What was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.
Gregory K. Laughlinsaid…
I assume Erich can and will provide a better answer than I can, but here is my response:
God’s Word tells us clearly that children are blessings from Him (see, for example, the many times that God blesses someone or a group of people with a blessing to be fruitful and multiply — Genesis 1:28, Gen. 9:1, Gen. 17:6, Gen. 17:20, Gen. 35:11, Gen. 48:4, Leviticus 26:9, Psalm 105:24, Jeremiah 23:3, Ezekiel 36:11), that the man who has many children is particularly blessed of God (see, for example, Psalms 127 and 128 and 1 Chronicles 25:5) and that God gave us marriage because He is seeking Godly offspring (Malachi 2:15).
Why do married couples use artificial birth control or engage in completed sexual acts other than coitus with the intent to avoid pregnancy? Absent some serious and unusual situation (for example, a medically diagnoses that pregnancy poses a grave risk to the wife’s life), isn’t it because we reject God’s word that children are a blessing from Him? Don’t we use artificial contraception in the vast majority of cases because we disbelieve His word that children are a blessing or that more children are a blessing? And in doing so, don’t we deny God the Godly offspring for which He gives us marriage?
John Chrysostom said it best when preaching against contraception, “What then? Do you contemn the gift of God [children], and fight with his laws? What is a curse [infertility], do you seek as though it were a blessing?” Artificial contraception is a sin because it is the means by which we reject the potential of God’s blessings and show our contempt for this particular gift from Him.
This was a teaching that was accepted universally among orthodox Christians until the last century. The Catholic Church taught it (and still does); the Orthodox Church taught it (and many Orthodox pastors still do); Luther and the churches named for him taught it until well into the 20th century; Anglicans taught it and did until 1930; Calvin taught it and Reformed and Presbyterian churches taught it until well into the 20th century; Baptist taught it; Methodists taught it; etc. (See, for example, Allan Carlson’s “Godly Seed”, David Kennedy’s “Birth Control in America” and Kathleen Tobin’s “The American Religious Debate over Birth Control, 1907–1937″.)
I will not address “hard cases”. I believe that there are hard cases. But I also believe that such cases represent a very small percentage of circumstances under which couples use contraception. If we are honest, those of us who have used contraception (and my wife and I did until we studied the issue and repented) do so because we reject God’s word that children are a blessing from Him and that many children are a particular sign of His favor and blessing. Contraception is the means by which we reject what His word says repeatedly and unequivocally are His blessings. It is, I believe, an act of cruelty to those who have hard cases to use their unfortunate circumstances to justify our acts when we do not have such circumstances.
I don’t know your circumstances and so pass no judgment on your actions…
That’s a pretty good summary of the case against contraception from a Christian perspective. But the main thing that got me thinking was the quote from Malachi, which I post here:
13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
Why does God reject the offerings of His people according to Malachi? Because they divorced the wives of their youth. He calls this “faithlessness.” “For the man who does not love his wife…covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts.” It is a great offense to the Lord, then, when men don’ t love their wives.
It seems that this theme returns in the New Testament, not only when Jesus forbids divorce, but also in 1 Peter:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
The Israelites’ offerings were not accepted because of their unfaithfulness to their wives. Peter says that the prayers of husbands will be hindered if they do not “live with [their] wives in an understanding way” and do not “show honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life.”
Many times I have read this and emphasized that it says that “women are the weaker vessel.” It does say that, and that needs to be said in this time when we have women fighting and dying for men on the battlefield, or getting shot at by criminals, or when we take it for granted that it makes no difference whether a woman or man leads the country–or the household.
But Peter is not saying it in a demeaning way. Don’t we still censure it and find it unacceptable for men to hit women? Why? Because men are generally stronger. If we were consistent we might teach our children what Christians used to teach them; that husbands have a responsibility to provide for and protect and support their wives and children–financially, physically, and emotionally.
But Peter is emphasizing that women, though weaker, are fellow heirs of eternal life with men. The Bible continually has harsh words for people who abuse those who are weaker or in need. God is the defender of widows and orphans in the Old Testament. The Law forbade “putting a stumbling block in front of the blind” or mocking the deaf. It did not permit predatory lending to the poor. It demanded that Israelites who had gone into slavery be released every 50 years.
So weakness is not a cause for shame in Scripture. “When I am weak, then I am strong,” (2 Cor 12); “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, but lifted up the lowly…” (Luke 1) Jesus the Lord is “meek and lowly in heart.” He has come to preach “good news to the poor…the opening of the prison to those who are bound…”
When a husband is not understanding with his wife, his prayers which are supposed to be offered to God like the offering of incense are hindered. Just as God didn’t receive the offerings of the Israelites who were unfaithful to their wives, Christian husbands who are harsh, critical, not understanding, have their prayers hindered.
God wants Christian husbands to love their wives. It is such a serious thing when they don’t that He says “the man who does not love his wife, but divorces her, covers his garment with violence…”
I am frequently critical of my wife and others I am supposed to care for–particularly when I feel that my authority is being attacked or undermined, or that I am being denied the respect I am owed. As with so many things that people get angry about, I’m pretty sure that my feelings of anger are justified. But the thing is that the anger almost always leads into sin; I become critical, irritable, harsh, resentful. Then the resentment leaks out in a generalized hostility toward the world, and those who are closest to me get to experience my general hostility up close.
I am not called to criticize my wife. If my wife or my son or my parishioner sins against me or continually sins against me, am I called to dwell with them in an understanding way or to continually be angry at how my rights are being denied me?
Thus you can cover your garment with violence without actually divorcing your wife or even wanting to. By being harsh, critical, loveless, not understanding–even in part–a husband can spiritually divorce his wife. Or partially divorce her, wounding her and damaging their intimacy.
Why is this so displeasing to God? One answer would be to talk about marriage’s significance as a picture of Christ’s love for the Church. Christ doesn’t complain about His bride’s sins. He dies for her in order to wash her in Baptism and make her radiant, just as Naaman’s skin defects were washed away in the Jordan River water by means of God’s Word.
But a second answer, to come around to the original point, would be that God puts people together in marriage because He desires godly offspring. God eagerly desires to have His people, His Church, His elect be brought into being. The verse from Malachi indicates what Lutherans should already know–the best place to create and form Christians is in the bedroom of a Christian marriage, at the baptismal font, at Sunday School or the parochial school, and at the kitchen table. Yes, make disciples of all nations, but first be fruitful and multiply.
God loves His people. He wants to make those who are in His Church and know His Word fruitful.
This is where I think the sin comes in that has greatly harmed the Church. Since we have been trained to think that the number of children we have is a matter for us to decide–an option; and since we have been trained to think that children are not a blessing from the Lord (even though Scripture says differently in Gen 1, Psalms 127 and 128)–we reject God’s purpose for marriage.
Marriage is for companionship and love. But a deeper kind than we normally want–the two become one flesh. The oneness between a husband and wife is so deep that it involves even the joining of their bodies. Out of this union God creates life through us.
But Christians have been tricked. We think the purpose of marriage is love in a much shallower sense–cupid hearts and being soul mates, etc. But real love is not always pleasurable. Jesus’ passion for His bride did not look like our idea of love at all–it looks like an ugly cross. Just like church life gets ugly and disillusions people, so can marriage. But God’s idea of love is not so superficial. If He loves you, then He is willing to pay a great price to love you–even though one wonders why He would do it. Also the relationships in the Church–between fellow Christians, between pastor and congregation–Christ calls us into His body, He reveals His love to us, which overcomes all of our sins by His death, which continually covers and forgives our sins, on a daily basis. Then He asks us to love one another.
So even though the pastor might feel battered and chewed up, because he has tasted a little of Christ’s unfathomable love toward himself, he sticks with his congregation, even if he feels as if they are mistreating him and rejecting God’s word. These are the people Jesus called him to love, and he did not say, “Love them as long as it doesn’t get too bad for you.” Imagine if Jesus only loved us that much!
Similary a congregation might feel that they have a pastor who is incredibly immature and lacking in the human characteristics they think is necessary to keep them together. But the mature members of the congregation, because they have tasted Christ’s love for them, encourage and teach the others to bear with their pastor and pray for him, since he preaches God’s word faithfully even though he is burdened with many faults and weaknesses. Jesus didn’t say, “Love your pastor as long as he is no burden to you.”
So in a marriage. It is not God’s will that the husband and wife (or the church and congregation, or individual members of the congregation) stay stuck in sinful burdensome behavior; but by patience, faith in Christ, prayer, and love that does not abandon the sinner, God wants to deliver them from their sins and bring about union–love.
In a marriage, impaired intimacy, or shallow intimacy, goes together with unwillingness to have children. Sometimes a husband or wife wants to avoid children because they don’t want the pain–but this also is symptomatic of unwillingness to depend on others or be open to them. If I don’t want more kids because I don’t want to have to pay for them, I reject the intimacy with God which more children would drive me to, because I would have to rely on Him. I reject intimacy with my wife, because I am saying, I’m not willing to trust you either. I don’t want to give up the money or free time that another child would cost. I’m not willing to sacrifice this for another link in the chain that binds us together as one. I’m not willing to give you access to this part of my body–my power to create life in union with another. That part of our union is closed.
But also a failure in intimacy leads to unwillingness to have children. If I do not support and care for my wife with honor and understanding, I attack her confidence in herself and in me; she begins to think, “I can’t have another child–how could I do it?”
The misunderstanding of love that is behind the way American Christians have come to limit their number of children has led to the breakdown in marriage. Instead of spouses seeing their calling as being to allow God and their spouse access to all of them, we see marriage as being a place for our needs to be met. The majority of American marriages fail, presumably because the majority have found that marriage does not lead to satisfaction–that it is a sacrifice–that loving and being open to another person often means we feel let down or robbed. At least sometimes it means that.
God is after a much greater thing in marriage than “finding your soul mate” and being in love until you’re 80. He’s after life. In a sinful world, the intimacy required to sustain life is painful; birth is painful; life itself is painful. If the act of procreation were not exceedingly pleasurable, God would not get what He desires–godly seed.
I’m done with this for now.