Christian Family Planning Part 3: A Cautionary Tale

Large Saskatchewan Family

The third post in the Christian Family Planning Series

Just a quick note to my inspiration, Mark: This post contains some strong language.  And I stand by all of it.  Unless you can change my mind – which I doubt.  Still love you!

So.  A quick recap of what we’ve learned so far: most Christians need to stop asking other Christians deeply personal questions about their reproductive plans and/or capabilities (read more here); and family planning is not exactly a biblical concept (here).

For this third installment, you’ve been promised a look into what the Bible actually says about circumventing his design for procreation.  And I am going to deliver.

First, my motivation for writing this particular post: anger.  I am not a person who angers easily.  But when I see something wrong, it bothers me.  If I see more of it, I stew.  Eventually, with enough fuel, I boil over.

I’ve been boiling about this for a while, now.  So, prepare yourself.  This is going to be blunt.  Like a hammer.

Family Planning: A Mutual Decision?

It started many years ago, with the telling of a story.  I was still a teenager when I first heard it.

The youth pastor at the church I’d grown up in had left, and they were looking at candidates for the position.  They thought they’d found their man.  The only problem?  He was divorced.  Usually, the end of a Baptist preacher’s career.  However, the elders were willing to overlook this one flaw.  Yes, he’d divorced his wife.  But he had a really good reason.

She’d wanted kids.  He hadn’t.  And, without his knowledge, she’d stopped taking her birth control.  And become pregnant.

OK.  I hope that some of you are having the same reaction that I did.  However, I realize that many of you are probably sympathetic to the male in this situation.  His wife lied to him.  Went behind his back.  Disobeyed him.  Whatever you want to call it.  Isn’t that, you know, kind of disrespectful?

You know what?  I don’t care.

The man was married.  His wife became pregnant.  Not grounds for divorce.

This man’s wife – the person he’s supposed to love more than anyone in the world – wanted a baby.  He refused her that wish.  He’s an ass.

My disgust for this man, though strong and immediate, did not create the anger that has led to this blog post.  It provided the spark, but it would have died out – an upsetting, but solitary example of human idiocy – if it had, indeed, been an isolated incident.  Unfortunately, it was only the beginning.  Although this is a rather extreme case, the attitudes behind it seem to be running rampant through our churches.

It’s a story that has become all too common.

Nice, Christian girl meets nice, Christian boy.  Followed by love.  Followed by marriage.  Followed by – nothing.

Because, though the nice Christian girl is super eager to start having babies, the nice Christian boy is a bit more hesitant.  And since having children is, you know, a mutual decision, they wait.  And wait.  Until, at some point, the nice Christian boy magnanimously decides to allow his wife to have a baby.  If, you know, her eggs haven’t dried up by then.

Now.  I want to be clear.  I know all about submission.  Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, and all that.  But I also know that it goes both ways.  Husbands, submit yourselves to your wives, and all that.  The point isn’t that men get to tell their wives what to do.  It’s not even about coming together to make mutual decisions.  It’s about way more than that.  It’s about our hearts.

Husbands and wives have different roles, but their motivation is supposed to be the same: they love each other – more than they love themselves.  They each put the other’s needs before their own.  They take care of each other.  Because they freaking love each other.  Let’s all just get that through our thick heads.

So, no, I’m not down with a husband dictating the baby-making schedule.  Just, no.

But also, any man who would withhold children from the woman he supposedly loves?  Crapbag.  You are a bag of crap.  You are a horrible human being.  You are the scum of the earth.  You deserve to be driven out of polite society, shunned by your fellows, publicly humiliated, and kicked in the stomach.

And, just so it’s crystal clear that I’m not exaggerating my position on this, and that I’m not overreacting, here’s the biblical counterpart to this story.  Where God kills the crapbag.

Onan: The Ultimate Crapbag

It’s a story that stuck with me.  Probably because I read it as a child, and was mystified by the details.  It comes from that most exciting book of the Bible, Genesis.  Here’s the premise: Judah, one of Jacob’s sons, had 3 sons of his own: Er, Onan, and Shelah.  Er grew up and married a woman named Tamar.  But Er was kind of a jerk, so God had him killed.  As he does, you know, with jerks.  Er’s younger brother, Onan, was then ordered by their father to marry his older brother’s widow.

It sounds strange, to us.  But in that time, it was a rule that made sense.  Their world was very different from ours.  It wasn’t a safe place, particularly for women.  You don’t have to search the Old Testament for very long to find examples of poverty, rape, gang rape, and murder, of women who were without the protection of a father or husband, or where those male protectors proved weak or cowardly.  A woman had few rights, and she was vulnerable.  She needed protection.  She needed security.

In that kind of environment, no self-respecting parents were going to hand their daughter over to just anyone.  They made prospective suitors work for them, to prove themselves.  And they required some assurances – not only from the love-struck candidate, but from his entire family – that their daughter would be taken care of.

They had to.  Once the wedding took place, the young couple might move away, never to be seen again by the bride’s family.  So the marriage wasn’t just a contract between two people.  The wife became part of the husband’s family – meaning they would take responsibility for her, particularly in the event of her husband’s death.

In marrying Er, Tamar was leaving the protection of her own father’s household.  She became became part of Er’s family.  She could not be cast off, just because he  had died.  Which was a good thing, for her.  And she knew it.

But there was another issue here.  Er had died without any children.  His family line was ended.  In their society, this was a tragedy.  Later, God would give the Jews appropriate instructions for correcting this misfortune.

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger.  Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.  And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.” -Deuteronomy 25:5-6

Again, it sounds pretty barbaric, especially when laid out so explicitly.  Keep in mind the realities of their society.  A woman needed protection.  The best way for her family-in-law to do that was to provide her with a husband.  They’d figured this out even before it was formalized as law.  As a bonus, the dead man’s brother could, in a way, keep his family name from being blotted out.

[As an interesting, biological aside, siblings share, on average, 50% of their genes.  So, some of the dead man’s genes – along with his wife’s – would, in fact, be passed on to the children of this union – the closest thing to children that a dead man could have.]

And this is exactly what Judah told his son, Onan, to do.

“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.'” – Genesis 38:8

And here’s where it really gets interesting.

“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.  And what he did was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death also.” – Genesis 38:9-11

There you have it.  The closest thing to contraception ever mentioned in the Bible.  And the guy who came up with it?  Struck dead.

So, yeah.  I don’t think my conclusions about modern men who refuse to give their wives the desires of their heart are unfounded.  I think I’m standing on some pretty solid ground, actually.  Like, rock solid.

Real Men Want Kids

Let’s go over some of the issues presented in this biblical narrative.

First off, children were desirable.  Men wanted to have children.  The idea that they could die, without any kids to carry on their names, was so horrible, that they created ways around it.  This story more than makes that point, but just to reiterate it, here’s a few more references.

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!  He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” – Psalm 127:3-5

“Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.” – Proverbs 17:6

I’m of the opinion that women’s desire for children, as well as for their own sake, also reflected the fact that their husbands wanted them.  Look at Leah and Rachel.

“When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.  And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me…” – Genesis 29:31-32

Now my husband will love me.  That’s right.  Even an unloved wife could hope to gain her husband’s by giving him a few kids.  It didn’t work for Leah, but she kept hoping.  Right on down to the third child.

“Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” – Genesis 29:34

Rachel, although loved, seemed to share this opinion that Jacob’s affections might be won over in this manner.  She brought her maid into the picture, and thus begun an epic battle that resulted in a total of 13 children.

You’ll notice, that while we don’t know Jacob’s exact thoughts, he didn’t offer any objections to this proliferation.  It seems he enjoyed being a father – even though he made it clear that he didn’t blame Rachel for her childless status.

Real men want kids.

God’s Opinion

There’s a more important message here, though.  Yeah, I could talk about how our culture has become so self-obsessed that children are seen as inconveniences, rather than blessings.  How even those who want kids see them as possessions, rather than people – and I might do so, at a later date.  But what really gets me, here, is what Onan did.  And what God thought about it.

Onan had no interest in honouring his brother.  Maybe he didn’t like his brother.  Maybe he didn’t feel like going to all the trouble and expense of raising a child that wouldn’t carry his own name.  There really wasn’t anything in it for him.  So he took steps to prevent it.  He didn’t object to taking Tamar as his wife, he just didn’t want to deal with the consequences of that union.

Onan’s situation is, oddly, similar to that of modern men.  They don’t often marry their sisters-in-law, but they have little incentive to father children.  There isn’t the same kind of prestige associated with fatherhood, that there used to be.  So little, in fact, that those who do father children, are abandoning them – and the mothers of those children – in epic proportions.  Even those who are more responsible, who commit themselves through marriage before having sex, aren’t always excited about the prospect of children.  Like the jerk of a pastor from our opening story.  They look at the expense.  The responsibility.  The inconvenience.  And they run the other way.

And, of course, modern science has given them the ability to do just that – without committing to a life of chastity.

The Bible tells us exactly what God thinks of these men, and their behaviour.  It is “wicked in his sight”.  End of story.

Family Planning: All for God’s Glory?

Which leads me to another big fat lie: “Maybe we can serve God better if we don’t have kids.”

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t heard it myself.  From more than one sorry excuse of a man who calls himself a Christian.

Yeah.  God allows for that life decision – spending it in complete service to him, without the encumbrance of a family.  But it involves a pretty steep test to ensure pureness of motive: celibacy.  And no, I don’t think that was a mistake.  I don’t think it was just because contraception was unavailable in those times – as our friend Onan has demonstrated, men had ways and means of trying to sidestep fatherhood, if they were so inclined, while still enjoying all the benefits of married life.  The biblical guidelines for remaining fully devoted to God, without distraction, say nothing about choosing not to have children.  The only choice given, is to remain unmarried.

And, once again, I’ll remind you that I don’t believe anything in the Bible – or omitted from the Bible – is a mistake.  God put a lot of thought into the composition of the Bible, and it came together over the course of thousands of years.  It’s not a cobbled-together collection of historical commentaries.  Every word is there for a reason.  On purpose.  Deliberate.  So you can take your hemming and hawing, your excuses, and your noble philosophies, and add it to the bag of crap.  Cause that’s where it belongs.

Final Words

The state of the world saddens me.  In so many ways.  Maybe that is why I escape into my world of fiction.  But I hope that my writing, both fiction and non-fiction, makes an impact in this world.

Remember:

  1. Mind your business.  Carrie Underwood.
  2. God is our ultimate authority.  You answer to him for your actions.
  3. Onan didn’t want kids – or if he did, he wanted them on his terms.  God struck Onan dead. Keep that in mind.

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