I have always struggled with understanding why bad things happen to people. I know I’m not the only one – there are hundred of books out there that try to explain why God would allow something that we see as terrible to happen to humans. And there are lots of things that can happen that we see as terrible – natural disasters (like all these earthquakes lately!?!?!), terrorist acts, car accidents, life-threatening diseases, etc. My bible study today brought up a topic that I had never given much thought to as far as something bad that can happen to people, and that people often attribute to God: Infertility.
My study today covered Genesis 29-30. The story picks up with Jacob making his way into Paddan Aram (which I gather is the region where Haran, the city of his relatives, is located). He ends up meeting Rachel at a well and helps her water her flock of sheep. The text doesn’t say how long they talked, but does say he kissed her and started weeping. I don’t know why he started weeping – it was a pretty long journey, so maybe he was just happy to be there and to meet his relatives that he was trying to get to. Either way, it can’t be good that when they first meet, Jacob kisses Rachel then starts crying…doesn’t sound like a great way to pick up women! Anyway, Rachel runs home without taking Jacob with her, and her father Laban comes back and gets Jacob (after hugging and kissing him…it’s a great day for Jacob…). So, to make a long story a little shorter, Jacob falls in love with Rachel, promises to work for Laban for 7 years in order to get to marry her, and then Laban tricks him by giving him Leah instead. I don’t really know how you work for a guy for 7 years, have a party thrown for you, then end up sleeping with the wrong daughter…must of been a pretty wild party! Anyway, Laban says that he will give Jacob Rachel as his wife if he works for him for another 7 years – which he does because he really has the hots for Rachel (especially after seeing her beautiful face day in and day out for 7 years, I would assume). Thank goodness he doesn’t have to wait the whole 7 years to marry her – just a week, so that he can continue “celebrating” his marriage to Leah. It probably doesn’t have to be said that there was some jealousy between the sisters – I mean, Jacob marries Leah, then complains that he would rather have Rachel (ouch!). And Rachel still comes second even if she is the more loved of the two.
Well, this little rivalry ends up causing God to show favor to Leah (the unloved one) by “opening her womb” and letter her have children. Rachel, on the other hand, is barren – infertile. It doesn’t say that God specifically closed up Rachel’s womb, but when Rachel starts to get overly dramatic about it (“Give me children, or I’ll die!” – ch. 30 v. 1), Jacob snaps right back at her by saying (and I paraphrase) “I’m not God, woman! I’m not the one keeping you from having children!” So basically, we can assume that these people believed that God was keeping her infertile.
My study lead me to several verses that talk about God closing people’s wombs and opening them up (like in Genesis 20), and to some passages where it talks about how God is the only one with the power to give life, and how God is the one who assembles us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139). I believe that this is true – God is all-powerful, and has power over both life and death. If He wants to, He can keep someone from having a baby, and then he can turn right around and help them have octuplets. But I also know that infertility leads to a lot of emotional pain for a lot of people…and it always has. Back in biblical times, they saw it as a disgrace – Rachel says so in Genesis 30, Hannah (Samuel’s mother) says so in 1 Samuel 1, and Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mother) says so in Luke 1. I don’t think our culture today necessarily sees it as a disgrace, but I know it is painful for those who want to have a child but cannot.
So, is it God that is causing this pain? I really don’t know… And who’s to say? Maybe in some cases, yes, and in other cases, no. I believe that God can make decisions that affect us in ways that make us upset or sad… I would have been extremely saddened had I been Noah and I knew that, as the water was rising, people everywhere were dying (even if they were wicked). I would have been pretty ticked had I been one of the disciples and saw Jesus hung on the cross dying, thinking that this isn’t the way this was supposed to go. There are a thousand different examples of times that I, being human, would not have understood why something was happening and would have been upset with God at the time. But that is the beauty of having a God that knows more than we do, and sees things from an eternal perspective, and does things that affect us for the better eternally, rather than for the moment.
So what can someone do if they are infertile? Pray! Like Hannah, if you realize that God is the one that gives life, you can pray to the one who has the power to overpower your infertility. And if He chooses not to, I’m a firm believer in adoption, because there are many children out there that are not loved – and we know from the beginning of the story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel that God likes to show favor to the unloved.