Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Are Children a Choice?

Last night I was asked a question by a young woman that kept me thinking for the better part of today. Is it right, or wrong, for Christians to willingly choose to be childless? Voluntary childlessness is not uncommon in the day of the pro-choice movement and feminism—in fact, many young couples are now opting for childlessness for the sake of saving their careers. At first glance, it might seem like not a huge deal, because in actuality it really is their life, right? As Christians, we must always think of these things in light of the Word of God.

First, the Bible says “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28, Gen. 9:1, Gen. 35:11). God wants His people to procreate—He created us to procreate. If Christians voluntarily choose to be childless, where will the next generation of Christians come from?

Second, all through the Old and New Testament we do not see willingly childless women. We see women desperately crying out to God to open up their wombs. Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth all felt the sting of infertility in the fact that they could not, on their own, fulfill their role as mothers.

Third, children are a gift and not a choice. Aggressive feminist and abortion rights ideology has indoctrinated us with the idea that we can “choose” our family make-up. That is not what God intended. We must recover what has been lost and show to a lost world the beauty and blessing of biblical womanhood in bearing children. There are countless women who would give anything to have a little one, and I would venture to say that it is nothing less than a selfish, entitlement attitude that says we have a “right” to not have children. God is the one who opens and closes the womb, and married Christians should be open to the idea of children. The quest for a career should not cause the Christian to abandon the command to be fruitful and multiply.

As we look at the church today we must ask ourselves if the mass movement of young, Christian’s couples deciding to remain childless is actually a sign of the infiltration of culture into church life. We are seeing an erosion of Christian witness when we embrace cultural ideas, like delayed adulthood and childlessness, and make them our own.

John Piper in his message “Adoption: The Heart of the Gospel” clearly articulates the Christian response to children, and I close leaving you with his words. He answers the question far better than I ever could.

“Few things bring me more satisfaction than seeing a culture of adoption flourish at Bethlehem. It means that our people are looking to their heavenly Father for their joy rather than rejecting the stress and cost of children in order to maximize their freedom and comforts. When people embrace the pain and joy of children rather than using abortion or birth control simply to keep children away, the worth of Christ shines more visibly. Adoption is as far as possible from the mindset that rejects children as an intrusion. Praise God for people ready to embrace the suffering—known and unknown. God’s cost to adopt us was infinitely greater than any cost we will endure in adopting and raising children.” (Event Message, “Adoption the Heart of the Gospel, February 10, 2007: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/EventMessages/ByDate/1991_Adoption_The_Heart_of_the_Gospel/)

Nothing shatters the pro-choice movement more than Christians willingly embracing the gift of children—especially children that are not “biologically” theirs. As women, we should desire motherhood, even if marriage and pregnancy are not on the horizon. Motherhood may never give us earthly wealth, power, or prestige. But our treasure is not here—our crown awaits us with our Heavenly Father. Unless we resolve to live counter-culturally in every aspect of our lives, we will have no voice with which to proclaim the Gospel—it will be washed up in the culture as we seek to selfishly obtain a crown here on earth. Adoption, children, and marriage are all things that God ordained to lift high His Son, Jesus Christ. May we be willing to renounce culture and entitlement and live according to His Word.

9 comments:

Steven said...

I disagree and agree. Argument from anecdote is a logical fallacy. That there are some that yearn for motherhood does not mean that all will be blessed with it. Wishing you had someone else's gifts is envy.
Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul tell us that it is better not to marry, but that reminder is only for those that can accept it. Singleness can be a gift, as well, and embracing God's design on your life -- single, married, married with children, married and childless -- is among the most important things we must do in order to delight in Him.
As Judy Hougen is fond of saying, "Christians do not have the market corner on truth." There is nothing inherently evil about desiring singleness or childlessness. And, at least on first blush, this issue seems more a response to feminism than to an individual Christian's desire to not raise children.
I question your use of Genesis 1:28, 9:1, and 35:11 to support these points. The first two were directed at the only persons occupying the earth; it was essential to bear young, or the population would have gone extinct. 35:11 is directed at Jacob, and seems to me more intended toward fulfilling God's promise to Abraham than it is a command to all God's people through all time.
I'm glad you bring up the issue of adoption. It is reasonable to question whether one should endeavor to spawn offspring when there are so many unclaimed children in the world. But one that does not want children should not adopt. An apathetic environment is an abusive environment, and that does nothing to further the Gospel.

stellerblue32 said...

what if a couple WANTS to have children in the future, but just not at the moment, would it be wrong for them to use types of birth control until that time? or what if they only want to have 1 or 2 kids? would it be wrong for them to stop after they've reached that point?

cdt said...

Steve,
I'm not sure what you mean by "argument from anecdote" being a logical fallacy. But, in response to your comment, I was writing this post in order to address a general whole and not necessarily speak to individual exceptions. I agree that not everyone will bear children biologically, and there are some (few) circumstances where it would be unwise for a couple to choose to have biological children.

But when thinking about cultural trends, and voluntary childlessness is a trend, we must think of it biblically. In the last thirty years we have seen an increased amount of promiscuity--and the birth control movement has made it all possible. We can now separate the act of pro-creation from the result of pro-creation, and when Christians adopt the mentality that life is all about my own personal pleasure and autonomy and do not keep in mind that God wants us to bring other people into this world, we are not being wise stewards of what God has given us.

And in response to your questioning my use of the Scripture passages, are we really supposed to think that those verses, and others, do not apply to us today? Look at Western Europe, they are trying to encourage women to have children because years of childlessness has actually made their populations decline rapidly. This is a pressing problem, and one that Christians should be thinking about biblically.

About Ms. Hougen's comment. I have heard her say that before, and if you are implying that Christians do not have a right to claim truth then I would disagree. What do we have the Bible for then if we cannot claim it as truth. Of all people we should be the ones who are most clear and sure of what we believe and why we believe it. Do you agree?

What do you think? Thank you for your dialogue. It makes me think!

Steven said...

You employ an argument from anecdote when you refer to the women "desperately crying out to God to open their wombs." We cannot extrapolate a greater truth from the accounts of few, especially when we only know their story for specific reasons. You might as well argue that since my friend Tom desperately wanted a Chrysler, those must be the cars for everyone.
Perhaps in Western Europe, it would be good advice to be more active and intentionally procreative. But what is true of one group of people at one time in history is not automatically true for all groups of people at all times. Should they have more kids in the famine-riddled and disease-stricken parts of the world, in those places where one in three live to their tenth birthday? I do not see the wisdom in bringing more weak and dependent lives into an area where there is competition for food and clean water. Or what about in Sri Lanka or Uganda, where children are kidnapped and forced to be guerilla soldiers and suicide bombers? Should they bear more in China, and add to the already 44 million missing women?
You ask if we're really supposed to think that some verses do not apply to us today. A thousand times, yes. It would be ridiculous for a father to think that God's instruction to Abraham to sacrifice his son applies to him today. But saying that a passage's explicit instruction does not apply to us is not the same thing as saying that we should ignore its meaning. I think here of Dr. Nelson's suggestion that many passages have telescoping meanings, and will be understood differently in the ways that God enables each to understand it. Perhaps the better way to be fruitful and multiply is through evangelism, not child rearing.
I never meant to imply that Christians do not have the right to claim truth or proclaim truth. What I meant -- and what I believe she meant -- is that a notion contained in the world or endorsed by the world does not make it inherently false. For instance, many of Jesus' teachings can be found in cultures throughout the world. Sometimes, he is predated! Everything not bearing the thumbprint of God should be subject to scrutiny; however, scrutinizing is not the same thing as discarding.
Wow. This is stretching a bit too long. I shall end it here.

cdt said...

Steve,

I only have time to respond to a couple of your comments, but I really think that they beg a response, so I will.

I hardly think that Tom wanting a Chrysler comes remotely close to a mother desiring children--I would encourage a better example.

Countless people have written on this issue, whom I have learned from, and I would encourage you to research what they have to say. You can go to www.albertmohler.com and type "childless marriages" into the search engine. He is much more well-versed than I am on this topic.


The story of Abraham sacrifcing Isaac most certainly applies to us today, and I think you would agree that it clearly is a foreshadowing of the coming Messiah being sacrificed as an atonement for our sins. There is much more to say about that, but maybe I will write about it later on. :)

Also, I hardly think that the charge to be fruitful and multiply is speaking of evangelism. If it was, then we would have no people to evangelize if the people weren't multiplying. And in that case the OT patriarch's were sorely mistaken in the desired multiplication of their families. The Bible has one interpretation and many applications--we don't tailor make the Bible for our desires--the Bible tailor makes us into the image of Christ.

Thank you for the interesting and thought provoking dialogue.

Steven said...

The logical structure behind "Tom wants a Chrysler suggests..." and "Sarah wants a child implies..." is identical. I specifically chose a ridiculous example for that reason: since one is ridiculous, the other is equally ridiculous. Social psychologists (Elliot Aronson, for example) tell us that the argument from anecdote is one of the most powerful forms of persuasion, more convincing even than expert opinion. But it is not a logically vigorous form of argument.
I misspoke when I said that some verses do not apply to us today. I'm surprised you did not invoke 2 Timothy 3:16! But I do agree with the essence of the idea I was trying to convey, and I will attempt to defend it more vigorously. Yes, all verses apply in some form. But that does not imply that all verses should be taken as literal instruction for us to follow point by point. I think that this is especially true when the original passage is directed specifically at one person! Genesis 22:2 certainly does point to Christ, and that is a fine application; Genesis 22:2 should NOT be used as literal instruction to everyone that names his son Isaac! And that is an important distinction to make.
Concerning your final point, my meaning was misunderstood because I did not give it the proper context. I was tying that interpretation back to the situations where I believe it would be unwise to have children. I do not believe that was the original intent of those passages. I had noted earlier that they were directed at Adam, Noah, and Jacob, all of whom had many good reasons to procreate.
What I found most interesting about Mohler's musings is that he is extremely dogmatic about childlessness being direct rebellion against God's design, but he does not cite a commandment to have children. Mohler does not even go so far as to cite the same passages in Genesis that you did. Mohler writes, "The church should insist that the biblical formula calls for adulthood to mean marriage and marriage to mean children." That he is utterly wrong on this point denies him the benefit of the doubt to be given credibility when he does not point directly to Scripture. (To refute Mohler's claim, I offer Matthew 19:10-12 -- keep verse 12 in mind -- and 1 Corinthians 7:8.)
The only passage that Mohler offers is Psalm 127:3-5, where children are referred to as a gift. There are many other gifts referred to in the Bible, namely a number of spiritual gifts. Are those gifts offered to everyone? To say that every married Christian should have children is the logical equivalent of saying that every Christian should have the gift of prophecy.
Do we think of marriage as a gift from God? (I'll admit right now that I cannot think of a passage to support that extrapolation.) If so, what are we to make of Jesus' tacit approval of those that "renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:12)? If that gift can be denied, why not others?
I apologize again for the length of this. Believe it or not, I left out an entire section I'd intended to include about the correlation between abortion and the drop in crime rates throughout the 90s, as presented in the book Freakonomics. I felt it would have made this far more verbose than it already is. That you did not reply to most of my points in the previous comments leads me to believe that you do not have a whole lot of time to go down a list, bullet-style. Don't worry about it. I hope I've been engaging and at least moderately useful. Take care.

debt said...

First off, Courtney seems to be talking about Christian couples CHOOSING to be childless, not those who cannot have children. She is addressing those who make a conscious choice. She also, as I read it, is speaking about American or Western couples, not those in impoverished countries. Most thinking Christians, including Al Mohler, would agree with I Corinthians 7 and the arguement would indeed hold water for those who are in circumstances as Paul described. Courtney does not seem to be addressing that type of situation. Jesus and Paul were not placing singleness in a higher category than marriage. Marriage is, after all, God's creation and it is He who said, "It is not good for man to be alone". Jesus did reiterate this in the New Testament, upholding the institution. No one is questioning that some are called to singleness. Some are, most are not.
In light of this, in all cultures, in all times women have always desired to be mothers. The maternal "instinct" is God given. She has a womb to prove it. Again, let's hear Courtney. She is addressing those who claim the name of Christ, in western society, who choose to be childless. The question is not should I or shouldn't I have children, but why wouldn't a Christian woman want to have children? Only God has a right to determine if a woman should or should not conceive. Sometimes He closes a womb. The reasons and purposes for it are endless and we should be seeking Him on the answer.
As far as whether we should bring children into a world that is in chaos, well, that arguement has been going on for years. All the more reason for Christian people to adopt and to reach these people in Sri Lanka, China, Sudan, etc. with the gospel. There are godly, Christian people in these countries who are having children(some suffering for it). I don't think they resent or are sorry for God's gift to them. Only in our soft, easy American lifestyle do we think that our children have to have a life free of any suffering. This doesn't mean we turn a blind eye to the suffering in other parts of the world or not attempt to speak truth into the lives of these people. Many are doing this at great cost to their own lives.
All of this to say that Scripture is clear about marriage and family. No one is saying that there aren't exceptions, but to make the exceptions the arguement when God's Word and Christian witness down through the ages certainly advocate and praise family, we need to listen and take heed. Courtney is right, we live in a self centered culture and one of the ways it shows itself is in people CHOOSING to not have children. In fact, we'd rather have an animal and call that our baby than a child. I certainly hope, Steven, that your final paragraph is not advocating abortion as a viable course to keep the crime rate down?
Finally, let's not confuse the gift of children with the spiritual gifts of I Corinthians. That would be misusing both texts. They are totally separate. Spiritual gifts are for use in the church, the gift of children is given to married couples. Your arguement does not apply and is misused; and yes, we can be absolute on certain things where the Scripture is absolute. God's Word is eternal and it stands alone! Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will abide forever". (Matt.25:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33)

Steven said...

debt,
I must be saying some controversial things! I am comfortable being on the outside, though. I will try to touch on all of your points.
1) I am aware that Courtney was referring to the couples that choose to be childless, and was writing from that vantage point. Did I suggest otherwise?
2) You said, "Jesus and Paul were not placing singleness in a higher category than marriage." I disagree. Both claim that it is "better" not to marry. (Perhaps you do not consider "better" to be a "higher category" than good. If not, I am interested in learning about that modal dichotomy.) Yes, marriage is good. Yes, marriage was created by God. And I acknowledge, as Jesus did, that most cannot or will not accept an unmarried life. But those points do nothing to refute that both Jesus and Paul said it is better to be single.
3) You say that in all times and across all cultures, women have always desired to be mothers. I do not dispute this. I would dispute a claim that ALL woman have desired to be mothers. And that is the relevant distinction. I am in no way saying that NO women should have children. What I am saying is that it is not wrong for SOME women to choose to not have children.
4) You say, "The question is ... why wouldn't a Christian woman want to have children?" I don't think that question is very important. Perhaps that woman doesn't want to birth a child that will likely die before it can walk. Perhaps that woman thinks she and her husband would be a more capable and locomotive missionary couple if they do not have any children to bring into the rain forest. There could be millions of unselfish reasons. The important question is then, should she ignore those reasons and have children anyway? Would it be sinful to choose to be childless in those situations, or not? I say it would not be.
5) It may be true that only God has the right to choose if a woman should or should not conceive. Can you prove that God never chooses for a married, Christian woman to NOT conceive? Again, I am not talking about women that cannot conceive.
6) That world is in chaos is a reason to reach the world is exactly my point. But I wasn't referring to the world on the whole. I never said, nor do I believe, that the "civilized" West is the only place to have children. I am also much too close to my own childhood -- and not allowed by vocation -- to believe that children here live a life free of suffering. Nor should they. We grow through our pain. That is not the same thing as putting more children in an environment where they are used as ammunition, or rearing children in a nation that cannot feed them. One should not have children if one cannot reasonably account for their survival.
7) You are probably right that godly, Christian people do not resent God's gift. Just like the woman I knew who conceived when she was raped who was grateful everyday for her daughter. (There's a meaty question: did God ordain her rape?) Being grateful and being wise are not the same thing. My sister is grateful for the child she conceived out of wedlock; that was hardly a wise or holy choice.
8) I agree that the gift of children and spiritual gifts are different. But they are alike in one important way, and that is my intent in bringing it up: both come from God and are given to people undeservedly. Not everyone receives all gifts. That someone receives a gift from God does not mean that all people will receive that gift, too. And, as I said, if marriage can be considered a gift as well, then Jesus implicitly approves of turning down such gifts from God.
9) I am not advocating abortion as a crime-control method. I was appalled by the connection and deeply saddened that anyone might use it as an argument for the continuation of legalized abortion.
I cannot deny the connection, though. The inference is sound. That same conclusion needs to be looked at more deeply. Many of the children aborted were high-risk to become criminals. Many children that are unwanted, abandoned by their fathers, brought up in poverty, grow up to be adults that indiscriminately spread misery across the world.

cdt said...

Steve,

I had no idea that this post would cause such discussion! That being said. In response to your comment about Dr. Mohler (I am glad you researched). I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Mohler's premise that marriage necessarily should mean children (if the couple is capable of procreation). I think your hypothetical situations should be taken exactly as they are--hypothetical, and in hypotheticals you can never truly give a clear answer because you never know the entire situation. I am speaking about a general rule. And when I have heard Dr. Mohler talk about this issue, he always references the fact that marriage in the Bible always meant children--which is why it was such a curse for the barren women of the OT. Voluntary barenness is a new concept--which was the initial point of the blog post.

Also, in response to Christ and singleness, I hardly think that He can be lumped into the same category--plus the Church was His bride, that was His purpose. And I think far too often young evangelicals use the "celibacy" argument as a license to stay single and postpone adulthood. Yes there are people who are called to be single, but in all honesty we have so allowed culture to affect our congregations that we really can't tell the difference anymore--I am calling for a counter-cultural mindset which would mean more children.

In response to your comment "it may well be that only God chooses who will be mothers." God does choose who will be mothers, otherwise the references to Him opening the wombs of Hannah, Elizabeth, and Sarah would be incorrect. It is not a "may" it is an absolute truth, one that we must not deny. To ask me to prove the fact that God never chooses for a married Christian woman to conceive would be virtually impossible.

I don't think that all women have desired to be mothers, and I am not speaking about non-Christians. But the fact that non-Christian woman do not want to bear children is why I wrote the post--it is unbiblical and I stand by that argument.

I am not going to address the "Freakonomics" thing, though I read a portion of the chapter on abortion today. It was troubling and I would avoid using it as an argument, and maybe when I have more time to think I will address my ideas about it in a further post.

Thank you for your comments!