January 8

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible

Reading schedule

Matthew 4:12-17; Acts 4:1-12; Psalm 7:10-17; Genesis 16-17

God had promised Abram (as he was known before he became Abraham) a son to be his heir (Genesis 15:4). In Genesis 16 we see how Abram and Sarai decide to take matters into their own hands and bring that promise to fruition. By then, Abram was eighty-six, and Sarai was about ten years younger—well past the age of child-bearing. Sarai brings her servant Hagar to Abram for them to have intercourse, which leads to Hagar getting pregnant and giving birth to Ishmael.

It is understandable that Abram and Sarai would think they needed to do something to have a child since the usual husband-wife approach looked implausible. When faced with challenges over fertility or health, we may likewise think that God would support our quest for children or good health. After all, the Bible declares that God is the great healer (Exodus 15:26) and that he desires that we have life in all its fullness (John 10:10). While God desires good things for us, he does not view every means of obtaining them as ethical. We must balance God’s promises with the importance of doing things God’s way and waiting on his timing.

We see an example of this with Abram and Sarai. They lived prior to God giving Israel his extensive moral code. We cannot be sure if they knew of God’s design for marriage being between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24-25). However, the earlier chapters of Genesis present men as having one wife, except for Lamech, a rather sordid character (Genesis 4:19-24). Polygamy and having concubines became commonplace in Israel, but nowhere does God approve of this. Sarai’s reaction to Hagar as events unfolded shows that their plan created major problems and deep hurt. In taking things into their own hands, Abram and Sarai went against God’s design for marriage and his promise that he would provide a son.

We today must reflect on whether our pursuit of health or healing leads us to try unethical practices. We must carefully evaluate whether practices or therapies, ancient or new, meet with God’s approval. We should thoroughly examine their ethical dimensions, not just evaluate whether they work or not. In addition, even if something is ethical, we must determine if it is wise. Is it so expensive that it will create a large burden of debt? Could it negatively impact a marriage or other relationships? Paul reminds us elsewhere that under grace, “‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

God is a healer, but he does not promise perfect health in this world, though he does promise his help and comfort in coping with life’s challenges. The desire to have a child is legitimate, but does not justify every means of having a child. Abram and Sarai knew God wanted them to have a child, but most of us today do not have such a promise. Modern technology provides many new ways to have a child. We need to evaluate the ethics of each specific method. But even if there is nothing inherently unethical about the technology, we should carefully consider whether God wants us to pursue this method or asking us to wait on him to provide another approach (such as adoption or not having children of our own). We must ask similar questions as we seek healing and comfort from the illnesses and other challenges we face.

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