Question: Is intentional childlessness biblical?

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.

http://community.focusonthefamily.com/b/jim-daly/archive/2013/08/19/is-intentional-childlessness-biblical.aspx
http://www.boundless.org/adulthood/2004/motherhood-on-trial
http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/why-i-decided-not-have-kids

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.

Consequences vs Punishment vs Discipline

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Recently I had a heavy conversation with Dahn about consequences, punishment and discipline. Does God find ways to punish you…purposely withhold good things from you…because you displeased Him? Or is it just consequences…either of our wrong doing or someone elses. How about discipline from God? What leads to which in view of our spiritual walk with God? Keeping in mind too, that our spiritual lives cannot be separated from our physical lives…nor can our lives be separated from the lives around us.

I think we’re wrong to rank sins. “Well, doing this is better than doing that.” Choosing the better of two evils…is still evil. We should weep over someone who hates, as much as someone who lives in addiction or is abusive, as much as someone who lies. Sin = sin which deserves death. Not because God is mean, but because He is just. Real-life consequences of the various sins might differ in impact to our lives but consequences is NOT punishment. Consequences are natural results of laws being upheld or broken; whether laws of nature or laws of spirit. Spiritual laws are harder to discern and sort through…but I think of Deut 30:15-18:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

That’s spiritual law. Walk in obedience to God=life. Disobedience=destruction. Destruction isn’t the punishment…it’s the result of breaking spiritual law. Like burning your hand on the stove isn’t punishment…it’s the natural result of putting your hand on the stove. Spiritual consequences can carry into the 3rd or 4th generation. Look at effects of acoholism or teen pregnancies in familes. But that curse/chain of consequences can be broken as that person claims new life in Christ and starts to live in obedience. The consequence of that is God blessing them to a thousand generations. Obedience vs disobedience determines what consequences result.

Sometimes I’m tempted to believe that God is out to punish me, in addition to the consequences. But I keep reminding myself to humbly bear our consequences in the now, which isn’t punishment. I believe God knows our heart and is merciful too….so sometimes the consequence could be lifted as a result of that mercy. Or He blesses us so much more than we deserve as we’re living in true repentence and that’s His grace. God is slow to anger and doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. To believe God is out to get me is a false belief of God…perpetuated by the Enemy.

I think God’s discpline…could feel like punishment…but isn’t. Discipline brings about maturity and growth and good transformation whereas I think punishment is just to make you suffer. Make you pay. Was Joseph’s time in prison punishment? No. But it is part of God’s discipline and training for Joseph to be a good govenor of Egypt. God’s kindness was with Joseph IN prison…we’re apt to think God’s kindness would’ve kept Joseph FROM prison. This tells me to examine how I view trials/suffering as well as how I view God. And maybe if I’ve gotten nothing out of a difficult situation, then *I’m* the problem, punishing myself.

I’m reminded again of the saying, “God is more concerned about your character than your comfort.” So now when I find myself in some kind of uncomfortable/painful situation I go through these thoughts:

  1. Is this consequences for a sin of mine? If yes, confess, repent, bear the consequence with humility and start to live rightly.
    If not…perhaps it is part of the consequences of someone else’s sin which unfortunately, is never in isolation to that person. It’s an opportunity to practice grace and forgiveness. Or it could be a form of discipline and training. Or even a strange answer to prayer….
  2. Could this suffering be used for character development somehow? Absolutely! It grows patience, perserverence, hope, grace, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, love, peace, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, etc etc. Take this time to learn well and be transformed!

Sculpted

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Consider God as the Master Artist…Master Sculptor. When he requests a block of marble to be cut from the quarry, he can see into that blank/flat/rough form the masterpiece has in mind to create. “Normal” people looking at the raw stone might not even realize its value as marble. We just see a block of raw, rough useless stone.

In the studio, the Master takes a large mallet and chisel and knocks large pieces of stone to the ground. Again, to the onlooker, it still doesn’t look like much. Nothing is recognizable. After a time, he takes a smaller mallet and smaller chisels to remove smaller bits of stone. Bit by bit a figure starts to emerge. A hand. An elbow. The bend of a knee. The Master exchanges his tools for an even finer set. The details start to become apparent. Fingers. Nostrils. Hair tendrils. The fold of a garment. The tools become smaller and smaller and then he reaches for some rough material to sand the stone to smoothness. He reaches finally for other materials to polish the stone. It’s complete. A masterpiece!

In a similar fashion, we’re being sculpted by God. At the start we can’t tell from our raw form what our purpose or design will be. Often we feel useless. But God has lovingly selected us to complete His good work in. He starts with chiseling away what seems to be large significant parts of our lives. It hurts a lot to have so much broken off or taken away. But it’s not neededHe continuously chisels the smaller pieces off. It still hurts, but wait, we’re starting to take shape and it’s kind of exciting to see how God might shape us. The pieces chipped off grow smaller and smaller…and then the sander is applied to smooth out our roughness. The most irritating sander. Like people or situations that really get under your skin or rub you the wrong way. By the end, it’s just some polishing and a few touch ups here and there. His good work will be complete. A masterpiece!

What’s also amazing is that each slab of stone usually has flaws in it. There might be a weak spot or a hole or a crack. But the Master Sculptor works with and despite those imperfections to create a masterpiece regardless! I believe this is God’s specialty, taking the broken and flawed and turning us into masterpieces. With different purposes for certain. But GOOD purposes every time. What’s hard is that *this* walking piece of stone doesn’t enjoy being under a chisel. And I squirm. I am challenged to be still, hear the Master’s voice and surrender to His vision for my life. Whether He breaks off large chunks and it really hurts, or whether He’s sanding me and I’m feeling irritated. I pray I will always choose to surrender to the work He is doing and allow grace, compassion, mercy and patience to form in my life. Smoothing the roughness away.

Brokenness: Still Broken

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Intelligence
Friends
Jobs
Relationships
Family

It started fifteen years ago…and now, it’s kind of quiet…at the same time not. All through last year I struggled around control of my health in having Graves Disease. I imagine my health will always be something I cannot take for granted as I did in my younger days. And in nearing our second wedding anniversary, I can tell you there definitely have been gritty moments of facing each other’s brokenness. This also will not stop as if we can “arrive” at a place in life where no more conflict happens. We keep changing and growing.

Health
Marriage

One day, God willing, we may have children. And as I’ve heard some mothers say, the time you carry them in your womb upto the point they start walking is really all the time you get that’s all yours. After that, they’re walking AWAY from you…growing up into their lives in a direction only God knows. We’ll do our best to guide, but it’s like the letting go starts when they let go of your hand and can walk on their own.

Children

And in uncertain economy, it’s not unlikely we may face a financial crisis either. Even now we are challenged to think on whether our security is in RRSP’s, savings and the “nest egg” or if our security is in God.

Finances

Then it’s as if you have to deal with all of the above again as you age into retirement. There’ll be another crisis of marriage, health, career, family, and so on. Spaced out over decades or some at the same time. Or maybe it’s repeatedly. And I’m starting to see more clearly that truly, while I “asked” for brokenness, our natural human condition was broken all along. We seek control…over ourselves and others…but do poorly at both. We are proud and often see slivers in others’ eyes while ignoring the plank in our own. We have misplaced expectations of ourselves and others and this causes pain. We are selfish and short sighted and have such deep trust issues. I see in growing clarity that our greatest “wisdom” is still just folly before God. And how much I need His wisdom. His grace. His forgiveness. His compassion. His love. Not just for myself, but so I would be transformed and be able to extend His qualities in abundance to others. I need HIM….living in and through and IN SPITE OF me.

And, that takes me being broken so that He can do that.

The Broken Pot (not sure of the origins of this story, but I got this story from here.)

A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on an end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the masters house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his masters house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.

“I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.” “Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?” “I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your masters house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts.” the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the masters house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the Pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pots side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my masters table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”

Each of us has our own unique flaws. We’re all cracked pots. But if we will allow it, the Lord will use our flaws to grace His Father’s table. In Gods great economy, nothing goes to waste. Don’t be afraid of your flaws.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9

Brokenness: False Starts

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In my mid-ish twenties, I found myself the fifteenth wheel once. Everyone’s boyfriend/fiance/husband was paying after our meal and I was the only girl holding out her credit card. (I prided myself in that.) But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t longing to be in a relationship. One by one all my friends had started dating, got engaged, got married, bought houses. Conversation topics went from being about boys to wedding planning to mortgages. And then to ultrasounds and baby room preparations. Yet I was still solo.

There were guys interested in me, but I didn’t feel the same way. Can’t blame me. And there were guys I was interested in, but they didn’t feel the same way. Can’t blame them. Then there were a few viable prospective suitors…guys whose intentions seemed relationship oriented and in whom I was feeling hopeful about. These did a number on my heart. Though, since I never “officially” dated any of them, I didn’t lose what I never had in the first place. (And by “officially” I mean actually having boyfriend/girlfriend status. I know nowadays “official” means you’ve posted a picture of the both of you on Facebook.)

Let’s see…there was a guy I met at an out of town wedding. He contacted me via my old blog. We hit it off. Talked a lot. He sent me a webcam for Christmas….but eventually told me something to the effect of :

“I feel at home with you. You’ll always be special to me…but not “special” like we’ll be in a dating relationship one day.”

Followed, a couple years later, by a guy who ended up letting me know that :

“I enjoy getting to know you. You’re a great girl. But I discovered I actually want to pursue your friend.”

At this point…I had a major “dark night of the soul”. I can’t remember who coined the term…but it was hugely appropriate. Where was I going wrong? Is it just me? Am I too ____ or not ____ enough? God You know the desire of my heart…when will You answer? And all night I wrestled with God. I was sad. My heart felt broken.

The next morning, I flew to Vancouver for another friend’s wedding. (Seriously, I was averaging seven to eight weddings a year…for seven years straight.) At the banquet, while whistfully watching couples sway during a slow dance, a tall man with a deep voice asked me to dance with him. Oh! Well…sure! We didn’t exchange numbers but he found me on Friendster (remember that?) and then we started chatting. He flew out to visit once. Mailed me a scarf for Christmas. But in the end it came down to something I interpretted as :

“I really like you, but not enough to try a long distance relationship.”

God, like, WHAT GIVES???
Fact is, if they’re just not that into you, they’re just not that into you. It’s okay. Better to find out sooner rather than later right? I remember a girl friend saying, “God’s tenderizing your heart.” I wanted to harden it. Harden so it can’t feel anymore. But I knew that wasn’t the right response. Thinking back to my previously smashed idols, I wondered if wanting to be in a relationship was also an idol…and maybe I needed to give it up as well. I felt God wasn’t asking me to resolve to never be in a relationship, but He was asking “Am I enough?” And I knew He needed to be. Okay fine. But God, if you’re going to keep me single then I ask for GREAT single girl relationships and fulfilling ministry in my life. And He answered that prayer.

A few years later, I met Skywalker…but that’s a story for another time.