Photo by Guillaume de Germain

My favorite part of the Christian life is examining the shadows. Normally this means examining the scriptures, especially the Old Testament, and seeing the sweet outlines of Christ throughout each and every story. God has used these shadows in my life to grow me in my understanding of the gospel and my love for Jesus. There are few things more precious than searching the scriptures and, by the Spirit’s illumination, being dazzled by the radiance of the glory of God found in Christ Jesus. God has so chosen for us to see Him most clearly in the pages of Holy Writ. What is most interesting to me is that in my seeing and beholding Christ in the scriptures I am encouraged to behold Him in various other ways. For instance in Ephesians 5:22-33 I am beseeched to behold Christ and the Church in my marriage. I call this a shadow, meaning that God has set a picture inside of marriage that, when observed, reveals the mystery of the gospel. When we do an examination of it in the light of the scriptures we see and behold Christ and His church. We see Christ lay down His life for her. We see the Church’s joyful submission to Jesus. We see Jesus delight in His church and we see the Church rejoice in Jesus’ love. It is beautiful altogether. There is an innate beauty in a husband loving his wife fiercely. There is a unique adorning of the Gospel in a wife who submits with delight to her husband. But, the beauty of these things are a silhouette, they aren’t full. You can’t see the complete picture: It needs color added, dimension, shading; it needs its substance. Marriage is one of these pictures and likely the one that is most prominent in the Christian’s mind, but I would like to offer you another silhouette to examine.

I have been looking forward to writing this since January 22, 2019. On that day at around 7:00 PM a social worker walked in my house and spun around a car-seat to reveal a frail, swollen, little girl. My first words as I saw her were, “Woah, that head.” Her head was far too big for her malnourished body. Beth looked at me with a mixed gaze of laughter and “shut your mouth!” This was the start of an intimate examination of the shadow of adoption for us. I pulled her out of the car-seat and leaned her against my knees and just stared at her. Her eyes were empty, almost void of emotion all together. I was horrified. I was in love. This helpless, empty, beautiful, treasure of a soul was mine and as odd as it is to say, I knew it right then and there. I loved her instantly and have grown in my love for her every day. I have been her Dad since that cold January night and yesterday we signed the paperwork to finalize that adoption. She is a Harlow. Beth and I are elated. Our souls soar with gratitude to God for giving her to us; He is truly the giver of all good and perfect gifts.

Finalizing the adoption means that Rowan has every right and privilege that is associated with my family; she is as much a Harlow as if she had been born into our home. Our wealth (no matter how great or small) is her wealth. Our house is her house. The food we buy is her food. Beth is her Mom and I am her Dad. All of this was not true at her birth. I did not know her. I could have walked by her in the grocery store and never thought anything but “Woah, that head”. Beth could have sat in the same restaurant with her and never given her more than a quick glance as she does every baby. And while there is much beauty in the reality that she is truly ours, that she is truly a Harlow, she doesn’t have my mother’s eyes. She doesn’t have Beth’s smile or my nose. We won’t see Beth’s dad in her face. There is nothing naturally Harlow about her. But in our raising of her she will be distinctly Harlow. I see Beth’s affection training her to be merciful and kind. I see my facial expressions on her face, much to Beth’s dismay. She will be forever impacted by her Toddy and Randaddy, Lulu and John John, Dogdog and Mamy. She will learn wit, humor, vocabulary, snark, and 1,000 other attributes (good and bad) from her family. That is the shadow that I’ve had the joy of observing over the last two years. It is beautiful, at least to me. She wasn’t ours, but now she is distinctly ours. She was unknown by us, but now she is known and treasured. God’s providence brought her to us and our love for her birthed adoption. But it is a shadow. It needs color added, dimension, shading, it needs its substance.

Brothers and Sisters, the substance is always more radiant than the shadow. Here, I can say with great confidence, that is certainly the case. It is painful to write what I wrote above. It is painful that there was a time when I didn’t know my daughter. Ever so often, it breaks my heart that I won’t see Beth’s features on my daughter’s face. But it is important to notice the shortfalls of the shadows so as to more greatly cherish the substance. I want to look at the substance for just a moment. There are two truths that dominate my mind in the distinction between the shadow and substance of adoption.

For those of us who have seen the person and work of Christ and cast ourselves upon Him, we can say with confidence that we have been justified, but we can also say with as much confidence that we have been adopted. This means that, by grace, we are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”. The question becomes, “How did we get here?” Sincerely, look at yourself. Do you find anything so lovely in you that the God who is infinitely beautiful would be drawn to you? (If you do, I would urge you to examine yourself in the light of scripture). Man in his natural state is void of life, dead in his trespasses and sins and at enmity with God. There is no benefit to God in adding us to His family, so why then would He do such a thing? Why not justify slaves to keep in his household to wait tables? Ephesians 1:3-6 answers,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,  to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:3-6 ESV

Love. Pure, eternal, unmerited love. Why is the substance more beautiful than the shadow? There was a moment that I didn’t love Rowan as her father. I didn’t know her. But there has never been a moment in all of eternity where God has not loved His church. There was no start to His love. There will be no end to His love. Even when we were dead, empty, objects of wrath we were still objects of God’s eternal, adopting love. In love, He sent the Lord Jesus to accomplish all that was necessary for our justification and subsequent adoption. The substance is stunning. Oh, what security and blessing in our adoption. If God’s love rested on us before we had either done good or bad what can be done to alter this immutable love? Nothing. It is steadfast and sure, for the love He gives finds its only origin in His eternal will which knows no variation or shadow of change.

Just one more thought about the substance of adoption. Earthly adoption cannot change the nature of the one adopted. God’s adoption of the saints always changes the nature of the one adopted. All those who are adopted into the family of God will in life be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, all those who are adopted into the family of God are clothed with the perfect righteousness of Christ. This means that as the Father looks at His children He sees them through the lens of Christ. This means we don’t look like aliens at the dinner table. We have been adopted into the family of God and through Jesus’ work of redemption and the Spirit’s application of that work we bear the nature of members of the family of God. Romans 8:29, 1 John 3:1,  and Galatians 4:4-7 all testify to this reality, I pray you will seek it out.

I am grateful for the shadow that I get to live in, but I am all the more grateful for the substance that I have been caught up in. I am overjoyed at the reality of God’s eternal love toward ruined sinners that brings them into the family of God by adoption and sanctifies them so that their nature matches the family into which they have been brought. Adoption is often an overlooked doctrine, but it is the highest privilege of the gospel. May the saints rejoice in the eternal love of the Father. May they rejoice in the finished work of Christ that accomplishes all that is necessary for their justification and subsequent adoption. May they rejoice in the Spirit’s work to make us cry, “Abba, Father”.

All Glory and Praise be to the God of Adoption.

Learning in Absence