My wife and I have had some very active discussions about the Lord’s will for the size of our family. The central issue is whether or not the number of children that we have is a matter of faith. If the Lord is truly able to open and close a woman’s womb at his discretion, are we in a position to implement any type of birth control to interfere with that process?
This is a tough issue, and the toughest part is that we’ve grown up in a society forged by people like Margaret Sanger, and the church has largely bought into a selfish, anti-child, population-control mentality. Hence, the average Christian never even asks the question—I didn’t ask it until I’d been a pastor for fifteen years. No one ever suggested to me that birth control was even an issue, it was just a given. No pastor counseled us to evaluate birth control, no Christian book on preparing for marriage (and we read a number of them) suggested we even search the Scriptures or pray about the subject.
The only question was which method of contraception was best, never whether contraception was best. I confess I carried over the same mentality to my premarital counseling as a pastor. I was always careful to tell them not to use the IUD because it can cause abortions. (Had I known then what I do now about the birth control pill, I would give the same warning—unfortunately, I didn’t know and actually recommended people use it, as my wife and I did.)
As I’m sure you know, Scripture teaches God opens and closes the womb, and that children are a blessing of the Lord. Reproductive fruitfulness is commended by God. Scripture knows nothing of the tragic bias often demonstrated today against people with large families. As I’ve asked my Bible college ethics classes, “If we believe the Bible when it says children are a blessing from the Lord, why are we so determined to be sure we don’t get too many of those blessings? Financial provision is also a blessing of God—which of us is trying desperately not to get too much of that blessing?” Here we live in the most affluent society in human history and we have people with straight faces saying, “We can’t afford to have more children.”
Now, some qualifications. I spoke a few weeks ago with a family who has five small children and they are trying to figure out whether to use contraception. They haven’t because they’ve wanted God to choose the size of their family. But their fertility is such that pregnancy keeps happening, and they wondered if God would understand and approve if they tried to space them out more, because the physical demands on the Mom have become very hard on her, and the intimacy of their marriage has suffered, and they feel they aren’t giving each other and each child the attention they need. I said, in light of their desire to please God, that I felt their concerns could be valid and that God might very well want them to engage in thoughtful “family planning.” So I’m not an absolutist here, and do believe that there’s a place for wisdom and discernment, and keeping your fingers on the pulse of the marriage partner and family God has given you.
Certainly, those who practice natural family planning (which I think is great) are not fully “allowing God to determine the size of our families,” in that they are paying attention to strategies to space their children which will ultimately mean having less children than they otherwise would have. You could argue that this approach does what contraception does, only without a chemical or device. But the communication required between couples, and the self-restraint practiced at certain times of the month, can be good for the relationship, I think. On the other hand, if sexual abstinence becomes too dominant a theme, it could violate the command of 1 Corinthians 7.
Some say, “Look, we’re constantly interfering with God-ordained natural processes—like every time we cut our hair or fingernails; so why not use contraceptives?” I guess I see a special sanctity on the reproductive process where the analogy breaks down. God is never said to be the one who determines fingernail length, but he is said to be the one who opens and closes the womb. Hence, if we become too aggressive in our attempts to close the womb (and perhaps even to open it, as in the case of fertility treatments, artificial insemination, etc.), we may be usurping the prerogatives of God.
I speak as someone who used contraceptives, and after my wife’s two hard pregnancies we decided to have a tubal ligation. If we were in our childbearing years today, what would we do? I’m not positive, but I suspect we would exercise natural family planning and be more prayerful, more prone to search the Scriptures, and open to more children than we were before. On the other hand, I don’t believe we would rule out considerations about spacing children, and in that sense we would not be rule-driven and indiscriminate in considering issues of family wellbeing that might affect certain decisions. Certainly, we would take it to the Lord and seek godly counsel, as you have.
As for passing on this perspective to others, I’d suggest it be done carefully and humbly, as some have become anti-contraceptive crusaders in a way that overpowers and raises defenses unnecessarily. I certainly think it should be fair game for discussion and you should feel free to share your perspective with those you love. Above all, no matter where we stand on this issue, the body of Christ should be pro-children and pro-family and never demean or roll our eyes at those God has blessed with many children, but rejoice with them and help them as we’re able.
For more information on this subject, see Randy Alcorn's book Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?