How close can we get?

We didn’t want to settle for anything less than the best. Not when it came to a decision about possibly bringing a new life into this world. Only the best would do.

I’m not talking about treatments. I’m not talking about doctors. I’m talking about us as a couple—our best motivations, widsom, and behaviors. When it came to forming a family, we didn’t want heavy consciences. We didn’t want hesitations, uncertainties or ethical dilemas. So we sought spiritual guidance and we read the best books and we found our answer.

I greatly appreciate the light that pastors and authors have shed on the questions surrounding reproductive technologies and I owe much to their wisdom and insight. Some theologians and bioethicists have done their best to evaluate all the options and rate them worst to—well, possibly OK. In our reading and conversations we noticed phrases like “may be allowable” or “might not violate the one-flesh union” or “might be compatible” with Scripture. There lacked a sense of certainty, and rightly so. Any alteration to the natural and God-ordained process of creating an eternal soul should require some hesitation and a proper sense of fear and awe, should it not? Considering whether to interfere with this process certainly made us tremble. We had to ask ourselves, “What right do we have? Would this really be the best way to grow our family?”

Dealing with Christian ethics isn’t about trying to find the lesser of two evils or making an educated guess about whether the choice you have in front of you contains a “sin-full” option and a “sin-less” option. It isn’t about trying to find out “How far can we go?” It’s about finding the ideal, the perfect target, and doing everything you can to achieve that ideal. It’s about using God’s ten commandments and His Word as a guide to keep us close to His will even if He has not addressed our specific questions in that Word.

The actual definition of sin is, appropriately, “missing the mark,” but our modern minds tend to be more occupied with the space outside the target than with the bull’s-eye. So what is our bull’s-eye as Christian couples seeking to have children? How can we be certain that our efforts to create a family will be pleasing to our Lord?

The book of Genesis spells it out very clearly as Moses reveals how the first family came about. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” (2:24). Marriage came first. Then, in chapter 4:1: “Adam knew Eve his wife,” (sexual intimacy) “and she conceived,” (conception) “and bore Cain…” (birth). There you have it—the four-fold process created by God for becoming a biological family. This is how it was meant to be. Couples who are able to have children in this way need never doubt whether they are acting in accordance with God’s will.

But alas, in chapter three sin entered the world and turned everything upside down. In ancient days and even now, barrenness, miscarriages and stillbirths rip away the fruits that are meant to be born from a couple’s most intimate sharing of one another. And in the 21st century, we have seen this four-fold procreation process intentionally rearranged, redefined, and even rejected. In the secular world, marriage is certainly not necessary anymore to be intimate, conceive and bear children. Conception can be suppressed so as to more fully enjoy the intimacy without the responsibility of the bearing and rearing. And when conception is desired but not achievable, it’s often seen as necessary to forego intimacy in an effort to medically intervene and help the life-creating process along. And in a rather extreme example of our “progress”, women today even have the option to skip the marriage, intimacy and conception altogether and go straight to just giving birth by participating in an embryo adoption.

How far have we gone? Is this too far yet? Where does one draw the line?

As much as our pastors, friends, and family want to give us hope that there is a procedure that will assist us in getting the child they “know” God has planned for us, not one of them can confidently say that intentionally drifting away from God’s four-fold family plan (for receiving a biological child) is not a sin in some way. There will always be doubt and uncertainty as to whether it’s really OK.

In the chapter “How Far is Too Far?” from Katie’s book, she presents questions that we should all be asking ourselves when considering whether to engage in a medical procedure that is not meant to heal a broken body but rather to circumvent God’s original process. “Do you wish to ‘make a baby’ at the risk of hurting your neighbor? Do you think that having a baby is the only thing in life that can make you happy? Do you put your identity in motherhood rather than in your baptism? Will your faith in Jesus be upset if you do not conceive?”

The true motivations for the choices we make while experiencing barrenness reflect what is in our hearts. Does our attitude about having a family drive us toward the center of the target, or does it push us to the outer edges? Which focus is best?

My advice to the barren couple who wants to avoid sinning as they seek to address their barrenness is this: Seek healing if there is a chance that your body is not completely healthy, and pray that you might receive the gift of a child as a result of your physical love or through adoption. Instead of asking yourself, “How far can we go?” consider asking, “How close can we get?”