For the week of November 13, 2010 / 6 Kislev 5771
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 28:10 - 32:3
Haftarah: Hosea 12:13 - 13:24 (English: 12:13 - 14:10)
Originally posted the week of December 10, 2005 / 9 Kislev 5766
A Biblical View of Life
Jacob became angry with her and said, "Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?" (Bereshit / Genesis 30:1, 2)
When Jacob's wife Rachel could not get pregnant, she demanded children from him as if he could somehow make it happen. Jacob's response included the assertion that God was the one who had prevented her from getting pregnant.
When we read statements like this from people in the Bible, we are encountering how they thought life worked. But just because a statement is recorded in the Bible doesn't mean that it is absolutely true. There are many examples of people, even godly people, who said things or did things that were wrong.
For example, King David, described as "a man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14) is someone, whom, for the most part, we should emulate. Yet he did not always do what was right. The story of his sin with Bathsheba is not included in the Bible in order to justify adultery, but rather as a warning that even godly people are susceptible to temptation, sin, and cover-up. Still. even in this case, the Bible is teaching us God's ways, doing so through a bad example instead of a good one.
Jacob himself is an example of this. I don't think we should justify his striving and trickery just because he was one of the patriarchs. I would understand someone being cautious about Jacob's theology. It would be a while after his statement to Rachel before Jacob would truly know God. We need to take care not to accept something as true and right unless the Bible clearly asserts it as so.
Whether or not Jacob is providing us with a biblical view of God's involvement with conception would have to be determined by what the rest of the Bible teaches on the matter. As it turns out, as the story continues, the biblical writer appears to share Jacob's understanding:
Here we have a clear assertion concerning God's involvement in Rachel's ability to conceive. This along with other references to God's closing of the womb (Bereshit / Genesis 20:18; 1 Samuel 1:5,6) concurs with Jacob's understanding of the matter.
God's involvement in this crucial and personal aspect of the human experience is so very contrary to the prevailing world view that such things are just a matter of natural process. This view is held even by those who claim to believe the Bible. Somehow many have concluded that conception is a result of human activity alone - a natural process that God put into motion to follow its own course.
Reading the story of Jacob and Rachel as well as other similar accounts of couples who had difficulty conceiving (Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Elkanah and Hannah) challenges the view of natural process. But I imagine many would see these examples of God's intervention as special cases, while normally nature would just run its course.
But is this what the Scriptures really teach about God and conception? King Solomon asserted that children were a reward from God (see Tehilim / Psalm 127:3) - not some children, but children in general. Does this mean that each individual child is a gift directly from God or is it just a poetical way to speak about how God created life?
The Bible doesn't attempt to analyze its theological assertions through a scientific analytical lens. The Scriptures are far less interested in how things worked as much as how to please God and live life the way he intended. How conception works from a scientific point of view does not help us discover how to live life to its fullest. The Bible is clear (and correct!) in its assertion that God is the life giver and that we are the recipients and stewards of his gift of life. This is nowhere better expressed than through the miracle of having children.
Perhaps it is about time that those of us who claim to believe the Bible begin to see how much we have let a non-biblical view of the world influence us. In order to truly live the kind of life God designed us for, we need to allow ourselves to be re-acquainted with how God himself sees life.
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