We love to hear from our international listeners, who are spread out all across the globe. Here’s a question today from a young woman. “Hello, Pastor John! Greetings from Finland and thank you for this podcast. I am married, but my husband and I have no children. In Genesis, God tells the first couple to ‘be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it’ (Genesis 9:7). Today many people in my nation, people who are married and capable of having children, choose not to. Intentional childlessness has become very common in the past decade, and the reasons are diverse: fears about climate change, worries about the fragile health of the mother, worries about being a bad parent, and simply de-prioritizing children entirely.
“I know you said it was permissible for couples to wait to have kids and to limit the number of children they have. And you said it is permissible, in some cases, for a missionary couple to forgo children altogether. But how about non-missionary Christians? Is it permissible for an ordinary Christian couple to simply choose to not have children?” How would you respond Pastor John?
My first response is that I don’t think there is any such thing as “simply choose.” She asks, “Is it permissible for an ordinary Christian couple to simply choose to not have children?” I’m not sure what she means by the word simply, but it sounds like she means “just because we want to.” In other words, “simply choose” would mean “without any struggles or conflicts or reasonings, but just because we feel like it.” And my first response to this is to say that there is no such thing.
“The generations flowing from your seed and from your womb are a crown.”
There are always realities, in our hearts and in our minds and in our experiences, that shape our so-called “simply choosing.” Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). How much more would it be true that out of what’s in the heart we choose not to have children? We are not “simply choosing”; we are choosing because of who we are, because of deep realities that have shaped our hearts, our preferences, our desires, our wants, our inclinations.
So, let me make five observations that may reveal some of the hidden things of the heart.
1. Children are a precious gift.
It is normal, beautiful, fitting, natural, and normative, according to Scripture, both explicitly and — I would say — implicitly in many places, for a married couple to have children. This was God’s plan from the moment of creation; it was part of what was “very good.” “God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’” (Genesis 1:28).
And it remained the plan after the catastrophic fall and the ruin of the world, and even after the flood and the recognition that sin is going to ravage the world until doomsday.
Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.
And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it. (Genesis 9:6–7)
In other words, there’s going to be murder until the end of days, so have children. This is just the opposite of the way some people think. And it goes on being God’s good plan, generation after generation.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3–5)
This is the whole drift of God’s word: children are a gift; children are a blessing. When they are withheld, it is a heartache — sometimes even a judgment. The generations flowing from your seed and from your womb are a crown: “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers” (Proverbs 17:6). And they’re a blessing: “Her children rise up and call her blessed” (Proverbs 31:28).
What a sadness when many modern women, shortsightedly I think, choose to forgo that blessing, while millions would literally give their right arm to have it. That’s observation number one: it’s just the way Scripture leans.
2. God knows families will struggle.
That positive view of children as a blessing remains true, even though the Bible is starkly realistic about how badly things may go in families. Even the book of Proverbs, which is maybe the most pro-family book in the Bible, says, “There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers” (Proverbs 30:11).
Jesus warns, “From now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three” (Luke 12:52). And he said that it would’ve been better if Judas had never been born (Matthew 26:24).
The cry of David has been heard in the mouth of ten thousand fathers: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33).
The Bible is not a Pollyanna tale of happy families. Almost all of them in the Bible are broken — one way or the other. But none of this — none of it — hinders the ongoing reality that conceiving and raising children is normal, beautiful, fitting, natural, normative.
3. The goal of life is not to avoid hardship.
So, the question is, Why would that be? Here’s my third observation: that can be because the Bible simply does not share the modern mindset, whether in Finland or in America, that the aim of life is the avoidance of hardship or heartache or suffering.
Of course, we don’t know whether we will have a disabled child or not, who changes our lives forever. Of course, we don’t know whether a child will break our heart with unbelief. Of course, we don’t know if our child will live six hours and then die. And of course, we do know that our children will demand enormous, focused attention. We do know that to raise a child in the Lord demands spiritual desperation and prayer and focus and attention. We do know that there will be financial demands from our lifelong commitment to this child. We do know that there will be thousands of hours that you must deny yourself an immediate felt need in order to do good to this child.
“The Bible is not a Pollyanna tale of happy families. Almost all of them in the Bible are broken.”
But from the standpoint of God’s word, none of those possible heartaches and none of these guaranteed stresses are reasons not to have children, because the Bible does not share the modern viewpoint that the aim of life is the avoidance of hardship. On the contrary, the assumption of the Bible is that through many tribulations we enter the kingdom (Acts 14:22), and that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness (James 1:3), and that there’s joy to be found through giving ourselves away. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
In other words, almost all the arguments for not having children are built on a worldview radically different from the Bible’s worldview.
4. We cannot predict our children’s influence.
There’s another problem with presuming to think that we can do more good by not having children — like, for climate change. The problem is: we simply do not know whether our child will be a debit or a credit to the human race — a curse or a blessing, a taker or a giver. We don’t know. He may be a freeloader with a big carbon footprint, or he may be the genius who invents the very means of saving millions of lives. Who do we think we are? My goodness, who do we think we are to predict that our children will be a loss rather than a gain for the world, and for the glory of Christ, whom we can believe and pray to?
We don’t know, and it’s not our business to know. Our business is to give them life and raise them up and do what we can to build into them every dream and every possibility and power and blessing for the world — and for the glorifying of God.
5. God has made the path clear.
And my final observation is that not one couple in a thousand decides to have children by sitting down and calculating the effect of their child on global warming, or the replacement rate for the population so that thirty years from now the workforce will be big enough to sustain the aged, or whether we will certainly have enough resources to establish the child in a fruitful location. It just doesn’t happen that way — not for 99 percent of couples. And I’m suggesting it shouldn’t happen that way; we’re not smart enough for it to happen that way, and the Bible doesn’t encourage us to have children with that mindset. Rather, it happens like this: a combination of
- the biblical blessing pronounced upon having children, together with
- the voice of God in nature every month as a woman ovulates and as the man stands ever-ready to deposit his seed, and
- as the deep-seated, God-given longings of a man and a woman to be a father and a mother rise up.
That biblical blessing and that voice of nature and that God-given longing should be followed, I’m arguing, unless God himself makes it crystal clear that the self-denying path of Christ-exalting obedience is childlessness.