Fear-Based Parenting

Parenting is often an integral feature of Christian marriage.  In a Christian egalitarian marriage, husbands and wives consider themselves joint leaders of the home and children.  So in light of some other discussions currently in the blogosphere on this subject, I’d like to talk about a form of Christian parenting which I am convinced should be avoided.

Latebloomer at Past Tense Present Progressive is blogging about Reb Bradley’s book Child Training Tips.  Calulu at Roadkill on the Information Superhighway is blogging about Michael and Debbi Pearl’s To Train Up a Child.  So I’d like to chime in today with some thoughts about the method of child rearing which the two books share: they call it “Biblical parenting” or “Bible-based child training,” but it bears no resemblance to the way Jesus spoke of or treated children.  Instead, it takes a few proof texts (mostly from Proverbs) and builds an entire harsh, repressive and unjust regime out of them.

This is not something I can remain silent about. It goes directly against “do not provoke/exasperate your children” in Ephesians 6:4.  It convinces parents that, rather than bringing children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, they should raise them strictly under law and without grace.  I call it “fear-based parenting,” because it appears to be founded on two foundational fears:  1) that your child is evil by nature, and 2) that your child will remain so and be lost for eternity unless you force the child into being good.

These are the basic messages taught in fear-based parenting:

1. The parent-child relationship is by nature adversarial.  The child wants all the power in the home, and your job as a parent is to resist the child’s attempts to seize it, and to hold all the power yourself.

2. Your child’s most fundamental nature is selfishness and rebellion against authority.

3. A child’s will is inherently deceitful and wicked, and must be subdued/broken by the parent.

4. Spanking (with some sort of “rod”) will remove the rebellion from your child’s heart. If the child responds to a spanking with anything other than complete submission, you need to spank longer/harder until the child’s will is subdued and broken.

5. To use any other method of discipline than spanking is unbiblical and only encourages your child’s rebellion and selfishness.  To show your child any mercy will only teach your child that he or she can get away with bad behavior.

6. The goal of parenting is complete, cheerful and instant obedience of the child to your will, because this will transfer to complete, cheerful and instant obedience to God’s will.

7. Any act of your child’s that is not completely, cheerfully and instantly obedient is, by definition, rebellion.

8. If you raise your child according to these “biblical principles,” the outcome is certain: your child will become a “godly” adult.

Now, I am aware that orthodox Protestant doctrine says that humanity is sinful by nature and in need of salvation.  I’m not contesting that;  in fact, I find it comforting whenever I (or my kids) do something I wish I (or they) hadn’t done.  No need to get excited or overreact– it’s just human nature.  But I believe this understanding should result in more mercy to my children– not more harshness and law.  They are not different from me.  It was the kindness of God (Romans 2:4) that brought me to repentance.  So why would my harshness bring them to repentance?

The thing is that these “biblical parenting” ideas focus exclusively on human sinfulness, while ignoring or forgetting other basic, orthodox Protestant teachings:

1. Humanity, though sinful, is also made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), and it is in God that we live, move and have our being (Acts 17:28).  Paul said in Romans 2:14-15 that non-Jews who never had the Law still have “the work of the Law written in their hearts, their consciences bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”  This influence of God’s Spirit towards good in all people is known theologically as “common grace.”

2. None of us can save ourselves or anyone else; we are completely dependent on God’s grace to bring us to salvation.  Romans 3:23-24.

Nowhere does the Bible say that the nature of the parent-child relationship is a power struggle.  The opening chapters of the book of Proverbs are about parents lovingly giving their children instruction, not establishing dominance over them.  In any event, the Proverbs are by genre a set of wise sayings about how life generally works; they are neither promises nor commands.  The passages about using “the rod” need to be understood in the literary, historical and cultural contexts in which they were given.  The Parenting Freedom blog has a cultural/language study that makes it plain that what the Proverbs are talking about, and what the “biblical parenting” advocates say they are talking about, are in two different universes!  And in any event, to take a few verses on “the rod” and conclude from them that spanking is the only God-given method of discipline, is to give those verses a scope they were clearly never intended to have.

Nowhere does the Bible say that our goal as parents should be to break our child’s will.  Jesus said in Matthew 19:4, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not keep them away, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  If the “biblical parenting” experts were correct, Jesus would have said something more like, “Those children who have been subdued to obedience may come to Me.  All others should be kept away, because their hearts are wicked!”   Children are by nature innocent and trusting, and they are geared to desire adult approval and to want to please their parents.    If you don’t believe me, just spend a little non-judgmental time with some young kids!  This is the image of God in their humanity.  It is not negated or driven out by original sin.  To interpret your child’s every action as a play for power or as an act of selfishness, is to disregard the image of God and His common grace in your child.  1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  To see another’s action through the eyes of love is to see it believing well of that person and hoping for the best in that person.  It is not to view every action with suspicion as motivated by selfishness and power-grabbing.  This goes for our children as much as for anyone else.

Nowhere does the Bible remotely imply that any act of another human being can train someone into complete, cheerful and instant obedience to God.   Titus 2:11-14 states unequivocably that it is the grace of God that teaches us to deny ungodliness and live righteously.  “Biblical parenting” is actually a way to play God, seeking to control the outcomes of our children’s lives and eliminate all uncertainty.  But that is not faith– it is fear.   Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Emphasis added).  Having a thing and seeing it is certainty.  Hoping for it and believing in it is faith. Faith faces uncertainty and trusts God.  Fear seeks to control outcomes so as to eliminate uncertainty– not realizing that the elimination of uncertainty also eliminates the need for faith.

Parents, we need to trust God with our children and not live in fear.  Jesus said to do to others as we would have done to us.  This command doesn’t disappear just because we’re talking about our kids.  Would we want to have our every motive suspect, our every action viewed in the worst light?  Would we want to beg for mercy for something we’ve done, and to be given no mercy lest we think we’ve been given a license to get away with it next time?  Would we want to be expected to drop everything, no matter how important to us, at the moment someone over us speaks a command, and be expected to not only show no frustration, but to feel no frustration, even when our dearest desires are denied and thwarted?  Do we want our frustration and lack of cheerfulness, when we show them in spite of ourselves, to then be interpreted and punished as rebellion?

If we would not want these things done to us, we should at the very least not do them to our children. But to truly obey Jesus’ words is to go further, and to do to our children what we would want done to us.  To be listened to.  To be treated with understanding and compassion.  To have our motives interpreted with “I believe the best of you.”  To be given mercy even when we know we don’t deserve it.

I’m not saying we should ignore it when our children do wrong.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t discipline our children or give them boundaries.  Boundaries and discipline are good things we give our children– but when the boundaries become chains, and the discipline becomes harshness and injustice, they are no longer good.

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear; because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”

Fear-based parenting is full of punishment.  But love-based parenting is full of faith and trust in God for our children.

Please– if you can bear it– read this blog post by one who has suffered under fear-based parenting, and please stand with me against it.  If your church, or anyone else, recommends a fear-based parenting book like To Train Up a Child or Child-Training Tips, please speak out.

Children are hurting.  It needs to stop.

Posted in Kristen Rosser, Leading the Home | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Marriage and the New Creation by Kyrie Eleison

Kyrie Eleison quotes J. Lewis Martin’s Galatians to ask some very interesting questions about how Christian marriage differs from marriage under the Old Covenant.

Marriage and the New Creation

What a different argument lies before us in Gal 3:26-29; 6:14-15! Here the basis is explicitly not creation, but rather the new creation in which the building blocks of the old creation are declared to be nonexistent. If one were to recall the affirmation “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18), one would also remember that the creational response to loneliness is married fidelity between man and woman (Gen 2:24; Mark 10:6-7). But in its announcement of the new creation, the apocalyptic baptismal formula declares the erasure of the distinction of male from female. Now the answer to loneliness is not marriage, but rather the new-creational community that God is calling into being in Christ, the church marked by mutual love, as it is led by the Spirit of Christ (Gal 3:28b; 5:6, 13, 22; 6:15).

A tension between new-creational argument and creational argument is not to be found, however, within Galatians itself. In writing to his church in Corinth, for example, Paul will negotiate the relation between new creation and creation by advising married people to be married as though not being married (1 Cor 7:29). For the Galatians he provides no such finesse. Indeed, in writing to the Galatians Paul avoids two things. He does not demonstrate the tension that can be seen between a creational argument and a new-creational one. And, correspondingly, he does not provide a way of relating the one to the other, as though in some manner new creation could be added to creation. Here he argues uncompromisingly on the basis of God’s new creation.

The result of such a radical vision and of its radical argumentation is the new-creational view of the people of God harmonious with the one we have seen in Comment #37. Just as, in Galatians 5:13-14, the need to surmount loneliness is now met not by marriage, but rather by the loving mutuality enacted in the new creation, the church of God, so the corresponding need to belong to a coherent community is not met by the making of a people ethnically and religious differentiated from other peoples, but rather by the community of that new creation that God is calling into existence in Christ throughout the whole of the world. Thus, this corporate people is determined to no degree at all by the religious and ethnic factors that characterized the old creation (5:6; 6:15). This people is determined solely by incorporation into the Christ in whom those factors have no real existence.

Looking at marriage through the lens of Galatians 3:28, “In Christ . . . there is not male and female,” is compared to the way Paul looks at it in 1 Cor. 7:29-30:  “But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none, and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; and those who use this world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.”

Jesus said that in the kingdom of heaven we would not marry or be given in marriage.  Marriage is fundamentally a thing of the Old Creation which is passing away, and Christians are to make sure they view it that way.

The modern evangelical focus on marriage and family as the primary building blocks of Christianity, is thus incorrect, and therefore the emphasis on gender roles, male authority and female submission in marriage, as being a paramount value for Christians to uphold against encroaching modern culture, is an emphasis on that which Paul tells us is simply not meant to be important to us.  We are to “seek first the kingdom and His righteousness,” Jesus tells us.  We are to relate to one another primarily as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Mark 3:33-35 tells us that it is not family relationships, but people doing together the will of God, that is the foundation of Christian community.

A marriage that consists of two people united in doing the will of God together– that is the standard our marriages are to reach for.  The New Creation kingdom is simply not about “roles.”  It was never meant to be.

Posted in 1 Corinthians 7, Galatians 3, Kristen Rosser, Roles & Responsibilities | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Dear Liz, What if our sex drives are unmatched?

Q  What if you don’t seem to have a very big sex drive, especially as you get older?

 Who is to say what is a big or small sex drive ? How does one gauge such a thing ?

Who is to say whether the big or small libido is the most honouring to God ?

From the question I am assuming that your sexual drive is less than that of your spouse.  Some people teach that men have more of a sex drive than women. I would contest that assumption by saying that there is no place in the bible that gives that idea – that God has made us that way. Both men and women were made in the image of God in the beginning and without sin were completely at one with each other and with God…they were ‘ naked and unashamed’  I would suggest that in society, more emphasis has been given to men’s sexuality and over centuries it has been acceptable for men to be more promiscuous etc. but that is not how God intended it to be.

Marriage is all about consideration and one-ness. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, the interest in sexual intimacy will vary from one partner to the other and this gives opportunity for a couple to share their feelings, anxieties and profound respect for each other. Sexual intimacy is designed for both partners to enjoy equally and anything less than that needs patience, lots of communication and unselfish love. So….sexual encounters should never happen unless both people desire it. The passage in 1 Corinthians 7 about our bodies belonging to our partner applies equally to wives and husbands (read it again) Something which hopefully started out as enjoyable when first married should not be allowed to degenerate into a “rights” issue.

The last part of this question says “especially as you get older? Who decides what is old anyway ? Most often husbands and wives are similar in age so can grow old gracefully together and can work these issues out. Once again…it is considering the other person and working together to enjoy your sexuality, even if age or sickness or disability means you have to make some adjustments.

‘BE KIND, TENDER-HEARTED TO ONE ANOTHER – FORGIVING ONE ANOTHER JUST AS GOD HAS FORGIVEN YOU BECAUSE YOU BELONG TO CHRIST Ephesians 4:32

NOTE: In answering all these questions, I am coming from the perspective of marriage being the blending of two people into one – where each prefers the other over themselves and puts the other’s welfare before their own. In other words, it is the highest form of being “one in Christ” which we can witness.

However….in our experience of church life, very few married people experience true one-ness and resort to role-playing and accomodating each other’s sinfulness rather than working at “provoking one another to love and good works”

If only one person in the marriage is a Christian then obviously one-ness cannot apply in spiritual issues but it is still something which can be achieved.

Posted in Liz Sykes, Practical Living, Sex | 2 Comments

Egalitarian Marriage: What it Looks Like

Jonalyn and Dale Fincher have a great vision of Egalitarian Marriage: What it Looks Like.

Posted in Pearls of Wisdom: Links, Practical Living | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Dear Liz, Our sex life has become routine and boring…

Dear Liz, Our sex life has become rather routine and predicable….is that OK ?

 As long as our behaviours fall within God’s moral law of love and consideration of other people, then how we practice our sexuality within marriage is personal.

If “routine and predictable” is satisfying to both of you, then that’s fine, but by you’re asking the question I suspect that you may like a change.

Perhaps you feel that it is up to the guy to do all the initiating in a relationship?

There’s nothing in the bible about who does what and when…..any reference to sexual matters is about mutual desire and concern for your partner with honour for God being the foremost motivation.

Sometimes things slip into predictability because we’re just plain tired out with work and small children. Also there are times when a visit to the doctor is in order to check things such as blood pressure, thyroid function or other imbalances which affect our sexual desire.

Some practical suggestions for your initiative might be that you first of all speak well of your spouse to them and others. Tell him/her you’re proud of them (if you honestly are – don’t lie) and watch to see little ways in which you might please them. All good sexual experiences come from how we treat each other in the everyday affairs of life including the “please and thank yous” Guys are just as sensitive to insincerity and manipulation as women – “say what you mean and mean what you say” – and say it with grace and gentleness without jokes at anyone’s expense.

There’s no better way to find out what pleases a person than asking……even if some people don’t know exactly what they like, they’ll certainly know what they don’t like!

Some people like like soft lights, music, candles – others  feel more relaxed outdoors, under the stars or sunlight (yes…daytime is great when there’s no kids around)

Anything which shows you really care and are not just after personal benefit and no strings attached (no bribing) will bring good results and a closer bond.

NOTE: In answering all these questions, I am coming from the perspective of marriage being the blending of two people into one – where each prefers the other over themselves and puts the other’s welfare before their own. In other words, it is the highest form of being “one in Christ” which we can witness.

However….in our experience of church life, very few married people experience true one-ness and resort to role-playing and accomodating each other’s sinfulness rather than working at “provoking one another to love and good works”

If only one person in the marriage is a Christian then obviously one-ness cannot apply in spiritual issues but it is still something which can be achieved.

Posted in Authors, Liz Sykes, Practical Living, Sex | Leave a comment

What About Birth Control?

Most of Protestant Christianity has taken a laissez faire attitude towards birth control in modern times, giving individuals freedom of conscience to decide for themselves whether or not to use it.  But in recent years, movements like “Quiverfull” have begun to preach decisively against birth control.  They say that the Bible says we are to receive as many children as God blesses us with, and that birth control is against His plan.  Using a question-and-answer format, I’m going to take a close look at the Scriptures they use, and also at the whole of the Bible, to see if their restrictions on freedom of conscience in this area actually hold up.

I’ll start with the passage on children being a blessing, Psalm 127:3.

Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

Children are indeed a blessing from God!  This is not the real question, however.  The question is, does the Bible teach that if we just let nature take its course, the amount of children we will have will be God’s plan for us?

Look at the curse that comes upon Eve after the Fall, in Genesis 3:16: “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children. . .”

The King James Version here brings out very well what the original language actually said. A Hebrew interlinear, which gives a direct, word-for-word translation, reads this way: “I am increasing grief of you and pregnancy of you; in grief shall you give birth.” (Emphasis added.) There are actually two different Hebrew words translated “grief” in this verse (“sorrow” in the King James). They are synonyms, both meaning “labor, hardship, painful toil.” The first of these words is also used of Adam in Gen. 3:17-18, where God says to him, “in sorrow [painful toil] shalt thou eat of it [the ground] all the days of thy life; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.” God is telling the couple that the result of their sin is hardship, labor and toil.

The words to Eve in Gen 3:16 comprise a Hebrew poetic structure in which the whole of the phrase, “multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children” refers to the whole process of childbearing, from conception to birth. It is not just talking about “pain in childbirth,” as many other translations say. The hardship and painful toil includes the whole process. This would include everything that is difficult or goes wrong for women in pregnancy, from conception to childbirth. It would include pain in labor, certainly; but it also includes miscarriage, stillbirth, difficulty in conception, and even, naturally, the “multiplication” of conceptions themselves– the ability of the woman’s body to conceive more frequently than is safe or healthy for her, sometimes before she has even recovered from the last pregnancy.

The writers of the Old Testament recognized children as a blessing—but they also recognized all of the different hardships of childbearing (and of course, these are different for different women). “Multiply thy sorrows and thy conception” can mean pain and hardship in conception is increased, but it can also mean that conceptions themselves are increased. The fact that some women cannot conceive is part of the curse. But the fact that some women’s bodies can conceive more often than they can bear in safety and health, is also shown in the Bible to be a result of the curse; it was not God’s original plan.

But Christ came to bring justification to us from the sin that brought death and sorrow to humanity (Romans 5:12). And even before Christ came– through the ages, in fact– men have invented tools to help them deal with the toils and sorrows of tilling the ground. There is no passage in the Bible that says God, in His mercy, ever forbade men to use those tools. Neither does the Bible say God has forbidden women to decrease the toils and sorrows of their particular struggles with conception and childbirth. God does not forbid women to decrease their pain in childbirth through the tools of medication. Neither does God forbid women to decrease their conceptions through the tools of birth control.

Q:  But there was no birth control in Bible times except for coitus interruptus, and in Genesis 38:9-10, God struck Onan dead for “spilling his seed on the ground.“ This must have been about Onan’s crime of birth control ~ since the penalty for simply not giving your brother’s widow a child was only public humiliation, according to Deuteronomy 25:7.

Actually, there were many other kinds of birth control used in Bible times. The Ebers Papyrus of Egypt, which dates from 1500 BC, lists a number of barrier methods. Here is a translation of one of them: “To make a woman not become pregnant for one year, two years or three years, acacia leaves are ground fine with honey, lint is moistened therewith and placed in her vulva.”  Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible places the Hebrews’ time in Egypt (between Joseph and Moses) from 1700-1300 BC. It is impossible, given the Israelites’ presence in Egypt during the same period that the Ebers Papyrus was written, that the Israelites could have been completely unfamiliar with the methods set forth in this papyrus. And yet the Bible says nothing whatsoever about any of these Egyptian remedies. The only time a method of birth control is mentioned is the story of Onan. I’d like to take closer look at that story.

And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord, wherefore he slew him also. Genesis 38:8-10

The context of this passage is Onan’s unwillingness to fulfill his duty in that culture to his brother’s widow. Onan married his brother’s widow and “went in unto“ her as a husband to a wife– but then emitted on the ground, “lest that he should give seed to his brother. This is sometimes compared with Deuteronomy 25:7, where the consequences of refusing to take a brother’s widow as wife are not death, but only public shame. But the situation in Deuteronomy 25 involves only refusing to marry the widow. What Onan did was much worse. He went ahead and married her, but then selfishly refused to raise a child that would be considered legally his brother’s and not his own. It wasn’t that he didn’t want children; it’s that he wanted children only for his own profit! But the woman could not marry anyone else. His act consigned her to childlessness whether she liked it or not. And it was a great deception for Onan to pretend to do his duty to his brother outwardly, but then to go back on it in the privacy of the home. It was not for simple birth control that Omar was judged by God. It was for fraud, greed, deception and covenant-breaking. The birth control was the means by which the crime was committed. The birth control itself was not the crime.

Since this is the only place in the Bible that a method of birth control is even mentioned, and since the Bible is silent about all other then-known methods of birth control– how can we say that the Bible, implicitly or expressly, forbids birth control? The vast majority of details about individual life and choices are neither commanded nor forbidden by the Bible. God permits people to decide where to live, what kind of houses to build, what to do for a living– there are no commands, explicit or implicit, forbidding these choices. Where the Bible makes no command regarding an issue of personal choice, then to take a certain position, insist it is God’s will, and expect everyone else to follow, is unfairly adding to the Scriptures and curtailing others’ freedom in Christ. (Romans 14:2-4, Galatians 5:1.)

Q:  But Psalm 127:3 still says children are a blessing! Even if we don’t have to have more than our bodies can safely bear, shouldn’t we seek to bear as many as we safely can? Isn’t the use of birth control for any other reason than the woman’s health, willfully rejecting the blessing of God and therefore choosing instead the curse of barrenness?

If “A” is a blessing, it does not necessarily follow that “Not A” is not a blessing. The apostle Paul makes it clear that choosing not to marry or have children is a lifestyle blessed by God just as much as marriage is. “I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.” I Corinthians 7:7-8. Paul’s use of the word “widows” here makes it clear that by “men” he means not just males, but both sexes. It is a gift of God for both men and women to remain unmarried and childless, as he was. This too is a blessing from God, for “the unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit.” I Corinthians 7:34.

Also, if something is a blessing, it does not follow that an unlimited amount of that something is an unlimited blessing. The Bible says nothing like this– and it is contrary to plain logic. In Genesis 13:6, it tells of how Abraham and Lot were blessed of God with wealth, including sheep and cattle– but when “their substance was great” to the point where the land could not support all their flocks and herds, they were forced to separate from one another. Clearly the sheep and cattle were not an unlimited blessing, when they became too numerous for the land to support them.

We must also ask ourselves: are we being good stewards of the resources God has given us, when we have more children than we can financially support? Is it loving to the children we already have, to keep having more, beyond the point where we can give adequate attention to them all? Romans 8:14 says that those who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God. Rather than laying down a law for ourselves about never preventing conception by any means, perhaps we should prayerfully seek to be led by the Spirit as to when we should conceive, and when we shouldn’t. After all, Paul counseled in I Corinthians 7:26 that in times of distress, it is better not to make major changes in our lives. It is not always God’s best to have more, and more, and more children.

Q:  But doesn’t Malachi 2:15 say that the primary purpose for which the Lord created the institution of marriage was to “seek a godly seed”?

Here’s Malachi 2:15 in its immediate context.

Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem, for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god. . . And this ye have done again, covering the altar of the Lord with weeping, and with crying out, inso much that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand. Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously; yet she is thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Malachi 2:11-15.

The context in Malachi 2:15 is about how the men of Judah, upon returning to the Promised Land following exile in Babylon, abandoned their wives in order to marry younger women from the peoples who lived in the Promised Land, who served idols. The passage makes two main points: 1) they were being treacherous to their wives: “She is thy companion and the wife of thy covenant,” and 2) they were profaning the holiness of the Lord by marrying “the daughter of a strange god.”

This passage is not about the primary purpose of marriage, but about the sins of covenant-breaking and idolatry. But if a “primary purpose” of marriage applies at all here, it is stated to be “companionship.” The original wives of the men of Judah are spoken of as companions to their husbands– not as mothers of their children. The Lord views this covenant made with a woman, for companionship, to be just as holy and binding as any other covenant.

As for “a godly seed,” the emphasis here is on “godly,” not on “seed.” God made men and women of Judah one in marriage so that their seed might be godly– as opposed to the seed that might come from marriage to a “daughter of a strange god,” who might choose to serve the idols of their mother’s people.

Q:  But modern birth control methods are dangerous and can be abortifacient! And natural family planning isn’t very effective. Besides, the Bible says it is God Who opens and closes the womb. Shouldn’t we trust Him with our family planning and not take matters into our own hands?

Modern birth control methods are actually pretty safe when used with a doctor’s advice.  Some, but not all, hormonal birth control methods are abortifacient.  Also, there are non-hormonal methods that work very well. The diaphragm, for instance, is a barrier method that has been around for decades, is safe and effective when used carefully, and is completely non-hormonal.  A woman’s doctor can help her find the type of birth control that is safest for her and that she feels most comfortable with.

And as for God opening and closing the womb, there are only a few Bible texts that speak of this. Genesis 20:18 says that God “closed the wombs” of all the women in Abimilek’s household because Abimilek had taken Abraham’s wife Sarah (thinking she was his sister). Then in verse 20, Abraham prays to God, and God heals them so that they can conceive again. Genesis 29:31 and Genesis 30:22 refer to God opening the wombs of women who had previously been barren (Leah and Rachel). Afterwards they both had more than one child. The text does not say God had to reopen their wombs each time. Finally, 1 Sam 1:5-6 says that God had closed Hannah’s womb, but when she prayed, God “remembered” her and she conceived (verse 19). Later the text says God “visited” Hannah so that she had three more sons and two daughters (1 Samuel 2:21).

Reading these texts together, they do not indicate at all that God opens every woman’s womb each time she conceives, or that He closes every woman’s womb every time she does not conceive. These texts are not about normal female fertility at all. Instead they speak specifically of barrenness and God’s specific acts to cause or heal barrenness at certain times, in certain women, for reasons unique to each situation. The human writers of the Bible texts knew, as we know today, that conception occurs after sexual intercourse and is based on a woman’s menstrual cycle. As with many other physical laws of our world, God set it up to work this way.

One other verse speaks of God giving conception to a woman: Ruth 4:13, in which God causes Ruth to conceive Obed, the source of David’s line of kings. This verse is speaking about a specific birth to a specific woman for a specific purpose in God’s plan. Again, Bible simply doesn’t say that God directly acts to give conception to every woman who conceives, or directly acts to stop conception in every woman who does not conceive.

As I said, there are many things in our world that God designed to work on their own. In Matthew 4:6-7, when Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by the devil, the devil suggested that Jesus cast Himself down from the top of the temple, trusting in God to send angels to bear Him up. Jesus answered, “It is written, thou shalt not tempt [test] the Lord thy God.” Jesus knew that the Father had set up the world so that gravity would cause anyone who threw himself off the temple to die. It was set up that way, and it was going to work that way unless God directly stepped in. It was wrong, Jesus said, to force God to do a miracle.

In the same way God has set up normal female fertility so that a woman’s ovaries will release an egg to be fertilized once a month. If a fertile woman has sexual intercourse with a fertile man during a period when an egg is in her fallopian tubes, she is going to conceive. It’s not unlike the game of “Russian Roulette.” In Russian Roulette, two people will put a bullet into one chamber of a six-shooter gun, and then take turns to point the gun at their own heads and pull the trigger. If the bullet is in the right chamber when the trigger is pulled, that gun is going to go off. If you play Russian Roulette and want to live, you are certainly “tempting God”!

Having sexual intercourse without birth control is not “trusting God.” It’s more like playing Russian Roulette. If the egg is in the right place at the right time, conception will occur. For it not to occur, God would have to do a miracle. Jesus said it’s wrong to force God into doing a miracle. Tempting God is not trusting God. If you’re in a position where a pregnancy would be a hardship and a sorrow (though this isn’t to say you wouldn’t welcome the child if it came!), you don’t have to play Russian Roulette with your womb every month.

As I said before, trusting God actually means being led by the Spirit of God. Romans 8:14-16. God wants us to pray to Him for guidance on when it’s a good time to have a child, and when it’s not—just as we would with any other major decision in our lives.

So to people involved in Christian movements like Quiverfull, I would say this.  Children were precious in the Old Covenant, but in the New Covenant, Christ shows them to be so much more than simply “arrows” for their fathers. In Matthew 19:14 He makes it plain that He loves and calls children to places in His kingdom as individuals in their own right. So if we already have children, few or many, God desires that we should care for them and love them with all our hearts (Matthew 18:1-6). But if we are feeling under pressure from other Christians to have even more– Galatians 5:1 says, “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

Parenting is a high calling, but no one has the right to add to Scripture and claim there is only one way to serve God– not for men, and not for women either. It is being “a new creature” that matters, says Galatians 6:15, not how many– or even whether– you have children.  Each Christian couple should be free in their own consciences to decide together when– and whether– to have children.

For more information see:

Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible, Lion Publishing.

Ancient Inventions, Peter James and Nick Thorpe, Random House, 1994.

Household: Family and Household in Ancient Israel, by Michael Kruse: http://krusekronicle.typepad.com/kruse_kronicle/2007/06/household-famil.html

The Scripture-4-All Online Interlinear Hebrew Bible:http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/OTpdf/gen3.pdf

Posted in Kristen Rosser, Practical Living | Tagged | 5 Comments

Dear Liz, My husband is looking at porn…

Q. My husband spends time watching movies which are not helpful to his spiritual growth and in my opinion are downright pornographic. This usually happens late at night when I can’t keep awake after a hectic day with the kids and he has time to himself. What should I do about this ?

A. This question could just as easily be about the use of internet sites and/or magazines which are not God-honouring. Unfortunately this is more common than many people like to admit and Christian women feel they are in a bind of secrecy. Secrets always destroy – both the person who is the “doer” and the one who watches. Chronic wrong-doing eats away at the very fabric of a person’s soul and affects all those who live in the same house.

It is never right to allow a fellow Christian to continue in sin without at least offering to help them in some way. If we say nothing then we become part of the problem and the guilt is shared. Very few men would be happy for their behaviour to be made public and will do all in their power to ensure their secret is well-kept. Threats, sarcasm, comparisons, physical violence are all used to protect the deviant behaviour and ensure that the partner does not involve other people.

So…..step one is to confront the person and offer to help in practical ways such as taking away the remote, always going to bed at the same time, asking the person to share their temptations and vulnerable times.

If the response is less than positive, then others need to be called in and involved. This should happen sooner than later if there is no improvement after step one. If the person is unwilling to share their difficulty with others, then the wife needs to do it anyway and tell the husband that this will happen.

Delay is not an option as this will not improve by themselves….mostly this is an addiction which needs to be dealt with as such. Any person who denies they have a problem or who wants to cope on their own is not recognising how deep the issue is in their life.

If husbands in these situations were called to account early, then many hurtful confrontations would be avoided and the sin would not be so entrenched as to need radical surgery and continual after-care.

NOTE: In answering all these questions, I am coming from the perspective of marriage being the blending of two people into one – where each prefers the other over themselves and puts the other’s welfare before their own. In other words, it is the highest form of being “one in Christ” which we can witness.

However….in our experience of church life, very few married people experience true one-ness and resort to role-playing and accomodating each other’s sinfulness rather than working at “provoking one another to love and good works”

If only one person in the marriage is a Christian then obviously one-ness cannot apply in spiritual issues but it is still something which can be achieved.

Posted in Authors, Liz Sykes, Overcoming Unfaithfulness, Practical Living | Leave a comment