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When Adoption Fails, the Gospel is Denied

The wonder of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is this — not one of us is worthy of adoption. In our sinfulness, not one of…

The tragic spectacle of a seven-year-old boy sent flying alone back to Russia, returned by an adoptive mother in the United States, has caught the attention of the watching world. Torry Hansen put the boy on a plane and sent him back to Russia with a note explaining that she could not handle him. Later, her own mother told the press that Torry Hansen had wanted a child she could love, but did not find that love in this boy she had adopted from Russia and promised to love for life.

The horror of the situation was captured in language by Patricia Cogen, who told CNN that this American mother has returned her own son to Russia “like a pair of pants that didn’t fit.”

Understandably, outrage has marked the Russian response. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced Thursday that all adoptions to parents in the United States would be put on immediate hold. The United States Department of State promised to make a resolution of this issue an urgent priority. At present, at least 3,000 American families are at some point in the formal process of adopting a Russian child.

Indeed, Russia now ranks third among the source nations for American international adoptions. Russian pride is deeply wounded by this fact, and the outrage toward the return of this one boy has become a lighted fuse on Russian anger.

Clearly, this sad situation has become a focus of international outrage. Even in these morally confused times, most people have responded to this news with outrage and deep sadness. The picture of that tiny boy, sent back to a Russian orphanage, simply breaks the human heart.

Of course, far more is at stake here, for Christians understand that adoption is a central metaphor of our salvation in Christ. As the Apostle Paul writes:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. [Romans 8:14-17]

We who through the redemption accomplished by Christ have “received the Spirit of adoption as sons” are now “children of God, and if children, then heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Central to this adoption we have received in Christ is its irreversibility. We are not adopted for a term, but for eternity. We are no longer orphans, but are now and forever by the mercy of Christ the children of God and heirs with Christ. The adoption we have received in Christ is not reversible or conditional — it is eternal and unconditional.

We are told that Torry Hansen wanted a child to love, but found that the boy she adopted from Russia was not that child. She claims that the boy has serious psychiatric issues and that she could not handle him. She sent him back to Russia as a boy rejected by his adoptive mother.

This is not only a rejection of a boy, unspeakably tragic and ugly as that act is — it is a refutation of adoption itself. The bottom line is that this mother did not want her son anymore.  The Gospel points us to a very different reality. As Russell Moore expresses this great truth, “The New Testament continually points to our adoption in Christ in order to show us that we’re really, really wanted here in the Father’s house.”

The wonder of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is this — not one of us is worthy of adoption. In our sinfulness, not one of us has any claim on the Father’s love, much less a right to adoption. But, the infinitely rich mercy of God is shown us in Christ, in whom believers are adopted by the Father. And this adoption, thanks be to God, is eternal and irreversible.

We have been given adoption as a gift and as a sign of the Gospel. The adoption of any child is a portrait of God’s grace. Just as every earthly marriage points in some way to the marriage supper of the Lamb, every adopted child is a pointer to the Gospel. Thus, any failure in adoption is a slander to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When adoption fails — whatever the reason — the Gospel is denied.