Using Abram & Hagar To Understand Reproductive Technology
Scripture reminds us there is nothing new under the sun. And even though the way certain things are accomplished and the settings might change to some degree, most human dramas have not changed all that much since the earliest days of recorded history.
One such desire that has been a constant throughout the passing millennia has been the longing to have children. Both classic literature and front page headlines attest to the length some will go to to satisfy the parental impulse.
Here in our enlightened and progressive era are those wearing their sophistication on their sleeves for all to see who would say that there is no reason medically or morally why the desire for children cannot be fulfilled for those seeking to have the role of primary adult caretaker in the life of a specific young person.
One venue through which couples unable to have children of their own have turned to is surrogate motherhood. In this arrangement, the genetic material of the husband is implanted for the purposes of impregnation in a fecund woman who agrees to turn over custody of the child (often for a hefty sum of money) to the biological father and his wife.
To those seeing marriage as little more than a contract instituted by human beings with little purpose beyond establishing a stable social order, its slight alteration among consenting adults is of little consequence. However, from an examination of Genesis 16, we see that utilizing a woman other than the wife one is married to in the eyes of God is fraught with consequences that cannot initially be predicted.
From the text, the reader gathers the following facts.
Though God had promised an heir to Abram and Sarai, it seemed to them that they would remain barren since they were getting along in years.
So Sarai suggested that Abram go to her servant Hagar and father a child through her. Being a typical man, Abram readily agreed and took Hagar as a second wife.
After Hagar conceived, like a typical woman Sarai chewed out Abram when doing exactly as he was told by his wife did not turn out exactly as she expected. This happened in part when Hagar copped an attitude that she was more of a woman than Sarai since Hagar conceived, no doubt rubbing it in her employer’s face.
Caught in the middle, Abram let the catfight continue and told Sarai to do as she pleased with Hagar. So since she was mistreated by Sarai, Hagar ran away.
However, Hagar eventually returned to Abram to have Ishmael after being told by the Lord to do so and after being promised that she would be the mother of a great nation in her own right as well.
This text is fraught with a number of ethical issues.
For starters, there is the near universal desire to have a family, which, often a central motivating impulse in normal circumstances, must have been an overwhelming desire when it was prophesied that one’s offspring would come to influence all the world.
Second, there is the issue of the sanctity of marriage. From Scripture, it is taught that the standard is matrimony between one man and one woman as it says two shall become one flesh, not three.
As such, wherever there are two ladies competing to be queen of the castle there will inevitably be conflict.
There is also the issue of Abram stepping up to the plate and taking care of Ishmael and Hagar even if it would be more convenient to get them out of the way.
Some might question what bearing the Abram-Sarai-Hagar triangle has to do with the modern practices of surrogacy.
For today the process is much more clinical. The surrogate is not brought into the family as a concubine or second wife (except in parts of Utah perhaps) and the man does not get to lay back and enjoy the delights of his harem.
However, there is still the possibility of what was undertaken as an effort to acquire some of the most profound joy human beings can experience (namely having a family) spiraling out of control in terms of heartache and jealousy. For example, in the case of Elizabeth Whitehead who was contracted to be a surrogate, wads of cash were not enough to extinguish maternal feelings and a nasty custody fight ensued.
Frankly, a woman would have to be a borderline sociopath to be able to sever the bond with the child that grew within her for nine months.
Secondly, since the child becomes the child of the wife merely as the result of legal maneuvering, one must wonder just how attached she will be to the child as there is likely to be buried deep some kind of resentment that the husband had to turn to another woman (even if no “recreation satisfaction” was involved) to acquire a child. Even though Sarai instigated this ordeal in part to claim the child as her own, she certainly had few qualms about tossing Hagar out on her ear when things got tense.
This brings us to the only ethically viable alternatives for the Christian couple that want to both honor God and enjoy family life beyond the marital relationship.
If the wife is consistent and sincere that it does not matter if the child she is to raise is biologically hers or not, the couple should be informed that adoption is a way of fulfilling this desire that still honors the two-as-one ideal of marriage while assisting a child that would otherwise face this cruel world unloved.
If the couple is insistent that the child must be of their biological lineage, the Christian couple wanting to please God by keeping His commandments must pray for patience to wait upon the will of the Lord if they are to become parents and have fun while trying to find out.
Frederick Meekins is an independent theologian and social critic. Frederick holds a BS in Political Science/History, a MA in Apologetics/Christian Philosophy from Trinity Theological Seminary, and a PhD. in Christian Apologetics from Newburgh Theological Seminary.