Where Is the Gospel in Adoption?

Was I A Mistake? Why Me, Out Of So Many Orphans? Who Was I Supposed To Be?

Guest Contributor / 1.14.20

Grateful for this anonymous piece:

I became an orphan 37 years ago, somewhere in South Korea. I can’t be more specific — I don’t know when I was left, who left me, or even where. My orphanage paperwork only says that sometime that summer, “By request of [the police], we intook the child to be placed in the Home.” By then I had lost my identity and was just “the child.” They guessed that I was nine days old, assigned me a name and birthday, and took me into the orphanage.

A few months later I was put on a plane and flew to America — a new country, culture, and citizenship — where my adoptive parents met me for the first time.

I have seen pictures from my arrival day and can only imagine the excitement and anxiety my parents felt. They brought their best friends with them to the airport, and I have stared at their four glowing faces in the pictures of our family photo albums many times. It was the day I was adopted into my family, gained a new name, and met the parents who have loved and cared for me up to today. It was a joyful day, one that we celebrated for many years like a birthday.

Christians embrace adoptions like mine as a beautiful illustration of the Gospel.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Gal 4:4-8)

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

But from my perspective as an adoptee, the comparison is not as seamless. Adoptees and birth parents often feel invisible in conversations about adoption since it is typically led by agencies and the adults in the room, but understanding an adoptee perspective would not conflate this biblical concept of adoption with care for orphans.

Adoption in the Gospel is rescue from death in sin to life with Christ. Our union with Christ is a fundamental and ultimate identity change that adoption to a human family can’t replicate. Some adoptees are placed into highly dysfunctional or abusive homes where this comparison breaks down quickly, but regardless of the health of placement homes, adoptees move from one human family to another human family, from one sinful community to another. We generate complexity and mess in the process, and adoptees must deal with this not only as children but through life as adults.

Every adult adoptee I have talked to reinforces that our circumstances are unique but a unifying question we all face is a question of identity. Who am I? Was I a mistake? Why did this happen to me? Why was I adopted out of so many orphans? Who was I supposed to be?

Most people gain identity from their family and cultural heritage, but adoptees have disjointed stories with large gaps. I have struggled to feel like I fit in my family, in America, and in Korea. I don’t resemble anyone, I can’t ever fill in family medical histories, and it is difficult for me to feel like I belong anywhere.

I wonder who my biological mother and father are and what they are doing today, while wanting to protect my adopted parents from feeling like I am setting them aside to find my “real” parents. In the Gospel narrative, we respond to God’s adoption with gratefulness and joy — with worship. I am told that I should be grateful, content to be part of a loving family that has shown such Gospel-centered grace to me. In this context it feels isolating for me and other adoptees to grapple with questions about identity, questions which seem to betray the Gospel itself.

When explained by most Christians, adoption is the salvation of a child — a complete act beginning with tragedy and ending with joy, a picture of redemption in which a helpless child is saved by an act of grace and grafted into a new family. But while adoption may serve a necessary function in a broken world, it is not a complete picture of grace.

Each of us desperately needs the truth of the Gospel. We can’t talk about the process of human adoption and ignore the grace God offers to each one of the players in this story — not least to adoptive parents but also to the single mother, the pregnant teenager, the birth father, and the orphan. God’s grace reaches toward the helpless child, follows that child as an explosive nine-year-old feeling the wounds of trauma, as a rebellious teenager, and even as a seemingly well-adjusted adult. While human adoption is always imperfect, God’s grace toward us is zealous and adoption described in Scripture is sure.

The Gospel is powerful in adoption. But acknowledging an adoptee perspective means that the system of human adoption is only a murky mirror of what Christ has done for us. Where is the Gospel in adoption? I would argue that it’s not a parallel to the general act, but it reaches into the particular questions and pain adoptees face. As we ask questions of identity — who am I, where am I from, and where do I belong — the Gospel shines brightly.