Adoption Awareness Month: What I Wish the Church Knew About The Real Scriptural Meaning of “Visiting the Orphan”

Adoption Awareness Month: What I Wish the Church Knew About The Real Scriptural Meaning of “Visiting the Orphan”

I had read James 1:27 numerous times before realizing:

all I had to do was “visit” the orphans. I didn’t really have to bring all their brokenness and it’s fallout into my personal space. Did I? So as I pondered National Adoption Month and what to write, I thought maybe I should dig a little into Scripture to help discern what this all really means.

“Religion” in this passage is generally understood to mean “worship”—a natural overflow of love in response to the sacrificial work of our Savior. Not done to gain favor—from God or our fellow man. Let me tell you bringing the orphan into our homes will demolish that “see how good a Christian I am” platform faster than anything I know.

The real motivation to “visit the orphan” comes from Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40,

” … to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (NASB).

The word “visit” means to look after—care for. So, yes, it does mean more than showing up at an orphanage and handing out candy and stuffed animals. But, it doesn’t necessarily mean to adopt the orphans. Though it might.

Frankly, what surprised me as I dug into Scripture is the realization that most of translations don’t use the word orphan, but rather the term …

Fatherless

Not only that, but the term “fatherless” is almost always used in conjunction with the word “widow.” I’m a bit curious if this is to just give examples of the defenseless, the isolated, the people who live on the fringes of society. That could be. But something else really grabbed my attention. The fatherless may very well live with their mothers. These two—the widows and the fatherless—may actually refer to homes where a single mother is raising her children. Alone.

So the first point to the church: maybe they shouldn’t be pushing adoption and fostercare if they aren’t first reaching out to the fatherless and widow already occupying their pews each week. Hmm. Ouch! My daughter-in-law’s mother said she tried endlessly to get people to reach out to her children. I know this is a common and huge issue in our churches. Those who have a heart for the fatherless, can start with regular efforts to impact those they already know.

Second …

What does it really mean to “care for” the fatherless?

The answer is clearly stated in the next phrase, “in their distress (or need).” Scripture offers very practical ideas, especially in the Old Testament, of addressing some of their needs.

• Psalm 82:3 instructs us to defend them—to take up their cause.
• Proverbs 23:10 warns people not encroach on their property—making sure they have a place to call home.
• Deuteronomy 14:28-29 offers a very specific and doable command that I’ve never seen before. At the end of every three years God’s people were to give a special tithe for foreigners, fatherless, and widows so that they can be able to eat until they are satisfied. In other words, plan and budget regularly so there are funds to meet their fundamental needs.
• An even more specific and doable way to plan for this is expressed in Deuteronomy 24:19-21 of leaving excessive grains dropped in the harvesting process for the poor to collect at the end of the day. In today’s world it’s as simple as collecting loose change for them.
• Deuteronomy 16:11, 14 and 26:13 is very interesting in that it teaches us to include the fatherless in worship and celebrations. Don’t treat them as outsiders but as part of the family—both the church family and smaller family units.

Most of the fatherless in our world today are in, or have come out of, poverty. Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D. in A Framework for Understanding Poverty, (p. 7), identifies …

Seven areas in which children in poverty need support:

• Financial (money to purchase goods and services)
• Emotional (ability to choose and control emotional responses)
• Mental (ability and skills to manage daily life)
• Spiritual (belief in a divine purpose and guidance)
• Physical (health and mobility)
• Support Systems (family, friends, and social agencies easily accessible in times of need)
• Relationship/Role Models (frequent access to nurturing and guiding adults)
• Knowledge of Hidden Rules (unspoken cues and habits of groups outside poverty—discussed in the book).

This doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as it looks. Even if a church chooses to provide only one of these resources, they are still making a huge impact.

Please don’t hear me say people shouldn’t adopt.

Adoption is by far the best way to begin to meet all these needs. But adoption is tough, putting extreme pressure for meeting the above mentioned needs on the adoptive parents’ shoulders alone. It’s an impossibly heavy weight. I am saying that if a church has a heart for the fatherless, then they should first consider the above thoughts and opportunities already sitting at their feet.

And if churches feel called to publicly encourage adoption and fostercare, then there are ways they need to equip themselves. Please stay tuned as I address this next week.

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