We’ve been coming across a few articles on the hot topic of “intentional childlessness” (for married couples)…and whether that is biblical or not.
Skywalker and I do want children, though perhaps for slightly different reasons. Part of my reasoning is to live in obedience to God’s design for marriage. I believe that marriage is for intimacy AND procreation; and we can’t choose only the parts we want. A lot of the comments we read in response to the articles seem to agree that not all have the gift of parenthood, nor have the desire to be parents, so they should be able to opt out of parenthood. Or that every child should be “wanted”. One commenter replied that “Mary probably didn’t want to be pregnant with Jesus as an unwed, impoverished teen, but she submitted in obedience.”
Certainly God does not promise marriage and children to all. Nor should anyone expect it. But I do believe that if God has blessed you with a marriage partner, then you should be open to receiving children from God out of that marriage. If God does not provide children within the marriage, then perhaps that too is His “gift”…for the couple to build into spiritual children or to adopt or be foster parents etc. I believe it kind of boils down to submitting to what God would give or withhold (and I’m not saying it’s easy either way) as opposed to intentionally choosing not to. I should add that people should also be intentional about why they want to have children too.
We posed this question to @RevTedNg and this was his reply (published with permission):
In a word, the answer is: no.
The Bible at no point provides license to take up this position for theological, cultural and historical/technological (they had no reliable contraceptive options) reasons. Even in principle no support can be found in the text. In fact it would suggest the opposite.
I read the articles you sent along and the first two are rather reflective while the third one was well, fluff. One must indeed take into account the age, life-stage, experience and expertise of the authors.
There are two ways to see having children – blessing and curse. There really is not legitimate in-between. As a blessing, children are a natural form of spiritual and life challenge – contributors to character formation as well as joy. They are also a huge responsibility. Responsibility, however, in certain cultures (our own in particular which is still shifting but in this direction) can be seen as negative, even detrimental. In this perspective, children are a burden, they are inefficient and inconvenient. Having a child is likened to having a 20 year prison sentence. And frankly, this is a first-world problem (to use that hipster phrase). Our culture also tries to impose that value and our solutions on the rest of the world, whether it be in the form of contraception or abortion.
It is also the choice of an urban developed world issue because of expense. Having children can mean a reduction of living standard and an increase in cost of living. The argument of “no unwanted child” can be an excuse for a cold pragmatism or even personal comfort. It verges on the reprehensible when we pretend that it is actually for the sake of the unborn that we do this “good.” I am also aware that in other cultures, children may have some economic value a workers (especially in agrarian settings) but this is also not ideal as they are reduced to commodities which is incompatible with Biblical values of people.
A case in point is China’s one child law. So what do we get in this society? Abortion, infanticide and abandonment not only of girl babies but also those who have disabilities an challenges. They are treated as burdens, as flesh and not as people. In the Christian faith, life is supposed to be a miracle and sacred. Every person bears the image of God. This is a Biblical value applying to human life whether young or old.
Of note, the Catholic church upholds its ban on contraception based on the theology of sovereignty of God and the sacred mystery of life and therefore speaks against intervening in God’s natural order. Non-Catholics (and unofficially, a number of Catholics) allow for contraception based on arguing stewardship effectively enough to challenge the Catholic position while maintaining the sacredness of life argument. It is something still worthy of exploration and openness if not dialogue.
What one might ask of intentionally childless couples, however, is self-reflection regarding why they chose to be so. Short of medical issues (which include a host of things including the risks of age) more comes to light about one’s thoughts and condition. This may ultimately be a matter of discipleship. We treat those who have this perspective with kindness and understanding, inviting them to share their perspective so that we can come alongside to understand and explore the issue with sensitivity. Of course, time, in itself will make the issue moot.
So while it is impossible to argue for intentional childlessness from the Bible, it does not necessarily fall into the category of intentional sin.
I have known people who have been traumatized by their upbringing to the degree that they are adverse to having children. Perhaps, in time, God will be able to heal their emotional wounds where they can move beyond that perspective. At the same time, I have listened to friends who took this position but after some time (with much listening to God) they changed their minds.
One book that I think is very significant to anyone considering (or not considering) parenthood is Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas. A friend who said they would never have kids reversed their position after reading this book. Now he is the happy father of two. I do not assume that this is the norm but I do wonder.
Anyways, I hope this provides some framework for considering how we respond to this issue with truth and grace in hand.