Sterile Men, Barren Women & The Bible: Thoughts On Adoption, Pt. 3

When one starts reading adoption materials, they soon realize the struggle that many couples go through: not being able to have a child. For Christians, one of things that I think must be so tough is the fact that, in the Scriptures, the inability to birth a child is always blamed on the women. (*Note: Since writing this, my view has changed. See Pt. 5 of this series for more on this!!!) Indeed, the Bible lacks any account that I can think of where a man is blamed for this. Of course, today, we are more sensitive to the issue. We now know that men as well as women are often unable to reproduce. Still, how do barren Christian women, looking for comfort from the Good Book, find it, when the blame is always on them (and not the men)?

One argument could be that since biblical antiquity functioned within predominantly patriarchal cultures, men must have been sterile but it was simply blamed on women. This may be too hypothetical of an argument, however. It could also be posited that within Hebrew/Jewish theology, the belief didn't even exist that men could be sterile, so, there was no way men could be blamed. This argument may have a lot of merit to it but it still doesn't offer a lot of comfort or hope to today's women.

One place we cannot really turn to is eunuchs. These men are mentioned in the Bible but being a eunuch is a chosen way of life; it isn't forced on someone by sterility. Furthermore, all of the women in the Bible who, at one point are barren, eventually give birth: Sarai/h (Gen. 16.2 and 17.15-21), Rebecca (Gen 25.21), Manoah's wife (Jdg. 13), Hannah (1 Sam. 1.6-20) and Elizabeth (Lk. 1.5-25), etc. These stories can often lead a woman deeper into depression today, especially when, after so many years, her miracle never comes.

To compound the problem even more, the Bible seems to suggest that while deliverance from barrenness is a miraculous work of God (e.g. Gen. 29.31-2 through 30.13) sterility is a curse. This seems to be the case when, in Gen. 20.17-8, all the women of the household are prevented from getting pregnant by God. It is abundantly clear in 1. Sam 1.6-7 when the writer says, "...the Lord closed Hannah's womb..." and there may also be a trace of this in Isa. 4.1 where the women asked for their "shame" or "disgrace" to be taken away. It may have been the view of many that, if a woman was unable to reproduce, she was not very valuable. In fact, the biblical view of homosexuality and bestiality is condemned, at least in part, because it was sterile, unreprodctive sex (e.g. Lev.. 20.13-6). Sterile sex was punishable by death.

As you can see, the ancient male never comes under judgment for sterility here (unless he is having sex with another male or an animal, and here, the same goes for a woman). The burden of barrenness always falls on the woman's shoulders. Sterility is a curse from God. There is really no comfort for today's barren woman; she doesn't have hundreds of years to wait for a miracle from God!

So, how, from theological standpoint, might we find a biblical model for offering sterile women hope? Just as well, since all issues of barrenness point to women, how might sterile men find solace in the Scriptures? Honestly, I'm not sure how to answer this yet. I want to be careful not to force my sensitivities onto the Bible but I do want to be able to turn to it and find hope, I want to glean from it theological truths and models that will be of comfort to those unable to give birth today. That said, it may very well be the case that the best place to look for such comfort is in the stories and passages that speak of adoption.

This will be an ongoing investigation and theological exploration for me. If you have any thoughts, please, share them.

Again, see Pt. 5 of this series for more info.

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