Last November, Teri and I stood before a judge in downtown Memphis. The courtroom was standing room only, as most of our family and many close friends were there. Courtrooms have a certain gravitas about them; issues of life and death are transacted within those hallowed walls. Therefore, the room was mostly quiet as we waited for the judge to arrive, strike the gavel, and call the court to order. The only one who was active and running around was the one on whom all the proceedings turned. Oblivious to protocol and procedure, she was just happy to be amongst familiar faces that made up her short life of just over two years.
After the judge was settled on the bench, he called a couple of people to testify. Then Teri and I were called before the bench to listen while our attorney read through an adoption decree to make sure we understood precisely what we were getting ourselves into. When he had finished reading, the judge began to ask us questions to make sure we were of sound mind and understood fully that once he issued this decree, our little girl, Addison, who we had fostered since she was an infant, would no longer be in the custody of the state but would be “our child” as much as our six biological children. He told us we couldn’t change our mind later as the newness or novelty wore off, that she was our legal heir, that we took her as she was and were giving her our name. I don’t remember all he said, but I do remember two things: “You know, you can never disinherit her, and she will be to you as if she was born of your wedlock.” Adoption lashed us to this child, not just emotionally, but legally!
The judge then signed a legal document and, just like that, I had a seventh child. I experienced something I never had, something deeply theological that moves my soul. Like God, I had adopted a child into my already large family. Up until this moment in time and space, I loved her as well as I could, but because she was in the state’s custody, her legal standing was fragile at best, and our life consisted of countless meetings with people we didn’t know but who had power over her and who could legally take her from us at any time. But with that legal decree from the judge, in an instant, she went from being an orphan to being our child. She was not loved any more at this point, but she now had all the rights and privileges of being part of a family that would stop at nothing to see her thrive and flourish as much as a human being can.
What is so crazy about adoption is that the adopted child doesn’t really strive for it or merit it––heck, they don’t even know what is going on! In fact, adoption is a deliberate act of the parents. One who was not your child—a ward of the state, a fledgling, a child that is not of your blood––suddenly is yours. He/she bears your name, he/she is your heir, and he/she is yours. I have lived in the warm embrace of the theological truth that, like this, I am a child of God because of adoption. But to experience it as a father of an adopted child is to have a small window into my Father in heaven.
I think J.I. Packer says it best when talking about adoption. He says our greatest need is forgiveness—which Jesus gives us on the cross. But the highest blessing of redemption is adoption. “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means he does not understand Christianity very well at all… adoption is the highest privilege the gospel offers: higher even than justification—by which we mean God’s forgiveness of the past together with his acceptance for the future. Justification is the primary and fundamental blessing because it meets our primary spiritual need. But… adoption is higher, because of the richer relationship with God that it involves.” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God)
This might all seem too good to be true if it weren’t celebrated in the Scripture. The Apostle Paul, in trying to diagnose why the people in the Galatian church have lost their joy, turns to the doctrine of adoption to remind them that God does not just tolerate the people Jesus died for—He lavishes them with love as a father does a child. “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.” (Galatians 4:4-7)
Imagine this: if God is really your father because you are adopted into God’s family, you have everything Jesus has with the Father. God doesn’t just tolerate you; He is singing opera over you! You call God “Abba” which is like Addison calling me “Daddy.” This is not an inheritance or relationship that you get someday in the future—it is now! I look at my adopted daughter and realize, if God feels about me just half as much as what I feel for her—words are too cheap to describe this grace. I look at my little daughter sometimes and ache for joy that she is mine. And even when she behaves out of the trauma that is her story, I am reminded that when God adopted me, he took on all my problems and promises that nothing can separate me from his love! That promise, more than any other in the Bible, is what electrifies my soul and keeps me running back to him, even when I am deep in sin––no, especially when I am deep in sin.
We serve a God who sings over us. “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17) He sings because he is our Father, and it is what is in him, not us, that causes him to sing. Nothing will heal your heart and give you joy like remembering who you are. Glory!