WOULD MARY GET AN EPIDURAL?
Written by Doug Ponder on August 28, 2015
DISCLAIMER: I have never had a baby, with or without an epidural. But my wife has had one each way, and she approves this message.
If Jesus Were Born Today…
Shortly before Jesus’ due date, the emperor of the United States issued a decree: “All persons must register their health insurance policy with the government to make sure it’s official.”
“But fear not,” the decree continued. “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” And just like that, Mary and Joseph found themselves traveling a great distance to their new doctor in the only hospital that accepted their new healthcare plan.
When it came time for Mary to give birth, however, there were no rooms in the Labor and Delivery unit. So the nurses whisked her away to a smaller room where they made sure she was in stable condition. It wasn’t long before some wise men came bearing gifts: laughing gas, painkillers, and epidurals.
Being about eight hours after the birth, when it was time for the boy to be circumcised, a birth certificate was presented, and his parents named him Jesus.
Puns and minor inaccuracies aside (I realize that the wise men didn’t arrive until sometime after the birth of Jesus), this modernized account of the Christmas story invites us to explore an interesting question: If Jesus were born today, would Mary get an epidural?
The question may seem silly on the surface, but it has the potential to expose our assumptions about the world God has made and how we are to live in it.
When it comes to epidurals, other medicines, or, indeed, anything manmade, people take one of three sides. The first is “Team Nature,” which comes in two forms. The “hard” form of Team Nature is strongly opposed to anything that isn’t natural. This is because, according to them, natural equals good and manmade equals sinful, harmful, or bad. The “soft” form of Team Nature wouldn’t say that manmade items are bad, but they don’t hesitate to say that natural things are almost always better than anything manmade.
You might be on Team Nature if many of the following apply to you:
- you think only organic, all-natural foods are safe to eat
- you worry about vaccines
- you prefer essential oils to over-the-counter medicines
- you make your own kombucha
- you are suspicious of ingredients that you can’t pronounce
- you use amber bead necklaces for your teething toddler
- you’re pretty sure the Fountain of Youth is full of breast milk (and you’re also sure that formula is Beelzebub’s beverage of choice)
Team Nature tends to be guilty of assuming that whatever is natural is necessarily good and cannot be improved upon by mankind. The trouble, of course, is that there are many wonderful things in the world that aren’t “natural.” Whatever you’re sitting on as you read this isn’t natural—you can’t find a chair or a couch growing wild in nature. Likewise, your iPhone isn’t natural. Cooked meats are not natural (they naturally occur in the raw form). Gatorade is not natural. Yet all of these things can be good when used in the right way.
The second side in the natural versus manmade debate is “Team Technology.” This side has strong faith in humanity’s ability to improve the world, and they tend to think of all-natural movements as old-fashioned or regressive.
You might be on Team Technology if many of the following apply to you:
- you have never checked the ingredient label on any of your foods
- the answer to every problem in your life is a new gadget or gizmo
- you take a Tylenol PM every night before bed
- you’ve forgotten (at least once) that chicken nuggets come from a chicken
- you mock scientific reports that warn us about legitimate health concerns
- you’ve never realized that strawberries aren’t naturally ripe in January
- ♫ your hope is built on nothing else than the latest iPhone off the shelf ♪
Team Technology isn’t about electronic devices, so don’t get confused. The word “technology” actually refers to the whole field of human knowledge that deals with the invention of new objects or processes. That includes food, the arts, engineering, science, and just about every area of life.
Team Technology tends to be guilty of naïve consumption, which is the uncritical use and the mistaken assumption that every new manmade “thing” can only make our lives better. We ought to realize this is wrong by now, since we have a long history filled with technological developments that brought as much harm (sometimes more) than they did help. Clearly, not everything manmade is an improvement.
The last side in the debate is boringly called “Team Gift.” This side understands that both nature and technology are gifts from God. As the Scriptures tell us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift come from above” (Jas. 1:17).
Naturally-occurring things in nature are direct gifts, since they come directly from God’s initial creative work in the world. Manmade items, however, are indirect gifts because they come from God indirectly through the ingenuity of mankind. These items are still gifts from God, however, since he is the one who gets the credit for creating us in such a way that we could invent new things.
In fact, the cultivation, development, and invention of new “things” was God’s plan from the beginning. He told us, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). Scholars have pointed out that “be fruitful” and “multiply” are two ways of saying the same thing. In similar way, the commands to “fill the earth and subdue it” refer to two sides of one coin. ‘Filling the earth’ refers to creating new “things,” and ‘subduing the earth’ refers to taming, cultivating, and adapting what God had made.
In other words, God wants us to make new things, so long as we remember to give him the credit for it. That is why Paul can say, “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4). Paul was no dummy. He knew that since every good gift came from God, then that also includes the indirect gifts that come to us from God through the minds of men (Jas. 1:17).
So when we read “everything created by God is good,” we should understand this not as Team Nature would, but as God would. In other words, we must learn to thank God for every gift, including gifts like food preservatives, which can help fight world hunger.
Even Gatorade, to go back to our previous example, has a wonderful use in God’s world. Did you know that long-distance runners have died from drinking only water? It’s a rare condition that can easily be solved by drinking sports drinks like Gatorade. Water, though natural, doesn’t include the electrolytes needed to keep us alive. Sports drinks, however, do contain electrolytes that people need after very strenuous workouts. Gatorade as a gift from God? You better believe it!
But before we get carried away, Team Gift also recognizes that every gift can be abused. (Some chemicals are helpful for cleaning, but they’re terrible for eating.) This means that Team Gift understands the importance of enjoying God’s gifts—both the direct and indirect kinds—with wisdom as well as gratitude.
About that Epidural
Putting it all together: If Jesus were born today, would Mary get an epidural?
Who knows? You’d have to ask her. If I were betting man, I’d bet ‘yes’—since 60% of women today get epidurals. (But those aren’t very sure odds.)
One thing is for sure, though. If Mary would get an epidural, she would not feel guilty about it. She would thank God for the gift of modern medicine, including gifts that help manage pain.
And if she would not get epidural, Mary just as certainly wouldn’t feel self-righteous about it. Mary’s on Team Gift, so she knows there are no brownie points with God for going all-natural. His gifts are direct and indirect, both natural and manmade.
So whether you eat Twinkies or drink kefir, whether you take aspirin or breathe in peppermint oil, whether you get an epidural or go for a drug-free birth, do it all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31)—which means: always use God’s gifts both with wisdom and with gratitude, but never with guilt or self-righteousness.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.