WHAT ARE WE CHOOSING
During the predawn hours of July 16, 2013 our hearts were gripped with fright. We had learned that our precious, first born son would be entering the world at 23 weeks with only a 50/50 chance of survival. Even if Second Peter developed a strong heartbeat and exhaled air through his lungs, we still faced the daunting task of raising a child with several physical and mental deficiencies. As the minutes leading up to our first child’s birth ticked quickly away, we listened to two different doctors as they encouraged us to allow our son to expire upon his arrival. But with barely a blink, my wife and I both knew what our course of action would be. We would fight for our son’s life.
We choose life because our God had knitted our son together in my wife’s womb. And when we saw him tiny, weak, and barely spanning a full 12”, we knew he had been, “fearfully and wonderfully made” by our God (Ps 139:14)! Though our son’s precious life consisted of only 6 short hours, April and I were blessed beyond measure by our son who was and is a heritage and a reward from God (Ps. 127:3).
Sadly, society often follows the doctors’ reasoning. It sees children as an expensive accessory to be redeemed once a couple has gone on their dream vacations, secured a nice house, and a few cars. Because the precollege price tag for a child is estimated at $241,080 and every year spent without a child equates to 9% more money in a person’s bank account, an increasing number of couples are forgoing children (Alpert, 2013). Those still interested in trying on parenting are doing so often after 40 (Alpert, 2013). The American view of children as an accessory is not even checked by the limits of nature (Alpert, 2013). With their fertility naturally diminished, Americans 41 and over have embraced in-vitro-fertilization at a record pace (Alpert, 2013). Society views children as an expensive article of clothing to be bought if it enhances how we look to the world around us.
Consequently, society deems children with mental and physical deformities to be in the words of the infamous Dr. Haiselden, “one of nature’s cruelest blunders (Jury Clears, Yet Condems Dr. Haiselden , 1915).” People cherish smart, healthy babies. They can turn to “Nuchal Translucency Screening” and several other tests to determine if their child will interrupt a couple’s lifestyle. Americans who diligently plan ahead can avoid any potential mistakes by seeking out the perfect baby, the proverbial “genetic winner” if you will, at sperm banks across the world (coparents.com , 2013). Those unfortunate enough to still windup with a disturbed child can quickly subdue them with medicine. And if your child remains uncontrollable with medication, parents can go to internet exchange sites and discard their children into new homes (Twohey, 9). American society has reduced the value of children to a dollar sum and then deemed unhappy or unhealthy children: a bother, worthy of exclusion from the common marketplace of life.
Sadly, the church is increasingly adopting the world’s sense of style. In a recent survey, only 24% of churches mentioned “ministering to children” as one of their top priorities (Barna, 2013). Not surprisingly, church members (even in churches that value children) can be heard rattling off, “Don’t you know how much children cost; once we get a house/new job/promotion/degree/etc. then we will think about it; It’s a really big decision; I’ve done my time. My kids are grown; our pets are our family.” Christians have embraced the world’s standard of viewing children with the tag of economy. Consequently, the average Southern Baptist couple now has less the two children (Mohler, 2013). Even conservative, Bible believing seminaries are dominated with men and women who mistakenly place education, finances, and even ministry before children. Both pastors and lay members say, “We will do such and such and then have kids.” Consequently, our nurseries sit empty waiting for parents to fulfill their pledge to buy a life.
Today, our churches are dying. American evangelicals are steadily shrinking. By not having, adopting, and raising children, we are setting up our churches to collapse from within. Statisticians note and the Scriptures affirm that spiritual regeneration most often occurs in the heart of children (Group, 2005). With fewer children, we have fewer people to point to Christ (Deut. 6).
Even more important than the pragmatism of keeping churches alive, the current view of children is the antithesis of biblical thinking. Even though his own disciples saw children as a bother, Christ welcomed all little children (Mat. 19:14). He pointed to children as an example of those who will enter heaven. He took a special interest in children, healing Jairus’s daughter and casting out demons from the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter (Mark 5:21-43; 7:24-30). To follow Christ, we must love children unconditionally, embracing them as our Savior did (Mark 9:37).
The selfless love of children is a theme that runs through all of Scripture. The first command of the Bible is to be fruitful and multiple. God views barrenness and the absence of children to be a result of sin’s curse (Ex. 23:25-26). Conversely, He continually declares children to be a blessing, rewarding the Hebrew midwives with families because they defied Pharaoh by bringing babies into a very hostile world (Ex. 1:20-22). God even designed the Old Testament law to be taught to children (Deut. 6). And when the new born infants of his children die, God welcomes them to heaven (2 Sam 12:23). God loves children.
In the New Testament, Scripture continues the theme. Paul says that women are saved through childbearing. Paul was not contradicting Christ by saying that salvation comes at the hospital via the birth canal. Rather, Paul taught that the birth and hopeful salvation of a child is the glory and prize of a godly woman. As John McAuther writes, “women have the privilege of leading the race out of sin to godliness (MacArthur, 1995).” James defines true religion as in part consisting of loving orphans (James 1:27). Christians are to embrace all children regardless of their physically, mental, or behavior imperfections. We create them, adopt them and cherish them because Christ has adopted, forgiven, and loved us even though we were at enmity with him (Rom 8:14-16). To be like Christ, we must have, love, and disciple children without glancing at the economic price tag.
Now, some will quickly counter with the argument of financial responsibility and modern medicine. This camp states that God gave us wisdom and expects us to use it. People had big families in yester year often because they lacked the ability to prevent them. Today we have technology to protect our mental and financial wellbeing. If finances are tight or if you are newly married, a child could hurt your relationship, robbing you of the cash needed for student loans and house payments and depriving you of the “special time” that every modern couple needs to spend together. Consequently, this camp advocates using birth control until you have your financial ducks in a neat row and have expended the allotted amount of bonding time. God wants us to be wise.
Although, I fully agree that we should be financial responsible and that husband and wives should leave and cleave, I believe this entire argument is problematic. First, it presumes good deal of modern arrogance. Today’s medicine is better, but at least as early as ancient Greece and Judea, humans have been able to control birth rates through forms of birth control, abortion, and infanticide. Modern medicine has only redacted the process to the laboratory test tube. People have always had access to various forms of birth control. The question is should we join the men and women of years past and use it to protect their bank accounts and personal lives.
Financial and personal success is never a requirement for any divine directive, including procreation and adoption. God never commands us to have all our ducks aligned or to have expended such and such amount of quality time as a couple together before we evangelize our neighbor, enter the ministry, or go on the mission field. Rather, Christ chastises those who allow their financial concerns to dictate their life (Luke 12; 18). Think of the rich young ruler, the rich man and Lazarus, the man who boasted in his barns only to perish, and the man who wanted to bury his father before he followed Christ. They were all chided by Christ. When he sent his disciples to do ministry he often told them not to take provisions (Luke 9:3;22:35). Our Savior commands us to lay up treasures where moths and rust do not destroy. What better way to invest in heaven than by creating and discipling the next generation?
Moreover, God directly declares children to be worth more than gold (Lam. 4:2). Having children is far more of a blessing than having wealth which can be counterproductive to our spiritual lives (I Tim 6:8-9). If our financial goals are heavenly focused, we make children (and not comfort) a priority.
And if children are a blessing and the true sign of prosperity, they will not destroy a marriage (Deut. 7:13). Yes, children will be used by God to expose our sinful hearts. Stuart Scott notes that, “Our children are often one of the main means that God uses to show us our sin and mold us more and more into his likeness (Martha Peace, 2001).” The ugliness of our hearts will be exposed as the demands that children put on our time and money. But, our sin was not created by children (James 4:1). If we respond poorly because our hearts are sinful, we will mostly likely hurt those that we love the most. But if we appeal to God’s mercy and grace, we will be able to conquer the sins that our children expose. At the end of the day, our children will bless us by causing us to look more like Christ. Rather than creating a world that protects our immaturity, the Bible calls us to seek refinement through many means, one of which is children.
Lastly, Jesus goes on to tell us not to worry about where we will live and eat because our heavenly Father knows all that we need (Mat. 6:25-34). The Gentiles fret and are driven by mammon. But we are not to be. We are to trust God. We are to trust that our good God who opens and closes the womb and who owns all the earth is capable to meet all are needs even before we ask (Gen. 29:31;Ps. 50).
This is not to say that we earn points with God by having children. We do not all have to have 19 kids and counting to be deemed godly, good Christians. There are many legitimate reasons for using birth control, such as protecting a woman’s health. But we must never embrace birth control (abortive or otherwise) simply to protect our lifestyle or ambitions. Denny Burk helps us grasp this concept in his book: What is the Meaning of Sex. He writes:
It is immoral to enter into marriage while rejecting God’s purposes for sexual union, one of which is procreation…[we] must scrutinize a cultural preference for smaller families and welcome children as blessings from the Lord and not as burdens. Couples that desire to keep the family circle small must ask themselves if they have been unduly influenced by the spirit of the age, which treats children as a drag on personal freedom and prosperity. That is not to say that couples must have as many children as they possibly can. It is to say that couples should steward their family planning for kingdom purposes, not for selfish ends (p. 155).
In February 2013, my wife and I prayed for a son. Being newly married and newly installed at my job, we lacked wealth. Yet, God answered our pray to the day. And when Second Peter was born, we still had a shallow checking account. While I tried to comprehend what his unexpected birth meant, I remember briefly wondering how we would pay for everything. I simply prayed for God to help us. I am blessed to report that our God again heard our feeble pleas and abundantly provided all the resources needed to cover the hospital and funeral home costs. And I who am the least of the saints am not alone.
Think of how God answered the stalwart George Muller’s prayers over and over again, allowing him to run a massive children’s home on donations solicited solely through prayer. Or think of how God rewarded the great faithfulness of Isaac and Rebekah; Hannah; and Zachariah and Elizabeth (Gen 25:21; I Sam 1:12-20; Luke 1:13-14). Should we not also trust our God to provide the financial wellbeing to support the children that he gives us?
Lord willing none of you will be faced with the terrible choices that stood before my wife and me in the early morning hours of July 16th. But, we all have a choice. Do we follow the world’s example: daily chasing things that moth and rust destroy, or do we cherish the immortal blessing of children? Do we see children as a fun accessory to be picked up at our convenience and then forgotten 18 years later? Or, do we seek to have children in our homes, through procreation, adoption, and ministry to point them to Christ? Do we choose life?
Alpert, E. (2013, August 4). More Women In their 40’s Are Having Babies . Los Angeles Times .
Barna, G. (2013). Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions. Ventura : Reagal .
Belkin, L. (2013, August 13). Cost of Raising A Child Today: $241,080 (Inforgraphic. Huffington Post.
Burk, D. (2013). What is the Meaning of Sex. Wheaton: Crossway.
coparents.com . (2013, September 17). Retrieved September 17, 2013, from Coparents.com : http://www.coparents.com/
Group, B. (2005, October 11). Barna Group . Retrieved September 18, 2012, from https://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/196-evangelism-is-most-effective-among-kids#.Ujn8Vp3D_1E
Jury Clears, Yet Condems Dr. Haiselden . (1915, November 20). Retrieved September 18 , 2013, from Disability History Museum: http://www.disabilitymuseum.org/dhm/lib/detail.html?id=1236&&page=2
MacArthur, J. (1995). The MacArthur New Testament Commentary 1 Timothy. Chicago : Moody Press .
Martha Peace, S. W. (2001). The Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide to Raising A Family . Philipsberg: R&R Publishing .
Mohler, D. A. (2013, June 11). B21 Panel Hot Topics at the SBC Meeting 2013 in Houston .
Twohey, M. (9, September 2013). The Child Exchange . Retrieved September 17, 2013, from http://www.reuters.com : http://www.reuters.com/investigates/adoption/#article/part1
The above post originally appeared as an article in September 2013.