I believe that I can say, without fear of exaggeration, that the process of adopting a child taught me more about the Gospel than any other experience I have had in my adult life. I have come to believe there is a specific understanding of biblical salvation that is graciously and uniquely granted to families who adopt. When Alyson and I brought our son home from Hong Kong we had been married for 15 years and had 4 biological children. And at the time, I thought I understood what it meant to be a dad. But, adoption drew out aspects of fatherhood which I had never seen before. It is like viewing stars from my home in a central Alabama city versus viewing them from the Gulf Coast. The sky is the same, but it is the different vantage point that allows me to see and appreciate the stars in a completely different way. Specifically, there are three facets of fatherhood that adoption has allowed me to perceive far more clearly and brightly than I did before: Belonging, Identity and Significance.
So first – Belonging. My biological children have always belonged to a father. From the moment they entered the world, I was there to embrace them and claim them. But for my adopted son, Jack, his father was gone long before he was born. And for the first years of his life he had no familiarity with a dad and no idea what it meant to belong to someone. He had never experienced simple joys we take for granted, like climbing up into a father’s lap just to be with him, or having someone look at us with pride and say, ‘That one is mine’. Fatherhood means belonging.
And belonging brings Identity. We live in a culture that teaches us to earn our identity by what we do. But in truth, identity is established by who we are. Immediately upon entering the world my first four children were known as son or daughter, brother or sister, niece or nephew; they were recognized as grandchildren or cousins. They had a family name, a place, and a heritage – granted not because of hard work, but because they belonged. And it was the lack of belonging that caused my adopted son to be born without a firm identity. He was not born into a family. He was not a son. He was not a brother. He did not have a heritage. But when he came to belong to us through adoption, all of that changed. He was granted a new identity. He was no longer who he used to be. He now belonged to a new family with sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles – marked by a new name. Fatherhood means identity.
And this belonging and identity has a cumulative effect – a Significance. I often find myself looking at our adopted son and wondering, ‘How different would his life be if he had never been adopted?’ For Jack, everything has been radically changed. His future will be immeasurably shaped by this reality of belonging to a family and the identity he has received. Fatherhood means significance.
And seeing these truths by way of a different vantage point, I have new insights into the magnificence of my own adoption. The bible uses adoptive language to describe the Gospel – the very salvation of our souls. God our creator, chose to adopt us (Ephesians 1:5), and so we – who once had no identity as a people – now belong to God the Father in his family (1 Peter 2:10). How amazing! The act of human adoption, is merely a shadow of the divine, greater adoption that the Father above has bestowed upon us. The bible teaches that God sent his only son, Jesus Christ, into his creation to take upon his shoulders the penalties due our sin. And if we have faith in Jesus’ work we will belong to the same Father as He does (1 Corinthians 3:23); we will receive the same identity he has: a ‘Child of God’ (1 John 3:1). Our belonging is proven by the name we now carry. We are not who we used to be. We now belong to a Father, in a new family with sisters and brothers from all times, cultures, and languages. We have not earned this identity, but have received it all because of Jesus! And the significance of this cannot be overstated, because now if God is for his children, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)? Our future is shaped entirely by this Fatherhood. Through faith in Christ, we now belong to the King of all the Universe. We carry His name. Once fatherless, we are now sons and daughters with a heritage. So now, we are His children.