Rev. Wayne D. Mueller
Children seem to be an impediment to happiness these days. They are often the pawns of occupational pursuits. When children don’t fit in, they are aborted, abandoned, or divided by divorce. Parents try to prevent their conception, and many with congenital defects become the victims of medical infanticide. Some are abused by impatient mothers and molested by vicious fathers. Irresponsible fathers absent themselves from their homes and single mothers shuffle them off to daycare centers to earn enough money to feed them.
Society’s treatment of children does not mean the value of children has changed. Rather, the ungodly have changed their values and placed children near the bottom. Children rank somewhere below job advancement, personal freedom, and financial security. Who of us is bold enough to say he hasn’t been affected by the eroded values of the world?
Children are a blessing
What a different view Scripture offers. After he created Adam and Eve and united them in marriage, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number'” (Genesis 1:28). God repeated this blessing to Noah after the flood (Genesis 9:1).
Many years later the psalms reflected the joy of receiving children from God. “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him . . . . Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (Psalm 127:3,5). “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. Thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord” (Psalm 128:3,4).
Notice how often the Old Testament connects the word blessing with children. The New Testament assigns the same high value to children. Jesus took children into his arms and blessed them. To the disciples who seemed to consider little children too big a bother for busy adults our Savior said, “Let the little children come to me” (Mark 10:14). St. Paul’s directive that fathers train and instruct their children in the Lord (Ephesians 6:4) takes it for granted that there are children in Christian families.
When God told the first man and woman how to take care of the earth, he mentioned three things: bear children, subdue the earth, and rule over it. Good stewardship, as God envisioned it, begins with the trust that children are just what he promised them to be: blessings.
Many people today would question that. God said to fill the earth, they argue, and we have already done that. The overpopulated earth and its starving masses prove that we have too many children already.
The Christian must be cautious about accepting this kind of argumentation. God did not give us a way of determining when the world is “full.” He only told us to fill it. Good stewardship, of course, asks us not to bear children we cannot provide for (1 Timothy 5:8). But to refuse God’s blessing of children for yourself because a child is starving in another part of the world? The motive for that would ring clear only if all one’s resources for raising his own children were devoted to alleviating the needs of those who were starving.
The real question
Chuck and Sandy were going to be married. Chuck said he didn’t want any children, not for a while anyway. He wanted to get his feet on the ground where he worked. Sandy agreed. She had some schooling to finish first. And there were a lot of things they wanted around the house before they had the baby.
We can’t judge hearts. But judging from the words and actions of society today, the real question about children is often tied to money, professional advancement, or personal freedom — not the starving children in the third world. Maybe they don’t realize it, but if their parents had thought as they do, Chuck and Sandy might not be around to do any thinking at all. God wants us to examine the reason behind our feelings about children. He requires that our hearts be pure. Our motive for doing something must be honest to God.
Jesus said it is impossible to serve God and money (Matthew 6:24). No one has the ability to look ahead ten years to see if he will have the money or health to support children. So the willingness to bear children always involves trust. What moves us is God’s promise. Not professional promise, financial security, nor the allure of personal freedom have God’s specific assurance of earthly benefit. But children do.
There are decisions
Of course, every couple makes decisions about bearing children. And god doesn’t make those decisions for us. He tells us that children are blessings because he knows we must make decisions, and he wants to influence us with his promise.
Yet beyond his promise of blessing and his warning about the love of money (Luke 12:15) there are other things which Christian couples may and, sometimes, must take into consideration. May we use artificial means to assist us in having a child or in preventing conception? May we resort to surgery to prevent further conception? What about passing on known genetically transmitted diseases?
Many practical decisions about bearing children will be influenced by God’s Fifth Commandment (Exodus 20:13). Luther’s explanation of this commandment reflects our Lord’s concern for our physical well-being. A believing husband will certainly make the health of his wife a priority in their decision about the frequency and number of pregnancies (Ephesians 5:28,29). A Christian couple would never knowingly transmit disease to their offspring.
The fifth commandment’s protection of human life also helps us evaluate artificial means of inducing and preventing conception. Artificial means and medical intervention are not wrong in themselves. But we have to say no to drugs and surgeries that destroy fertilized eggs. Some popular birth control drugs and devices which work as abortifacients must be refused.
Family planning is a misnomer. So is birth control. There is a certain presumption in the popular use of those terms which detracts from God’s glory. We have a relatively small part in birth, not control of it. Just ask any couple who dearly wants a child and can’t conceive. Or ask the parents who are surprised by a birth they didn’t “plan.”
Planning can be a good thing. Lack of planning, in fact, can be tempting God. The same thing is true of control. A part of the Christian’s life is his self-control and the management of the resources God has given him. As the believer practices them, planning and control can be good stewardship.
Yet the Bible is remarkably silent on some hard questions. Am I refusing a blessing of God if I don’t have another child? Don’t look for the answer to that question in society’s example or in the expectations of others. You may not be able to have as many children as your parents did or as many as you envisioned as the ideal family. On the other hand, time and changing circumstances may allow you to have more.
When you are looking for answers, start with an honest review of all the blessings God gives you. Count your spiritual blessings, your financial resources, your physical and mental health, and the ability of your spouse to help you care for your children. Talk it over with your pastor or a trusted Christian friend. Above all, together with your marriage partner, take it to the Lord in prayer.
God promises the blessing of children to help us make our own decisions, not to measure others’. The family we think has too many children may have the spiritual resources which make up for financial shortfalls. The couple we might urge to have more children may have made their decision in the fear of the Lord. There is a spiritual dimension to our attitude about children. How we think of children when we are contemplating marriage and afterwards will show we trust that when God says, “Children are a blessing,” he speaks the truth.