born. What did this faithful couple do? Sarah tried to take matters into her own hands by giving her handmaid as a surrogate mother, but Hagar’s son Ishmael was not to be the promised seed, to whom Sarah herself ultimately, and in God’s own time, gave birth. We know that the Arab-Jewish conflict largely originates from this attempt by man to work out God’s plan in his own way. So perhaps today we should learn patience and wait for God’s will to be done in His own time even if that means we remain childless. Yet Jacob and his wives Leah and Rachel also struggled at times to conceive and used the same method of having children via their handmaids. The result was the 12 tribes of Israel – a much more positive outcome, we might say.

In 1 Samuel 1 we see the heartache that childlessness caused for Hannah. What was she to do? We see in this chapter a truly earnest prayer to God which included the vow to “give him unto the Lord” (verse 11). This woman of faith was given her child by God and in turn she honoured her vow and gave her son Samuel back to the Lord.

These childless couples did not have all the help which modern medicine offers us today (figure 1). Is this help ‘God given’ with resulting children being ‘modern-day miracles’? Or do couples who pursue these solutions lack faith and patience? If it is right to pursue medical help, how far should we go? Where do you draw your line? Is adoption the answer? I am sure we all know couples who have not had children and we may well know couples who have had children with the assistance of modern medicine, whether by In-Vitro Fertilisation or other means. We probably have little idea of the heartache, pain and possibly cost and personal sacrifice that these couples have been through unless we have experienced it ourselves. Only God knows the earnest prayers that have been made.

The Bible doesn’t give a definite answer to what is right or wrong on this issue. We should surely empathise with any couple in this position, being sensitive to their situation and supporting them as best we can, respecting their decisions and not judging.

Psalm 113:9 says:

“He maketh the barren woman to keep house, And to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD.”

This could refer to God opening the womb of a barren woman to allow her to become a mother of children or it could mean that she becomes a spiritual mother in her ecclesia, caring for the children of others in many different ways. Our family-based community is truly a huge blessing from God and we need all members to be part of that family, whether they have their own physical family or not.

Simon Parsons


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