The statistics are startling and sobering … but for many people the numbers barely register in their minds.
In an age of instant communication, of hyper entertainment, of information explosion and saturation … how many of us know that there are now more than 143 million children orphaned across the globe?
That every 14 seconds an AIDS death causes another child to become an orphan?
That more than 800,000 children pass through the foster care system in America each year? How many of us care?
Fortunately, there is One who does care, and that is our Father in heaven. If you spend much time studying God and His priorities and passions—what He likes and dislikes, what please Him and what angers Him—you will learn what matters to Him. You will learn about His heart.
In his book, Fields of the Fatherless, C. Thomas Davis writes, “If you searched the Bible from front to back, you’d find many issues close to God’s heart. But you’d also notice three groups of people coming up again and again. They appear so many times, in fact, you have to conclude that God mentions them purposely to make sure they are at the top of our priority list.”
Who are these three groups of people? They are orphans, widows, and aliens (or strangers). They are the fatherless, the helpless.
God’s compassion for the helpless
Scores of passages throughout the Bible reveal that God has a special place in His heart for the helpless in our society. Here are just a few of these Scriptures:
“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18). The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow … (Psalm 146:9). “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan” (Exodus 22:21-22).
Why does God show such special concern for these groups of people? Think of what the orphan, the widow, and the alien have in common.
An alien or stranger is isolated from his friends and family in an unfamiliar town or country; he could easily be robbed, defrauded, or oppressed. (If you’ve ever traveled overseas in a country where you cannot speak the native language, you know what it feels like to be a stranger in a strange land, and how grateful you feel when someone helps you.)
Likewise, a widow has lost the provision and protection of her husband. And an orphan (especially a young child) may be the most helpless of all. He has no father or mother to protect him.
Throughout the Old Testament, God commands His people to provide help, protection, justice and support for the helpless, and promises His blessing when this occurs. For example, in Deuteronomy He instructs the Israelites to provide out of the abundance of their harvest. In Deuteronomy 14:28-29, He says:
“At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.”
It is also interesting to note that in this same passage, God refers twice to the fact that the Israelites once were aliens themselves while exiled and enslaved in Egypt. These words reveal another theme regarding the helpless that we find through Scripture: God reminds His people of how they once experienced what it was like to be helpless and without protection, and how He has provided for us.
God’s concern for the orphan is reflected in our relationship with Him
In fact, any follower of Christ should be able to identify with the orphan, though many have not realized this. We are naturally selfish, prideful, and sinful—estranged from God. We rebel against God, and choose to go our own way. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
In other words, we were separated from the love of God the Father just as an orphan is unable to enjoy the love of an earthly father. But God reached down and made it possible, through the death of Jesus Christ for our sins and then through the inner working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, for us to become His children. 1 John 3:1 tells us, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God …” and John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God…”
That’s why the Scriptures on several occasions compare our salvation to the act of adoption. Ephesians 1:3-5 says:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.”
John Piper, pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn., points out that the phrase “In love He predestined us for adoption …” shows that this adoption is fixed in eternity.
“Your adoption by God is not fragile, it is not tenuous, it is not uncertain. All the adoptions that you adopt are more or less uncertain. I have known parents who have had to give their children up because they couldn’t handle it … psychological problems. One parent told me about a little child who stabbed himself in the head with a pencil because he was so emotionally distraught. He would sit on the floor and bang his forehead into the cement until the blood would appear. And they did everything they could to figure this child out. And it ended. That will never happen between you and God. If you are adopted your adoption originated in eternity. It was planned before you ever appeared on the scene to be worthy of it, and therefore it is firm and it is fixed and it is solid and it is stable.”
A similar passage from the New Testament is Galatians 4:3-6, which tells us:
“So also, we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God, sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father.'”
This passage reminds Dennis Rainey, president of FamilyLife, that “life is all about adoption. God sent His son to redeem you from sin, from the slave market of sin, and He redeemed you to put a song in your heart, to give you peace, to give you forgiveness of sin, and to bring you into His family.”
A special part of God’s plan includes caring for the orphan
Understanding how God has adopted us as His children helps us understand in a personal way why He is so concerned about the orphan…and why the Bible contains so many commands for us to be involved.
Kerry Marks Hasenbalg, former executive director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, says many Christians “do not realize that caring for orphans is central to our call as His people. Churches so rarely talk about this issue. We are to be His hands extended in caring for the orphans just as God Himself would. God’s plan for his people has always been for us to represent Him to the world.
The Scriptures are clear that God gives the family of God the responsibility to care for the orphan’s needs. Psalm 82:3-4 says, “Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.”
God not only calls us to minister to needs of orphans, but He often rebukes His people when they don’t. In Jeremiah 5:28, for example, God harshly reproaches those who ” … do not plead the cause … of the orphan, that they may prosper … ” Deuteronomy 27:19 says, “‘Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien orphan and widow … ‘”
“Pure and undefiled religion … “
God’s concern for the orphan, the widow, and the alien is so central to His plan for us here on earth that He gives us a startling and profound statement in James 1:27. “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Why would God tell us that caring for orphans is “pure and undefiled religion”?
Perhaps because caring for an orphan teaches you about loving a person who may be slow to love you back. Perhaps because you receive just a glimpse of how God may feel when we fail to return His love for us … when we rebel against Him. Perhaps because the world sees God’s heart when He works through His people to help the helpless.
And perhaps it’s because caring for orphans is such a perfect picture of our relationship with God. In our inability to please God in our own efforts, in our utter helplessness to initiate a relationship with Him, we are very much like orphans and strangers than we like to admit.
When you talk with parents who have adopted, you often see that they understand something deep about the heart of God. One example is found in the story of Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth. Their adoption journey began when their daughter Emily, then age 11, began to develop an intense interest in having a baby sister. At the time the Chapmans had three children—Emily and two brothers, Caleb and Will—and they had no plans for more.
Mary Beth took Emily on a mission trip to Haiti, and that experience added to the girl’s interest in other children. She began writing notes to her parents like, “there is a place at our table, Mom and Dad, for another infant, a baby. We can do this. There’s no reason why we can’t.”
Steven and Mary Beth had supported different families in their efforts to adopt children, but had never really considered adoption themselves. But Mary Beth feared she wasn’t capable of loving a child that wasn’t biologically her own. But Emily persisted. She wanted them to adopt a child from another country. She even bought a book at Christmas on how to adopt internationally. “That’s not where 12-year-olds usually spend their money,” Mary Beth says. “We’d be driving around, and she’d be reading all the country requirements—’Okay, if we’re going to adopt from China, you have to be at least this old.'”
God answered the prayers of this young girl, and her parents began to warm up to the idea of adoption. Through a series of events in which they clearly saw God leading them, they found themselves in a hotel in Beijing, China, to receive a new daughter. And as she took Shaohannah into her arms, Mary Beth experienced one of those moments that she knew could only come from God.
“I was holding this little person and at that moment I would have died for her,” Mary Beth recalls. “I just remember it was so emotional, and I think Steven probably enjoyed watching the process with me, because it was really the first time, other than committing my life to the Lord, that I just looked up and went, ‘Okay, I get it, I get it. I know what You did for me. I get it, I understand it, thank You.'”
“It wasn’t about me going to get Shaoey, it was about what God had done for me all along.”
Copyright © 2006 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.