Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Calling All Theoblogians #8

I don't know if this question is really 'theological' or not...but here goes.

Are married Christian couples commanded to have children?

Years ago, I was talking to a Christian friend and was shocked during the conversation when she announced that she and her husband had decided not to ever have children.  I was single then, and I guess I just assumed that all married couples eventually had kids, providing they could, of course.  When I probed her further, there was no concrete reason given, other than the fact that they just didn't want them!  I was stunned, but it made me think.  Since that conversation, I have met several more Christian couples, who are childless by choice, and intend on keeping it that way.

About a year after that conversation with my friend, I heard a sermon at my former church which was titled, Thanksgiving for Children.  Basically, the pastor's view was and is, that children are a blessing from the Lord (Psalms 127 and 78) and, as Christians, we ought not to be swayed by our world's negative view of children as a nuisance and an inconvenience.  He was under the impression that the Bible commands all Christian, married, fertile couples to produce offspring so that there will be future generations of godly men and women (Malachi 2), and that, when you marry, you are signing yourselves up to the possibility of children.  I'd already heard some people say that the Old Testament generally sees barrenness as a terrible thing, and that big families are a sign of blessing from God. 

I wasn't sure what to make of that sermon.  Perhaps because I'm not exactly a 'kid person' and I resent the emphasis placed on having children by so many churches.  I hate the fact that because I'm a young woman, that everyone assumes I want to go straight on the Sunday School roster whereas it is not my passion at all.  After talking to a few childless people who have also been reluctant to join the Sunday School juggernaut, it seems the main reason is that we feel completely ill equipped and inadequate to deal with ten toddlers, and parents don't seem to understand.  I've really struggled with seeing kids as a blessing because I see so many badly brought up brats around the place (even from Christian homes) and I just want to puke when parents gush about their wonderful little Johnny despite the fact he's been a complete little turd for the time he's been in your care.

When I was a kid (and not Christian), I wanted four kids - a boy, then identical twin girls, then another boy (yes, I had it all perfectly planned).  But by the time I was about 17, for some reason, I was completely turned off kids and was planning to be sterilised.  Now I'd say, I'm somewhere in the middle, but I have struggled off and on with this issue.  Personally, I think I'd make a terrible mother, although I know it's all about God's grace, and some people have been less than encouraging when I've confessed my doubts.  I've gotten replies such as, "Well, don't have kids, then," as if it's purely my choice, and what's worse is when it comes from childless people....what would they know?

I know quite a few Christian couples who waited for six or more years after being married to have their first child.  I wonder, was it a choice? (I'm guessing so since most managed to have multiple children in reasonably quick succession).  Why did they wait?  Was it for career, travel or ministry?  Did they doubt whether they should have children at all?  I'm most encouraged by couples who have doubted their ability, and then went on to be fantastic parents.  It gives me hope.  I was talking to one married lady who doubted whether she wanted to have kids, but went on to have four of them and is a great mum, from what I can see.

The main crux of this post is that are children a choice or a command?  I don't know about anyone else, but I want to really love my kids someday, and not have them because I felt obligated to.  There are all sorts of wrong reasons to have children.  Does the Bible say anything else about this?  I feel very uncomfortable about judging those couples who have chosen not to have children.


Mark Edwards said...

ha ha ha!
That is a really funny post.

All I will say is this...

When you first hold your own child in your hands, you will undestand and experience something spiritual, deep, and a love that you have never felt before...at least that is my experience.

I hope that does not sound condescending, its not meant to be, and it was certainly my experience.

As to your theological question, children are a blessing from God...that is all I would say about your question.

Sarah said...

I'm not sure what's so funny about it?!? It wasn't meant to be.

Ali said...

I don't think this is a funny post, I see it as a genuine, honest question.

I have some opinions, but at this time just let me give my experience. I am a dad, but I had been a Primary School Teacher who had been badly burned through teaching. I wanted kids, but when my wife and I were trying, I wasn't so sure. I was scared stiff. What I have found, though, is that having children from birth (or even a young age, I'm guessing, in the case of adoption) is quite different from doing Children's Ministry or School Teaching. First, you have them from the get go and get to know them really well. Second, you get to put boundaries in place that become, for them, just the way things are. Third, you have (ideally) two people looking after your children, so you are not all alone (and the adult/child ratio is far better). Fourth, you have the final say about how to deal with them (though there is always the temptation to worry about how other people think you are doing as parents!).

I think having kids is an example of the "no pain, no gain" rule. It's scary, difficult, sometime downright annoying, but the gains are far greater.

So, to the original question: Are married Christian couples commanded to have children?

As a general rule, I think it is expected. Outside of extenuating circumstances, if a couple don't want children, I would wonder whether there is some unresolved issue going on. But Jesus also said that there are times when it's better not to be pregnant women or nursing an infant (Matt 24
:19), and John 1 seems to indicate that parents can decided to have children (v12-13) and by implication, decide not to have children.

So, while I think in general the Genesis 1:28 mandate should be adhered to (and if you have no desire, it would be good to consider whether some sort of issue, brokenness or sin is robbing you of that desire), it's not a hard and fast rule.

Mark Edwards said...

This is the bit I related too, and thought was very funny...
"I've really struggled with seeing kids as a blessing because I see so many badly brought up brats around the place (even from Christian homes) and I just want to puke when parents gush about their wonderful little Johnny despite the fact he's been a complete little turd for the time he's been in your care."

I was not trying to be insulting or anything, just expressing the fact that the love you have for your kids sometimes affects your obectivity about them! :)

Sarah said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Ali.

Mark, ah now I get it! Oh yes, my good humour haha. You should have quoted it to start with and I would have got it much sooner :)