My wife and another Christian midwife just spent over 24 hours at a birth. They prayed frequently with each other, and for the woman who was having the baby.
This birth was done in a tub filled with water, a method that is safe and scientifically proven to ease pain for the mother better than any other method, save an epidural.
A certain prominent Reformed pastor thinks that this practice has pagan implications. He is not well informed about waterbirth, and has mistaken ideas about its safety, so that some readers might well think that babies are at serious risk of drowning — after all, they’re born underwater, right? But my greater concern is his theological criticism, for it has the potential to develop into a powerful sort of lifestyle legalism. He points to the fact that some midwives, among them a few prominent textbook authors, are feminist neo-pagans. He says that the Bible tells us that man comes from the dust of the earth, and that pagan religions, among them evolutionism, teach that man comes from the water. He asks, “If you saw a movie, and a couple named their water-born baby Venus Angela, would it mean anything?”
Yes, I expect it would mean all kinds of bad things. But the more relevant question is this: if a Christian couple — not neo-pagans — had a couple of kids in water, and named them, not “Venus” or “Tiamat,” but “Hosanna Keturah” and “Isaiah Immanuel”… well, what would that mean?
We must avoid arbitrary exegesis. Even more important, we must avoid letting paganism tell us what things symbolize. In this case, it’s certainly true that Venus comes from the water. But we don’t worship Venus. We eat whatever meat is sold in the marketplace, without raising questions of conscience. But at the same time, we don’t want anyone else to think that we are neo-pagans. So we explain what we are doing. We ask, what does water mean in the Bible? God created water. He, not the Enuma Elish or the Theogony, has the exclusive right to tell us what water means, symbolically. And He has done so. Naaman the Syrian, the pool of Bethesda, Noah’s ark, Moses and the Red Sea, Joshua and the Jordan, and of course, baptism, all speak of water being a symbol of God’s grace and favor to His people. The Reformed pastor in question objects that this is the New Birth from Christ, not the Old Birth from Adam, and wants to keep water away from the Old Birth, so as to keep the two distinct. Oddly, he is not a Baptist.
A birth tub is not baptism. But it is a little anticipation of it, in everyday poetic symbolism, much as a pair of parents might look forward to their child’s baptism while giving him his first bath. It is by God’s design that water is safe for babies to be born into. It is by God’s design that it supports and soothes the laboring mother. God is good and gracious, and it is altogether poetically fitting that this great help against the Curse of toil and sorrow in childbirth should be also the same stuff that He chose as a symbol of the grace that gives us the ultimate Victory over the larger curse of Sin and Death.
Our children belong to God. They are born into the baptized people. The washing away of sins belongs to them by promise. From the moment they enter the world, they are utterly surrounded by grace. What could be more appropriate than for them to be also surrounded by a symbol of grace?
I thank God that my wife has been gifted by the Lord with a heart and hands for women in childbirth. I ask Him to bless her in her calling. And I ask Him to preserve the dignity of her work in the eyes of her brothers and sisters.