God & GMOs: The “Big Ag” Industry

Welcome to Part 5 of God & GMOs, a series I’m writing in consultation with my molecular biologist husband, Aaron. If you’re new around here, you might want to check out the IntroductionPart 1: The Gospel, Part 2: What is a GMO?, Part 3: “Do Your Research, and Part 4:  Pursuing Truth, so you can say “hi” in the comments. I know most readers probably haven’t heard much in favor of GMO crops online or in your church, so let me know if you have any questions or need clarification as we go!
Be sure to subscribe by email (on the right hand side of the screen —-> over there) so you don’t miss an entry!

Untitled Design (6)
Many people with reservations about GMOs have told me something like this: “I’m skeptical because I don’t trust big business; I think the agricultural industry is all a political game at this point.” They’re talking about the big crop development companies and the negative stigmas surrounding profits, patents, labeling, and various licensing practices of the “Big Ag” development industry, and they’re talking about the prevalence of large, industrial farms with concerns about monoculture farming (growing large amounts of fewer crops) and various chemical treatments like herbicides and pesticides. Monsanto is the most notorious company (and the target of much anti-biotech hatred), but there are other big companies like Dow AgroScience, Syngenta, DuPont-Pioneer, and BASF. There are also numerous small companies, like the one Aaron works for, which develop crop lines using the same technology and sell to farmers on a smaller scale.

I’ll say from the start: Aaron does not work for Monsanto. We think they are a great company and personally know many people who do work there. We go to church with them, visit the zoo with them, babysit each other’s kids, and eat dinner together. They’re good people. As far as I can tell, the most we’ve ever gotten from the company itself was a reusable grocery bag Aaron picked up at some conference, which I now use every week at Aldi. (I’m trying to work up the nerve to take it into Trader Joe’s, or maybe even… Whole Foods. Pray for me.) But if you search for GMOs on any social media or online search, or even bring it up in conversation, you’re likely to hear a lot of negative things (and many flat-out lies) about this company. We hear this negativity in person a lot, too. Since Aaron’s employer is smaller and not well-known, we usually say he leads a team of scientists in biotech development without naming the company (because no one’s heard of it before), and many people have said, “But not Monsanto, right!? They’re the bad ones!” This isn’t just idle words for some anti-GMO activists, who coordinate massive protests and marches as part of the “March Against Monsanto” movement. (I assume they pick on Monsanto over other companies because their name is most easily changed to spell “Satan.”)

Though they’re all working in the same field toward the same ultimate goal of providing food for people, the “Big Ag” players are essentially direct competitors of my husband’s employer. I’m not on anyone’s payroll to say this (it’s the opposite, actually, since I’m paying for childcare), and a giant turn of cultural affection towards Monsanto, Pioneer, BASF, or anyone else wouldn’t necessarily benefit Aaron’s work in a measurable way. But I’m especially burdened that there’s a lot of vitriol coming from Christians towards companies that, frankly, do not deserve the hate. Just this week I have seen two different friends (people I know in my real life) making snarky and destructive comments online denigrating various biotech development companies and employees – before or after sharing Bible verses and other Christian material. The New Testament speaks to this, even more sharply than I recollected initially: “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:8-10) When it comes to what we say about scientists and farmers and companies, big or small, we should be careful that our words are true and that they do not contradict our profession of faith.

Many of the negative things I’ve heard and seen about Monsanto have been proven false with a very quick fact check. Most of us are not very connected to farmers and the food production industry at all, so I’m going to talk a little bit today about how these “Big Ag” companies work and why we don’t need to feed on extra cynicism about the agricultural industry.

Contracts, patents, and “saving seeds.”
Farmers of all kinds have lots of options for working with different companies, and there are plenty of ways to grow non-GMO crops. These “Big Ag” companies are in business because hard-working farmers choose to purchase from them year after year. One such farmer in Indiana wrote about his contract with Monsanto for growing their crops here.   An Iowa farmer wrote about how he decides which seeds to purchase for his 500 acre operation. Another family farmer with 1400 acres of cattle and crops in Kansas wrote about discerning fact from fiction about Monsanto here – many of the things I was going to list in this post are already there, so I’m not going to reiterate them!

Many people like to criticize the patent and licensing regulations that go along with purchasing these seeds, saying we shouldn’t patent crops or that it’s wrong for a company to forbid saving and sharing seeds. It’s important to consider that patents and licensing rights are a way to protect and reward the intellectual property of the developers. As Christians we can read scriptures like I Timothy 5:18 that tell us “the laborer deserves his wages,” and even stronger statements from the Old Testament that say withholding money from someone who has already worked for it is equivalent to theft, like Leviticus 19:13. While the current system is far from perfect, it is not immoral to require payment for a service rendered. I’d argue that it’s actually immoral to demand the fruit of someone’s labor without compensating them.

When certain farm contracts require farmers not to reuse seeds, trade them, or collect them for replanting, we should think about the legal use of most other creative products. Back when we had CD’s, you weren’t supposed to burn copies of a CD to hand out to all your friends. You’re not supposed to print off extra copies of books for profit or download pictures from the internet without permission of the creator. We have legal guidelines about the use of all sorts of products – this isn’t unique to crops and farming. I’ve also found that most of this is a manufactured controversy in the first place, because farmers don’t really want to save seeds anyway. It’s extremely laborious and time consuming, and after all that work the yield of saved seeds is not nearly as effective as growing new seeds. These contract rules aren’t always limited to GMO crop seeds, either. Farmers can certainly seek seeds from distributors who don’t have requirements about where and how you can plant, but these big businesses are still running because so many farmers choose to operate within their rules.

Are Big Companies out to ruin Small Farmers?
I also dug in to claims I’ve heard about Monsanto suing other farmers for accidental cross-pollination with Monsanto products, and found the landmark case — farmer Percy Schmeiser in Canada claiming his entire canola field was contaminated with Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready Canola, which you may have seen in the movie “Food, Inc.” — was basically a joke. You can read the Canadian Federal Court decisions (March 2001September 2002) and the final Canadian Supreme Court decision (May 2004) for details, but it seems like this guy’s implausible story keeps changing through his legal journey and the courts didn’t rule favorably for him on any point. His story just does not hold up and there haven’t been any other examples of GMO crops contaminating entire fields like he claimed. Governments are not infallible and some may argue this is further indication of political-industrial corruption, but we ought to be just as skeptical over the unsupported claims of a lone farmer and a documentary as we are towards bigger groups of people. It’s also worth pointing out that when Monsanto does win a court case over a contract violation (which has happened all 9 times they have been to trial in the last 10 years – hardly a significant amount compared to 3+ million contracts they have had with farmers during this time), their legal action protects the interests of the farmers who do abide by the legal guidelines and the lawsuit proceeds are donated to charity, not lining their pockets.

Why does this matter?
Like I discussed earlier, truth always matters for Christians. While the average grocery shopper has the rare privilege, compared to history and much of the world still today, of purchasing food without much concern for how it came to be there, those of us who wonder about our food and it’s development should be careful to find full, faithful information to answer our questions. And when the Bible tells us that the devil is the father of lies, and is like a prowling lion bent on destruction, we should expect to be confronted with smooth and appealing deception. We should also be very cautious about sharing, spreading, or passively approving things that aren’t true, as this is sin and it damages others (as well as our Christian witness).

But it also matters because, believe it or not, the cultural stigmas and activist criticism that leads to more governmental regulation of these big companies actually just places further burdens on smaller companies, which creates incentive for bigger companies to merge and leaves fewer players on the field. (This part might possibly be a conflict of interest, but… it’s coming from a place of love!) The fact is that biotechnology isn’t going anywhere. In many ways, GMOs are here to stay, and I think it’s better to keep these powerful tools in the hands of many different groups for maximum benefit to farmers and consumers. It’s a fair guess that big companies like Monsanto or Syngenta will be able to weather whatever regulatory burdens come their way, but smaller companies will not always be able to do that. Someone who really hates Monsanto would probably be better off fighting for less regulatory burden on crop developers, so smaller companies could grow quicker and new start-ups could get off the ground easier for greater flourishing in collaboration and competition among biotech developers.

God & GMOs
If you’re reading this and still thinking, “Okay, but what about that pesticide, glyphosate, with the brand-name Round-Up? Doesn’t it cause cancer?” or you’re wondering what to make of the large industrial farming side of this discussion, I’ve got you covered. Stay tuned! 



God & GMOs: Pursuing Truth

Welcome to Part 4 of God & GMOs, a series I’m writing in consultation with my molecular biologist husband, Aaron. If you’re new around here, you might want to check out the IntroductionPart 1: The Gospel, Part 2: What is a GMO?, or Part 3: “Do Your Research” and say “hi” in the comments. I know most readers probably haven’t heard much in favor of GMO crops online or in your church, so let me know if you have any questions or need clarification as we go!
Be sure to subscribe by email (on the right hand side of the screen —-> over there) so you don’t miss an entry!

Untitled Design (5)

We talked last time about the scientific method and a little bit about how peer-reviewed research works in the scientific community today. I think there are some important ways we need to approach cultural topics like this one as Christians, too.

One of my biggest concerns about the trend of Christian suspicion towards agriculture and biotech is how quickly people let cultural stigmas drive their opinions instead of taking their thoughts captive and pursuing truth. In the Bible we read that everyone is fallen (Romans 3:23) and no one can perfectly know everything (1 Corinthians 13:12). We also see that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1), which is (hopefully) the theme of my discussion here – I love people who disagree with me, and I want to host this discussion with charity and honor towards all. But we also read that scripture continually upholds wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, in direct contrast to admonishing foolishness, ignorance, and the “simple man.” There is no way to read Proverbs, for example, and assume that pursuing truth is “optional” for a Christian. There is no way to look at Jesus, who reveals himself as Truth (John 14:6), and take a casual attitude about falsehood.

There are definitely Christians who write online about natural living and specifically condemn GMO crops, but there is also a larger group of people (many of whom are likely in the numbers listed by that Pew Study I referenced in my Introduction) that say they think GMOs are dangerous simply because they have heard other people say it. Maybe they have seen labels in the grocery store that made them consider a non-GMO food item to be a safer or superior choice. Maybe they’ve seen confusing posts on social media, watched a misleading documentary, or read something negative in a magazine.

I think the Bible offers us a better way to filter information than just immediately believing what we see or hear, and I think this compels us to responsibly pursue truth even when the answers are hard.  I absolutely understand how confusing it is to know what’s reliable with all the information floating around, but that doesn’t give us a free pass on figuring out what’s right. It’s popular right now to discuss “nuanced” views of some topic or another, but the Bible calls it “discernment.” Let’s be careful, discerning people. If you care enough about science and the food industry to be concerned about GMOs, consider that the validity of your information (especially if you are promoting your views to others!) really does have significance to the God who made all things, sustains all things, and abhors all falsehood so much that he made “Do Not Lie” one of the Ten Commandments.

So before you spend extra money on groceries to “avoid GMOs” (or feel uneasy about “not feeding your family the best”), before you post something against GMO crops or agricultural developers (like Monsanto) on social media, before you pipe up in group settings or discuss this with your friends, consider if your lifestyle information has been filtered through some of the counsel of scripture:

Proverbs 6:16-19 “There are six things that the Lord hates: …a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” Are you watching for lies in your reading, just as much as looking for truth? Remember that lies are smooth, subtle, and appealing. Does what you’re reading lines up with the principles of the gospel, or does it subtly idealize nature, or tell you that certain food choices are holier, or  make you think that Eden (Creation) or Mount Zion (Heaven) are basically attainable right now? And does this information bring freedom, or does it bring shame to others who “just don’t see it the same way”? Does it give you a sense of superiority to “feed your family better” than someone who hasn’t read the same things as you? Would someone who shops differently feel insecure or shamed because of your attitude about food? Are you hesitant to eat food others offer because it might not be up to your standards? Are you hesitant to host meals because you can’t afford to feed company with your more expensively sourced groceries?

Proverbs 18:17 “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” As you read or hear about GMOs, science, and farming practices, are you listening to the same kinds of negative voices (like podcasts or magazine articles from lay people), or are you looking for what positive scientists and farmers have to say, too? If you’re watching documentaries, are you willing to take a few moments to check the facts and sources presented there?

Proverbs 23:12 “Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge.” Are you willing to work hard to understand answers about your questions, looking to people who are credible teachers? (Sadly, being a published author or an internet personality does not mean someone is a credible teacher these days.) Or are you listening to voices that validate your ignorance? (Like, “If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it!”)

Proverbs 25:18 “A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow.”  We’ve met fellow Christians in every laboratory and department Aaron’s been a part of during the past 14 years. We know believers working in all roles of many different agricultural companies. We know Christians who are proud to farm genetically modified crops. Have you considered how negative words about GMOs, scientists, industry developers, and farmers, might be bearing false witness against others, especially those in the household of God?

God & GMOs

When we have concerns about scientific advances (and as I’ll tell you later, the Hummels do have them) scripture compels us to use faithful, reliable sources for our information because we serve the God who defines Truth. Of course, eating GMOs or not isn’t a test of our faith… not. at. all. But I want to encourage everyone to consider that our attitude about sources (and the way we act on them) matters, especially for Christians, because Jesus is the source of all things. The influence of our personal opinion matters because we want to leave people with a more beautiful understanding of Jesus than of our food choices. As we stake our lives together on the Truth that God reveals in his word and his Son, we can celebrate by pursuing truth and wisdom in the rest of our lives, too.

God & GMOs: What is a GMO?

(Welcome to Part 2 of my new series God & GMOs, which I’m writing in consultation with my molecular biologist husband, Aaron. If you’re new around here, you might want to check out the Introduction or Part 1: The Gospel and maybe say “hi” in the comments. I know most readers probably haven’t heard much in favor of GMO crops online or in your church, so let me know if you have any questions or need clarification as we go!) Untitled Design (3)

After reviewing the foundation of the gospel and arming ourselves with some important Biblical truths, it’s time to start asking questions about science. What is a GMO? How is it made? Are GMOs safe for eating? Why do we need GMOs when we have other ways to breed crops? These are great questions, and I’m glad people ask them. 

There are lots of different people talking about GMOs, but there are also lots of ideas about what makes something a GMO (or not). Different countries and different international research groups use slightly different definitions, and this is one of the many reasons this conversation is so hard.

The shorthand “GMO” means “Genetically Modified Organism.” It sounds weird, but the most important thing you need to know is that a GMO is a fruit, vegetable, or grain. It’s planted in the ground and grown like any other crop. The “genetic modification” for a GMO crop happens before planting, when a seed or crop line is developed in a laboratory using biotechnology for a cisgenic or transgenic DNA transfer to improve the genetic code. It makes perfect sense, right? …maybe not. Basically, scientists have figured out how to precisely combine one or two portions of DNA into a plant genome in order to produce a plant that has a specific desired trait. (Here’s a video explanation of the process to make GMO papaya, if you want a visual aid!) Sometimes this happens with genes from two plants that could be conventionally bred (which is called a “cisgenic modification”), and sometimes it happens between genes that wouldn’t combine in nature (or “transgenic modification”). Sometimes scientists can “silence” or “delete” a gene within a single plant, and though this uses some of the same biotechnology tools, those aren’t always considered GMO.

Why make GMO crops?
Scientists like genetic engineering because it’s more precise than traditional crop breeding, since it takes just the exact DNA that it needs for the resulting plant without having to account for other DNA crosses that would happen in typical breeding. Even though it’s still a lot of work, these tools can produce the desired plant traits in about half the time of older methods, so it’s quicker, too.

What is the purpose of GMO crops?

GMO crops are developed for many different reasons, including drought tolerance (so a farmer can still provide food even if it doesn’t rain much), resistance to pesticide or herbicide so a farmer can more effectively manage the field, expressing genes that will make the plant naturally undesirable to pests to avoid using chemical applications, increased yield, or improved nutrition. In the field, they tend to produce more food per acre and do so with less chemical applications than their non-GMO siblings. (In recent years it still looks like GMO crop fields’ overall toxicity screens remained similar or lower than non-GMO fields.) 

Are GMO crops safe?
Despite the claims of naysayers, GMO crops have been rigorously tested for safety in animal and human consumption for as long as I’ve been alive, and the full counsel of multiple studies is that GMO crops are as safe or safer than non-GMO crops for human consumption.

What is the difference between GMO crops and non-GMO crops?
While it’s developed differently from a “conventional” plant, the final GMO product is usually indistinguishable from it’s non-GMO sibling. The FDA considers them “substantially equivalent,” but the precision and purpose of genetic modification means that if there’s a difference in nutrition or quality, the GMO has the upper hand.

What GMO crops are available for sale in the US?
The GMO products available in the US today are limited to corn, soybeans, cotton, alfalfa (for animal feed, not those sprouts for the top of your salad), sugar beets, canola, papaya, potato, and squash. Pretty soon we’ll be able to buy GMO apples that won’t brown quite so quickly after you cut them open. (Source: FDA Consumer Info about Food from Genetically Engineered Plants) 

Can GMO technology benefit threatened plants and croplines? 
Because it is so precise and so much faster than traditional breeding, GMO technology can preserve plant lines that would otherwise be destroyed, even to the point of extinction, by natural factors (stemming from that curse on the ground in Genesis 3), like disease, drought, and destructive predators. If you watched the earlier video, you’ll note that papaya was genetically modified to resist ringspot virus, which essentially saved papaya from extinction in Hawaii. There are significant concerns today about various problems facing the American Chestnut tree, bananas, cassava, and citrus (Florida citrus production is at a 50-year low due to citrus greening), among others, and scientists are frantically trying to get ahead in enough time to preserve these foods for the benefit of farmers and consumers alike.

Can GMO technology work on anything besides crops?
The technology that makes GMO crops is also used to develop medicine with virtually no controversy (insulin, extremely promising cancer treatments to replace and supplement traditional chemotherapy, etc.). Research is also happening using genetic modification in human embryos with shockingly less controversy, in my observation, among Christians than the general uproar over GMO crops.

Aren’t GMOs “unnatural”? Why not use traditional breeding methods? 
GMOs are not the only big (and “unnatural”) improvement in crop development
. Farmers and scientists (and sometimes even just nature, in ways we don’t always understand) have been improving the crops that we eat since the beginning of time. (Doesn’t this sound like that “Cultural Mandate” to tend the earth and establish ways of life?) Some of the other crop development techniques used today include cross-breeding, mutagenesis, polyploidy, and protoplast fusion. Do you know what those are, off the top of your head? Probably not. (I wouldn’t, either.) There isn’t a lot of uproar about those things, even though they are also fairly “unnatural.” To an untrained scientist like me, their definitions seem just as unnerving: Induced chromosomal manipulation? That’s polyploidy breeding. Blasting a group of parent plants with radiation and then breeding whichever plants mutate into the desirable traits for the next generation, which ends up on our plates? That’s mutagenesis. These crops are subject to the same rigorous safety testing, which demonstrates we can eat these foods with just as much confidence. No one’s stirring up anti-mutagenesis sentiment in modern consumers, as far as I can tell, even though that one (which is allowed within the framework of the USDA Organic program) seems the freakiest to me. Still, “cisgenic or transgenic DNA transfer” sounds a little bit less concerning if you set it up next to those things. (Source: The Genetic Literacy Project “How does Genetic Engineering differ from Conventional Breeding?)

Should we identify GMO foods?
We’ll discuss the facets of GMO labeling requirements in a post later. But it’s important to note that we don’t define any other produce by their breeding or development process. If you eat delicious grapefruit every February and March like I do, you’re very likely eating a “mutagenesized organism.” Have you ever seen a grapefruit with a “mutagenesis” (or “non-mutagenesis”) label? When you compare this to the other ways we develop crops, it seems that calling genetically modified food “GMO” is very much a cultural construct and not a scientific one. 

I’ve purposefully left many points for later discussion and I’m sure more will come up as the series continues, but I’ll end here for now. We’ll be talking about the scientific method, what constitutes a “scientific study” for publication, and discerning reliable sources next. If you’re interested in doing some more reading before the next entry, we suggest the following items to tide you over. Thanks for reading, friends!

“Unhealthy Fixation” by William Saleten for Slate. 
“Pushing Boundaries in Agriculture” TedX talk by Rob Saik (20-minute video) 
GMO FAQ from the Genetic Literacy Project
(We have been impressed with the reliability of this site and they have LOTS of pictures and infographics if that is more your style!)
GMO series by Greg Peterson at the Peterson Farm Brothers (You’ll want to click on the little “next” button at the top to see the rest of the entries.)

Untitled Design (1)




God & GMOs: The Gospel

(Welcome to Part 1 of my new series God & GMOs, which I’m writing in consultation with my molecular biologist husband, Aaron. If you’re new around here, you might want to check out the Introduction and maybe say “hi” in the comments. I know most readers probably haven’t read much in favor of GMO crops online or in your church, so let me know if you have any questions or need clarification as we go!) Untitled Design (2)

To kick off this series about God & GMO’s, I want to start with looking at the Bible. Christian teachers often speak of the Bible’s big story (or “Metanarrative”), which proposes that all biblical passages are connected to the full gospel story: God’s Creation of the earth and mankind, The Fall of Man into sin, Christ’s Redemption on the cross, and the final Restoration of God’s order for eternity. Don’t we need to get on to science? to economics? to agriculture? to ethics? Yes. But I’m mostly burdened to communicate specifically to my Christian brothers and sisters here. Before we start looking at some of that stuff, I’d like to review these points because we can’t really move forward in charged conversations without a common understanding of our spiritual foundation. (If this part doesn’t concern or interest you, I’ll have some helpful links and explanations about GMOs, research standards, and the scientific method coming up soon!)

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”(Genesis 2:15)
Mankind was created for life in a beautiful, lush garden, that was full of enough food for everyone. No one would get sick, and no one would die. In that perfect paradise, we were created to tend the plants and animals with freedom to eat from all but one tree. Mankind’s original purpose was stewarding the earth and everything in it, bearing fruit by having children and by establishing ways of life for the coming generations. (Sometimes this is called the “Cultural Mandate.”) We love beautiful plants, enjoying the outdoors, hiking, lakes, fresh food, tending gardens and animals, and “agrarian visions” of idyllic farms because that’s what we were originally made for. Everything in us was made for Eden, and I think most of us don’t realize how desperate we are to get back there.

God created the earth, plants, and animals, and called them all “good.” He created men and women uniquely in his own image, (Gen 1:26-27) and called his image bearers living in that world “very good.” This is an important way God emphasizes the dignity of all people.
(Genesis 1:1-2:24)

“…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19) 

The original people in the Garden, Adam and Eve, ate from the one tree God forbade. The fall into sin means mankind and nature are both broken, which are connected in devastating ways. God explicitly says the ground itself is cursed, and that drawing out enough food to survive will be the lifelong toil of man. We listen to the Songs for Saplings catechism CD’s with our kids and find ourselves humming the song that goes along with this point – pain and toil, pain and toil, thorns and thistles, thorns and thistles – with amazement that this is still happening every single day. Aaron experiences this when he spends himself for the projects he manages for developing crops all day, and again when he comes home to see that the germination rate of our summer garden is abysmal. Farmers here and around the world live this out even more so as they work harder than most of us can imagine. This is a huge part of my life, too, in some ways. I’m in charge of the meals and eating at our house. Even though we garden and I have every grocery store I could want (and a farmers market) within a mile or so, and always enough money to get whatever we want (not just need),  I’m constantly planning meals, shopping, preparing them, serving them, or cleaning up after them while I set up for the next one.

This fall into sin also means that relationships are broken. The primary break and conflict is between man and God, which is not fixed until Jesus’ crucifixion, but this fractures our thinking and our relationships with other people as well. In many ways we are all looking out for ourselves, even at the expense of others. Because of our fallen nature, we look for fulfillment in many different ways,  all outside of our standing with God.
 (Genesis 3)
[I discussed this at greater length for Christ and Pop Culture last summer as well.]

“…through [Jesus] to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” (Colossians 1:20-23)
The only full redemption of the curse of sin in the fall is through Jesus, who restores our right relationship with God by dying in our place. While there are healthy and unhealthy choices we can make about eating, there are no particular kinds of foods or agricultural developments that are always sinful, and, as 1 Corinthians 8:8 says plainly, “food will not commend us to God.” The food that really matters for our spiritual state is Jesus’ body, offered in the Lord’s Supper. (Matthew 15:10-20, 1 Corinthians 8, John 6, Matthew 26:26-29)  

After Jesus resurrected and ascended into heaven, we have the promise of his return, but we are still living under the effects of sin and death on our bodies and on the earth. We are not to live our lives in fear of death, but instead look with hope for God’s promised restoration of all things.  (Hebrews 2:14-15

We also have the Holy Spirit for this age between Christ’s ascension and return. It is the Holy Spirit who develops us in unique, personal ways with spiritual gifts to build up the church and the kingdom of God in love until Jesus returns. (1 Corinthians 12-13, John 14:25-30, Ephesians 1:13-14

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:20-23)
The Bible tells us the earth (and the generations of people in it) will be sustained in it’s fallen state and then restored fully with Jesus’ future return. While Christians often talk about “going up to heaven to be with Jesus when we die,” the real promise of Restoration is much bigger than that. Isaiah, 2 Peter, and Revelation talk about a “new heaven and a new earth,” and Romans 8 and I Corinthians 15 also talk about the resurrection being for creation as well as people. In the restored kingdom, or heaven, our resurrected life will be filled with food and feasting, without hunger, sickness, or death. When this happens, there will be sowing and reaping, but it will not require the toil that we’ve had since Genesis 3.
(Romans 8, I Corinthians 15, I Thessalonians 5:1-11, Isaiah 25:6-9

Untitled Design (1)

Now, Christians can (and obviously do) disagree about dietary choices and genetic engineering, but as we go on, I hope you’ll see the gospel story provides ample room for the way biotechnology is advancing modern agriculture. I also hope you can learn about GMO foods and scientific progress with the firm foundation of the gospel offering hope instead of trying to figure it out from a place of fear or confusion. I’ll touch on these (and many other) parts of scripture later, too. 

God & GMOs: An Introduction

Guess what? We’re going to turn a little corner and talk about GMO crops here for the next little bit.

Untitled Design (1)

It’s not a secret that I am not much of a scientist. I’m more artsy and relational and feely; my gifts include teaching and communicating. In many ways it’s a powerful blend of gifts that I write and my husband Aaron is a scientist. For anyone who doesn’t know us, he’s a Christian plant biotechnologist (with a PhD in molecular biology) who firmly believes he develops crops using complicated biotechnology (sometimes “GMO” and sometimes not) for the glory of God. We’re both proud that he’s part of the production side of modern agriculture, including using biotech for GMO crops, and we gratefully eat “genetically modified” food all the time. He’s shared about this for The Gospel Coalition and I’ve written a longer think-piece-ish article for Christ and Pop Culture. We’ve also chatted with some of our friends about this on a Vernacular podcast episode and just finished recording an interview with our friend Abigail Murrish for her current podcast series Our Midwestern Life. But talking about science often feels like speaking another language. We have realized we spend a lot of time in our nerdy head-spaces about this, and that is not always helpful for most other people. As far as I can tell, there aren’t many scientists engaging this topic with Christian culture, and the misinformation fed by social media and “mommy bloggers” is deafeningly loud. We have both sensed an urgent need to open this discussion in more accessible ways that we’ve done before. 

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing this series for a very, very long time, but it’s a big topic and I find myself both overwhelmed by the material (which is out of my depth in the technical realm), and resenting the potential for social blowback. A new friend just asked me if I struggled with an unhealthy desire to please others and I had to chuckle a little bit. A Pew Study in 2015 reported that more than half of Christians think genetically modified foods (“GMOs”) are unsafe, and even more think scientists are unclear about the health effects of GM foods. Numbers for the general public’s opinions are similar, but if anything, I was surprised the disapproval rates weren’t higher. This means anytime I tell a new friend what my husband does for a living, I’m more likely to be talking to someone who thinks he’s harming the environment and our food supply than not. Personal responses to this news have ranged between supportive (which is rare, but appreciated), neutral, skeptical, and even hostile. Pleasing people? It usually feels like that ship has sailed. Still, as I prepare these posts, I wonder how this could impact relationships. I checked in with some staff at my church to find out if this might bring up any particular challenges within our congregation. When I close my eyes I can visualize the faces of people I dearly love, people I fear alienating because I know they disagree. Will Thanksgiving be weird if our GMO-skeptic family members don’t like what I say here? Is it possible to just remove some of my email followers for a while and add them back later? Should I block a few people on facebook so they don’t get an immediate notification about this? Would someone who really needs to hear what I shared about my miscarriages be turned off by my discussion about GMOs and food production?  

An important part of critical thinking is not just asking questions about a given topic, but knowing what kinds of questions to ask. It’s fair for me to wonder about those things, but I also have to consider a host of ideas from the other side. There are risks involved in not speaking plainly about this. The more that I read and discuss my numerous resulting questions with the Hummel family Scientist in Residence, I grow increasingly convinced that skepticism and hostility towards biotech in farming (even when it comes from well-meaning sources) feeds shame, anxiety, and conflict in communities around me. I’m even more concerned that this keeps lifesaving technology out of the hands (and hungry bellies) of people around the world who desperately need it to survive. If I serve the God who so loved the world that he offered up his only son, can I also love the world enough to risk opening challenging conversations with my community? Can I model gracious discussion so that Christians are equipped to make decisions about feeding themselves and their families with faith instead of fear? As science advances at a breakneck pace while we lack articulate voices explaining a Christian ethical framework for it all, will I look back at this time and wish I had spoken up sooner? I can’t help but face that the negative repercussions of anti-GMO sentiments, especially in churches around me, are not going to reverse until people like me are willing to turn the conversation around.

In sharing these upcoming posts, please know that I am pledging to offer the best information I can find, explaining it in ways that are clear and gracious. If you’re reading along, please feel free to let me know if you have any questions or if you have any topic or specific angle you’d like to see addressed. (You can reach me in the comment box on this site or through the email address I have listed in the “contact” field on the site menu.)

Thanks, friends. Whether you consider yourself pro-, neutral-, skeptical- or anti- GMO, I hope you’ll stick around!  

the wormwood & the gall(bladder) || part 1

With over a year of living in Missouri, it’s fair to say this has been a move no one would ever want to relive. Though it came with so many good things, like a new job and a baby, moving is an unpredictable mix of gift and loss. Leaving and remaking home is hard anyway, but many of the details of this move and the rest of our lives this year have been notably challenging. When I was coordinating my recent gallbladder removal surgery (because amid this all I was having painful gallbladder attacks, of course), Aaron kept saying, “This has to be the last thing, right? No more emergencies for a while.” Two weeks later we were stranded with the kids in busy traffic when our van overheated. If this is irreparable, it will require a third vehicle purchase in less than eighteen months.

I am the man who has seen affliction … Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:1, 21-23

With physical ailments all around, expensive home repairs and neighborhood problems, and a long haul in cultivating new friendships and community, much of this has been affliction. But it’s also wandering, which feels like wasting, uncertainty, aimlessness, and disconnection – an affliction of it’s own sort, really. Our Minnesota theme was we didn’t see that one coming. So far Missouri’s is we can’t get a break or as thine income, thine emergencies shall be in measure. I said settling in here was going to be full of unknowns, full of newness. That has definitely been the case. 

These new things are hard, but there is also always, always good there, and it has been my practice to keep a gratitude list, recounting God’s gifts in all things. There is something particularly sacred about training our eyes on the way beauty and grace come through in all of life, but there is a difference between talking about redemption through hardship and ignoring hardship all together. 

I could easily share how God’s grace flamed so fiercely in this, and maybe I should, but I’m also starting to think there would be some spiritual benefit to keeping track of the bad stuff in life, just as much as the good. Why memorialize the wormwood and the gall, the bitter and bile? Scripture does so all the time, I find. Still, I have been fighting this since it seems to conflict with (among other things, like not wanting to sound whiny) my very-present concern for those souls stranded or running for their lives in the war-torn Middle East. We’re not under siege or refugees, so we’re okay, right? Things aren’t that bad. I’m a secure stay-home mom with living children, great health care, and food in the fridge, which alone means I have many, many circumstances “better” than others. People around the world risk their lives every day pursuing a small portion of these comforts and freedoms. But this mostly-empty empathy is more pride than gratitude. My help in life is not in being generally safe from ISIS coming to my front door, or comfortably feeding and staying home with my kids during a season when they need so much of me. My help in this, and everything, comes from the Lord, Psalm 121 says, under the heading “a song of ascents.” What is an ascent but climbing from lowliness to height? With the right perspective, with our hearts grounded in God’s mercy, recounting hardship is part of gaining a humble perspective. Brushing difficulty off because “it’s not as bad as someone else” is not always a sign of a content heart; sometimes it comes from a heart that doesn’t want to be needy.

I didn’t even realize this part of it until I started groaning every time I saw the negative consequences of my exhaustion, which has been just an undercurrent of these overall afflictions. This looked like lots of grumbling, but little praying, and a fair share of disappointment against other people. These are not the responses of seeing-grace-in-the-hard; this is evidence of resentment when others need me or I need something, and ignoring neediness, maybe hoping it will go away.  Acknowledging hardship admits a lack of control. Given full autonomy, who would choose difficulty or incapacity? Yet this is precisely why Christianity is not a point of achievement but a constant path of growing smaller: We are the backwards people, and our journey of ascent starts out being bowed down in neediness. Lamentations doesn’t tell us the wormwood and gall are to bend us down forever, but it does show that hoping in God and recounting his mercies starts from a place of honesty and humility about that affliction. 

I lift my eyes up to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. – Psalm 121:1-2

[I don’t think I’m copying her ideas directly in anything here, but my thoughts on humility have been very much formed by Hannah Anderson’s excellent book Humble Roots. It’s definitely recommended reading!]

Sisu, sleeplessness, and the marriage supper

When my Grandma died last year, we experienced fully the forethought of grief, where you get to hang on to the tension and dread of a protracted, agonizing death. Sometimes it is like that. But sometimes death just happens, and all you can do is try to keep breathing when someone you love isn’t. The forethought of grief was not an option with my grandpa. The phone calls came quickly and suddenly this time: Falls. Heart murmurs. Bed sores. Hospice. Long naps. Soon. Maybe tomorrow? No, today.

And all of the sudden, Poppa is gone. This was expected because, of course, we’re mortals, and he’s an old man with heart defects and Alzheimer’s, ailed by who knows what host of other problems he couldn’t describe due to his memory problems. But it feels too fast, too soon, and too wrong. I suppose it never feels right to hear that news. Death is always a loss, always cutting against the grain of our eternity-bound hearts.

A robin flies into my window the next day, and the thump against my house drops it back dead on the porch. Seizing the opportunity to practice a hard teaching moment, I point out the front window and explain the bird’s death to my little daughter. She can’t understand it yet, can she? Still shy of her second birthday, she proudly tells her baby brother Thomas about this as soon as his nap ends: “Tho’as! Bird. Nap. S’eepy outside. No wake up. Dead. Icky. ‘ook, Tho’as.”

We need to walk past the bird to get in the van, to get to the mall for new black funeral shoes. Old shovel in hand, I swallow hard and can’t get the edge under the bird; I don’t really have the gumption to take control of the dead bird situation. When my scooping efforts fail, I let the bird slide off the porch into the flower bed. It lands between two overgrown boxwood, right next to a new bush Aaron planted. He’s so much like Poppa, with curious joy in watching new life spring forth from the earth. He can move the bird away later, and it won’t hurt us in the meantime. Still disconcerted by the sight of this poor robin in the bushes, I take the children around the back door anyway.

That night Aaron says he’s glad to hear the bird landed in the mulch. He needs to fertilize the new bush soon anyway. The best thing to do, he says, is just leave it. We go about our evening: My grandpa is dead, the bird is dead, and my children are miraculously full of even more life than usual after our trip to the mall. We sing cheerful songs before they sleep at night, because that dead bird monologue didn’t translate into actual understanding of my (and our) loss. Cheer and grief: what do I do with this dissonance?

The Lord liveth — though Poppa is dead.
Blessed be the Rock — since we are dust. 
Let the God of our salvation be exalted —
…while we lay someone low in the ground. 

The funeral, exactly a week before my sister’s wedding, finds me preparing to share a eulogy about Poppa’s humble beginnings, his love for the creation and the Creator, and his determined spirit. That sanctuary holds many special memories: My mom’s and aunt’s wedding pictures, my cousins’ baptisms, late Christmas Eve services, Grandma’s funeral last year. Poppa was there for all of these. We sing some of his favorite songs, like How Great Thou Art, and it’s hard to believe he’s not sitting in his row, belting it out alongside us. Since the minister’s homily covered most of my main points, I begin with a joke that my speech “got scooped.” Thankfully, a story as good as Poppa’s is worth telling twice. 

The tales of Poppa growing up as the child of unassimilated Finnish immigrants yet earning advanced degrees, serving in the Air Force, establishing elementary schools in Alaska and colleges in Michigan, traveling the world, and always, always gardening might seem disjointed, but their common thread is found in a little knowledge about his Finnish roots. My Poppa started elementary school speaking only Finnish and knowing just a few English words. I’m the opposite, because I just speak English, but the one Finnish word I know is sisu. It doesn’t fully translate to English, but it means grit, determination, valor, fortitude, sustained courage, and fighting with the will to win. Sisu is considered the true Spirit of Finland, and with this tenacity, Poppa’s life demonstrated that he kept the best of his Finnish heritage with a sisu drive for faithful effort in carefully chosen pursuits.

After talking about his life and the resurrection  – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ is coming again, Alleluia – we scoop potato salad onto our plates in the fellowship hall before moving outside to stand in the blazing sun, scooping earth over ashes. Grandma and Poppa are set there together, dust over dust. By their quiet faithfulness to the gospel and each other, my grandparents were, in so many ways, like trees planted by streams of water, like great Oaks of righteousness. We sow in tears, grieving that this is so final and awful and wrong. We sow in faith, believing boldly that God will reap them as His glorious harvest following the raising of Christ, the firstfruit of all who sleep.

When we have laid them to rest, we return to a full house since so many aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings stay for the week until Naomi’s wedding. We do not rest ourselves. No one ever wants to go to bed, and this is not just the kids cajoling for 5 more minutes. We’re adults who know we are dangerously exhausted, but still we turn on the movies and make snacks to procrastinate on our necessary wedding projects until the wee hours every day. Is it because we want to try keeping today long enough for a little more joy? Or because we know sleep is a mini-death? Maybe it’s because we want more time with Poppa, which we cannot have, so we hang on to every moment with these people who gives us a little bit of him and his memory.

Grief is exhausting because you just want to keep it at bay; if you keep busy, keep fighting to embrace what you have, maybe the memories of your loss will stay away longer. And you stay up late so you aren’t trying to will yourself to sleep with fewer defenses against the pain. You want to be too tired to pay attention to how bad it feels. If you lay there with any energy left, you will remember. It’s easier, in the short term, to fall apart from exhaustion than to be alert to what you have lost.


Bill Niemi and Thomas Hummel. Poppa kept saying, “You can tell he really likes me!”

The Apostle Paul says that in death and resurrection, what is sown does not come to life unless it dies, planted like a bare kernel. Everyone who watched Poppa’s remains go into the earth (we who are now folding bulletins and altering bridesmaid dresses and spray painting table decor) also watched this happen in Poppa’s garden every summer. Just like we joyfully tasted the firstfruits of his garden labors, in ripe red tomatoes and long green beans and crisp cucumbers, we see the joyful fruit of his life among us. To say nothing of blessings among my cousins and the wider community of family and friends, my sisters and I all celebrate our new boys: I have Thomas, Beth is roundly pregnant with Ellis, Naomi is marrying Matt.  We live in the tension of loss and exponential increase this week especially, somehow starting to make peace with what we have heard and spoken about the resurrection: What God raises up out of death is greater than what existed naturally in the first place.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead:
what is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.
It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory.
It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.

Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,
knowing that in the Lord your labor is never in vain.
– 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 58.

It makes a lot of sense that we spend our initial grief for Poppa in wedding coordinations, moving from funeral grief to marriage joy in that same church the next Saturday. We celebrate the seamless call of the gospel and the example of Poppa’s Finnish sisu, to abound and labor for good fruit by the finished work of Jesus. We persevere in preparations while Naomi and Matt open their hearts and arms to each other, in the shadow of Poppa’s life of diligence and devotion. We prepare to rejoice and feast in celebration of their new life together, echoing the eternal life Poppa revels in at the marriage supper of the lamb.

PicMonkey Collage.jpg

wedding photos via  hello rose photography 

Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb! -Revelation 9:9

William Jacob Niemi, Jr., passed away on July 17, 2016, surrounded by family. 

Sharing Elsewhere: Risen Motherhood

RisenMotherhood Text Pics (15)

I’m really excited to be sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned through my miscarriages on the Risen Motherhood podcast this week! Hosts Emily Jensen and Laura Wifler discuss the way the gospel transforms a mom’s everyday life on this quick weekly show. Since neither of them have suffered miscarriage themselves, they asked if I would be willing to share a little bit from my journey as part of a back-to-back interview episode about miscarriage and the gospel. Most of what I shared won’t be completely new to friends or readers here, but I think you’ll enjoy hearing the complementary stories of God’s grace during the episode. This is a fabulous resource for women seeking hope and healing after losing a baby, and I’m grateful for the chance to be part of this beautiful ministry!

[ If you’re not already a faithful Risen Motherhood listener, you can always listen in on their website (www.RisenMotherhood.com). I also suggest connecting with them on Facebook and subscribing with your favorite podcast streaming site (maybe iTunes?) or app so you don’t miss an episode! ]

Strengthen Me According To Your Word

STRENGTHEN ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD: Scriptures to Read After Miscarriage. 

“My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” – Psalm 119:28


I’ve been very humbled to walk in grief next to many friends after they have miscarried a baby, and I think the most common question they bring up has been, “Did you have any particular scriptures I should read? What does the Bible say to me about this?” (And others want to know how to help someone else, what they can say after their friend loses a baby, too.) While I’ve already written about the journey I took discovering [how the topic of miscarriage fits into the “big picture” of scripture] after my losses, the Bible does provide some additional encouragement here as well. Scripture is words of life for those in the midst of death. We don’t have to fumble for random and theologically troubling explanations outside of this!

On Grief & Broken Hearts

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 
Psalm 31: 9 “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted with grief.” 

It is okay to be honest in prayer about the difficulty of grief; God never asks us to get our emotions under control or pretend like everything is fine before coming to him.

Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

It’s a gift that this doesn’t say:“Blessed are those who have bad things happen to them, for they shall be stronger than everyone else.” Everyone has difficulty in life, but not everyone actually mourns or allows themselves to grieve. God’s comfort comes to us while we’re working through difficulty, not by avoiding it or pretending something wasn’t a big deal.

On Hurtful Words & Difficult Relationships 

Psalm 31: 20 “You store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.” 

The Lord offers refuge and healing in himself when other people’s words cut deeply.  When facing difficult conversation and remembering painful comments from others, rest in the shelter that God offers in himself. We can always keep running to him instead of reopening the wounds made by others’ thoughtless words.

Isaiah 53:3-4 “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hid their faces, he was despised… Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” 

[One of the most common responses to news of a miscarriage is “At least you weren’t further along, like my friend’s stillbirth,” or “At least you hadn’t been trying long,” or “At least you know you can get pregnant.” The message this sends: ‘Grief is a competition and lots of other people have it worse than you. You don’t deserve to grieve.’ That is a lie.] There is a time to empathize with others and get some perspective, of course. I wouldn’t approach someone whose children were killed by terrorists and say “You know, I had miscarriages so I know just what this is like.” No way! But when you are stricken with a personal tragedy, that grief is real and it matters.  Being dismissed by people who should have known better doesn’t make this less true: For a Christian, the only real “competition” for grief is Jesus. While bearing the weight of all sin and sorrow, he also felt the pain of messed up relationships. He was abandoned and misunderstood. He was hurt by people he trusted. His suffering was the worst because he took all our grief and sorrow to the cross, and in the resurrection he is victorious over all of it, too. Sin and suffering (which sometimes correlate, and sometimes do not) are not ultimate for us because of this.

On Weariness & Strength 

Psalm 31:7 “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul.”
Psalm 119:50 “My comfort in my affliction is this: your promise preserves my life.” 

For a Christian, the remedy for sorrow and weariness is found in the Lord. Not in a future earthly good (for example, having another baby after a miscarriage) or “moving past” the difficulty in question. When other people aren’t walking alongside you in ways you need, and those relationships feel very disappointing? You can rejoice in the steadfast love of God, who has known the distress of your soul. When you are afflicted and sorrowful? You can trust that God’s promise of salvation preserves your life.

On Sin & Shame 

Psalm 103:10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”

A miscarriage is not punishment for sin, and a living baby is not a reward for righteousness. No one “deserves” a miscarriage for any reason, just like no one “deserves” a child. 

The Baby’s Life & Purpose 

Psalm 139:13-14 “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” 

When you really consider all that’s involved with conception and fetal development, it’s a wonder the human race has sustained this long. A 1st-trimester baby, even one with profound genetic deformities, is a pure miracle. Whether we have a “reason” for a miscarriage like that (which is supposed to be about 50% of losses) or not, we can praise God for his marvelous creation in the baby’s life. I’m still surprised by how many people told me, “There was probably something wrong with the baby,” as if that was supposed to lessen my grief or explain God’s purpose. My specific medical history indicates this was probably not the case anyway, but no matter what: God’s image was placed in the baby just as much as it was with any of us. Even the shortest of lives is a praiseworthy and mysterious marvel. 

Psalm 138:8 “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.”
Psalm 139:16 “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

I’ll admit, I’ve thought these verses were kind of unfair – why would God create a baby with a life only in the womb, even life measured by days more than weeks? What is the point of that? Why even create the baby in the first place?  Yet we can be comforted that God is not limited by time or human frailty; we are all like helpless children before God. That God can use my 30-year-old life and reasonably well-trained mind to fulfill his purpose is not less astounding than that he could do the same in the MUCH shorter life of a baby who died in the womb.

On God’s Love

Psalm 103:13-14 “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”  

God’s love and desire for his children is even more powerful than the difficulty of a miscarriage or other loss. He isn’t surprised by weakness or failure, and he doesn’t expect us to summon supernatural strength apart from himself.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

NOT: “For God so loved the miscarrying woman that he gave her a new baby of her own, that whoever believes in him will no longer miscarry, but have a pro-creative life.” We know God loves us because he gave us his son; we do not measure or prove God’s love for us by anything else.

Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

That “…nor anything else in all creation” includes your baby. Their life or death does not separate us from God’s love.

On Hope & The Resurrection 

1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 27 “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all died, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. …The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

The true message of hope and encouragement in grief is in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and return. (And if this feels weird, it is. Y’all, Christianity definitely requires a little weirdness. There’s no Jesus Lite version to opt out of this stuff.)  Grief is one of the many places where the rubber of Christianity hits the road of real life. In many ways this is where you actually need the weirdness of Christianity most!

The poet John Donne, who grieved many profound losses (father, siblings, children, wife) reflected on these verses and wrote the sonnet “Death, Be Not Proud,” with an ending that says this better than anyone else: “One short sleep past, we wake eternally/ and death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die!” The pain and loss of a miscarriage find their final remedy in the Resurrection, which destroys destruction and kills death.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ” But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 

This scripture is a particular treasure after a miscarriage because it doesn’t tell us not to grieve, it says we grieve differently than other people.
It doesn’t tell us that hope replaces grief, it shows that hope transforms our grief.
It doesn’t tell us we’ll be happy when we can “get over” the difficulty we face, it points to Jesus overcoming the difficulty in our place.
And it doesn’t tell us we will stop grieving at some arbitrary point in life, or even when we see our loved ones in heaven. It offers a better promise: that we will always be with the Lord.

Writing Elsewhere: Jesus & GMOs

In the last few months, Aaron and I have been excited to share with wider audiences about his vocation as a Christian in the biotech industry, where he’s developing genetically modified crops. We’re thankful to contribute to the ongoing conversation about the relationship between our faith, scientific advances, and the food we eat. If you find eating enjoyable or necessary, we invite you to click through these links to read these articles about the relationship between faith and food production!

For a quick read, Aaron was interviewed by our friend Abigail Murrish over at The Gospel Coalition talking about Growing Food More Reliably and Efficiently:

In [God’s] image, I help to grow good food for people, too. Yet it takes our team years of hard work to change just one aspect of one species of plant. His work, in contrast, is truly amazing.

If you’ve ever wondered about how the gospel should inform our food choices, what a Christian theology of agricultural biotechnology looks like, or if Jesus would eat a GMO food, my longer article “Faith and Fear in the Food Wars: Biotechnology’s Role in Redeeming the Cursed Ground” is just what you’re looking for! It was published by the fine people over at Christ and Pop Culture (originally in Magazine Vol. 4, Issue 6), and is now available without a paywall.

…When we look this stuff up online, the social media results offer a lot of confusion and guilt without a lot of information. The scientific community as a whole is overwhelmingly supportive of biotechnology and GMO crops, but the pushback from groups promoting natural foods has levels of near-religious fervor. Type any question into a search engine, and you’ll quickly find a website giving you the answer you want. Is organic food healthier? Do pesticides cause cancer? Are genetically-engineered foods safe? There are plenty of people saying yes, plenty of people saying no, and lots of us questioning what to buy at the store because of it. Those who aren’t “eating clean” or “going organic” often feel guilty about it. Who hasn’t heard about food sourcing and wondered how to choose the best food? What shopper hasn’t felt pressured to pay more for a product that is marketed to seem healthier? Without knowing much about science or agriculture, most people are going into this food war blind.