Dealing With Infertility
Many today deal with infertility. The Bible gives many examples of men and women who were unable to have children. What can we learn from these examples?
The first woman documented in the Bible to experience infertility has her story told as early as Genesis 11. God created humans with the desire for children, just as He, our loving God, desires us to be His children.
Sarah’s struggle with infertility
The story of Sarai, later known as Sarah, is a rocky and troubling one. She was a woman of faith, and yet she was at times faithless. She was a loving wife, and yet she was at times cruel, jealous and vindictive. She has a place in Hebrews 11, the Faith Chapter, and in the physical lineage of our Savior. And yet the very first thing we learn about her is that she is barren.
Sarah, like several other biblical women who struggled with fertility issues, tried to take things into her own hands. She knew the promises God had made to her husband, and she knew that at age 75, they weren’t going to be coming through her.
We know the story—she got her husband to sleep with her younger, and presumably fertile, handmaid with the idea that the child of this union would be considered hers. God allowed Hagar, the handmaid, to become pregnant by Abraham. But neither Hagar nor Sarah felt as if the child, even as yet unborn, “belonged” to Sarah, and Sarah kicked Hagar out, along with the unborn Ishmael.
When Sarah finally did conceive at age 89, it was an undeniable miracle. God was involved in the birth of this child, just as He said He would be. There was nothing capricious about the long delay in God’s fulfillment of His promise. His timing and blessings, as always, were perfect. The miracle of Isaac’s conception and birth ensured that it would be abundantly clear to Abraham, Sarah and the people around them that God was working through this child and this family.
Infertility in the Bible
Many of the instances of infertility in the Bible seem to have been allowed by God for just this reason: to show His power and to make it obvious that He was working in the lives of these people. Sarah, then her daughter-in-law Rebekah, then her daughter-in-law Rachel are prime examples, along with Hannah (the mother of Samuel), and the unnamed woman who became the mother of Samson. The fact that these women were infertile seems to be recorded primarily to emphasize a miraculous intervention by God to change their situation.
With the increasingly complex understanding we have of conception and pregnancy and childbirth in modern times, I think it’s safe to say that every conception and every birth is a miracle made possible by the incredible, but imperfect, bodies God gave us.
And I believe that God is paying close attention to every single embryo, every single fetus, every single child.
Applying the biblical lessons about infertility today
With how little space in the Bible is given to women and their stories, it’s amazing how many of them struggled with infertility. Today infertility is on the rise among both men and women, even as the medicine and technology with which we can treat it continues to advance, as well.
The lesson from Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar’s story is not that we shouldn’t seek medical treatment for a medical condition. The lesson is that the end doesn’t justify the means.
Having children is a blessing, but the desire for children does not justify problematic or sinful actions.
What can those dealing with infertility do?
What can men and women struggling with infertility do?
We can be like Isaac, pleading with God (Genesis 25:21).
Or like Hannah, pouring out in prayer her anguish and “bitterness of soul” (1 Samuel 1:10).
Sometimes God gives that answer we seek.
Sometimes His answer is “not yet.”
Sometimes His answer is “no.”
Only He knows how to fill the gaping hole we feel in our hearts, because only He understands the deeper desires underlying the things for which we plead. But He always, always hears. He is the God who hears (as He heard Hagar in her affliction in Genesis 16:11), and He is the God who gives comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). Into His presence is certainly the right place for us to go with our pleading and our questioning, even if it is tinged with bitterness of soul.
God is the God of our hearts (1 John 3:20), and He can heal them when they are broken, even when we don’t understand His reasons.
He can heal them, and ultimately will heal them, because He knows them far better than we ourselves do. Only He knows how to fill the gaping hole we feel in our hearts, because only He understands the deeper desires underlying the things for which we plead. He was the One who gave us these desires in the first place.
And God can heal our bodies too, if that’s needed. We can follow the scriptural guidance to seek a minister of Jesus Christ for prayer and anointing (Mark 6:13; James 5:14-16).
What God can give
The Bible reiterates over and over the fact that children are a blessing from God, that “the man who has his quiver full of them” is happy (Psalm 127:3-5), and the wife of the one who fears the Lord “will be like a fruitful vine” (Psalm 128:3).
Yet the rest of Scripture tells us plainly that righteousness doesn’t always equal blessing, and struggle and lack and loss aren’t always—or even usually—a result of sin.
In a few rare cases, God is said to have “closed up” the wombs of certain women. But in most cases, the original condition of infertility is not directly attributed to God. (Aside from Michal, the wife of David, none of the instances of infertility in the Bible seem to be a direct result of personal sin.)
Struggle and lack and loss aren’t always—or even usually—a result of sin.More often, we read of God “remembering” the woman and “giving” conception. God can be the Giver of a blessing without also being the cause of the prior “curse” of childlessness. Their infertility was never said to be, and was not intended to appear to be, “fair,” as in the case of Hannah and Peninnah. It was simply a part of the human condition.
Hannah’s beautiful prayer in 1 Samuel 2 illustrates her understanding of God’s ultimate power over her situation. When we trust in His ability to give, we can have the gratitude of Hannah in response to knowing that God is fully able to change our situation. Whether or not He does, the fact that He has the power to do so can give us peace. We never have to feel stuck when we have trust and confidence in Him.
Our God tells us that He has something better in store for His children than anything they may have missed out on in this life. Isaiah speaks to the deeper reasons in our hearts that we desire a physical family, and to the abounding love of God that will one day completely fill that hole in our hearts.
Isaiah 54 speaks symbolically to the “desolate” (childless) woman, telling her that God is her true husband and the future redemption of God will give her the opportunity to be a “mother” to—to care for and teach and love and be loved by—more spiritual children and grandchildren than her heart could have held in this life.
God has a special care for those who experience loss or suffer lack. He wants us to pour our hearts out to Him in prayer. But He also wants us to trust that the loss and lack we experience in this life are temporal.
We cannot fathom it, but what He has in store for us is infinitely better than the physical blessing of family.
He wants us to give Him our heavy hearts and our trust.