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prophecy

February 01, 2007

Last week I posted a couple of articles dealing with auto-eroticism. I believe there was some useful discussion following those and was glad to hear from people who felt that they benefited from them. Since then I have received a couple of questions regarding my views on birth control (from people who, I suppose, feel that I’m sufficiently brave and/or foolhardy to tackle the tough subjects). I thought it might be interesting to discuss that topic as well and will do so in a pair of articles I’ll post today and tomorrow.

The Bible is silent on any explicit discussion of the subject of birth control. Still, Scripture says so much about sexuality and human life that I feel that we can look to God’s Word to guide us towards principles that will prove useful to us as we wrestle with this topic. We will attempt to see what the Bible says about whether or not Christians can use birth control and, if the Bible does permit it, what methods of birth control are acceptable.

When I say that the Bible has no explicit discussion of the subject of birth control I know that some people will raise the story of Onan. Let me say immediately that I feel that the purpose of this story is not to teach that birth control is wrong. The story of Onan, as recounted in Genesis 38, goes like this: “Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother.” God killed Onan for his disobedience. But God did not kill him because he used coitus interruptus as a method of birth control, but because he refused to fulfill his duty towards his brother and his brother’s family. He made a mockery of the commands of God and did so in outright mockery of the Lord. While this story may not be absolutely irrelevant to our discussion, it is certainly not the place to being a theology of birth control.

So let’s move on. From what the Bible teaches on related topics, we learn that two methods of birth control are clearly forbidden by Scripture:

Abstinence is forbidden - The Bible tells us that spouses are to have sexual relations regularly and are not to deprive each other. The only exception is given by the Apostle Paul who says that we may abstain for a short time in order to devote ourselves to prayer. “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). But as a rule, abstinence within marriage is wrong. Abstinence is not to be used as a method of birth control. It seems to be part of God’s plan for sexuality that there is always the possibility that a woman may become pregnant as long as she is physically able to bear children.

Abortion is forbidden - The Bible places great value on human life. Time and again Scripture affirms that we are to treasure and protect life. And hence we cannot destroy life as a method of birth control. I will have more to say about this in our next article.

There are other principles that can guide us as we consider this issue.

Be fruitful and multiply - We were created by God and as one of our primary roles told to “be fruitful and multiply.” It is our duty as humans to procreate and our special duty as Christian parents to attempt to fill the earth with people who know and love the Lord. So God expects and demands that we have at least some children and raise families for His glory.

Children are a blessing - The Bible is clear that we are to regard children as a blessing and not as a burden. Psalm 127 says “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.” Where our culture too often sees children as a financial, emotional and psychological burden, the Bible tells us that they are a blessing and a reward. We should seek to experience this gift and this blessing in our lives.

Many children is a great blessing - God created us and as one of our primary roles told us to “be fruitful and multiply.” He gave no conditions. He did not say “multiply up to and including eight children at which point you must stop.” At the same time He did not say “be fruitful and multiply until you have exceeded five children.” So there seem to be no hard and fast rules about how many children are appropriate in God’s eyes. We do hear hints, though, that God approves of large families and that many children represent a special blessing. For example, Psalm 127 says “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.” Not too many people would enter a battle with a quiver “full” of only one or two arrows.

God will provide - God tells us time and again throughout Scripture that He will provide for us. When we faithfully follow Him, He promises that He will provide for all our needs. We are to have confidence that no matter how impossible our needs may seem, He will provide. Thus a family with fifteen children can have the same confidence as a family with one child that God will provide for physical and financial needs.

No God-given birth control - God has not given humans the innate ability to enjoy sexual relations while absolutely avoiding pregnancy. In other words, when a man and woman have sex there is always the possibility of a pregnancy unless they use some “artificial” method of birth control or one of them is infertile or beyond childbearing years.

God opens the womb - God is absolutely sovereign. He has foreordained every pregnancy that has ever happened and that will ever happen. Whether a woman has one children or fifteen, God has decreed the beginning and end of each pregnancy.

No command to use birth control - Nowhere in the Bible does God command that a couple must or should use birth control at any stage in their marriage.

No explicit command against birth control - Nowhere in the Bible does God explicitly command that a couple must not use birth control.

Freedom - Within the boundaries God has created for us, He gives us great freedom. He allows us to spend much of our lives living within the bounds imposed by conscience based on sanctified reasoning. The question that faces us is whether or not the issue of birth control falls within the bounds of Christian freedom. I will turn to that subject (and others) tomorrow.

January 31, 2007

Being a parent is wonderful. Parenting is filled with moments of joy and happiness and excitement and love. But it’s also filled with moments of almost overwhelming frustration. We’ve had plenty of great times and plenty of awfully frustrating times in the past few weeks. A couple of days ago Aileen and I were talking about the children (our two older children in particular) and I said, “You know, what I find most frustrating is that they seriously think we’re out to get them. They really think that we are always raining on their parades rather than looking out for their best interests.” And sure, there are times that we are acting selfishly, putting our own interests ahead of those of our children. But far more often than not, we are truly interested in protecting them, and most often we need to protect them from themselves—from their own silliness, willfulness or ignorance.

“No, really, pants that end four inches above your ankle look really, really silly!” “No, those are long johns, not pants. You wear them under your pants, not instead of pants!” “You do NOT want to eat that. Trust me!” And so often the response we get is anger or frustration rather than gratitude. If you are a parent you know exactly what I am referring to. Children are constantly doing, saying and attempting things that are going to put them in danger or perhaps even just make them look and feel ridiculous. We are constantly reacting to these things, trying to help them understand what is best for them—what will serve them rather than hurt them, what will be good for them rather than harm them. It is a constant battle to help them understand how to live in this world.

Over the past few days I have been reading the manuscript of a book that will be published later this year. It is a book dealing with relationships between men and women. It is quite atypical as these books go, focusing on complementarity and focusing on the gospel. In reading the book I was struck by how the sin of my children is really so similar to my own and to the sin that has plagued humanity for so many years.

You know the story of Genesis 3 as well as I do. That crafty serpent comes to Eve and says to her:

“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

God, the one who created the world, told Adam and Eve how they were to live in it. They were able to enjoy everything the world had to offer, but for one tree. The whole world was open to them but for this one small thing. But we all know how it happened. Satan convinced Adam and Eve that God was not really looking out for their best interests at all. No, God was being selfish to deny Adam and Eve the fruit from that tree. He was holding them back, keeping them from being like Him, knowing good and evil. And so they rebelled. They did things their way. They lost confidence in God’s benevolence and gobbled down the fruit. But no sooner had they eaten that fruit than they saw that they were naked. Their eyes were opened, the Bible says. Their hearts were shut. The wages of their sin would be death. I can’t help but wonder how long it took after they sank their teeth into the fruit that they saw some innocent little creature be pounced on and devoured before their eyes. How long before they saw blood flow and began to witness the carnage they had unleashed?

Since that day we have all rebelled against authority. We no longer believe in the benevolence of those who lead us. Children naturally assume that their parents are out to get them. Wives believe that their husbands are looking out for their own interests above anyone else’s. Citizens assume that governments are shortchanging us. And all of us believe that God is being less than forthcoming, less than loving. We believe that God is giving us something less than what is best. We react to his loving commands with groans and grumbles and frustration.

The frustration I feel with my children when they rebel against my concern and my love for them, must be only the faintest shadow of the frustration God feels towards me. They rebel against me in small ways while I rebel against Him in ways that are so much bigger and so much more significant. The sin of my children has given me opportunity to reflect on the state of my own heart and to repent of my sin of rebellion against God’s authority. Parenting is sometimes a delight and sometimes a frustration, but always an opportunity to learn and to grow. I’m grateful that God let me learn this lesson.

December 26, 2006

I’ve often wondered if children in school continue to read Huckleberry Finn. It is a truly great story by a master storyteller and is a book I enjoyed a great deal when we read it in the eighth grade. I can still remember my teacher, who also happened to be the school’s principal, reading the story aloud to us and helping us understand it. While it is a great story, it is also one that has a certain word appear many times. It’s that word that has only recently, I believe, come to be known as the “n-word.” Just uttering that word these days is enough to end careers and destroy friendships. And yet, even a few decades ago, it was considered acceptable in a story. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Huckleberry Finn is no longer read in schools simply because of that word.

Words come and go. There are thousands of words that have fallen out of use or have had their meanings changed as time has passed and the language has evolved. And, of course, many thousands more have been introduced into the language, some coined to express something very specific (i.e., “metrosexual”) and some to describe a new object or technology. Sometimes it is good for words to pass out of common use, and the “n-word” is one of these words. Hurtful, derogatory and laden with bad memories, there is no benefit to maintaining this word. But there are other words that we need to maintain, we need to keep in our common lexicon.

One of these words, a word we need to hold onto, is “sin.” This word is found only rarely now outside the bounds of the church, and sadly, almost as rarely within. In the past few weeks I’ve read several books which speak of errors, mistakes and bad judgment, but never of sin. All of these books are written by and about Christians. In his autobiography, Shawn Alexander writes about making many mistakes in his life, but never of committing sin. When writing about Joel Osteen, his biographer admits mistakes in Osteen’s life, but never charges him with sin. Dr. Phil’s wife, Robin McGraw, has done many dumb things, but to the point of the book I’ve read, has not sinned. And so on. Humans seem eager to admit mistakes and error, but loathe to admit sin.

There is something about this word, this little “s-word,” that offends people. We are not offended by mistakes. We are offended by sin. The problem is that sin and mistakes are not the same thing.

I’ve thought about this for a while now and it seems to me that the reason we are afraid to admit sin lies in its definition. Where a mistake is something like “a wrong action attributable to bad judgment or ignorance or inattention”, according to the Shorter Catechism, “sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Mistakes are inevitable in this life and, while they may be a product of the Fall, they are not necessarily sinful. I may make a mistake about the time I am to pick my son up from school and arrive fifteen minutes late. This is not sinful, but it is a mistake. I have made a mistake and my son has suffered just a little bit as he had to wait a few minutes. And so I apologize to my son and the situation is over. But when I sin against my son, perhaps by snapping at him when he is inquisitive and I am tired and grumpy, I have not made a mistake; I have sinned. I have offended both my son and God. I have offended my son but have ultimately offended God. David says in Psalm 51:4 “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Of course David had also sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah and the whole nation of Israel. And yet he knew that his ultimate sin was against God.

And so it seems that we are afraid to admit sin because it requires that we admit we have offended God. And when we admit to offending God, we admit that we are deserving of His punishment. We are deserving of His wrath. We are deserving of hell. And who wants to admit this? To admit to this is to go against our sinful natures and all that we believe about ourselves.

When we refuse to utter the “s-word,” and worse, when we refuse to view ourselves as sinners, we refuse to admit our need of a Savior. We tacitly suggest that we can remedy our own mistakes rather than relying on the Savior who has paid for sin.