Today’s Wisdom Wednesday continues the topic of “family planning.” Feel free to share relevant Scripture I have left out.
Our attitude about children: a blessing and a curse
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. Genesis 1:28
God’s command to Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply. It’s obviously not a command for all people (since some people remain unmarried by God’s Providence and some married people remain childless by God’s Providence). At the same time, I believe this passage sets a default, or normative attitude toward marriage and children that Christians ought to have.
In other words, marriage and children should be a normal, expected, and welcomed event in a person’s life, because this is a part of God’s plan. Sometimes God leads otherwise, but is always for God’s glory and not our own.
Children are a blessing.
Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them:
they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate. Psalm 127:3-5
David is using a simile here: just like arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, so are children of a young man. There is no question that David is telling us that children are a blessing, but we can read far more into the simile than we should. Prescribing how many arrows I need is just as inappropriate as prescribing the age of childbearing (“children of the youth“). Having children for my own pleasure and use is selfish and not endorsed here, but the abuse of interpretation doesn’t negate that children can be a blessing for parents.
Genesis 3:16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
In our eagerness to affirm the blessings of children, we must not forget that there is sorrow in bearing and rearing children. It is a part of the curse, the consequence of Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. Although I do not understand this difficult passage to my satisfaction, I do believe the Bible speaks of more than simply pain in childbirth. My husband observed that the increase in miscarriages (some estimate half of all pregnancies) very well could be a part of this curse, since death was not present before sin. In any case, although we recognize that our children are blessings, and we would not call our children a curse, we do recognize that there is sorrow present in our childbearing years.
Motives for having children or not must be for God’s glory
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. I Corinthians 10:31
I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.
But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.
There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. I Corinthians 7:8, 7:32-34
In the same way that the apostle Paul can endorse a state of being unmarried for God’s glory, I believe there is an appropriate state of limiting a family for God’s glory. I’ve seen this once very clearly. When I was in high school, an elderly missionary couple at our house related that they chose not to have children because they were ministering in a dangerous field. By their testimony, their choice was so that they might be completely devoted to the things of the Lord.
This motive seems so similar to Paul’s testimony of the advantages of being single that I am reluctant to criticize it. I don’t think I would make that choice, but I cannot say that it is unbiblical.
Submission to Authority
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Ephesians 5:22-24
In the absence of a biblical command, I think submission to authority can be one reason to limit a family size. This is not to say that a wife cannot appeal (as Daniel did, with both objection and proposed solution), but that ultimately she can rest in God’s Providence in her life.
Providing for family
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. I Timothy 5:8
This is a command more for a husband than a wife, although ideally a wife will also be a part of the decision-making process. This is the passage that my husband meditated on when considering his wishes for the health of his wife. “His own” and “his own house” refer to a family that exists, not to a potential family. This is why he felt strongly that protecting his wife’s life was so important, and in addition, that the most loving thing he could do for his three children was to make a decision protecting the life of his wife, their mother.
Given the force of the significance of not providing for one’s family, it seems inappropriate to dismiss finances as a concern when bearing children. Obviously, in our American culture “providing for a family” can often mean indulgences and privileges that are not necessary or even wanted by children; nevertheless, genuine poverty in our country is not unknown. If God has given a family in such a state the means to limit family size, then I see more biblical support for doing so than not.
For I seek not yours but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. I Corinthians 12:14
This is a passing reference, but again affirms the assumed priority that parents should have in providing materially for their children.
Our hearts are deceitful
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24
Our tendency to be self-deceived behooves us to take major decisions so seriously. We should distrust our feelings. We must pray that God will search our hearts, try us, and reveal our sin to us. I believe God will answer this prayer.
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Philippians 4:11
Whether I have children or not, whether children are in my future or not, I must learn to be content. I am encouraged that contentment is something that even the apostle Paul learned. I can learn it, too! I once thought contentment was a one-time decision that would carry me throughout my life. I now have learned that the challenge of contentment is varied and sometimes complex.
There are other considerations: pride and humility, presumption against God, understanding biblical faith, understanding the role of sinful habits (such as anger) and psychiatric problems (which can include sinful origins, but nevertheless may put a family in danger). I don’t have all the answers because I don’t understand all the factors. I don’t live in China where the law commands me to limit my family. My husband has a good job, and one that is reliable. I didn’t wrestle with a desire to kill all my children, as did Andrea Yates.
Ultimately, I have confidence that God will lead as I acknowledge Him in every area of my life.
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.Proverbs 3:5-6
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Matthew 6:33-34