This week we finalized the adoption of our daughter, Hope. This is our fourth adoption, bringing our family to seven kids. The adoption experience opens all kinds of thoughts in different areas of life. Thoughts about what it means to be family, about being a Dad, about love, about permanency. As I have each time we’ve adopted a child, lately I’ve been noticing the spots in the Bible where God talks about us as his children, and specifically where he talks about adoption.
With experience, the court appearance becomes more familiar, and you lose some of your uncertainty of how the process works. The actual court event is almost anticlimactic. The lawyer calls her witnesses. Usually in our case that consists of my wife and me, and the case worker from CPS. She asks a few basic questions. The most significant questions are to the case worker, who she asks if this adoption is in the best interest of the child and if these parents (us) are fit parents for this child. She asks us if it is our desire to adopt the child. Then the judge says that we now have the relationship of parents with their child. Its all pretty simple, and takes less than 15 minutes, but the impact of that fifteen minutes is huge.
The process gains more familiarity, but the unique significance of each one doesn’t diminish at all. Each adoption still has all of the power of the last one in our family. Each child is precious, individually. Every child is unique, with a unique personality, and uniquely loved. Seven children does not dilute that love at all. I love each child as much as I did when we only had our first. Of course, that’s the way it is with God as well, multiplied by several billion. As a friend reminded me last week, God’s endless love for each of us is unique, as is his relationship with each of his children. I don’t get upset with my youngest child because the stage she’s at is one I’ve already been through with the other children. She gets to make her own mistakes, go through her own learning processes. God doesn’t get more upset with you because you need to learn patience and he’s seen that a couple billion times. He works with you through that process like you are unique, because you are, and like his Father relationship with you is unique, because it is.
Of course, I didn’t start loving Hope yesterday, just because that was the day of the adoption. I loved her all along, even when I knew we might lose her. I didn’t withhold love when I wasn’t certain about her future with our family. Love doesn’t work that way. But something does change on the day of the adoption. There is no cloud of uncertainty around the relationship any more. There is no chance that some relative will step forward and ask to take her. Hope is just a year and a half old. She probably can’t tell the difference between today and the day before yesterday. But we know from talking to foster and adopted children who are older that the relationship would change for her as well. Adoption removes the chance that she will be sent away from us. She is truly in our family now, for the rest of our lives. Adoption means permanence.
Adoption also means she is really family. The day before yesterday Hope was our foster child. She was a ward of the State. We were caring for her under a contract. She didn’t have all of the rights of a child in our family. If we had died the day before yesterday, she would not inherit from our estate. Today she would. From the perspective of the law she is fully our child, in every sense. Before yesterday she could call me “Dad,” but I wasn’t really her father. Today and for the rest of her life I am. Before yesterday her biological relatives had some claim to her. Today she is legally free from her old ties, and she is fully a member of our family.
Our relationship with God is like that as well. When we accept the gift of life and adoption that God offers to us, we become his children. We become his adopted children, and we can call him “Dad!” We also become his heirs, together with Jesus. That’s an amazing thought. We are freed from the bonds that tied us before, the bonds to our fallen nature, the bonds to the Law that meant sin and death for us. We move into a new relationship with God, from judgement to family.
The relationship of a child with their father, when that relationship is healthy, is a relationship of freedom. I discipline my kids, but they always know that I love them. They know, in their hearts, that what I do even in disciplining them is from love, because I want them to grow to be the kind of people they should be. They know that the relationship, and the love I have for them, is permanent. It doesn’t come and go. The nature of my relationship with them does not change when I am upset with them, or when they do things that make me proud. It is the same relationship, loving them the same way, over the whole range of contexts that make up a life time relationship. My love for them doesn’t change because of the context.
God’s love is the same, only magnified and perfect. He might put us in situations that stretch us. He might discipline us to help us grow. In fact, he has promised that he will. All through that, we can have joy because we know we are held in the hands of a Father who loves us. His love never diminishes, and we know that we can never be stolen from him again. We know that he always loves us, and is always working for our benefit. Once we are his children we always experience his love. The context shapes how that love is expressed, but God is always expressing his love for us even when things are difficult. Even when we are not perfect children, he always treats us like we are his children, and he is the perfect Father.
Our relationship with God as his children is permanent. Nothing can separate us or get in the way of the love of God for us. Hope is always going to be my daughter. Nothing that she could ever do will change that. Nothing that anybody else could ever do could change that. She’s my daughter. She will always be my daughter. In the same way, but much more, I will always be God’s child. Nothing can pluck me out of his hand. Nothing can come between us in that relationship. I am his child forever.
Hope, welcome to the family!