My email@example.com mailbox sometimes presents me with a challenge that causes me to lose a little sleep before I can answer. This is one of those occasions. While I get a lot of questions that prick my heart, I can usually enter into some empathy with the questioner. In this case… pretending I know what this questioner feels like would be untrue and insulting.
There are many instances in Scripture, Old and New Testament, that refer to the idea of God closing or opening a womb to allow or disallow pregnancy. I am a Christian with an above-average quality marriage who serves God alongside her husband at a strong para-church ministry. We’ve been trying to conceive a child for 7+ years now and have been completely unsuccessful. I am not upset with God about this as I have seen His hand in many ways through the process, though have heartily mourned at times. My current Theology is struggling with harmonizing the loving God that tells us to “be fruitful and multiply” and the womb-closing God. Is this something you believe is still the case? I do understand that there is much more going on in this situation than a simple “well, God doesn’t want us to have a baby…”
I saw a young couple at our prayer time last night. They had come in over a year ago for a prayer of blessing by the elders. For those who don’t know — our elders have a prayer and blessing time every Wednesday night. People call the office and request a time with them so that they can receive intensive, focused prayer. This young couple is one of my favorites at Rochester. They are good looking, faithful, loving, and fun… but they were childless after years of trying. After the prayers, they decided to try some medical help in conceiving and were successful. They now have a wonderful little baby boy and the whole church rejoiced with them.
For others… there hasn’t been such a happy result. What is going on? And… what are we allowed to do about it?
Let me mark out my territory first: I am passionate about freedom in Christ. That means I do not look for arcane, hidden laws nor do I equate our conclusions about hints placed here and there in scripture with Doctrine. This puts me at odds with a great many of my friends when it comes to God’s laws on conception or contraception.
Is sexual activity between husband and wife only for the purposes of procreation? Sorry, but the Bible absolutely is silent on that. Yes, the Catholic Church and a great many others have woven a beautiful and complete tapestry that would say otherwise… but the Bible never says that sex is only for making babies.
Several couples in our congregation believe that you should “take any child that God gives you” and, therefore, refuse to practice any form of contraception including the rhythm method. These couple have, of course, quite a few children. They live what they say they believe. In fact, I can honestly say that these couples are about my favorite people. They are dedicated, smart, full of Jesus, and involved in ministry. Still, I disagree with them about this one issue. I think that God gave us a variety of sexual organs, chief among which is the brain. We are to use the brain as well as the other bits and pieces (what we Scots like to call “the wedding tackle”).
Of course, it’s not that simple. If you believe that life begins at fertilization, you can’t practice any form of contraception except for the rhythm method or abstinence. If you believe that life begins at implantation, you can use most forms of contraception but not all. If, however, you believe that sperm and eggs are there to be used, please consider that the brain is there to be used, too.
But I could be wrong. Dead wrong. I know that. I just strongly feel that where there is no law, there is no sin. If God was not plain about an issue, then it is not to be considered Doctrine For All Times.
But what about those who want a child but are unable to conceive? Are they being cursed — or ignored — by God? There are many instances in scripture where God used opening and closing of wombs as a way to bless or curse. The worst curse that could fall on a person was to be “cut off” or left without descendants. Hundreds of long books have been written about this and fleshing this concept out in one blog is impossible — so we will probably have a couple follow up blogs on this issue, ok?
God is absolutely sovereign and He can place a child inside anyone He wants to anytime He wants to. I think we all agree on that. However, is His decision NOT to place a child in a womb a curse upon that person? In some Old Testament stories… yes. Is His decision to place a child in a womb a conscious decision by God to bless that person? In some Old Testament stories… yes. So think how painful it is for a faithful, loving Christian man and woman to want a child so very much — so much that they physically ache to hold their own child — and yet not be given that child. There are no words for that kind of pain; a pain that is encircled by waves of confusion, anger, loss, and the deep, abiding fear that God has turned away His face.
Call me too picky, but when I read those Old Testament stories I see a different motif at work. I see God deciding to bless or curse these individuals and using the opening or closing of the womb as His method. However — and this is key — there is no need to assume that great fertility or absolute barrenness is, by itself, evidence of God’s verdict on a family. In some families in some situations, God used that way to bless people but in many, many other times and places He used security, food, joy, jobs, victory in battle, etc. as His way to show His approval. Sometimes He used a closed womb as a punishment but He most often used other forms of punishment. We have no right to assume that fertility or barrenness reveals a judgment of God on anyone, including ourselves.
In any other medical/physical quandary, we turn to outside help from experts. Are we allowed to go to fertility clinics to gain a child when we cannot conceive normally? Again, it depends upon when you think that life begins. In Jewish law — including that of the Old Testament — a fetus was considered a person when it moved in the womb. While life may begin at fertilization or implantation, when does personhood begin? To the Jews, it was, again, when the baby moved. That is why that the penalty for striking a pregnant woman so that the child in her died was not the same as for murder. Like it or not (and I know my in box will overflow from those who don’t like it), the Levitical law treated the fetus differently than it did a person.
If you are with me on this, then fertilizing several eggs in an attempt to get one of them to work is not a huge ethical issue. If you aren’t with me, then it is murder.
I am fiercely opposed to abortion for many reasons, but I do not have to consider a fertilized egg to be an ensouled person to consider killing an innocent living being wrong. The issue that medical ethicists and theologians are wrestling with is NOT when life occurs but when does ensoulment or personhood begin. That is an entirely different question and one that is not plainly answered in scripture; though the Jews who knew God best interpreted it as beginning later than do many American Christians today.
Because of my beliefs on this issue, I have no problem counseling couples to seek medical help to conceive. I also assure them that their difficulty in conceiving is not a sign of God’s disapproval; it is a sign that we live in a broken land with broken bodies. In the same way, I do not take my difficulty in breathing to be a sign that God doesn’t want me to breathe. I get medical help and adjust my life so that I can get what didn’t come to me naturally. Doing this is not frustrating the will of God but obeying it! It is part and parcel of gaining mastery over our physical universe — subduing the earth, if you will. (remember, there were sermons preached against the car because if God had wanted us to move that fast, He would have made us able to do so on our own…)
I assume there will be further questions, disagreements, and comments coming in. Let me know what I need to address and we’ll take it from there.