This past week my wife Floriana gave birth to our eighth child, Sophia Nyumbola Natline Brindle. Witnessing my wife give birth to our children allows me to behold the glorious power of God in a woman’s labor.
In light of how excruciatingly painful it is to push out a7 pound human through a small opening, my wife, children, and I always fervently pray in the preceding months for the Lord to strengthen Floriana when she goes into labor. Through the delivery of Sophia God has shown us that He can answer that prayer in more ways than one! He can powerfully work all by himself, or he can powerfully work by causing us to have to trust him for His strength, moment by moment.
For instance, Timmy (our seventh child) and Sophia had totally different birthing experiences. The Lord answered that prayer for Timmy's birth by causing my wife to have a quick, relatively pain free, natural delivery: he was born 30 minutes after Flo's water broke while she was standing up in the foyer of the birthing center! We hadn't even arrived in the birthing suite before our son came out (and I had the privilege of literally catching him).
But this time around our wise and gracious Heavenly Father desired to answer our prayer for His strength in a completely different way: through a tedious, excruciatingly painful delivery.
For the birth of Sophia, The Lord decided not to demonstrate His power by bringing her through her mother's body quickly. Rather, the Lord was pleased to show His strength through my wife repeatedly crying out for His power and help while Sophia slowly inched her way down the birthing canal, at the speed of a snail. After Floriana's water broke, my wife and I called on the name of the Lord over and over again while she pushed as hard as she could with an intensity of pain I know nothing about. I never have, nor ever will, experience the level of pain my wife endured by persevering through this slow, anguishing delivery. All I could do is hold her hand (though she almost crushed it) and cry out to Jesus with her. But after several hours of pushing and praying and crying, along with wisdom from midwives to re-position Sophia who was in a posterior position, the Lord caused Sophia to come out safe and healthy, also preserving my wife's body. Thus God got all the glory! My wife experienced her own limitations, and knew it was only God's power that brought the baby out.
Here are a few more observations from Sophia's delivery:
First, the Lord has designed childbearing to reveal His life-giving power. Indeed, it is not just the delivery, but the entire pregnancy that displays God's power. The fact that a tiny sperm from a man can find its way to a woman's egg and be joined for impregnation, is itself glorious. Moreover, we are “fearfully and wonderfully” made in a woman's womb (Psalm 139:13-14) through a 9 month process of God weaving and sewing and stitching and molding a human together. That word for “wonderfully” in Psalm 139:14 is often used for the miraculous wonders God has worked in salvation history (see Exodus 15:11).
But it is particularly at the moment of delivery where God shows His power by bringing out a fully-formed child through a woman's body in a way that leaves all on-lookers astounded.
The pain of childbearing is the result of Adam and Eve’s sin (Gen. 3:16). Had they never sinned, childbearing would still be a glorious display of the Creator's power. But after the fall, God especially demonstrates His power through the weakness and brokenness of His fallen creatures. While He displays His strength through unbelieving women at every birth, the believing parents especially get to see the Lord's power at work as they trust and depend on His strength demonstrated in their weakness in a way the non-Christian knows nothing about.
No wonder then the Lord has chosen for women to be the vehicles of childbirth. Scripture calls woman the "weaker vessel" (1 Pt. 3:7) referring to her emotional fragility. The more beautiful vase in the King's palace needs to be handled with care. Females were created to be covered and protected by males, but this does not mean that she is altogether weak. Rather, childbearing is the occasion where she shows a courageous boldness and strength that rivals and even exceeds that of a man. And the LORD does this by powerfully working through His broken, fallen, weak vessel - a woman - who in that moment is strengthened by Him to do what males have not been designed to do: powerfully push out an image bearer! His power is made perfect in her weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
The second thing for our consideration is that God ordained in His Covenant of Grace that childbearing would overcome the works of the devil (Gen. 3:15; 1 John 3:8). Although childbearing is affected and cursed by the Fall, it actually becomes the means by which the LORD overcomes the enemy (Psalm 8:2). Through the offspring of the woman, who is the offspring of Abraham, who is the offspring of David, God defeats sin, Satan, and death, and will eventually remove all pain and suffering. And our God is still delighted to spread His kingdom of redemption through Christian families as believing parents teach their children the Gospel of Christ. In this way, through the suffering of childbirth, God continues to work to extend the Kingdom of His Beloved Son.
Thirdly, God's power in childbearing in the first birth points to His even greater power in the second birth. Such is the new birth, when He caused His children to be born again (John 3:3-6).
Regeneration is always instantaneous, as a resurrection of the soul. It can either resemble the birth of Timmy Brindle described above, seemingly coming out of nowhere with an abruptness that leaves all surprised. “That guy became a Christian?” My own new birth had this spontaneous character to it, similar to Saul of Tarsus, aka Paul the Apostle.
Other Christians experience regeneration in a way that more resembles Sophia's long, painful, gradual delivery. Through years of hearing (and even rejecting) the Word of the Lord, some of us have been brought to faith over a slow process of discipleship. Maybe your new birth occurred growing up in a Christian family, like Pastor Timothy in Scripture (2 Tim. 1:5; 2 Tim. 3:14-15), as your parents and their parents are believers. You cannot recall a time when you did not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is likely that one or both of your parents were “in the anguish of childbirth until Christ (was) formed in you!” (Gal. 4:19). Or maybe your new birth came about after years of sitting under the faithful preaching of the Gospel, or by continuously having a friend, loved one, or coworker laboriously share Christ with you over and over again until God the Spirit made it effectual, finally giving you ears to hear.
Some believers know the very hour and day of their new birth. Many, though, are not aware of the exact moment Christ said “COME FORTH!” (John 11:43). All they know is that “once they were blind but now they can see.” Whether you had a new birth that resembled Timmy's, or one that resembled Sophia's, please take comfort that God our Father knows those who are His, and He knows exactly when He raised up your soul with Christ. He knows the exact moment of His Spirit's heart transplant in your life. Ultimately, it doesn't matter when you were born again, but that you have been born again by the sovereign grace of the Triune God, whose Spirit now works to bear fruit in you.
Lastly, childbearing is a fitting analogy for the suffering of Christ that brought forth indestructible resurrection life. The night before “the hour” of His anguishing death, our Lord Jesus said to His disciples:
You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:20-22, ESV)
Ultimately, the Son of God designed the anguish of childbirth to be a vivid picture of His excruciating, sin-bearing, wrath-absorbing propitiatory sacrifice that gave way to the joy of His resurrection, and secured ours. Our new birth is phase 1 of resurrection life in Christ. Phase 2 is when He raises up our broken bodies unto never ending resurrection life in the new heavens and the new earth.
In 2015, our Heavenly Father answered our prayer differently for the birth of Johanna. She passed away in Floriana's womb in her eighth month of pregnancy. In her case, our Lord will deliver her from the grave when He raises her up in a glorified body. Then, all of us who have lost children in the pain of childbirth will rejoice with our resurrected, "born-again" children.