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Sweet Sixteen

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Just a couple of days ago World Magazine reported that the Duggar family of Arkansas has celebrated the birth of their sixteenth child, Johannah Faith. The Duggars have become somewhat famous for their procreative abilities and it seems that they make an appearance in the national newspapers each time a new child is born. Jim Bob Duggar, a former state representative who sells real estate and has had an unsuccessful bid for election to the U.S. Senate. He intends to run again in the next election.

World reports that “[t]he Learning Channel is doing another show about the family’s construction project, a 7,000-square foot house that should be finished before Christmas. The home, which the family from the northwest Arkansas town of Rogers has been building for two years, will have nine bathrooms, dormitory-style bedrooms for the girls and boys, a commercial kitchen, four washing machines and four dryers.”

The names and ages of the Duggar’s children, and you’ll notice a pattern with their names, are: Joshua, 17; John David, 15; Janna, 15; Jill, 14; Jessa, 12; Jinger, 11; Joseph, 10; Josiah, 9; Joy-Anna, 8; Jeremiah, 6; Jedidiah, 6; Jason, 5; James, 4; Justin, 2; Jackson Levi, 1;Johannah, newborn.

The last time the Duggar’s had a child I wrote a little article entitled “How Fruitful is Too Fruitful?” I did some research on the family and found that they seem to be a godly (and extremely busy), Southern Baptist family that is completely committed to raising children to glorify God. They sound extremely conservative (ie the girls all wear dresses exclusively and they wear wetsuits at the beach) but one that is not completely “out there.” For example, the father does not take the opportunity to rail against modern swimwear – he just says that it is a decision each of the children will have to make when they get older. It’s quite refreshing to see someone who seems to find the spirit of the law while avoiding legalism.

While many people see the Duggar’s as a model family, who put their faith into practice by trusting that God will provide for their every need, there are others who mock them and even express disgust at such a large family. Last year my wife and I talked this through and arrived at the conclusion that it is not necessarily wrong to have such a large family. Here is our logic:

  1. Be fruitful and multiply – 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. Presumably, then, we are able to decide ourselves how many we would like to have. We can assume we should have at least one, but beyond that the Bible is silent. We hear hints that God approves of large families. 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.” However, it is probably safe to assume that within the bounds of Christian freedom we are allowed to decide how many children we would like to have. Of course there are limitations based on motive, but I will not get into that today.
  2. Do not deny each other – God tells us not to withhold from having sex with our spouse. Paul says that we are able to do so for a short time if it becomes necessary, but as a rule, abstinence within marriage is wrong. Therefore, it is God’s plan that there is always the possibility that a woman may become pregnant as long as she is physically able to bear children.
  3. 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.
  4. No command to use birth control – Nowhere in the Bible does God command that a couple must use birth control at any stage in their marriage. Though I do not believe using birth control is wrong, I do not find that the Bible ever commands it.
  5. 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 sixteen, God has decreed the beginning and end of each pregnancy.
  6. 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.

Based on this logic, I do find that Christians can rationally say that having sixteen (or three or thirty) children is wrong. For us to say that it is inherently wrong to have a certain number of children we would also have to say that God commands us to use birth control at some point in our marriages. I simply do not find that is the case.

Now this is an argument that presents some difficulties. For example, what are we to do about women who have just given birth? We know that there may be serious health problems if a woman becomes pregnant immediately after having another child, especially if this happens repeatedly. It would seem to be a safe assumption that using birth control for the first months or years after a pregnancy is a wise decision. But is it wrong not to?

In short, while I do not intend to have sixteen children, I would be the last person to criticize the Duggars for continuing to bear children.


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