My theory: people who have been adopted have a unique capacity to love that goes deeper than those who have never been adopted. Thus, we all benefit in a culture that values and promotes adoption.
This is my theory because I’ve experienced it. My wife, my mother, and my grandmother, the three women who have loved me most in my life, were all adopted, legally or practically. My wife was adopted out of the foster system by her parents at age thirteen. My mother’s father died when she was eight months old; she was legally adopted by her new father when her mother remarried five years later. My grandmother’s mother died when she was two years old; her father married again to the woman who had begun to care for his children. Though my great-grandmother never legally adopted my grandmother, for all practical purposes she took her as her own daughter. All three of these women know the freely offered parental love of at least one person who had been under no obligation to love them.
God has always blessed me with a deep assurance of knowing that I am loved; I grieve for the many people who have not always (or maybe never) had that sense. I attribute my own experience, in part, to being surrounded by these women who had experienced adopting love. They were were equipped and ready to show that same kind of love to me and to other people around them. It’s part of who they are. Freely they have received; freely they give. Let us be clear, their capacity to love is only by grace, but their capacity to love grew through the circumstances of adoption. These women want their children, grandchildren, and pretty much anyone who comes into their orbit to feel like they are part of the family. In the Lord’s great mercy, I’ve been right at the center of it and have consequently known God’s love through them.
Adoption is not easy since children come from broken backgrounds, and adoptive parents are sinners too. It does not always go well in spite of the deep love and care of adoptive parents. The pain runs deep in such cases, especially for the parents. Yet, even then, the rest of us are blessed by the expression of sacrificial love.
Obviously, one implication follows: we should value the adoption of children more highly in our culture. Imagine if Christians had been even more serious about adoption in the United States over the last half-century. We would not only have a different discussion about abortion right now, we would also be reaping more of the residual results of adoption like the ones I’ve received.
Secondly, all Christians should cherish what it means to be adopted by God our Father in Jesus Christ. Appreciating our adoption will increase our capacity to love, but we will only exercise that capacity as we grasp the nature our heavenly adoption. Romans 8:15-16 tells us that believers have “received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are sons of God.”
J.I. Packer reaches the crescendo of his classic work Knowing God in the chapter on adoption titled Sons of God. Packer wrote that adoption “is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification” (p. 206). He goes on:
Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater (p. 107).
Those who have a profound sense of their own adoption know that they have been loved and chosen freely. How can you grow in your own knowledge and experience of adoption? A few quick suggestions:
- Study adoption in Scripture; receive adoption through faith if you are not yet one of God's children.
- Pray consciously to your Heavenly Father.
- Read Knowing God and other resources on the subject.
- Be part of the family of God and engage with your brothers and sisters in church.
These will lead you to stand in awe at the truth that we have been called children of God. We should rejoice in the Lord’s great promise “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” When we do, we will become excited about loving our brothers and sisters in Christ with adopted love. We will expand our capacity to choose to love the unlovely and to make them feel lovely as we “love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10).