Barrenness in the Bible

by Laura Christianson

In this post, we’ll examine several oft-quoted Bible passages that compound feelings of guilt, inadequacy and disillusionment in infertile people.

You have a Christian friend who’s infertile. You want to encourage her, so you pull out your Bible. You vaguely recall that several people in the Bible were “barren,” and they all ended up being blessed with children. You decide to quote these passages to your friend.

Stop!

Before you say anything, become familiar with the following “Biblical” advice that is often given to infertile people by their well-meaning friends:

If you have enough faith, God will grant you a child.

This not-so-helpful suggestion is rooted in God’s promise in Genesis 12 that Abraham and Sarah – even though they were 100 and 91 years old, would give birth to a son. Romans 4:20 tells us that Abraham “did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God,” but was “fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”

When Christians are unable to “be fruitful and multiply,” does that mean their faith is weak? Has God chosen not to bless them for some reason?

God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah was not intended to apply to every married couple thoughout history. In Genesis, God makes a specific promise to one couple, telling Abraham that all people on earth will be blessed through him. Nowhere does the text state or imply that all infertile people will be rewarded with children, just because their faith is strong.

You must have some unconfessed sin in your life. OR God must be punishing you for the sins of your youth.

Arrrrgggh! Do I speak for all infertile people here? If God was punishing us for our sins, would anyone have children?

When we want to encourage our infertile friends, why not choose a more appropriate passage, such as Hebrews 4:16, where the writer tells us: “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

I will pray that God will open your womb.

In Genesis, Jacob is tricked into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah, but he does not love Leah as much as he loves Rachel. Genesis 29:31 says, “When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.”

Rachel, intensely jealous of her sister, begs Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” (Most infertile women can relate to her statement).

Jacob becomes angry with her and says, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”

Later in the passage, “God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb.”

This is where the comment about God opening the womb originates, and also, the belief that opening the womb must be tied to confessed sin, forgiveness, and a close walk with God. Often, there is a big difference between what the Bible teaches and what it reports. The writer of Genesis reports that God opened Rachel’s womb; the writer does not teach that God will open the womb of every infertile woman. The Bible presents a much bigger picture in this story – one that includes the whole future of the nation of Israel and their migration to Egypt through the leadership of Rachel’s son, Joseph.

Instead of telling an infertile friend that God can open her womb, just pray with her instead. Walk alongside your friend and together, lay your heartache before the Lord and allow Him to work in His mysterious way.

Try not to wield Scripture as a magic wand that will make problems disappear. Use it with care and you’ll discover that it will equip you with the encouragement you need to face those problems.

Next: How you can help people connect with others who are experiencing fertility challenges or who are considering adoption.