“‘I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.’
To the woman he said,
‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.’” Genesis 3:15-16a
The Scriptures are full of commands, illustrations, and metaphors pertaining to childbirth. From the creation mandate to new birth in Christ to the coming recreation, the concept of laboring for life is essential to the metanarrative of God and his people. This passage in Genesis is a prime example of this, showing that “the hope of human history hangs on the promise that a Deliverer would come through the woman’s womb” (32). In Labor with Hope, Gloria Furman translates the academic work of a Ph.D. student, Jesse Scheumann, into a devotional, biblical-theological book on child-bearing.
The subtitle of this book explains that it is a compilation of “Gospel Meditations,” which is a fitting descriptor for each chapter. Furman focuses each chapter around a passage or two of Scripture, using the text as a starting point to discuss heavy, beautiful realities related to child-bearing. Here are some key strengths of the book:
1. Scripture doesn’t pull any punches, and neither does Furman.
Furman deals with massive topics including but not limited to the image of God, the reasons for pain in every aspect of motherhood, abortion, and even the “saved through childbearing” passage in Paul’s first letter to Timothy. There are ways to write a book like this that circumvent the hard and complicated truths of Scripture, but Furman will have none of that. She celebrates the full gospel (suffering included!) at every turn:
“Day and night, why do we give ourselves away? Because of the gospel. This stunning portrait of the Suffering Servant shapes a Christ-centered perspective for our motherhood. Every theme of pain and suffering in this world gives way to a vision of our glorious Christ,” (66).
2. Furman’s writing is gracious – inclusive in all the right ways, while avoiding unnecessary controversies.
Throughout the book, Furman gives appropriate acknowledgment to the controversies and hurts that come with a topic like motherhood. She recognizes that she will have readers will all sorts of opinions about how to properly deliver a baby, but makes clear that she does not intend to speak to questions surrounding modern medicine (15). Many women reading a book like this will have struggled with infertility or maybe grieved over the spiritual states of grown children, and Furman speaks a soothing gospel word to both (42-43). Adoptive mothers are included often in her applications, and stress is placed on the role of all believers in the spiritual procreation we are called to in Christ (78-79).
3. The gospel is the unifying theme just as much as motherhood is.
If you have concern that a book like this would be repetitive- perhaps it feels like just another book on motherhood- fear not. Furman is repetitive in all the right ways. Every chapter brings you back to her central point, that “the metaphor of childbirth points us to God- birth is not about us,” (53). She refers to maternal pain as a megaphone calling us to repentance and faith (40). The gospel is proclaimed as the only power for true, sacrificial love (61). Birth pain, along with all forms of suffering, is explained as leading the Christian to future glory (92-93). If Furman is guilty of repetition in the slightest, it is of the best kind of gospel-repetition a devotional reader could ask for.
Those praises noted, here are some limitations and weaknesses of Labor With Hope:
1. Tell us where we’re going.
This is the truest weakness of Furman’s work. While a devotional compilation of “meditations” may not be intended to follow a clear progression from beginning to end, there could have been a bit more overarching structure to hold the book together. Since the book has a biblical-theological framework, a progression through the canon would have felt natural. It began this way with the first chapters focusing on texts from the Pentateuch, but the rest of the book did not continue in sequence. Even if that was intentional, the reader could benefit from a clearer roadmap to know where the book was going as a whole.
2. The audience is narrow and specific.
I would not call this a weakness per se, but it is a limitation. While any Christian can appreciate a biblical theology of child-bearing, this book is very much geared toward Christian mothers. As the title suggests, it is best suited for expecting or new moms. Personally, I read it while pregnant with my first child, and it blessed me in that unique season. It would serve as a Christ-exalting baby shower or Mother’s day gift for the women in your life.
3. It may leave you wanting.
This too is perhaps a necessary limitation given the depth of Furman’s topic. Perhaps this would not be the case for some, but I walked away wanting a fuller biblical theology of child-bearing. It is clear after reading Labor with Hope that there is so much more that could be said and meditated on! Furman would probably be the first to acknowledge that she only scratched the surface of all the riches within the Scriptures pertaining to labor and childbearing. Yet maybe this is part of her goal- to drive readers to the Word of God for more gospel meditations. While this limitation is worth acknowledging, the book serves its purpose as an accessible, gospel-rich devotional, not a dissertation.
Furman has succeeded in serving her audience through Labor with Hope. It was a source of gospel refreshment for a new mom like me, weary with the labor of pregnancy, and is sure to drive many more to marvel at the love of Christ.
Editor’s Note: You can purchase Labor With Hope here.