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The Plight of the Orphan

The adoption community that I am experiencing might be a perfect micro-picture of Christian believers everywhere. It is made up of affluent and shockingly poor, black and white, just out of college and those whose biological children are almost out of high school, single and married. The other interesting and growing population in the adoption community are those who are not adopting because they couldn’t grow their family biologically but because of the plight of the orphans.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Deut. 10:17-19

Seeing the story of God’s fathering of His children from Genesis through Revelation, His pursuit and care throughout all the generations is clearly not because His children were adorable, always compliant, nor innocent victims of oppression deserving a rescue. He pursued Adam and Eve when they had decided they would rather be their own gods than trust Him. (Which is really the plight of the orphan, isn’t it? The assumption that we are our best advocates, not God.) He claimed them as His own even as they had chosen to hide from Him and blame others for their offense. He continues to father this way, never expecting His children to survive in isolation or autonomy but by His compassion and kindness, care and control over all things, based on His grace and mercy toward our perpetual rebellion and lack of belief and choices to be our own gods time and time again.

It is this picture of our own adoption that compels so many to adopt, including us. I was talking with my friend Melissa about this yesterday, as she is in her first week home with their new child from Uganda. We talked about the funny shift that inevitably takes place…the unmerited (or more accurately – demerited) favor of God is somehow forgotten as expressed by adopting families who bitterly complain that others aren’t doing the same. Subtly but swiftly, adoption itself becomes a new law by which the adopting families find themselves more righteous than those who haven’t been called to adopt. Would it make sense for the newly matched child in an orphanage to be arrogant and disdainful toward the other children in the orphanage who aren’t headed into the same new home? Of course not…and we get that initially but are so quick to forget that our responses to His grace do not merit the grace or the favor or the adoption any more than they have the ability to forfeit it because His grace and adoption is not based on my character but His.

My sister and I were talking about the similar tendencies for those of us living in a non-traditional neighborhood (“distressed” neighborhood is what the bank calls it). She laughed about even feeling superior to us because her street is so much rougher than ours (which is more than true!). “Oh, you have it so easy because you live on one of those streets where all the houses have roofs!” Her street has more boarded up houses than inhabited ones and the drug dealers across the street have recently installed video cameras outside their dilapidated rental to keep track of the high volume of traffic coming to their door.

For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Romans 10:2-4

For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other. Is. 4:4-6

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:17

I am the first one to get zealous for God’s Kingdom and want to run out to the front lines to fight for God’s Kingdom. What I forget immediately is that even this is part of my orphan tendency. The plight of the orphan is self-reliance, self-protection and a general sense that if I don’t do it, it won’t happen. God asks me to stop relying on my own understanding and perceived resources and to trust His power, control and unthwartable will. The advancement of His Kingdom is not resting on what I do or do not do, but upon what Jesus has already completed. My orphan plight is my hourly forgetfulness that I do not maintain God’s favor through my obedience but by faith in His obedience credited to me. It is only in the moments when I am reminded of the object of my faith, the person and work of Jesus in which I am clothed, that I am simultaneously reminded that the fruit of this faith is produced by Him for His purposes, not my status elevation.

He places the orphan in His family, and His children in families within His Family. Some of these children from babies homes in Uganda or China or Atlanta will do well to grow up simply accepting the fact that they do fully and permanently belong to the family into which they have been adopted. Other former orphans will respond to their adoption by adopting their own children. Other former orphans will become contributors to their communities in other ways, publicly and behind the scenes. Oh, if I could remember that the plight of the orphan isn’t predominantly needing a family, but is the challenge to consistently believe that my security in the family and relationship to my siblings isn’t ebbing and flowing based on my merits or theirs, but on His alone. The way He has written my story and our stories to image His is intentionally different from each other and rather than compare stories or elevate some above others, I can trust that He will tell THE story exactly as He intends.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Eph. 2:14-18

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Gal. 3:26-29

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