In 25 short meditations, Furman helps women see labor and birth in the framework of the larger biblical narrative, infusing cosmic meaning into their personal experience and directing their focus off of themselves and onto Christ.
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About the Author
Gloria Furman (MACE, Dallas Theological Seminary) lives in the Middle East where her husband, Dave, serves as the pastor of Redeemer Church of Dubai. She is the author of many books, including Missional Motherhood; Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full; and Glimpses of Grace.
Jesse Scheumannis a PhD student at the University of the Free State and assistant professor of biblical and religious studies at Sattler College. He and his wife founded Picture Hebrew, a site dedicated to illustrated resources for learning biblical Hebrew.
Read an Excerpt
In the Image of God He Created Them
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
"It was a dark and stormy night. Then your mother announced, 'The baby is coming!'" And so begins my own birth story in which my parents had to drive across a bridge to reach the hospital while a snowstorm was brewing (we made it).
Your birth story is no doubt different than mine. After all, the end result of the birth story is you, a unique human being. There is a birth story we all share, however. It's the story of the birth of mankind. It starts like this ...
Once upon a time, before there was time, there was God.
Independent of everything and everyone — God exists. In perfect holiness, diversity, and love, the triune God lives forever.
And then, in the beginning, God created everything you can see and everything you can't see ... out of nothing. We read the story of creation in Genesis 1. God spoke things into existence: "Let there be ..." He made the earth, space, time, light, land, and plants. And then he filled it all in — sun, moon, stars, sea and flying creatures, and land animals. It was all good.
Then the Creator did something different. With intimate care and attention, he "formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature" (Gen. 2:7). But a helper fit for the man was not found among everything God had made. "So the LordGod caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man" (Gen.2:21–22). When the man awoke and saw her, the man burst into song:
This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man. (Gen. 2:23)
There they were — two complementary imagers of equal dignity and value — distinctly designed to fit together in unity with a procreative purpose (Mal.2:15). God saw everything that he had made, and it was very good. From the outside in, God created and filled the cosmos, and the epitome of his creative work was his image bearers — man and woman.
A Wonder-Full Thought
Whether you are a brand-new mother or a mother of twelve, it is astonishing that God would grow another one (or more!) of his image bearers in your womb. Though the child is made up of your DNA and bears resemblance to you, he or she is foremost an image bearer of the triune God. As are you.
Pause for a minute to notice the swirling arcs on your fingers. Be conscious of your lungs filling with air, your heart pumping blood through your blood vessels, and your brain controlling your body's functions (even as you sleep). Your life is no accident. Someone is purposefully holding you together (Col.1:17). Both you and your unborn child belong to the Lord, you are his imagers, and you exist for his glory. As God's imagers we have the unparalleled privilege and responsibility of representing him to the watching cosmos in every capacity he has designed for us.
I know all of this can be hard to understand on a Thursday afternoon. You've got a dozen things on your mind right now, and besides, God is infinite and his ways are above our ways. How can humans think about such things? After all, we are merely physical creatures who are earthbound in our limited comprehension. But is that all we are?
Could it be that the Creator of all things had something wonderful in his mind when he made man and woman? Something that shows us how glorious he is? God could have charged the six-winged seraphim with representing him to the watching cosmos, yet he fashioned a man out of dust and a woman from the man's rib. Our mammalian lungs could have just simply filled with oxygen like those in the animal realm, yet the Lord chose to breathe into the man his breath of life. Something profound is going on here — something beyond what we can see with the retinas and corneas in our eyes. We would do well to take more time to think about such things, following the dust in the sunbeams up to the sun.
Where else can we go to learn about the One for whom we were made but to God's very Word? Through God's gift of medicine, a world of knowledge about fertility, pregnancy, and childbirth is at our disposal to help us nurture both our own bodies and those blooming within our wombs. But when we are looking for spiritual nourishment, we have to dig into the Bible.
And so that's where we will continue to look. The Bible is a buffet with plenty of soul food for those who are eating for two. As the Lord wills, I will use the pages that follow to explain how the entire human experience of childbirth is a signpost for overwhelming joy and realities that will endure forever.CHAPTER 2
Be Fruitful and Multiply
And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
"Wouldn't it be so lovely having little versions of you and me running around? I'd love to have a family. And you think you know what you're talking about ... you have no idea!" British comedian Michael McIntyre chided would-be parents during a show. He then described the added complications of mundane life with kids. Through playful humor he made the point that efficiency and comfort do not accompany the task of building a family.1
Perhaps at one level he's right. When it comes to understanding the purpose of having children, we think we know what we're talking about. As confident in our understanding as we may be, we need to ask this question: Where do our ideas about having children come from? We probably would get different answers depending on cultural values, time period, or personal experience.
Little Versions of You and Me Running Around
Because I live in a diverse global city, I get to see many different people groups live out their beliefs in regard to the purpose of having children. Some people aim to have as many children as biologically possible, perhaps with an aim to birthing more boys than girls. Some people embrace the concept of transracial adoption and have grown their family in this way. Some people consciously refrain from having children at all for economic reasons. Some people have more children precisely for economic reasons. Perspectives on fertility are as diverse as the people who hold them. What is the purpose of having little versions of you and me running around? Do we have any idea?
In the Bible, children are considered a blessing because of God's command to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" — known as the "creation mandate." Practically speaking, more kids means more image bearers of God, and more imager bearers of God means the earth will be filled with God's glory. Having children was necessary to fill the earth with little image bearers. On hearing this passage from Scripture, careful readers of the Bible will know this is the way it was in the Old Testament. Careful exegetes of modern cultures will recall scornful nomenclature that reduces women to "baby factories" and controversial practices such as surrogacy and abortion. It is true that in Old Testament times in order to expand and fill the earth with God's glory, God's people focused on biological fertility. But what about now? We live in between the two ages — the one that is passing away and the one that is coming. How do we think about the purpose of having children now? Do we need to discard the Bible's teaching at this point? Of course not. Thankfully, the Bible is one book, it is utterly and internally consistent, and it is applicable for all times.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah pulls back the curtain on how God will ultimately fill the earth with his glory. Isaiah's prophecy concerned an eternal King who would bring about a new humanity through his sufferings. According to the will of God, this Servant would be cut off from this life, crushed, and put to grief, yet he would somehow not only have offspring but he would see them in his prolonged, prosperous life.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Isa. 53:10)
This is not humanly possible. Humanly speaking, men who die do not actively bear offspring and see their offspring, nor do they come back to life. It just doesn't happen. But Isaiah isn't describing just any man.
How does this Suffering Servant have offspring? And why?
From Creation Mandate to the New Creation
There is a man who was, by the will of God, crushed in order to atone for the sin of his offspring. This Man is Jesus, and he sees his offspring every day. He is with them, in fact, to the end of the age, at which point he will dwell with them again and they will see his face. No, Jesus did not have any biological children, but now through his Spirit, his spiritual children are lighting up every dark corner of the globe. Remade into his glorious likeness, men, women, and children who have been given new hearts are filling the earth and making more and more and more disciples of the Servant who suffered for their sake. Let's call this "spiritual fertility" — a kind of procreation that can run circles around our expiring biological clocks.
Starting a family, building a legacy, carrying on the family name ... do we have any idea what we're talking about? All of these very good things — families, legacies, names — are mere shadows and signposts that hint at something much greater than what we can see with our eyes and measure with a head count at the family reunion. It may be, friend, that you are among those who are not physically able to participate in biological procreation. Be encouraged, because what I am about to say is not a trifling "consolation prize" for you. God's big idea of the way his glory will fill the earth is for all of us to enjoy: "making babies who make more babies" points us to discipleship. The offspring of the Suffering Servant — little versions of Jesus running around — pass on the gospel to those who will pass on the gospel. Our biological and spiritual fertility is facilitated by God for God's glory (not ours). By the power of the Spirit, the new humanity in Christ will fill God's new creation to the praise of his glorious grace. And it will be profoundly more than lovely.CHAPTER 3
The Promised Seed of Woman
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.
Can you imagine life as it was before sin entered the world? Perhaps you can, and that's what intrigues (and perhaps bothers) you.
All creation teemed with life! Proud palm trees lifted their fronds high overhead, and the curious chinchilla darted among the rocks in the mountains. Anglerfish roamed the deep sea with a welcome lantern, and lopsided fiddler crabs shook each other's claws on the beach. Wandering albatross glided aloft wherever the wind took them, and the fragile dove was not yet said to be a "mourning" dove. Everything was good in God's creation.
And then God made something — two someones — actually, whom he said were very good. Adam and Eve did not know what it felt like to have that nagging suspicion that the other was upset with them. No anxious questions of "what shall we eat, what shall we drink, what shall we wear" came into their minds. God had given them the esteemed privilege of ruling and subduing his creation, along with the capacity to do it for his glory alone. The man and woman were, after all, created in God's image. They were free — free to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
God speaks and mankind lives; that is reality. Adam and Eve were to live by every word that proceeded from the mouth of God, and they could eat of every tree in the garden except for one — the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. No distance separated them from God. No bitter feelings moved them to give God the silent treatment. No anger seethed in their hearts because there was nothing to be afraid of. No shameful memories crept into their minds to steal their awareness of the dignity God had given them. No guilty conscience locked their feet in place to prevent them from walking with him every day.
The End of the Beginning
But all of that changed. Adam allowed God's enemy (embodied in a crafty serpent) to hiss doubt into his wife's ears — doubts about who God is and what his heart is like. Adam allowed this deceiver to linger in God's perfect garden, where no unclean thing dwelled.
Did God actually say, "You shall not eat of any tree in the garden"? (Gen. 3:1)
You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Gen. 3:4–5)
The doubt of all doubts goes like this: perhaps there is a word that is better than God's.
Isn't it ironic? Disobey God in order to know good and evil? God's image bearers disbelieved him, and they believed his enemy instead. When they rejected God's Word, they chose to live not by God's words but by his enemy's. They ate the fruit that God forbade them to eat, and as a result they fell into sin, taking all of their children with them. The fracturing of the cosmos on the fault line of human sin cannot be described too strongly. God's image bearers ... his image bearers ... committed cosmic treason. Instead of discerning that the vile serpent should be judged for entering God's holy place, Adam willfully defected to the other side. He laid aside the priestly, kingly, and prophetic authority given to him by his Creator, and found himself and his offspring — not to mention the rest of creation — careening into the abyss of sin, death, and judgment.
No amount of "I'm really sorry's" can atone for such treachery. No quantity of good works can be done to make up for what was lost. No amount of whitewash can cover up the stain of sin that now saturated the human heart.
The Hope of All Humanity
God would have been perfectly just to not allow Adam and Eve to live for even a single second after they sinned against him in the garden. Unless God himself intervenes on our behalf, all is lost forever.
What did God do? He promised he would send a Deliverer. A Promised One would come, leading the way of rebellion against the fallen world order of sin. A terrible battle for the eternal souls of men would ensue, and God's Promised One would emerge victorious. As he indicted his enemy, God made the announcement that flips everything right side up again:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:15)
Did you catch that? God said the woman would have offspring — a singular, male offspring. "He" would bruise the head of Satan (a mortal wound), yet "his heel" would be wounded (a comparatively minor wound). The hope of human history hangs on the promise that a Deliverer would come through the woman's womb. God kept his promise. Jesus — the last Adam — prevailed over God's enemy and is now putting the cosmos back in its rightful order.
God did not annihilate us in the garden. Before God spoke a word of judgment to Adam and Eve, he gave them this word of life. Childbirth — new physical life — is evidence of God's ongoing mercy to sinful humanity. Everyone who has ever been born has tasted this mercy. After the fall, when death entered into God's creation, every soul conceived is a triumph of life despite death. The fact of life reminds us that we have Jesus, and if we haveJesus then we have hope.CHAPTER 4
Why Does Childbirth Hurt So Bad?
To the woman he said,
"I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you."
A friend of mine once said that because he had stepped on a Lego block with his bare foot, he now knew what childbirth felt like. Of course, he was only joking, but in all seriousness, why does birth pain hurt so much?
"Why? Why all this pain?" a laboring woman sobbed in my arms in a delivery room. Various world religions propose different explanations. What do you believe is the answer? Do you think birth pain exists just for physiological reasons? Or is there something more to it? What do your neighbors think about this common human experience? It would make for an interesting conversation to ask your friends what they believe to be the origin of birth pain and if they think it serves a metaphysical purpose.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Labor with Hope"
Copyright © 2019 Gloria Furman.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 In the Image of God He Created Them,
2 Be Fruitful and Multiply,
3 The Promised Seed of Woman,
4 Why Does Childbirth Hurt So Bad?,
5 Pain in Parenting,
6 Writhing under God's Judgment,
7 God's Birth Pain?,
8 The Gospel Is the Ultimate Cure for the Abortion Epidemic,
9 Tasting Death for Others,
10 The Birth Pains of Death,
11 Jesus's Death Begets Spiritual Offspring,
12 Birth Pain after Childbirth to Raise Spiritual Disciples,
13 Putting Pain in Its Place,
14 All Creation in the Throes of Labor,
15 Conceived in Sin and Saved by Grace,
16 You Must Be Born Again,
17 Boasting Only in the Cross,
18 A Tomb Became a Womb for the New Creation,
19 Our Deliverer Delivered through Birth Pains,
20 Saved through Childbearing,
21 Children Are a Blessing,
22 Knit Together,
23 Don't Trust Birth; Trust God,
24 God Who Causes to Bring Forth,
25 From Inevitable Sorrow to Guaranteed Joy,
What People are Saying About This
“Gloria Furman has a disarming way of connecting the most concrete stuff of our lives to the most glorious truth of the gospel. She’s doing it again here, as she peers into the realities of pregnancy and childbirth through the windows of Scripture. This book opens the windows wide. We do well to ponder this theme, of which God keeps reminding us in all kinds of painful and marvelous ways.”
Kathleen Nielson,author; speaker; Senior Adviser, The Gospel Coalition
“Gloria Furman has written devotionals that will transform the way we view pregnancy from conception to birth and beyond. Labor with Hope magnifies the glory of Christ and all that he has done, and helps us fix our eyes on the one who gives eternal life.”
Trillia Newbell, author, Sacred Endurance; If God Is for Us; and God’s Very Good Idea
“When Gloria Furman speaks about motherhood, I always listen. In Labor with Hope, Furman shows us how ‘every aspect of childbirth fuels our worship of Jesus,’ beautifully unpacking that statement as she takes us on a journey through Scripture, demonstrating how the birth pain metaphor illustrates God’s work in us. Each chapter in this meaningful devotional explores a different aspect of this mystery, leading the reader to a fuller understanding of our hope in Christ and the God who labors over us.”
Vaneetha Rendall Risner, author, The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering
“Every part of life belongs to God, even the parts when we’re trying to combat the never-ending heartburn, struggling to find that elusive comfortable position, or panting and pushing to birth the long-awaited new addition to God’s world. My dear friend (and mother of four) Gloria Furman has crafted beautiful meditations for you to ponder as you labor through your pregnancy and wonder, ‘Why is this like it is?’ Dear sister, this book will help you understand what’s happening and why, and will give you hope for future days of joy in God’s good providence. I heartily recommend it!”
Elyse Fitzpatrick, author, Give Them Grace
“In stark contrast to many of the childbirth books on shelves today, Labor with Hope offers gospel freedom from the burdens and guilt that often surround labor and delivery. With short, easy-to-read devotionals, Gloria Furman unpacks the spiritual realities of childbirth, offering hope and joy to women who pick up this book.”
Laura Wifler, Cofounder, Risen Motherhood
“Sin has blurred our vision of motherhood. In this book, Gloria Furman invites us to look through a gospel telescope that helps us focus our blurred, painful, and mundane perspective of pregnancy into a sharp, eternal, and glorious reality.”
Betsy Gómez, Blogger, Revive Our Hearts Hispanic Outreach