By Michelle Shocklee
In my new novel Appalachian Song, the theme of “I choose you” is at the heart of the story. It involves a childless midwife, a motherless teenager, and the baby they both love. Adoption plays a role in the lives of several characters, and they experience all the emotions, struggles, and challenges many adopted people experience. I’ve been privileged to have a front-row seat to the beauty of adoption, with extended family and dear friends alike being blessed through it. I’ve seen the ups and downs, joys and sorrows, victories and failures. Raising children is hard, whether they are your biological children, foster children, adoptive children, or grandchildren. Love, patience, and determination are required every single day.
As I wrote the book, however, a deeper form of adoption began to make itself known. That is, the adoption we experience when we become children of God.
Romans 8:14-16 says: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.”
That is an incredible statement for all of us.
Adoption is one of the metaphors the Bible uses to explain, in terms we can understand, the extraordinary process of becoming God’s child. I find that interesting because adoption was not common in Jewish families. A person’s standing in the community—in the world—was based on his parentage, his pedigree. In Luke 3, the lineage of Jesus can be traced all the way back to Adam. Most Jewish families could do the same, sometimes with a written account or by verbally passing down names through the generations.
Adoption, therefore, was not looked upon favorably in those days. Although Moses was adopted by Pharoah’s sister, he eventually returned to his own people. Esther was adopted by Mordecai, but they were related by blood. If a man died without children, his widow was required to marry her deceased husband’s brother or close relative. The first child born to the couple would be considered the dead man’s child so his family line would continue through blood, not adoption.
In Roman culture, however, adoption was a customary practice. If a Roman man had no sons, he adopted a young man, either a valued servant or slave, or someone else he deemed worthy of becoming his son. The adopted son would legally change his name, have all his debts cancelled, and would be entitled to all the rights and benefits of a natural-born son.
When Paul wrote his letter to Christians in Rome, his audience would have been familiar with the practice of adoption. It must have been astonishing to read that they were now considered children of God, because up to this time, only Jewish born individuals were considered God’s children. Paul told the Christians in Ephesus that “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 3:5) Those would have been radical, life-changing words to gentile Christians.
The truth is, none of us are worthy of being called sons and daughters of God, but that’s exactly who we are when we accept Jesus Christ as Lord in our lives. As children of God, we enjoy all the benefits of natural born children. Our debts are wiped clean, we’re given new names, and we are entitled to the glorious long-ago promises He gave the children of Israel.
Galatians 4:5-7 says: “God sent [Jesus] to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer slaves but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.
In Appalachian Song, Bertie says, “Family don’t always mean blood kin.” She’s absolutely right. God himself makes that abundantly clear when He adopts us into his family and gives us the amazing privilege to call Him Abba, or Papa. Giving a child a ‘forever family’ here on earth is so important, but the best family to belong to is God’s.
About the Author
Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels, including Count the Nights by Stars, a Christianity Today fiction book award winner, and Under the Tulip Tree, a Christy and Selah Awards finalist. Her work has been featured in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about.
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