For many couples, making a baby isn’t just a physical act; it’s a spiritual one as well. What is God’s role in the creation of human life? Well that depends on which faith tradition you follow.
Here’s what some of the world’s major religions teach about the start of life.
A number of Bible verses point to God’s knowledge of a soul before conception and God’s active role in the creation of a child.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” —Jeremiah 1:5
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” —
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” —Psalm 127:3
Teachings from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints explain:
“We lived as spirit children of God in a premortal existence. There is no way to make sense out of life without a knowledge of the doctrine of premortal life.
“The idea that mortal birth is the beginning is preposterous. There is no way to explain life if you believe that. The notion that life ends with mortal death is ridiculous. There is no way to face life if you believe that. When we understand the doctrine of premortal life, then things fit together and make sense.”
Catholic bioethicist and Fordham theology/ethics professor Charles Camosy says the Catholic church speaks using imagery to understand the origins of life:
“We use images rather than speak with precise, step-by-step language. I personally love the image in Genesis of God rolling some clay around in God’s hands, putting it to his mouth, and ‘breathing-in’ the soul. It shows the level of intimacy God has with the creation of each one of us.”
“The Catholic position on what happens (which is different from explaining how it happens) is that God infuses our soul or spirit into each one of us from the begin of our life as a new human animal, which is after fertilization of the egg by the sperm is complete and brand-new organism is present,” Camosy says. “And it is that spirit which keeps us growing and living as the same animal until we die as that same animal. Indeed, the terms animate, animal, etc. refer to the spirit or soul (anima) which separates living things from things which are not living.”
“How does that happen? We don't know. No one knows. All we have are images and metaphors to help us imagine it.”
Buddhist scholar Robert Kritzer writes that the cycle of death and rebirth is a central concept in some branches of the faith, and the moment of conception is key.
“A number of Buddhist sūtras, meditation manuals and doctrinal texts... describe in various degrees of completeness the stages between one lifetime and the next,” Kritzer says. “The process of rebirth begins at the moment of death in one life, continues through the intermediate existence or antarābhava, the moment of conception, and the period of gestation, and culminates in the moment of birth in the next life.”
In Jewish law, although the human soul exists before birth, human life begins at birth, that is, at the time when the child is more than halfway emerged from the mother's body. Rabbi Goldie Milgram explains:
“The soul a baby will receive is traditionally understood to be pre-destined. The combining of the particular soul with the particular body it enters results in a human. An often-cited commentary relates that all the souls that will ever exist were ‘created during the six days of Creation, and were in the Garden of Eden, and all were present at the giving of the Torah [at Sinai].’ This perspective is reflected in Jeremiah 1:5: ‘I knew you, before I formed you in the belly, before you left the womb.’ Or as sometimes friends or family are known to say to small children, ‘We knew you before you were even a twinkle in your parents’ eyes.”
The Qur’an describes the development of a fetus as a process with stages:
“God created you in stages.” —71:14
“(God) creates you inside the bodies of your mothers, in stages, one after another.” —39:6
Asma Uddin, founder of altMuslimah and director of strategy for the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom, explains, “Islamic teachings say that a child is assembled in the mother’s womb during a 40-day period, after which it becomes a ‘clot of thick blood’ for a similar length of time. It is after that that God sends an angel who writes four things pre-determined by God: the child’s deeds, his/her livelihood, the day he or she will die and whether or not he/she will be religiously blessed. At 120 days after conception, God breathes the soul into the child.”
“Once the child is born, God tells us that it is our job as Muslim parents to raise and care for our children by bringing them up as moral, righteous Muslims,” Uddin adds. “‘Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock,’ the Qur’an states.”