When people face infertility, they can struggle with feelings of doubt and sadness. Married couples may long for children and feel frustrated after years of trying to conceive. Added to the pain is the knowledge of other couples who celebrate births and the growth of their children.
The Bible has the power to speak about the suffering of infertility. Multiple people in Scripture struggled with the inability to have children, but God was still with them.
Despite the belief of many people, infertility is not a sign of sin in a person’s life, nor is it an indication of God’s displeasure. The Lord can work through any situation, including the inability to conceive, to bring about His glory.
Infertility, Biblical Culture, and Views of Childbearing
The word “infertility” does not appear in Scripture. However, the Bible includes multiple references to couples who were barren (sterile) and could not have children naturally.
Scripture informs us that God is the one who enables women to conceive, as He “opens” and “closes” the womb (Genesis 30:22; 1 Samuel 1:5-6; Isaiah 66:9).
However, infertility is a health issue that affects many people. God helps women to conceive, but nothing in the Bible indicates that He inflicts people with infertility. Instead, the effects of the Fall of humankind, which impacted all creation, caused infertility to occur (Genesis 3:16 and Romans 8:22).
After the Fall, God promised that the seed of the woman would crush the head of Satan, the serpent (Genesis 3:15). When the Lord pronounced these words, He spoke about the coming of the Messiah.
As Bob Deffinbaugh mentions in his article, “Every pregnant Israelite woman would wonder whether or not the child in her womb was a son, and if a son, if he might be the Messiah.” From the time of Eve, women longed to give birth to the promised Savior.
Of course, Isaiah prophesied that a virgin would give birth to the Messiah, which occurred when the virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23-25).
Jesus’ birth was the result of a miraculous act and not a natural one. He had no human father, and Mary conceived as a virgin. Thus, the promise of the Messiah did not occur through the normal process of childbearing but through a miracle.
Another reason Jewish culture in biblical times focused on the ability to conceive and give birth to children was because of ancient society’s view of a woman’s role. Ancient culture emphasized a woman’s purpose as a child-bearer and mother.
Modern readers can understand the pain of infertility, but the social stigma in biblical times was harsh and different than society today.
People in ancient times assumed that an infertile woman had sinned or earned God’s displeasure. Thus, the woman who could not conceive became an outcast or “disgrace” (Luke 1:24-25).
Furthermore, in the ancient patriarchal culture, a woman depended on a son to care for her if her husband died. Without a son, she could face an uncertain future of poverty if anything happened to her husband.
The Lord Hears and Understands
In the Bible, we can read about the life of Hannah, who suffered from infertility and grew depressed. Her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, mocked her because of her lack of children (1 Samuel 1:7).
Although Hannah’s husband tried to console her, his words did not bring comfort. He asked, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8). Elkanah could not fully enter or understand Hannah’s suffering.
Sad and hopeless, Hannah turned to God amid the pain of infertility. In Scripture, we read, “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly” (1 Samuel 1:10). Eli, the priest, saw her praying and believed she was drunk (1 Samuel 1:12-14).
However, her prayer was heartfelt, which caused her to mouth the words of her prayer. After talking to the Lord, she found hope and encouragement (1 Samuel 1:18).
The example of Hannah in the Bible shows us that God hears the prayers of people who are facing infertility. He understands and cares about their suffering and frustration.
Also, He wants His followers to come to Him. When someone is struggling with the ability to conceive, they can pour out their hearts to God in prayer and find refuge in Him (Psalm 62:8).
God Can Work in These Situations for His Glory
Numerous women in the Bible were unable to have children naturally. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah’s wife, and Hannah all struggled with infertility in Old Testament times.
Despite the social stigma surrounding barrenness, God worked through each of these women to bring about His purpose.
Another woman who suffered infertility in the Bible, Elizabeth, took part in announcing the coming of the Messiah. Elizabeth and Zechariah were unable to have children of their own during their childbearing years (Luke 1:5-7).
However, when they were both old, God enabled Elizabeth to conceive, and she gave birth to John (Luke 1:13-17, 57).
While John was still in the womb, the Holy Spirit moved Elizabeth to bless Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:41-45).
This son of Elizabeth and Zechariah became John the Baptist, who prepared the coming of the Lord Jesus (John 1:23). The birth of John the Baptist to a barren couple reveals God’s glory and power.
Elizabeth’s story and others remind modern believers that God can work in the lives of those who struggle with infertility.
Although Scripture does not promise that couples who are unable to have children will receive a miraculous birth of a child, like John the Baptist, God can work in their lives.
As I said earlier in this article, the Lord cared about those in the Bible who were unable to have children. He can take the heartache of infertility and use it for His glory.
Infertility Is Not Condemned in Scripture
Although the culture of biblical times emphasized women’s childbearing role and ostracized those who could not conceive, the Bible never condemns infertility.
Nowhere in God’s Word is infertility associated with personal sin or as a “curse” from God. Instead, God regularly demonstrated care toward those who were suffering from infertility.
Some people in churches try to argue that the mandate to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth” is evidence that infertile couples are sinning against God (Genesis 1:28).
However, the mandate to fill the earth was specifically given to Adam and Eve and, later, Noah’s family (Genesis 9:1).
Since these individuals lived at times when procreation was critical to fill the earth, it is understandable that the Lord gave this command to those individuals at that time. However, multitudes of people fill the earth today.
Married couples who decide not to have children or who are unable to have children of their own due to infertility are not sinning.
Furthermore, there are other unique opportunities for these couples that God may present to them. For instance, they may decide to adopt children that have been orphaned or abandoned.
Likewise, Christ can work in these couples’ lives to give them opportunities to invest in spiritual “children.” Just as Paul discipled his “son in the faith,” Timothy, couples with infertility can impact the lives of numerous “children” in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2).
Christians and churches should not ostracize couples or women who are unable to have children. They are not sinning if they struggle with infertility.
Why Does This Matter?
People throughout time have suffered from infertility. The culture during biblical times emphasized a woman’s role in childbearing, which was a central part of a woman’s identity.
Specifically, Israelite women longed to give birth to the Messiah, the promised seed of Eve who would crush Satan’s head.
Despite the culture’s emphasis on childbearing, God showed loving concern for couples who were unable to have children.
Women like Hannah found comfort in God’s presence during the tumultuous time of infertility, even when others could not empathize with their feelings.
Just as God demonstrates love and understanding to people who struggle with infertility, Christians should also show compassion to these hurting individuals. Couples who are unable to have children of their own are not sinning, nor are they “cursed” by God.
Scripture never condemns individuals or couples with infertility. Instead of judging and ostracizing them, we should support and encourage those who are experiencing pain, sorrow, frustration and doubt because of infertility.
As Scripture reminds us, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NLT).