Are All Pregnancies Gifts?
I received an email from a reader asking for clarification as to why I think all pregnancies are gifts from God. She inquired specifically about unwed pregnancy as the consequence of fornication and if Ishmael would be a gift. I appreciated the question, took my time to seek God in forming an answer and wanted to share what I wrote with all my readers. I hope this helps to answer similar questions other readers may have.
First, let me just say that there is a difference between the natural consequence to sin and a punishment for sin. If you look at 2 Samuel 11 and 12 you will find the story of David and Bathsheba. In this story, David slept with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his warriors and the natural consequence of that sin was that she became pregnant. As you read through chapter 12, you will see that as part of the punishment for that sin, the child born of that sin would die. This distressed David greatly, and he fasted and prayed for a week to try to change God's mind. The child was not a punishment to David, it was the death of the child that was a punishment.
Another point to make is that the consequences of premarital or extramarital sex go far beyond whether or not it results in pregnancy. If pregnancy were the only problem, with sexual sin, then adultery or fornication that did not result in pregnancy should not be a problem. Sin is not just bad because God says "no," but because there are a whole host of relational problems that come from sins. For example, when someone lies, relationships suffer because time and energy are wasted trying to hide the lie, the liar is not able to share his/her whole heart with the one they lied to, and ultimately the person who lies is no longer trusted. It is the same with sexual sins. When a person engages in sexual sins, relationships suffer as a natural consequence to that sin.
The very story you mention demonstrates clearly the relational breakups that can happen. Was Ishmael a blessing? I believe so. He was not only a gift to Haggar from God, but God sent an angel to speak to her personally concerning the child, even telling her to name him Ishmael which means "God Hears." In Genesis 21, when Sarah told Abraham to get rid of Haggar and Ishmael we are told that it distressed Abraham greatly, which leads me to believe that Abraham loved his son as much as Haggar did, and was blessed by his presence. And God did not curse Ishmael, but made him into a great nation because of Abraham.
The problems come in to this story through the relationships. Haggar became proud, arrogant of her position. Sarah was jealous, and treated Haggar with contempt and anger. Sarah lost her trust for Abraham, not believing that he would treat her son fairly so she forced him to get rid of his first-born. These relationship breakdowns ultimately lead to the division of the family and the ultimate separation of Abraham and his first born son. The problems that pass down through the centuries, the divisions between Isaac and Ishmael's offspring come from the division of the family, not simply because of the birth of Ishmael. In the opening of Genesis 25 we see that Abraham did take another wife and fathered other sons. These children also were not the ones through whom God would fulfill his promise, but they were no less of a blessing to Abraham.
I guess the best way to explain it would be to say that God loves people, all people. God treats everyone with grace and mercy in the hopes that they will turn to him and follow him. Each uniquely created human is loved as fully and deeply as every other. I cannot believe that God would freely give one of his deeply loved and cherished children to the care of another for a purpose intending punishment, chastisement, from anger or hatred. I can only believe that God would choose to share his most deeply loved creations because of the gift, the blessing they can be to the parent God chooses for them. And the very fact that God continues to provide blessings to me and my fellow humans even though we sin, reminds me how much God loves us all and is desperately trying to get us to love him back.
The last thing on my heart to share with you is a matter of perspective. I am sorry I have no Bible story at hand to pull from, but if you will just think with me about your life as I share a little from mine. Sometimes, most of the time, I sin because I think it will benefit me in some way. I expect the sin will bring me pleasure or make my life easier. I know in my head that this rationale is wrong, but I continue to sin quite regularly anyway. And sometimes I am really thankful for what I think I have "gotten away with," meaning the blessings I think I have even though I sinned. But sometimes, as I mature a little more and see a little more of the picture I realize that what I thought was a blessing was not a blessing at all.
Did I engage in premarital sex, yes, and you can read about it on my web site. I was "lucky" that I never became pregnant while I participated in this sin, but in some ways I see that I was not lucky at all. I became proud, overly sure of my ability to do whatever I wanted. I had terrible relationships that started wrong because it became easier and easier to have sex. Ultimately I had to deal with some major hurts and troubles in my heart because I was so "lucky" and never had to face what I did.
In contrast, one of my best friends was 19 years old and ready to break up with his live-in girlfriend when they found out she was pregnant. He did not think he wanted the child, he did not want to make the sacrifices that were going to be necessary to take care of a baby. He did it anyway. Was his child a blessing? To hear him tell it, his daughter saved his life. Caring for his daughter took him out of a lifestyle that was killing him. Is his life perfect? No. Is his life easy? Not really. But he would not trade his daughter for the world. And his live-in girlfriend? She left them, walked away from him and their daughter for a life of freedom and drugs. I am sure she enjoys her daughter, but she has missed the bigger blessing her daughter could have been to her life. Her daughter is no less a gift from God just because she refused the gift. His story is probably not the norm and is only meant to illustrate the concept.
I struggle with our modern beliefs that the problem with teen pregnancy and unwed pregnancy is that the mother can not finish school and will not be able to get a good job. I wonder sometimes if we feel this needs to be avoided due to the cost to society, or due to the cost to that one woman. Does our perception of the problem change when the woman in question changes? Would we be talking about the same problem if our own teen daughter became pregnant as we talk about when the woman is poor, maybe from the bad part of town or the bad part of the country? Is it easier to see the value of the children and mothers who are a part of our lives?
There are much worse things in life than to have to quit school and raise a child. There are much worse things in life than being poor. And since God is more concerned with my character than my comfort, I can easily see how a life of humbling myself to meet the needs of my child, choosing to put my energy into my child instead of pursing money or things is beneficial to my character. I can see how much a blessing a child can be to an unwed parent who will still have to deal with all the other consequences of the sin. At the same time, I can appreciate the struggles that parent will go through which make all the other conseuqences even more difficult.