Childless by choice – round two.

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I had not planned to do another post on this, but with 60 plus comments, it seems it is an issue that merits a bit more discussion. I intentionally worded my first post to put out a variety of thoughts, not all of which I agree with, in order to spark some discussion – seems I succeeded.

First, I am not in any way motivated by or talking about the political issue of “population control” – which is too often steeped in racism, hatred of the poor, or some other unbiblical thinking. My motivation here is to examine whether or not childless by choice might be a valid calling God has on the lives of some couples. I agree it would not be the norm, but then neither is not marrying. 

As I examined my feelings that choosing not to have children might be wrong, what I found were emotions, fears, prejudice, tradition, and the urge to conform to what is accepted by the majority. What I did not find was a good solid biblical reason for what I felt. There have been some good comments left, but in those I did not see what I felt was a theologically solid argument that God would never call someone to choose not to have children. I don’t see anything in the Bible saying it is wrong, but then again I would not expect to see something as the option did not really exist when the Bible was written. So we are left to look at what the Bible does say and try to find the truth. The difficult thing is trying to do this without being skewed by traditions which may or may not be biblical.

I agree having children is important to God. I also see marriage as important to God, and yet He calls some to choose not to marry. God said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” [Genesis 2:24 ESV] and Jesus repeated it (Matthew 19:5 Mark 10:7). Using the same logic used by some saying verses about being fruitful and multiplying mean it would be wrong to not have children, we could use the “leave and cleave” verses to build an argument it is wrong for a man to not marry. However, we have clear biblical proof such an argument would be wrong – God made a few differently. God making a few differently does not mean He is inconsistent or has contradicted Himself. An exception to the general is just that – an exception. In the same way God made a few to not marry, might He not have made a few to marry but not have children? Some would argue God could do this by making the couple infertile. However, celibacy is not about being unable to marry, or more to the point unable to have sex – it’s about being able but choosing not to. I think the choice, the sacrifice, the willingness to be different, is a vital part of what God designed for those called to be celibate. I would expect the same for married and childless as a calling – it would mean being able to have children, but choosing not to do so. It would mean a sacrifice; it would mean being different, and all the pressure that comes with being different. It would be far more about doing what God called you to than not having children because you don’t feel like being a parent.

I see some of examples of folks who are childless by choice who seem to be doing it for reasons of ministry:

  • Some mentioned adopting, even though they could have children of their own. I can certainly see God calling someone to this. Choosing to care for those abandoned by others rather than having children “of their own” would seem to rule out the whole “selfish” accusation. I know couples who have adopted; it’s the harder, and more expensive way of having children!
  • I know a couple that chose to be childless because they were ministering to subset of society with sexual issues, drug use, and other destructive behaviour. No sane person would expose children to the things they dealt with daily. They felt God had called them to minister to this culture – and the results certainly prove to me He did. They felt they could not do that ministry if they chose to have children. I know they both have felt some pain from their choice, but they still feel they did what God called them to do. They have done a work no single person could have done, and no parent with small children should have done.

So, I conclude God can and does call a few to choose to be childless. My guess is most who make this choice have not, in fact, heard God’s will for their lives. By the same token, there are probably some called to be childless who bowed to pressure (and maybe their own desire to have children) and did not follow the childless path God would have had them choose.

If someone who trusted me to speak into their life told me they felt called not to have children, I would encourage them to pray about it a great deal. If I felt they had missed God, I would say so. However, without a close relationship with someone I cannot know what God wants for him or her, and even if I felt I did I would not have the place to speak to them.

A few things to help understand where I’m coming from:

  • I believe God gives us a great deal of free will. That means I don’t think He often goes around our choices – things like causing a condom to fail so we have a child we did not plan. Of course, He is sovereign, and He can and no doubt does do this, but I think it’s rare. I also think we can give Him permission to override our will so His will may be done. When we do that, we are far more likely to see Him giving us what He wants in spite of our choices.
  • I do not believe there is any biblical reason to say contraception is wrong, so long as it does not kill a fertilised egg. I know others feel very differently. This is another issue for another time.
  • I once considered not having “children of my own”. I married a woman with a child, and there was a lot of mess in our lives. Putting off having children for several years was, in my view, the right thing to do. My bride was concerned I would someday regret not having a child I had fathered. I prayed and examined myself a great deal, and felt I’d be okay. Certainly, I’d have always wondered, but I felt it would not be a big problem for me. We even talked of me getting a vasectomy, but we were not sure it was what God wanted, so we didn’t do it. As we both got healing, and things got better, having a child became a reasonable thing. I am deeply grateful we have the now 21-year-old son we have. I believe we heard God and followed Him in our timing by waiting.

A couple other notes, from reading the comments:

Several mentioned the passages that tell certain people to be fruitful and multiply – either with or without the added instructions to fill the earth. Is this a command to all, or to certain groups? If it’s to all, when is it fulfilled? How do we define “filled”. Even if you think we have not reached full, there has to be a point at which the earth is full. A thought on being fruitful – trees can be so fruitful they damage or destroy themselves. The ability not to have children when it could cost the mother her life is, to me, a good thing. I doubt it’s ever God’s will for a mother of several young children to die trying to birth another – and yet it happens.

A note on barrenness being a curse – this was a strong cultural issue for a variety of reasons. Children were an important source of labour in an agrarian society, and boys in particular were important in a society often at war. Even more than that, children took care of you when you were old. Finally, every Jewish woman hoped to be the mother of the saviour God had promised, and not having children would have been seen as not caring about the coming saviour. This may or may not explain all the Bible says about the curse of being barren, but it is a part of the picture.

[The original post was Child free by choice?]

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11 Comments on “Childless by choice – round two.

  1. I am really struggling with the hermeneutics being applied that “barrenness = cursed of God”. Unless someone can point to a verse in which God pronounces the general condition of barrenness to be a result of Him cursing women (other than individuals), I think it it wise and proper NOT to identify those two things. I have not been able to find such a verse as yet.

    Yes, the cultural view is that a women would have children once she was married and that barrenness was “evidence” of God’s curse — but that is never presented as God’s view in Scripture. The cultural view also included the perception that blindness from birth was a result of sin (either of the parents or the individual); when asked that question our Lord clearly said “Neither, it was so the works of God might be displayed…” Let’s make sure that we examine God’s view, not man’s.

    Additionally, since all that it takes for barrenness to end is a pregnancy are we to conclude that if a woman was barren for a long time and then got pregnant, that is a sign she stopped sinning and now could receive God’s blessing? If so, let’s make sure that we apply that thinking, interpretation, and application to all women of the Bible including Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth.

    Yes, God could curse by making an individual woman barren for the remainder of her life.

    My wife and I have friends who have chosen to be childless/childfree, but not for selfish reasons. Both, but particular the husband, were raised in contexts which we far less than ideal nurturing environments. They both deem themselves to be poor parenting candidates because of their personal histories — danger of repeating the same mistakes. On the other hand, I have taught side-by-side in the same department with the husband. He was one of the most appreciated teachers on the faculty — and that is by junior and senior high school students (not an easy audience). And yet, their decision before God is that they would not have children of their own — to safeguard the potential children.

    Conclusion: please, let’s be accurate in our interpretation of Scripture and, as has been stated in many comments, let’s look at the “why” of childlessness.

    • Larry – Great points, thanks. I’ve not done a detailed study, but I don’t see God ever saying all barrenness is cause by Him. I see places where He closed a woman’s womb, and I also see places where He opened the womb – including the miraculous thing He did with Sarah who was well past menopause.

  2. Two quick thoughts –
    1) There are some (many) parents that should never be parents because they have failed to learn to fulfill or accept the total responsibility of being a parent and as a result, we develop a new generation of dysfunctional children who grow up to be even more dysfunctional parents. Work in the Early Childhood Eaducation arena for a while if you don’t see it now and you will then understand why I make this observation.
    2) One of the reasons for having children is to raise them up to be completely committed followers of Jesus. When we don’t have children and raise them to be followers, then we reduce the numbers of people that are following Jesus. Could the bible mean that when it says we are to fill the earth that is just may be referring to having the majority of people believing in God through Jesus, our Savior so that Christians are not the minority and ruled by people of other religions. After all, the majority usually rules the earth, at least the county – not always but usually.

    • I totally agree on both points with you John. I worked as a sunday school teacher for awhile and most of my friends were youth or young adult leaders for up to a decade. Too many kids have parents who have left the parenting up to teachers and the church. These people become young adults who don’t know who they are, who they are in Christ, who loves them, and who really cares about them. I can absolutely guarantee that the guy living upstairs from my basement suite is going to have the same or worse parental issues with his son that his dad had with him. Aside from the lack of physical abuse, the verbal abuse is being passed to the next generation.

      My understanding of Old Testament jewish culture is that “filling the earth” meant to them spending their life pouring into their kids the values and desire for God that they themselves had and that everything else was secondary. The entire Jewish calendar was a giant historical lesson that repeated itself and built upon itself every year to help raise each generation.

      Unfortunately, most people treat their kids as commodities that are fun to have around sometimes but otherwise are a burden to have around.

  3. Not everyone is made the same. We all have different opinions and experiences that mold us in to who we are. Some people don’t know them selves all that well while others do. I know a few couples who don’t want children cause they know they wouldn’t be the best parents. Who is to argue? Why does society think they know these people better then they know them selves. Wouldn’t it be a shame if these few couples had kids only cause society says they should and they ended up right about not being the best parents? They work to much, travel to much, volunteer to much so never home etc. We are not clones and we are not made to be the same. How boring it would be if we were.

  4. Once more into the breach. Maybe everyone said what he or she wanted to say on the other post.

    Paul, evidently we approach Scripture differently. You stated “I did not see what I felt was a theologically solid argument that God would never call someone to choose to not have children. I don’t see anything in the Bible that says it’s wrong….” and you also state “In the same way that God made a few to not marry, might He not have made a few to marry but not have children?”

    This can be turned around. You have not presented a theological argument that God WOULD call a couple to choose not to have children. I do not find anything in the Bible to say it is right. Then you infer from choosing not to marry – for which we have examples and some clear biblical guidance (which you note), to choosing not to have children – for which we have no examples and no positive biblical warrant.

    I think we may end up disagreeing on this since you look for prohibitions and I look for warrants.

    Thanks for stretching me. For the most part this has been a good discussion. I did find it a little ironic that the article you initially cited on being childfree came from a website named blackandmarriedwithkids.

    • I’ll bite Pete, what was so ironic about the website name?

      • And there is further proof, if any was needed, that I shouldn’t type anything until I have had my morning cup of tea!

    • Pete – As I said elsewhere, we don’t see God telling us we can choose to be childless because it was not a possible choice when the Bible was written. It’s the same reason we are not told to avoid cocaine.

      You say I look for prohibitions while you look for warrants. I always look first for warrants, but when those do not exist, what then? If you only do what you can find permission to do, then you end up like the Amish.

      I think God gave us brains, scriptural examples, and the Holy Spirit so we can find His will for things that did not exist when the Bible was written. However, we can only do that after we search and find nothing that addresses the issue.

  5. Great recap and great questions that address a lot of issues that aren’t as black and white as sometimes we like to think they are.

    “However, without a close relationship with someone I don’t think I can know what God wants for him or her, and even if I felt I did I would not have the place to speak to them.”

    Although this is a side note to the main topic, it is absolutely key. With relationship comes intimacy that can be given and received. Authority and challenging questions without relationship is often dictatorship and provocation, but with relationship it can potentially be received as caution and care.

  6. Very interesting thoughts in both camps. I just have to add a biblical example of someone who actually was married and did not actually have children. Simon Peter. I haven’t done extensive research on his life, by any means, however it’s obvious that he was in Gods will and didn’t have precious Blessings around.

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