Many couples who cannot conceive a child naturally will try IVF (In Vitro Fertilization). This expensive medical procedure involves fertilizing an egg in a laboratory and then placing the fertilized egg into the mother’s womb.
Is there any biblical instruction that suggests a couple should not resort to IVF when they cannot conceive naturally? What is God’s posture towards the issue of infertility?
The Bible and Infertility
Infertility frequently features in the Bible, and God is tender-hearted towards couples who cannot conceive. Hannah, Sarah, Elizabeth, and many other women were barren, and though they submitted to God’s sovereignty in this matter, they also grieved.
Middle Eastern couples during biblical times were devastated if they could not produce children. The Lord had instructed his people to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).
Infertility made both a man and a woman feel like failures before God and society, although if a man had two wives and one could not bear children, she shouldered the humiliation, the pity, and the taunting.
Wayne Grudem observed that “infertility has been a source of deep sorrow for both men and women — but especially for women, for all of human history.” The pressure to have children, and the pain of being unable to conceive, are still strongly felt in the modern world.
Adoption is one possibility, but many women long to carry a child and give birth, and men still want to pass on their name and their genes to children of their own.
Being childless in North America does not carry the same stigma as it did a few centuries or even a few decades ago, and some even say that bringing children into the world is morally wrong.
There are already too many people sapping dwindling natural reserves, contributing to the problems of food security and climate change.
Moreover, as the world appears to become more broken with every generation, why would anyone want to subject a child to such a future? Instead of feeling pressured to have children, couples are pressured to abort or to abstain and simply avoid parenthood.
Speaking of the End Times, Christ declared, “Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!” (Matthew 24:19). America is full of children who need a good home.
Biblical Support for IVF
There can be no denying that infertility contributes to depression, anxiety, and the breakdown of even a godly marriage in some cases.
Birth rates in North America are dropping, but men and women still long to bring life into this world and nurture their own biological children. And, as stated, the Lord has demonstrated a soft heart towards those who long to bear children.
Wayne Grudem declares that “it is right to consider infertility as something that, in general, we should seek to overcome with the confidence that God is pleased with such efforts.”
He argues that those instances of a barren woman becoming pregnant after many years of infertility is evidence of God’s desire that we use medical science to our advantage in this way.
“Modern medicine (and medicine in the ancient world, for that matter) can be used to overcome many diseases and disabilities today. We should view this as a good thing and as something for which we can thank God.”
In other words, infertility should be treated with the same compassion and medical expertise with which one would address diabetes or a spinal condition.
He also points to Luke 4:40, where Jesus healed all kinds of disabilities and illnesses. The Message words it this way: “When the sun went down, everyone who had anyone sick with some ailment or other brought them to him.”
Grudem explains that “the inclusive nature of the expression […] allows us to suppose that Jesus also healed the infertility of many women (and men) who’d previously been unable to conceive and bear children” (Ibid.).
Grudem reminds us that James taught Christians to pray for healing (James 5:16). In this case, healing would mean conception.
Some Biblical Caveats
There are also potential pitfalls for the Christian. Grudem talks about the moral dilemma of freezing and then destroying eggs. This is a deliberate human act rather than a natural effect of menstruation.
John Piper cautions, “I think any Christian couple should be very careful, thoughtful, and hesitant to walk very far outside the natural processes God has put in place for making babies.” The question for any person considering IVF would be when does an egg become a baby?
Grudem argues that “we shouldn’t condone any medical procedure that will certainly lead to the death of even one unborn child who was conceived when the man’s sperm fertilized the woman’s egg, the cells began to divide, and the human embryo began to grow into a little baby.”
He highlights verses that demonstrate how much we matter to the Lord before we are born or even conceived. Psalm 139:13 is one such verse: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”
God’s care for the unborn is reflected in the law. If two men are having a fight and a pregnant woman is harmed in the middle of their fighting, causing injury to her baby, “you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:23-25).
Also, the Bible appears to promote childbirth only within marriage. Grudem points to the “pattern” of biblical laws and their overall implications. Exodus 20:14 is the clearest imperative: “You shall not commit adultery.”
Genesis 2:24 is another indicator because a man and woman become “one flesh.” They are not merely united by law, but their connection is to run far deeper.
Having a child together does not create the bond; the child is created out of that bond, for “as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman” (1 Corinthians 11:12).
“If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife” (Exodus 22:16). This is no guarantee of a happy marriage but provides the woman with certainty that she and her child will be protected from social condemnation and provided for because the husband is responsible for their care.
Deuteronomy 23:2 says this: “No one born of a forbidden union may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord.”
God knows how easily we are led astray by sinful desires, which not only hurts the guilty parties but has ramifications far beyond ourselves.
A Final Word on IVF
Yet, marriage is no guarantee that life will be created, and procreation is not the only reason for marriage either. If a couple decides not to have children or to stop trying if natural methods do not work, the Lord is not displeased.
He feels the hurt and empathizes with the sorrow of couples who want children yet cannot conceive, even though children arrive in this world according to his will alone.
Piper puts it this way: “If God really creates a human soul that once did not exist, and now exists forever as a person, then doing this Godlike thing — through natural or unnatural, good or bad, sinful or un-sinful ways of uniting egg and sperm — is a piece of cake. […]. The how is relatively unimportant when it comes to whether God can do it or not.”
God alone creates life, not men, not women, and not doctors. So, if a child is created via IVF thanks to the God-given giftings of medical professionals, this new life is still God’s life, a creation from the Lord made in His image. That child is precious, and the parents’ joy is a delight to their Heavenly Father.
For further reading:
Is Surrogacy a Biblical Way to Have a Baby?
Can Christians Biblically Choose Not to Have Children?
What Is the Beautiful Picture of Adoption in the Bible?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/abezikus
Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.
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