Since the original posting of this piece, multiple people have misunderstood my position. This led me to add the some clarifications to the comment thread. I thought it might prevent further confusion to include them here as well. The original post follows these points.
1. The purpose of my post was to address our attitude toward children, NOT to advocate “producing as many children as humanly possible,” or “maximizing your output of babies.” The point of this post is that children are a blessing. That is all. And that is why I chose those verses (Psalm 127:3-5, Psalm 128:3-4). I do not think that those Psalms command anything. They are statements of fact.
2. There is NO command in Scripture to have as many children as possible.
3. If it were the goal to have as many children as possible, then I would be writing blog posts about how we should all stop breastfeeding, or at the very least stop nursing at night so that we can get our fertility back sooner and produce more babies. And while we’re at it, maybe we should all be taking fertility drugs to ensure that we have twins or triplets every time. Notice, I do not advocate any of this.
4. A woman is not an inferior Christian if she doesn’t have as many children as someone else. She is not sinning if she doesn’t have as many children as someone else. She is not serving God less, or whatever else. I do not use the number of children anyone has as my “measuring stick of the godliness of other believers.” This is why I talk in my post about “Jane,” the godly woman, who for some reason does not appear to be blessed in the area in question.
5. If a woman and her husband aren’t able to have any kids at all, I have nothing even remotely negative to say about them. That would be why I said in my post, “not all of us are actually capable of giving birth to ten children, or five, or any.”
6. BUT, WHY does “normal” in the area of childbearing mean, “go on birth control, and then ask God IF you should have kids”?
7. Having babies is the biological default. It is the normal function of our bodies. NOT having babies is proactive. Using birth control is intentionally doing something to stop your body from behaving the way God made it to. That makes avoiding children the extraordinary act, NOT having them.
8. If younger women are supposed to marry and bear children, then why do we today take as our baseline the prevention of children?
I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. –1 Timothy 5:14
9. I am not advocating Quiver-stuffed parenting, but I am wondering why most of Christendom feels that Quiver-empty is the right thing until “we’re ready,” or until “we feel called,” etc.
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
Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD. –Psalm 128:3-4
Whenever I bring up birth control, I witness a strange phenomenon. I call it “Blessings, But.” This is how Christians attempt to reconcile what the Bible seems to say about children with something else, something their hearts are telling them, something born of suffering and struggle, something they’ve seen in others, or experienced themselves, something that tells them that children are one blessing they’d actually rather not have, or at least not in the abundance that the “Quiverfull” camp would celebrate. It goes like this, first you agree with the important sentiment that children are indeed blessings, and then you add your “but,” your reason for not wanting to be blessed at this time, or blessed very much, or for having anyone talk too much about the blessing. “Children are blessings, but they aren’t a requirement.” “Children are blessings, but we don’t want any more. We love the two we’ve got, of course, but we’re done.” “Children are blessings, but I think God wants us to use common sense.” “Children are blessings, but we need time to establish our marriage first.” “Children are blessings, but my friend, Jane, had an emergency hysterectomy and can’t have any more. Are you implying that she’s somehow less godly than women with ten children?”
Do you know what is implicit in all this? It’s the idea that children actually aren’t such blessings after all. If we really thought they were blessings, most of these “buts” would sound kind of hollow. To illustrate what I mean, imagine applying these same arguments to another blessing, good health.
“Good health is a blessing, but it isn’t a requirement.” Would any of us want to add under our breath, “And thank God it isn’t because I sure didn’t want to be too healthy!”? I’m guessing not. The fact is, most of us don’t really care whether we’re required to be healthy or not. We just know we hate being sick! Few of us would choose to have a cold or the flu, let alone cancer, or Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s disease. Never mind requirements. When it comes to being healthy, we’re quite happy to just go ahead and be blessed. It’s kind of like asking a kid whose parents took him out for ice cream if his dad was going to require him to eat his banana split. If the kid likes ice cream, then it’s totally irrelevant.
“Good health is a blessing, but I don’t want any more. I loved the health I had, of course, but I’m done.” This is like saying, “I was happy being healthy for a few years, but now I’m looking forward to hypertension and bad knees.” Nobody would say this. Those of us who like being healthy would like to continue to be healthy for a long, long time. We’ll take all the health we can get.
“Good health is a blessing, but I think God wants us to use common sense.” You know, because going to the gym is just too expensive; and cooking fresh vegetables is too time consuming; and some families run themselves into the ground financially trying to pay for vitamins and check-ups; and I know people who are always exercising, and it takes up so much time. Being healthy is great and all, but there are a lot of other things that are way more important. This is really just saying that good health isn’t actually so important at all, or isn’t really worth sacrificing, or prioritizing, or getting creative about. If there are problems with exercising and eating well, rather than solving them because taking care of ourselves is crucial, we’d rather just use “common sense” and forget about it.
“Good health is a blessing, but we need time to establish our marriage first.” This implies that good health gets in the way of a healthy marriage, that health is somehow at odds with a marriage, or that it unduly stresses a marriage in some way. Again, nobody would say this. Nearly all of us think that the blessing of good health is a benefit to anything we want to do, including establishing a marriage.
“Good health is a blessing, but my friend, Jane, has chronic fatigue syndrome and never feels good. Are you implying that she’s somehow less godly than healthy people?” Whenever we talk about a blessing, we have to confront the cases of people who love the Lord, but who appear not to be “blessed” in this particular area. And when that area is physical, either good health or the ability to bear children, we always have to come up against the Curse. We live in fallen bodies. They break. They get diseased. They’re susceptible to mental and physical illness, hormonal imbalance, and injury. Not all of us are going to have radiant health, just like not all of us are actually capable of giving birth to ten children, or five, or any.
What’s telling, here, though, is our attitude toward the blessing itself. When this problem of unequal blessing is brought up about children, the implication is usually, “So, quit putting so much emphasis on them!” But how does this sound for health? Would anyone conclude that since godly women like Jane don’t have all the health that others have, that health really isn’t such a blessing after all, or that if God doesn’t give it in equal measure to everyone, then it isn’t something to be desired? In the case of health, when we see a godly woman who is chronically ill, most of us are impressed by her faith, her love for the Lord, her steadfast perseverance in the face of a hard circumstance. “Wow, it’s really hard to be joyful when you’re denied the blessing of good health. But look at Jane! She’s such an example to us.” Few would take her case as proof that health isn’t beneficial, and we certainly wouldn’t consider it license to eat all our meals at McDonald’s or never leave the La-Z-Boy.
So, what does the fact that we do make all these statements about children really mean? I think it means that we don’t really think children are blessings. Even parents who ferociously love the ones they have, still may not think that all children and any children, including those born third, or seventh, or tenth, would actually bless them.
Why is that? Is God wrong about children being a blessing? How come the Bible doesn’t have any “buts” about this? It’s not because the idea of preventing unwanted children was unheard of. The story of Onan way back in Genesis proves that. What about families that are strapped financially, or mothers who are worn out, or parents who can’t seem to control the monstrous blessings they’ve already got? What about people who just “don’t like kids,” or who want to do things with their lives that children get in the way of (like climbing Mt. Everest, or becoming a CEO, or even spiritual things like mission work)? Would another child really bless these people? Are all children blessings, or only some, the ones we “want,” the ones that are “planned,” the ones that have handsome trust funds established at birth to cover Ivy League tuition, the ones that don’t disrupt our sleep and our lives, make us morning sick, or get in the way of our careers? Does the blessing vanish if another child means we have to shop at the thrift store, grab “dates” at home on the couch, or give up our dream of touring with Yo-Yo Ma? Are we only blessed if we are spared hard work and sacrifice? We can’t have it both ways. Either children are blessings or they aren’t. There are no such things as “Blessings, But.”