I look absolutely nothing like the rest of my family, sporting stick-straight blonde hair and blue eyes. My mother is a quarter Native American, my dad is an Irishman, and my sister is half African American. We always look like an odd bunch of people when we go out for dinner. I’ve even been asked by a waiter how we all know each other. I looked around the table at all our contrasting faces; “They’re my family,” I said.
Throughout my life I’ve been asked many questions about this characteristic, such as:
Do you wonder about your biological family?
If you could live with them, would you?
Do you really consider your mom to be your mom?
When you say dad… you mean your adopted dad, right?
Is it weird?
I honestly don’t mind the questions, but that’s probably because I don’t mind being adopted. Instead, it’s this one characteristic that brought about a deep understanding of God’s love for me—and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
You see, in Romans 8, the apostle Paul talks about adoption. He says, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:14-15, NIV).
From my personal experience and observation, I took a few key points away from this passage. When I watched my parents adopt my little sister, I saw them dedicate time, money, and energy so that they could leave the courtroom saying, “This is my daughter. I love her. She’s mine.” And it doesn’t stop there. They then embarked on a life-long journey of caring for my sister, teaching her and shaping her. God does this for us, too. We leave the courtroom with him, calling him Father.
My personal understanding of adoption speaks volumes into my understanding of God. But it is also so important to investigate the cultural understanding of adoption during the time of the apostle Paul. The Archaeological Study Bible explains that, in the ancient Greco-Roman world, “only free men (not women or slaves) could adopt, and the adoptee was often an adult rather than a child.” Additionally, an adoptee “took the adopter’s name and rank and became his legal heir.”
When Paul embraced the metaphor of adoption, he meant so much more than receiving a new guardian. Where an adopted child may learn the new family’s customs, share in the labor, and easily fit into the new societal ranking, a grown adult may not. An adopted adult would cling to their old ways. An adopted adult would struggle to transition into their new identity. But, despite these challenges, the adoptee is welcomed in, being brought from poverty to riches, from shame to honor, from slave to free, from nothing to everything.
We, too, can welcome this change in our identity. We can rejoice in the eternal relationship we have with our God. We can call him Abba, Father, and he calls us his children.
Interested in learning more about the archaeological, historical, and cultural information tucked inside your Bible? The Archaeological Study Bible contains over 500 articles and 500 full-color photos. Best part? It’s on sale right now.