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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
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Friday, February 16, 2007
Vasectomies and Birth Control Oh My!
Ouch!Is God really sovereign? I was taught in school that live begins at the moment of conception - that very moment that a man's sperm penetrates and fertilizes a woman's egg. It was clear that in the same way you or I might starve to death if we stopped receiving nutrients, so too this fertilized egg would have to embed itself in the rich lining of his or her mother's womb, if he or she was to avoid a very early death.

The beginning of life was not some divine miracle - it was just a biological function that happened, and in fact, science had demonstrated as much by fertilizing eggs in a laboratory - no magic, no divine spark - just a biological event that could be (more or less) recreated at will. I never really thought about our ability to "create" life in a petri-dish - except to take note that it had been done, and could be done - and that the great mystery of life was really just a simple formula that even a child could comprehend: sperm + egg = life.

When I began to regard the bible as the word of God however, certain passages in scripture began to clash somewhat with my scientific certainty. David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all maintained that it was God who formed them in the womb (Psalm 139:13; Isaiah 44:2,24 and 49:5; Jeremiah 1:5). David says specifically that God's hands made him (psalm 119:73), and Job gives perhaps the best description of a "blob of cells" I have ever read in Job 10:10 ("Did [God] not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese?"). Likewise didn't the Lord close up all the wombs in the house of Abimelech (Genesis 20:18), and wasn't it the Lord who closed Hannah's womb (1 Samuel 1:5), and wasn't it the Lord who opened the wombs of Leah (Genesis 29:31) and Rachel (Genesis 30:22)?

Science had convincingly taught me that life was a formula that didn't really include God. When I read and believed scripture, I simply modified the formula a little: sperm + egg + "Divine spark" = life.

That was good for a while. It allowed me to hold onto my scientific definition of life, but injected a satisfying divine element to it whereby my sovereign God could always "veto" the fertilization process - and remain sovereign.

I don't even want to begin to examine why according to Levitical law (c.f. esp. Leviticus 15), both semen and menstrual fluid were unclean to the Jew - was it merely a hygiene issue? What was being pictured there? Let's not go there today.

Then we have those verses in Genesis 9 where God assigns to all of Noah's descendants the task of re-populating the earth.

They are specifically told to go into the earth and to fill it with their progeny - to abundantly populate the earth (Genesis 9:1,7). Now unless God was suggesting that Ham, Shem, and Japheth's wife were to deliver billions of babes in one lifetime - the command was given to Noah and all his descendants which began with Ham, Shem, and Japheth, but included their children, grandchildren, and all the way down to you and I.

Now many will suggest that this was not really a command, but that it should be taken as a suggestion along these lines: "Hey, if you are inclined - why not chip in a little and populate the earth - you know, as much as you feel comfortable with? that would be swell, but if not - Hey - no pressure."

Others would suggest that this was God's will right up until the whole earth "was" populated - you know, like if I told you you had to paint the fence, and you went out and painted it - once it was entirely painted you could say, "I am free from the charge to paint the fence because the fence is now painted!" - and although they have no biblical criteria to define just "when" the world became populated enough to dispense with this call - yet surely it has happened, and even if mankind was once obligated to populate the world, certainly that obligation has been met and having been met is no longer an obligation.

There are also some who would argue that when Christ came, he set us free from any sort of obligatory nonsense. That because we are in Christ we no longer are obligated (if ever we were) to populate the world.

Perhaps some have other schemes, but they all share the common element that either there never was a real obligation, or that obligation no longer applies to us for whatever reason.

Yet all of this remains in the realm of "theological musings" until one is married and faced with the question of whether or not the ability to prevent the creation of life (through any means of birth control) equates to a "God given" authority to deny life.

One may well argue that abstaining from intercourse is perhaps the first and most effective form of birth control - and since we have the ability to "say no" - that must mean that God has given us the keys of life.

But scripture teaches that if we marry, our bodies are not our own, and that we are =not= permitted to continue in abstinance. If we do engage in abstinace it is by mutual agreement and then only for a time and specifically because we are going to devote our selves to prayer during that time - and that following that time we will again resume our normative sexual activity so that this abstinence won't give Satan room to tempt us to deal with any sexual yearnings in some other way (c.f. 1 Corinthians 7:5).

So on the one hand we certainly have some opportunity to abstain from activities that inevitably produce offspring - but biblically speaking, we cannot soberly claim that the temporary abstinence permitted by scripture for the sake of devoted prayer is some sort of divine endorsement for birth control. Yet some would turn to Hebrews 13:4 and argue first that anything and everything is acceptable in the "undefiled" marriage bed; and from that perspective argue that it is possible for a couple to come together sexually regularly and often without engaging in actual intercourse - and thereby satisfy the instruction to come together, without warranting any activity that might result in procreation.

Now what is acceptable in the marriage bed is not the topic here - so let's just ignore our own opinions about what is acceptable for now - this is only on the table as a rung in the ladder.

So this one may reason that since we have the ability and even the "right" to abstain from procreation (by natural means - i.e. abstinence) - that this is a sort of "birth control" that God gives us implicit permission to exercise. The argument jumps from there to a logical tangent - if we have implicit permission to practice one kind of birth control - surely we have the same implicit permission to practice any kind of birth control.

Now here some might do a little homework and in doing so they would learn that -most- forms of birth control do not "prevent" conception - they simply kill fertilized eggs - either directly, or indirectly. Those who believe that life begins at conception must conclude that killing a fertilized egg (or intentionally forcing it to die) is in fact an act of semi-intentional murder, since although they did not specifically intend to kill any one egg in particular, they certainly intend to kill any egg that becomes fertilized. The pill, IUD's, certain creams, day-after pills etc. all fall into this category - they don't prevent the fertilization of eggs, they prevent that fertilized egg from staying alive. These methods do not stop life from beginning, they stop life that has begun from continuing.

But there are other forms of "birth control" that are in fact preventative - the various barrier methods for example, menstrual cycle methods, and/or the surgical options. These latter methods do not starve out a life that has already begun, but they do deny the possibility of life beginning.

Of the two classes, surely the latter is to be preferred regardless of where one stands on the issue.

But now we come to the great question, the one for which I bothered to post today.

Did God really give us the right to open and close the womb, or is that his providence alone? Yes, we can kill life before it takes root, and we can even prevent life from happening - but is that our prerogative?

Is God sovereign and wise enough to open the womb exactly as many times as He feels is right - or did He intend for us to one day realize that it is all just a biological phenomenon - and that the moment science allowed us to understand the building block of life, we became endowed with authority to open and close the womb according to our own counsel (assuming we have "peace" about our decision of course)?

This is one area where godly men disagree. Some are of the opinion that as long as you have the power to play God - you have the authority to do the same.

I am reminded of a conversation I had only recently, and I suppose that is what sparked this post. A fellow was considering getting a vasectomy because his Christian wife didn't want any more children. She had made up her mind and if he didn't get a vasectomy pronto - she was going to get a hysterectomy!

Now, at that point, the fellow reasoned that because a vasectomy is a much simpler procedure than a hysterectomy, he owed it to his wife to undergo the procedure - regardless of where he stood on the issue of birth control.

Our conversation came back to whether or not God was sovereign. Of course the typical arguments were given - just because God is sovereign doesn't remove responsibility from my shoulders. I can't afford more kids - it would be fiscally irresponsible for me to have more kids - I am justified in my decision to have a vasectomy, and anyway we prayed about it and we feel at peace with our decision. Um.. yeah. Or the other classic: Just because God is sovereign doesn't mean that we are supposed to put ourselves at risk - he gave us brains and wants us to use them! My wife is not a young girl anymore - if she has another pregnancy the likelyhood of having a special needs baby increases. God would never want that - so we prayed about it, and feel at peace about me getting a vasectomy.

The list could go on and on, and it isn't my intention to catalog all the ways a man might justify not wanting to have kids - but they all come back to the same problem - self.

"I don't want kids because we can't afford them." - Oh really? How are you being fed and clothed now, on your own dime or is God feeding you and clothing you. Do you say grace like this, "Thank you God that I made myself talented, and with my self made talents I went out and made money for myself and my family, and with that money which came from my own power, I furnished my family with the shelter, raiment and food you see here this evening - thank you for the food that I was entirely responsible in bringing to our table." It boils down to either "I don't trust God", or more kids will throw a wrench in my plans for the future - that is, I am more concerned about myself than I am for any plan God has.

"I don't want kids because we might have special needs kids" Um, and ...that would be ...bad? Listen: the one who thinks there is something "wrong" with a special needs child thinks there is something wrong with the one who made him or her - that God is not sovereign for if he was every baby would be born "normal". This is just selfishness wrapped up as concern for someone else. I don't want to deal with the stigma and I don't want to put the lifetime of effort into such a child - I just want to come home, read my paper, and use my own time according to my own counsel. A child like that would just be a burden. Me, me, me.

In my own life, I have had to struggle with this very thing. I am zealously against any form of birth control that actually kills babies, and while I am not against abstinence, I am against all other forms of birth control.

Now you might think to yourself as you read this: Daniel, that is easy for you to say, you pompous windbag. It is easy for you to judge from your ivory tower - you don't know me, and you don't know my situation - if you did you would shut your mouth. But bear with me brother, perhaps if I inform you something of my own situation you will cut me slack.

My wife has a heart condition that has been aggrivated by each of her pregnancies. When she talks about birth control it is not about money or fear of having to bring up more kids - she would adopt as many as possible - but her fear is that having another child might harm or kill her, maybe even leaving her other children motherless. There is no guarentee that anything bad will happen - in fact it is quite possible that she could become pregnant again and again without complication. But she is afraid, and this sort of fear is the kind that whatever theological convictions I may have about the sovereignty of God - do little to comfort her.

So trust me when I say, this topic is not something I handle lightly - it is close to my heart. Until this came up I thought there was nothing in my life or that life could throw at me that could cause me to compromise a conviction - but this one has come powerfully close. When I ask myself whether or not God is sovereign, it is no longer a theological question - it is a practical one: Is my God completely sovereign, such that I can walk according to a conscience instructed out of His word, or is there room for me to take matters in my own hands when it really matters.

Now, as a note to all you men who have had vasectomies, or practice birth control with your wives in some form or other - and upon reading my musings you feel inclined to justify your self or maybe you feel offended that my present opinion doesn't mesh with your own opinion - I would absolutely =love= to be convinced that there was some way in God's will for me to take the reins. So you will not find me chomping at the bit waiting to dismiss some contrary opinion, but rather giving perhaps the most careful and prayerful consideration to any contrary opinion that presents itself.

What say you?

Labels: , ,

posted by Daniel @ 10:54 AM  
31 Comments:
  • At 3:05 PM, February 16, 2007, Blogger Garry Weaver said…

    I think you have handled a very sensitive subject very well.

     
  • At 4:36 PM, February 16, 2007, Blogger Daniel said…

    Thanks Garry. I shy away from controversy when I can, but I felt inclined to post anyway in case it might edify someone.

     
  • At 6:53 PM, February 16, 2007, Blogger ThirstyDavid said…

    Very good, Daniel. I agree completely.

     
  • At 8:22 PM, February 16, 2007, Blogger Antonio said…

    This is a very sensitive topic.

    Seems to me that this is another example of how a Calvinist may use the term "Sovereign".

    I don't think you want to bring it into terms of the Calvinistic doctrine of Sovereignty. You may want to leave it to a issue of God's will for our lives.

    You see, God wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, but God's Sovereignty trumps His desire and has reprobated countless billions to hell.

    Remember what Edwin H. Palmer says in his "the five points of calvinism" pages 24 and 25:

    "Foreordination means God's sovereign plan, whereby He decides all that is to happen in the entire universe. Nothing in this world happens by chance. God is in back of everything. He decides and causes all things to happen that do happen. He is not sitting on the sidelines wondering and perhaps fearing what is going to happen next. No, He has foreordained everything 'after the counsel of his will' (Eph. 1:11): the moving of a finger, the beating of a hear, the laughter of a girl, the mistake of a typist -- even sin [and may we include whether or not one has a baby]".

    In the Calvinistic sense of sovereignty, what God determines (which is everything that happens in the world down to the minutia), will happen.

    If someone is on birth-control, or had a vasectomy, first of all, it was so fore-ordained by God, whereby He "decided and caused it to happen". The people who are engaged in such activities as birth-control have no ultimate control over their actions, as they were pre-determined by God, as He has decided and caused it to happen.

    Furthermore, if God has so decreed that someone who is engaged in birth-control like activities, yet has also determined that they become pregnant, well, no amount of birth-control will stop that.

    If God is so concerned that we trust in Him as Sovereign in the arena of family 'planning', He would have fore-ordained that thought into us.

    He has obviously pre-determined you to have this concern.

    The other Christians who feel no stir of emotion or compunction after reading your treatise, have likewise been fore-ordained with that particular mindset.

    You write:
    ----------
    Is God sovereign and wise enough to open the womb exactly as many times as He feels is right
    ----------
    According to your Calvinist doctrine, He not only is sovereign and wise enough to do it, He will do it if He has fore-ordained it, no matter what the circumstances are, use of birth-control or not.

    Furthermore, there is no one biblical injunction against birth-control that you can point to. If there is such a biblical injunction against such practice, please provide it. I have been wrong on many occasions (you and my wife would figure even more than I would own up to).

    Prov 30:6
    6 Do not add to His words,
    Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.
    NKJV

    I don't think you have, but would you please just come out and say it, that you believe that any and all forms of birthcontrol are sin?

    Antonio

     
  • At 8:55 PM, February 16, 2007, Anonymous Amy Scott said…

    Antonio, This is classic hyper-Calvinism. It's the same thing as saying:

    "If someone [decides to murder someone] first of all, it was so fore-ordained by God, whereby He 'decided and caused it to happen.' The people who are engaged in such activities as [murder] have no ultimate control over their actions, as they were pre-determined by God, as He has decided and caused it to happen."

    Why repent if God is to blame for our sin? (!!!) Historically, the Church has embraced both God's sovereignty and man's responsibility; the Bible teaches both. Jonathan Edwards' Treatise of the Will is helpful commentary on the subject.

    Grace and peace,

     
  • At 11:09 PM, February 16, 2007, Blogger Daniel said…

    Antonio! Thanks for stopping in, bud.

    Perhaps the reason you misunderstand Calvinism is because you have never understood how God can be absolutely sovereign without compromising a man's free will?

    Did God not give Noah and his descendants a command to fill the earth with their children? Are we not Noah's descendants? Do we have a verse, passage or teaching from scripture that shows us that God's command in this matter is no longer in effect? I should like to see it.

    For myself, I cannot see how we can obey this command while practicing birth control, so to answer your question, yes, I am against all forms of birth control.

    Isn't it still God who opens and closes the womb, or was that just before science?

    Can't we take God's mantle upon ourselves now that we have the technology to do so?

    That strikes me as the same sort of presumptuous sin that seduced Uzziah into trying to offer insense in the temple even though he was not a priest. He transgressed because he took upon himself an office that was not given to him. Do we dare stand in the office of God and wipe our mouths saying we have not sinned?

    What was Jacob's reply to Rachel when she cried to him for children? He answered her with a question, "Am I in the place of God who has witheld from you the fruit of the womb?" It is God's place to open and close the womb, and not man's. I don't recall God turning over this place to men, and to usurp that place would be sinful, and I would have even though it would be obviously sinful.

    So of course I am against all forms of birth control - though I recognize that morally speaking the forms of birth control that rely upon killing the egg (either directly or indirectly) affect not only the parent and God, but also the child whose life has been snuffed out.

    Dan

     
  • At 11:13 PM, February 16, 2007, Blogger Daniel said…

    Amy! Jonathan Edwards' Treatise of the Will is indeed a helpful commentary on the subject.

    I wish I had struggled with this doctrine a bit more, for if I had, I suspect I would be much better at describing it now.

     
  • At 1:12 AM, February 17, 2007, Blogger Bryan said…

    Daniel, haven't we had this theological discussion a few times? I think you ever posted on your blog about it before? Anyways, I know it's one area where you and I disagree. I think that Christian couples should have more kids then most do, but I have no problem with birth control being used.

    Have you read ? I think he sums up the other side very well.

     
  • At 1:13 AM, February 17, 2007, Blogger Bryan said…

    It seems I messed up with the link. It works, just cut out a bit of my message

     
  • At 6:03 AM, February 17, 2007, Anonymous schizo said…

    minor point.
    "the pill" usually combination of progesterone and estrogen prevents ovulation, thats its main action. the embryonicidal action is minimal and unusual.

    major points.
    If abstinence is also advised against in the bible why are you not against it?

    what makes your wifes life more important than the children whom you are preventing from being born..theologically speaking?

    Do you not exercise your reason to understand and apply biblical commands in your life? eg. does your wife remain silent in church
    and not ask any questions but to you? and do you never wear clothes that have more than one type of fabric?

    I am a health professional from India , birth control advice is a regular port of my day to day activities here, because while i believe that god is sovereign and very much in control, i also believe that he would want me to tell a mother of five of whom 3 have grade 3 malnutrition to use birth control so that the remaining two can live. irrespective of her religion.

    Pardon the crudeness of my comments, reg. mrs daniel.

    ciao
    philip

     
  • At 9:18 AM, February 17, 2007, Anonymous Joe said…

    The progress of your thought has been very similar to mine over the past year. This is a tough one! It does make the sovereignty of God extremely practical and personal. Thanks for such a clear and honest articulation of the issues at hand.

     
  • At 9:18 AM, February 17, 2007, Blogger Daniel said…

    Philip, Thanks for your comments

    I agree that the embryonicidal effect (with the pill) is less common, and even though statistically the longer a woman uses the pill the more likely she is to unknowingly experience this "side effect" - and I wouldn't hesitate to say that it is even likely (based on the information we have) that woman may use the pill for years and never once experience this side effect.

    Likewise, if I take a rifle and put my son on the one side of a large field, and I shoot randomly into that field - the likelyhood of any one shot hitting and killing my son is statistically pretty low - but no matter how I love to shoot off my rifle, I wouldn't put my son's life in jeopardy.

    In the same way, there are some women who would never take the pill because of this possibility - that is, women who value life enough to not risk -any- chance of negligenly killing it.

    On the next point - I am against abstinence, except when it is biblically warranted such as when mutually agreed upon in order to devote oneself to prayer.

    You ask, "what makes your wife's life more important than the children whom you are preventing from being born..theologically speaking?"

    I should first make the distinction here between a real living embryo, and an hypothetical pregnancy. According to scripture, killing an unborn babe in the womb bears the same penalty as killing a full grown adult (c.f. Exodus 21:22-25), that is the death of an embryo through intentional negligence is just as damning as any other murder. So in that sense, if there is a real embryo - there is no distinction between my wife's life and the life of the embryo - both lives are equal and the life of the mother is not more valuable than the life of the infant.

    Here is where secular ethics clash with a sovereign God. We may well reason that the life of the mother is more valuable if (for instance) she has other children. Surely, we reason, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

    But acting upon such philosophy is not biblical, and in fact suggests that whatever profession of faith one may assent to with the lips - it doesn't work out to a sovereign God in practice. Either God is in control or God is not in control, there is no inbetween.

    You asked whether I exercise my reason to understand and apply biblical commands in your life? I do. But I am careful to keep in mind that the old man is sold out to sin, and that within me is a desparately wicked heart that is quite practiced at deceit. By that I mean only to point out that one the one hand, when it comes to matters of minimal import, I may well be a reasonably diligent man in applying God's commands to my life. But when a commandment becomes sufficiently contrary to what society and worldly wisdom would have me do - I am often inclined to find some way to do what the world wants me to do, and deep down, what I want me to do, but because on some level I know it is wrong, I will find some biblical rationalization and even through it doesn't fit, my deceitful heart is willing to accept the facade as though it were the genuine article. So I have to be alert against calling a thing godly just because I can misapply a few verses to make it sound biblically acceptable.

    My wife -is- silent when the congregation meet to listen to a speaker - at least in accordance with what Paul was actually suggesting - she doesn't "gab" with the lady beside her the whole time and ignore what is going on.

    The OT restriction regarding wearing clothes made with two types of fabric was a command specific to national Israel, and like many similar commands it was symbolic - signifying the commanded separation of Israel from all other nations. When God grafted all the nations into Israel, that "wall of separation" was torn down, and such laws, having served their purpose, were nullified. So I don't worry about whether my clothing has two fabrics or not - what was pictured in that commandment is no longer required, and the command itself has been done away with in Christ.

    I appreciate the gravity of your situation. Who among us wants to counsel a mother in a way that we are convinced will bring her more harm than good?

    But your example begs the point - is God sovereign or not? God promises to look after feeding and clothing those who seek the kingdom - is that an empty promise? It is easy to have faith when there is no potential for loss isn't it? There are many Christians who would willingly become martyrs (if it could be painless) - but very few amongst these who would risk the well being of someone they love for the sake of their faith. They just can't trust God that far.

    Abraham was willing to put a knife in his son's heart because he trusted God that much. That is what full grown faith looks like.

    The worldly thing to do is to pretend there is no God, and give counsel accordingly. Dear mother, since God cannot help you, you must take birth control or things will get worse. That is the counsel that humanist applauds, and even calls "godly counsel" - but it is not godly, it is humanism.

    That isn't meant as a rebuke, rather it is how I understand the issue. Either I trust God or I do not trust God. I have promises from God, am I willing not only to say that God will not come through, but to act as if there were no God because I am convinced that God wants me to be as independant and autocratic as possible?

    For me this is a place where faith is not easy. I don't imagine that you have come to your own position lightly, but I personally couldn't give the counsel you suggest to anyone.

    I don't say that lightly either. Surely the secular humanist in me says - Daniel, those other malnurished children will surely die with the advice you give - how can you be so cold??!? - but the spirit of God in me says, that with Him, all things are possible, and having manifold promises I have a greater hope I would with birth control.

    I didn't find your remarks crude btw. This is one of those topics where very few people hold their opinions lightly - and speaking directly is probably the best way to talk about it.

     
  • At 9:28 AM, February 17, 2007, Blogger Daniel said…

    Bryan - thanks for the link. I think Piper sums up the standard argument from silence well enough. He soundly dismisses some of the silly reasons people are against birth control, but his major premise is basically, "if we can interfere, we are "right" if we do" - and for myself at least - that is a very weak argument, though Piper dresses it up nice.

    If that premise were convincing, I am certain that Piper would have convinced me.

    The link worked fine for me btw.

     
  • At 9:30 AM, February 17, 2007, Blogger Daniel said…

    Joe - it is indeed tough. As I said with Philip, anyone can have faith when it is easy - but when our faith puts something we love in a vice, it shows what kind of faith we have.

     
  • At 5:19 PM, February 17, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am always surprised to see this argument only going in one direction.

    God has given us the ability to create and use technology. Should we use radio to send a message of Christian love and encouragement to those behind the borders of certain countries? Yes, we should use the technology we have to spread the Gospel.

    In the same way, why are we talking about birth control? (I know, because Daniel is struggling with this, but bear with me). Why don't we use technology to fulfill the command to fill the earth? We have the technology today for each couple to have many, many children. If we're to argue on the one hand about the use of technology in a negative fashion, isn't part of the argument to justify why we're not using technology to increase the number of children we have?

     
  • At 6:57 PM, February 17, 2007, Blogger Daniel said…

    Anonymous - while in vitro fertilisation is likely too cost prohibitive to make a serious case for, the idea is worth examining, if for no other reason than because when we address the question about whether God's instruction is to procreate as fast as technologically possible, or just to procreate according to the natural ability He supplies, it forces us to consider what we are trying to obey, are we looking for God's motive, then trying to obey God as filtered through our interpretation of God's motive (God wants the world populated, therefore we must use whatever means possible to do so as fast as possible... vs. God wants us to procreate because scripture everywhere demonstrates that through our progeny God plans to bless us... etc..)

    This will take a few more comments to get through. My kids want to watch a movie on the computer, so I have to end this here - but I hope you stick around and see where this goes - this is certainly an excellent angle to look at this from, and I hope it will be fruitful.

     
  • At 10:01 PM, February 17, 2007, Blogger Jess said…

    What an interesting and insightful treatment of this topic... we've discussed this over at my blog before too, but not nearly to this degree. What I keep coming back to, Daniel, is that there are myriad number of scriptures any of us can point to where children are seen as a blessing and desirable, but I am (still) not aware of any scriptures at all that talk about limiting reproductive capabilities or abstaining in marriage or any such thing as a good example. We don't see any such endorsement in the Word.

    I'd be interested, honestly, to hear if anyone can point to scriptures that hold up not having children (within the marriage relationship) as a good thing.

    Blessings,
    Jess

     
  • At 4:52 PM, February 18, 2007, Blogger Antonio said…

    Dan,

    Is it a sin and is it a against what you would call a biblical mandate/commandment to Noah and (all of) his descendents, that a man or a woman abstain from marriage, who is indeed able to be married and able to have children?

    They would in essence be disregarding the Biblical mandate you claim is universally applicable. They would be violating the commandment to "
    be fruitful and multiply".

    Are they not allowing God to be sovereign as well?


    Read this link for one who does not believe that all reasons why to not have children are sin.

    http://www.bible.org/qa.php?topic_id=20&qa_id=485

    The above is another perspective from Bible.org.

    Antonio

     
  • At 7:17 PM, February 18, 2007, Blogger Daniel said…

    Jess, you raise an oft overlooked point that I don't think any of us are wise to soberly dismiss.

    Thanks for joining in.

     
  • At 7:26 PM, February 18, 2007, Blogger Daniel said…

    Antonio, your point is mostly moot if you stop and think about it...

    For the sake of argument, let us say that God didn't give any such instruction to Noah whatsoever.

    Now we ask the same question - given that those who are joined in the marriage union are instructed not to abstain from natural sexual relations - is it our right to interfere in the process of procreation simply because we know how it all works?

    The issue doesn't stand or fall depending upon whether God's command to Noah is binding upon us. Rather the issue begins and ends with the question - just because we can interfere with the birth of our children, does that give us the right to do so. If God opens and closes the womb, and if scripture describes this prerogative as "God's place" - then are we fit or authorized to stand in God's place?

    This isn't really an issue that has any application amongst unwed singles, it is a question of privilege and rights - do we take upon our selves the management of life as though it were given us by God when scripture records no such transfer?

     
  • At 1:45 PM, February 19, 2007, Blogger Jim said…

    Daniel,

    Well done on this highly sensitive subject. As a father of seven children, my wife and I have had to confront our fears each time she has become pregnant. However, the joy these children bring has far outweighed the cost of having them.

    Oh to be free of the "contemporary christian" mindset in relationship to family, finances, and daily living. There is a better way, and obedience to God's commands truly do produce lasting rewards.

    As with all practical issues however, we must not simply do things in a legalistic manner, but in faith and surrender cast ourselves upon the Lord's grace knowing His exceeding great mercy towards us.

     
  • At 1:52 PM, February 19, 2007, Blogger SolaMeanie said…

    Just the glimpse of those scissors ought to give a man the heebie-jeebies! (shudder)

    I think our position on this ought to be from Scripture, and I see nowhere in Scripture where birth control is advocated. I don't want to be a legalist on this, but if you look at the impact birth control has had on Western civilization, it ought to tell us something.

     
  • At 2:40 PM, February 19, 2007, Blogger Daniel said…

    Joel, I agree that our position ought to be from scripture.

    We all can agree that [1] we have been designed by God to procreate, and [2] we all agree, at the very least, that at one point in time (at least) we were instructed by God to procreate, and [3] that (unless we intentionally interfere with God's obvious design) we will procreate by default (barring any unfortunate accidents or abnormalities).

    If we are designed by God to have children, and if that is exactly what happens when we do not interfere - this suggests that in creation at least we have witness to the will of God on this matter.

    Scripture only not only echoes this sentiment, but demonstrates that God and God alone has authority to open and close the womb - nor do we read anywhere God relinquishing this same authority to mankind.

    It strikes me as noteworthy, that the best "biblical" argument for birth control turns to the text of Genesis 1:28, where it reminds us that God gave told Adam to subdue the earth and to have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on earth. They point to this verse and say, "See! God has given us rule over creation, and as such we can decide when we should have children." However, they skip over the first part of this verse to try and make that point: "And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."" - that is, they piggy-back their claim that we can choose not to populate the earth upon the same utterance whereby God gave command to populate the earth.

    Funny that.

    The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the way to approach this is not to ask, "Can I find a loop hole that allows me to practice birth control?" but rather, "upon what authority to I usurp God's place in opening and closing the womb?"

     
  • At 3:10 PM, February 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    As a homeschooling mom of six, I would like to answer openly from someone who stands on the other side. My dh and I will not be having anymore children. Why? You ask? Well, we will just say that permanent surgery has been done. As I look back on all of it now, I see where our eyes where not totally fixed on Christ. (My dh will totally agree with me here.) . Sure, we paralelled our reasons with statements such as,"we have enough now, how can we possibly give each one enough attention, will I be spent emotionally as their main caregiver?." All of these questions seemed legit when we made them. We now look back and wonder what if we had one more? I cannot lie and tell you that sometimes I am glad we are not having anymore. It is the selfishness in me and my failure to totally rely on God and His provisions.
    Thanks for the article.

     
  • At 3:20 PM, February 19, 2007, Blogger Daniel said…

    Thanks for the commment anonymous.

    My wife and I are homeschoolers as well, and that is another consideration that many familiess won't have to deal with - the can I teach homeschool this year if I am sicker than a dog for more than three months? My wife has been notoriously sick through all but one of her four pregnancies - and the thought of trying to carry on homeschooling ... let's just say that the flesh is definitely pro birth control...

    Thanks again for your perspective.

     
  • At 6:08 PM, February 19, 2007, Blogger Antonio said…

    So Daniel,

    there really is no absolute, universal, biblical mandate, right? You are the one who started off this post with Genesis 9 as a "command". Now, in light of a question, you diminish your biblical basis for a more philosophical stance.

    Is or is not the text you refer to in Genesis 9 a universally applicable command or not? If it is, then it would behoove all God's people to get married and start pro-creating.

    We know that although it is a good thing to be married, both Paul and Jesus talk about those who would devote more of their time to the Lord.

    It wouldn't be to hard to construct a syllogism to show that the text in Genesis 9 could not possibly be universal and to all, in light of Paul and Jesus' teaching about marriage.

    You now wish to bring it into a philosophical realm.

    Let me pose a question to you:

    Let me stipulate, for the sake of argument, that God is the "sovereign" closer and opener of wombs and we ought to let Him be in control.

    Does not God often use means to accomplish His will? How could He keep a womb closed? He could have an accident happen to the man, he could become impotent. There would be dozens of conceivable scenarios how God could close the womb.

    Could God call a man and his wife to a mission field where they could not have children (let us say that the country they wish to go to did not have a Christian witness, and they could not get visas if they were to bring any children), and thus, by the use of the means of this couple's calling, the man decides to get a vasectomy.

    I could multiply the scenarios. God uses means to accomplish His will. Could He not make it clear to a couple that, although they could have children, that He would rather that they did not, in order that they could, as a team, be more usefully consecrated unto Himself for the work of His ministry?

    Could that not be one of the means by which God would see to it that a "womb" would be "closed"?

    Furthermore, let us take this philosophical excursion a bit further.

    Is not God sovereign over all flesh and life?

    Your argument could work as well with the use of operations, the taking of medecine, and other medical practices.

    Back in the days of the Old Testament, men and women would die if God did not intercede and heal. At that time we could chalk it up that He is the "sovereign" and He wished the "premature" (in the eyes of the humankind) death of the individuals.

    What gives us the right to use technology to save a life that God may have determined to pass on?

    God gives life and God takes life away.

    As you have put it:

    "are we fit or authorized to stand in God's place"?

    Antonio

     
  • At 8:52 PM, February 19, 2007, Blogger Daniel said…

    Antonio, God commanded Israel to keep the Sabbath. We agree about that right? I mean, any Israelite who blatantly disregarded the Sabbath (say, by gathering wood on the Sabbath for instance?) could be stoned to death. We would agree that this was the standard interpretation of the law I think.

    We also know that God commanded all male born children of Israel to be circumcized on the eighth day, and it would be a transgression of that law to purposely circumcize a male child on another day. I think understanding is common to us.

    You see where I am going I hope.

    In order to keep the law of circumcision, the law of the Sabbath was "broken". God understood that through righteous judgment these two commandments could be harmonized - that is, the righteous judge would understand that the law of circumcision doesn't transcend the law of the Sabbath. Only someone who didn't really understand righteousness would imagine that the law of the Sabbath was being broken by keeping God's command.

    In the same way God gave instruction to Noah and his descendants (us) to fill the world with their (our) progeny. Given that God designed our bodies to do exactly this; and given that unless we intentionally and artificially circumvent God's design, we will fulfill God's instructions to Noah - we are called to judge such things righteously (c.f. John 7:24), and so I reject the notion that I am making some argument from philosophy. Themes like God's design and the mechanics of creation are called (in theological terms) "general revelation" and shouldn't be confused with philosophy.

    If we are to understand the command given to Noah - in order to avoid over-interpreting, or under-interpreting it - we should consider how Noah and his sons received God's command. When they heard God's instructions they did not begin an intentional, mono-focused breeding program. Instead they quietly submitted themselves to God's instructions and relied upon God to bring about his design through the means God had already provided.

    If they acted in accordance with God's design shouldn't we understand God's instruction in the same way they did?

    Look, I am not suggesting that because God gave Noah instructions about populating the world that we are bound by it to act in some unnatural way - quite the opposite, I am suggesting that we respond to God's command in the exact same way Noah and his son's did - by receiving it from God's hand, and performing it with the ability God grants.

    Clearly our modern technologies allow us to simply, conveniently, and even whimsically thwart the way God designed our bodies to act - I do not believe that we are justified in thwarting our design.

    With regards to your mission field question, had the apostle Paul acted like the would-be missionaries in your example, he would never have made it to Macedonia - but would have walked through the first door the Lord closed in his face. That is to say, your example painted a good picture of two missionaries who refused to wait on the Lord, but convinced of their mission, took matters into their own hands when God didn't provide what they wanted.

    With regards to Surgery, medicine, and whatever healthcare we find readily available to us - I believe that it is available in accordance with God's mercy and grace.

    If God gives us grace to save a life, whether through circumstance or medical intervention - we are not by-passing God's will by making use of the grace he has provided.

    When we find ourselves with imbued with power to intervene against some effect of the fall - be it to prevent death, or suffering - we must reason that God has (in His grace) provided these means. If by these means a life is saved - we do not imagine we are thwarting God's. If a situation comes where there is no means of grace to save a life, that would be an indication that God is taking that life away, and if there is a means to preserve a life - that should indicate that God has provided a way to give life. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away indeed!

    Dan

     
  • At 5:07 PM, February 23, 2007, Anonymous Libbie said…

    This most certainly is a challenging subject, Daniel, and thankyou for tackling it. I was planning on having a go myself, as we are wrestling with the same sort of situation.

    I will be honest and admit the thought of yet another pregnancy the like of which I have just endured terrifies me. Arguments about affording children, 'ministry' opportunities, time management etc. never made much of an impression on me. We were always quite happy to have as many children as we were given. In fact, should the Lord sovereignly close my womb tommorrow, we shall be quite content to adopt more to make up the numbers.

    But my dear husband finds himself in a difficult position. He watched me suffering, and continues to see it everyday. We both lived with huge concern over the drugs that I took in pregnancy, and the potential for harm to our unborn child they held. In fact I held off taking them for as long as I could for that reason. Pregnancy has, quite literally, crippled me.

    Now, don't get me wrong - as we put all four to bed this evening, I absolutely do not regret a minute of my sufferings. Despite my fears I know that the Lord sustained me through every agonizing second, and the daily reminders of His care are priceless to me. Even now, as I wrestle with a bit of PND, and look at my crutches propped by the computer, I know that this is totally in His plan, and I do trust Him.

    But we do need to deal with the fact that should we conceive again, we know exactly what awaits us, and there are significant risks to our child that any responsible parent has to take seriously. My husband has no desire to cause me pain - even though the Lord may well use my pain to refine me.

    The simple answer is to abstain, but as you rightly highlight, there is no longterm provision for that in scripture. We have been considering permanent options, but we've also been looking at NFP.

    We haven't come to any firm decisions - there is a large part of us that knows it wouldn't be wise to to make any kind of permanent choices at this stage of the situation, bleary-eyed from nightfeeds with a small baby. But this topic is far from straight-foward, and I do thank you for a post that approached the topic with more gentleness than a simple 'The only reason to avoid having more children is selfishness' kind of post, which I have read many of in the past few weeks.

    Libbie (intensely frustrated at google!!!!)

     
  • At 7:51 AM, February 26, 2007, Blogger Rose~ said…

    Hi Daniel,
    God bless you for posting this, as Libbie said, in a thoughtful way.

    Here are some disjointed thoughts on your topic:
    I am firmly against abortion. I am not against certain methods of birth control. I understand your thoughts in this post. I like the question that anonymous asked about the reverse ... why aren't Christians compelled to do whatever it takes to produce more children? My answer to that is that I want to do a decent job of raising the ones I have. I feel that if I have any other blessings, my mind will start to drop off little by little and then my children will have to visit me once a week for their hugs and kisses. I really like the smell of downy. What's that noise?

     
  • At 9:30 AM, February 26, 2007, Blogger Daniel said…

    Rose, I liked the argument that anonymous suggested because it draws out how my point is not that we should not practice birth control - that would be just an application of the point - the point is really larger - that we have no mandate or authority to artificially interfere with God's plan for our lives, whether that be to reduce the number of children we raise, or to increase it. The same argument would apply - we have been given a biological ability to reproduce, and given the impetus to do so in scripture - and if we don't interfere (on the one side or the other) we will be blessed in exact accord with the Lord's intention.

    I like the smell of downy too - it reminds me of babies.

     
  • At 1:12 PM, March 05, 2007, Blogger Ruth said…

    Hi! I'm so glad I found your site -

    I would love to hear parts 2 and 3 on this topic - ! Maybe there is a 4th as well :)

    Given the experience of myself and my close family and friends, there are two general areas of practicality that always come to mind when I consider this. I am the mommy of 5 and this subject passively affects my life every day.

    The first area is the couple that does not see eye to eye, and therefore are not on the same page in responding to the inborn challenges or even the values associated with lifestyle choices. Outside of intimacy, the ripples reach far, as I'm sure you know. Inside of intimacy, I have known a number of women whose hearts were wrung out between their husband's expectation to use birth control and their own conviction to step out in faith and trust their future fertility to God.

    I also think of the implied challenge to a person's faith. I fit in here. Your own situation that you shared fits in here. In working towards a logical conclusion, I have always ended up considering Job and his desire for an answer about suffering from God, and not receiving it. It seems to me that God holds his sovereignty untouchable above our minor comforts, yes, but also above our very lives and those of the ones we love. You hinted at this challenge when you mentioned the faith of a willing martyr.

    The question I have is: How does the balance of faith vs. fear, freedom vs. legality, relationship vs. bitter obedience factor in with our choices in this matter? What comes to mind is the directions Paul gave in Corinthians concerning donating monetary gifts to the church in Jerusalem - to pray and discern individually and to give only what they could give with a generous heart. It seems that there are many passages that indicate that God does not want a faith-based action that is given in a stingy way. I also think of Paul's passages about freedom, how we are free in Christ, that all is legal but not all is benficial.

    I know I've spread the subject out quite a bit, but I think it is so very relevant because of the practical, daily choices a couple must make while still in the process of growing into the full faith we are called to.

    Blessings-
    Ruth

     
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