A Pepper Grinder Post

The Shunned Blessing - Part 2

we looked at Psalm 127:3-5.  We saw that children are like the unexpected loot left to you by your rich uncle.  They are like the bullets in the gun of a soldier.  Obviously this Psalmist thought that kids were a great thing, but surely the rest of the Bible has a more balanced view?  If having a balanced view means that other parts of the Bible portray children as something to be shunned or desired only in extreme moderation, good luck finding it.  If you read any account of barren women (i.e. women who were unable to have children) in the Bible, it is clear that this was seen as one of the worst things that could happen to a woman.  Reading about Abraham, it is also clear that having no heir was a miserable fate for a man.  In the New Testament, Paul presents remaining unmarried to serve the Lord as an honorable choice, but he also assumes that elders and deacons will have children (since one of the qualifications for leadership was that their children not be wild), and he counsels younger widows to marry and have children (1 Timothy 5:14).  He also mentions bringing up children as one of the good deeds a widow may be known for (1 Timothy 5:10).  There is no hint of the state, so common for young Christian couples now, of being married and intentionally childless.

There is one other verse with something interesting to say about pregnancy and childbirth that I have not yet mentioned.  I’m thinking of Genesis 3:16—the passage where God curses Eve because of her part in the Fall.  Here is my literal translation of the first part of this verse:

He said to the woman, “I will greatly increase your toil and your conception.”

Mother and ChildYou may be surprised if you look this verse up in most translations.  For example, the NIV says, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing.”  However, I think a case can be made for the more literal translation above.  This would make sense.  Disease and death have entered the world.  Not only will the woman and the man need to work much harder, but women will need to conceive more children to make up for those that will be lost.  Some have argued, based on this, that using contraception is no different than a farmer using a tractor—it is simply mitigating an effect of the Fall.  This may very well be a valid argument.  However, saying that it’s okay to use contraception doesn’t change the fact that the Bible presents children as a blessing, and that the teaching that children are a wonderful gift is much more spelled out than the possible implication of the passage in Genesis that it’s alright to use contraception to keep from having “too many” children.

What about the cases where kids made their parents miserable?  It is clear that Eli was ashamed about the conduct of his sons, who were using their priestly offices to get rich and sleep with lots of women.  It is also a safe guess that Absalom didn’t bring joy to his father David’s heart when he was trying to kill Dad and take his kingdom.  However, does the fact that something can be made into a curse make it not a blessing? 

Part of the curse that is pronounced on Eli says, “Every one of you that I do not cut off from my altar will be spared only to blind your eyes with tears and to grieve your heart.” (1 Samuel 2:33, NIV)  It is as if someone said to a billionaire, “I will take away your assets, and those that I leave you will only make you miserable.”  This doesn’t mean the money was a curse.  The most horrible thing to do to someone is to make something that should have been a great blessing, a curse instead.  In the same way, Absalom’s rebellion against David was God’s specific punishment for his sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah (2 Samuel 12:7-12).

I can imagine some objections rising.

Objection:  They didn’t have any choice but to have zillions of kids.  There was no contraception back then.
Answer:  I’m not sure that is entirely true.  I have heard that archaeological evidence has been found that some type of contraceptive device (akin to a diaphragm) was used in Egypt and the middle east in ancient times.  However, even if they had no choice but to have children, this argument still doesn’t fit with the Bible.  If insect repellant hadn’t been invented, would you write a song about how wonderful it was to have lots of mosquitoes?  My point in this posting is that the Bible says that children are a BLESSING, not just something to be endured.

Objection:  They lived in an agricultural economy with high infant mortality.  They needed more children to help in the fields and to make up for ones that died.
Answer:  I will not deny that in a modern western society, children can tend to be an economic challenge, while in an agrarian society, they tend to be an economic boon.  The question is, is the Bible saying that children are a blessing purely as a statement of economic fact?  Is this the equivalent of an investment manager saying, “A balanced portfolio and a long-term investment strategy are the keys to success”?  I don’t think so.  First, along the lines of my previous answer, I’ve never heard of anyone writing a poem or song about their mutual fund.  Why would this psalm sing so joyfully about having children if they were just trying to get enough field hands?  Second, Adam and Eve were commanded to have children (to be fruitful and multiply) before there were diseases to kill infants and children, and when all they had to do to get dinner was reach out to pick fruit from the nearest tree.  (See Genesis 2:28, and note that this is BEFORE the fall of man.) 
I would also point out that God promises to provide for us.  Even if having more children in modern society makes money tighter, is this a bad thing?  It seems to me (speaking both theoretically and from experience) that if we have less money, we have more opportunity to see God step in to meet our needs, and less chance to spend our money in frivolous and self-centered ways.

Aunt and NephewI am sure there are more objections out there, such as worries about overpopulation and global warming.  A lot of these can be met with strong factual arguments (for example, look at the European nations that are offering substantial tax breaks to couples who have children, because those nations are having problems with underpopulation), but the point of this post is not to try to offer counter-arguments to every conceivable objection to the idea that children are a blessing.  My real point was to see if the Bible says they are (I believe it does), and to ask what this means for us.

Rather than hammer away at you with what I think, I would like to ask some questions and have each reader think about them.  Your conclusions may not be the same as mine, and that is fine with me.  My only request is that you think about these things non-defensively and Biblically.  I know this is a scary topic for many people, but right now it is just between you and God, and I would ask you to think about this with your defenses down.  First, here are some questions about the western church as a whole.

  • Would people think that we liked children based on how we talk about them? 
  • Would the number of children we have lead people to think we had a decidedly different attitude toward children than non-Christians do? 
  • Would the length of time we wait to have a first child make the world think that we see children as a blessing? 
  • Would the advice that we give couples in pre-marital counseling about contraception and waiting to have children indicate that we think children are a wonderful thing to have? 
  • Would what we do with our children during church services make people think we and other worshippers enjoy children?

And here are some more personal questions.

  • Do you believe God will always provide for you, even if you do not pursue a course of action the rest of world would consider financially sound?
  • Are you willing to give up comfort, prestige, and financial ease in order to obtain something which the Bible says is an unalloyed blessing?

Once again, I am not trying to tell any couple how many children they should have.  I am not addressing the question of whether it is okay or not to use contraception (though the incredibly quick dismissal most Christians give the “no contraception” option saddens me).  The point I am trying to make in this post is this:  the Bible presents children as a wonderful blessing, but many western Christians do not act in a way that would make those around them think they had this attitude.

As a father of eight, I’d like to share just a little of my personal experience.  We had our first four children within the first seven years of our marriage.  My wife has always stayed home with our children, and we were quite poor by American standards during this time, and yet we had the experience of seeing God provide for our needs (and even many of our wants) over and over.  It was not fun being poor, and it was not always easy being a parent, but I would not give up either experience for anything.

happy boyI have also found that in secular arenas like the workplace, people treat me very differently than they treat most people.  As one example, they swear less around me and often apologize or act embarassed when they do swear in front of me.  This is not because I always act perfectly and go around quoting Bible verses or went out of my way to inform people I was a Christian—I can assure you that evangelism is NOT one of my top gifts.  I think that a great deal of why people act differently around me is purely because they know I have “so many” kids.  (I can’t imagine how they’d act around some people we know who have 14 or 16 kids!)  Having a family that is large by society’s standards is like a huge signpost saying, “This is a person who lives by different values.”

I am not trying to make people feel bad who can’t have children, or who regret past decisions that can’t now be undone.  My desire is that Christians who could have children, either now or in the future, would think differently about them than most of our society does.  I would like to see followers of Jesus think and act like children are a blessing.  Not the kind of blessing someone means when she says her cancer was a blessing, because it brought her closer to God, but just a pure simple blessing like a good spouse, money in the bank, or a sunny day.  Why?  Because they are.  The Bible says so.