This week I opened Twitter to see this Washington Post headline: “Deciding whether to have kids has never been more complex. Enter parenthood-indecision therapists.” Now, I’m not sure the question is more complex than it was one hundred years ago, when infant mortality was at 24 percent in this country. Nevertheless, having children is always a life-altering decision, for sure, and it comes with some really complex implications, especially when you factor in this profound reality: every child we bring into this world is an eternal being, someone who will live forever. This reality leads to questions like this one from Claire.
“Pastor John, something I have recently been wrestling with as a mom of two little children is, Why do we as believers continue to have children when we know that verses like Romans 9:18 are true? It sounds like the natalism/anti-natalism debate a little, but it’s really driven by the doctrine of election. Knowing that our children could be the ones God chooses to harden, is it worth the risk of having children at all?”
Yes, it is worth the risk, and I’ll give you four observations — I hope they’re biblical — to support my answer.
Be Fruitful and Multiply
First, obedience is always worth the risk. Now, why do I put it that way? Because when God said to Adam in the beginning, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28), he knew exactly where the world was going.
“God takes everything into account when he gives his counsel.”
He knew all the horrors of history. He knew what the fall would mean for perishing and suffering, misery, relational horror, and catastrophe. Nothing took God off guard. He knew all that when he said, “Fill up the earth.” It’s not like he was talking to unfallen man and, as soon as man fell, he said, “Whoops, whoops — I gave them bad advice.” God never gives bad advice because he knows everything that’s coming. He takes everything into account when he gives his counsel. He knew everything that was coming, and yet he said, “Fill this earth with human beings.” These are the offspring that are going to experience either destruction or redemption.
In other words, it isn’t we who have discovered the doctrine of election and wonder whether it means we should have children. God created the doctrine of election and commanded us to have children. That’s why I say it’s worth the risk, because obedience is always worth the risk. God knew the twenty-first century was coming. He knew every century and everything it would bring. And he never rescinded the command to fill up the earth.
Wise and Good
Second, when we think about the fact that people are lost and people are saved, we must always remember that God is infinitely wise and good. He has purposes for this fact. He has a purpose in having some that are lost and some that are safe. He has purposes, and they are wise. They are good.
He knows what he’s doing. He has good reasons for why one person is shown mercy and another is passed over in their rebellion and unbelief. We must be very, very careful lest we think in a way that implies that God’s ways are foolish or unwise or cruel.
High and Holy Calling
Third, it is a high and holy calling not just for a woman to physically give birth to a child, but even more for parents to agonize in spiritual labor pains until Christ is formed in their children. Paul said this in Galatians 4:19 to the immature Christians that he loved, and he was not entirely certain they were saved. He said, “My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”
“We must be very careful lest we think in a way that implies that God’s ways are foolish or unwise or cruel.”
We don’t choose to be parents because parenting is easy or because the outcome is sure. It’s not easy, and it isn’t sure. We become parents because it’s a high, holy, divine calling. All the risks and all the sorrows that it brings are part of a high and holy and precious and honorable calling and purpose of God.
For the Sake of the Elect
Fourth, think with me for a moment about the fact that the Lord has delayed the second coming now for two thousand years. He didn’t decide to do that year by year. We know from the Gospels that the day was set in the mind of the Father from the beginning. Now what does that mean for the question that Claire is asking about the wisdom of having children?
In 2 Peter, we see that some people had expressed skepticism that the Lord would ever return because it’s been so long (in their viewpoint). Peter answers like this:
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:8–9)
In other words, God delays the coming of Christ so that all of the elect will repent and be saved and have the experience of eternal joy in the presence of God. God made that choice. He made the choice to appoint the day far out. He made that choice knowing that thousands, indeed millions, of others will be born during that delay of Christ who will not believe but will perish.
“We don’t choose to be parents because parenting is easy or because the outcome is sure.”
Here’s the implication for the question we’re dealing with. We should value the eternal joy and praise and glory to God that every redeemed child gives to God. We should value that joy and that praise more than we fear the misery if some are lost. Because God does that. There’s no other way to understand this delay. God has planned history and the timing of the second coming the way he has because of the massive priority he puts upon the repentance and the salvation and the eternal joy of his elect who will be born and brought into the kingdom. He does not let the fact that many will become rebellious and reject his love compel him to withhold from his elect their eternal joy.
Now, I think we should share God’s mindset when we think about our children. We will pray, work, agonize, weep, and maybe even die so that Christ would be formed in them. But we will not let the possible misery of some prevent us from pursuing and hoping for the eternal joy of all.