When a Christian couple gets married, a phrase often on the lips of well-wishers is, “When do you want to start having kids?” This question assumes that the newly wedded couple will be using some method to control how many children they want to birth and when these children will come into the world. This assumption is commonplace amongst Christians largely because our Western society has accepted de facto that couples can and should use modern technologies to control when they have children. Furthermore, our society has persuaded Christians that any and every circumstance is an acceptable one for preventing pregnancy.
On a personal note, we as a couple were every bit as influenced by society’s assumptions regarding family planning. At the time of our engagement, we still had two more years until we would finish with our undergraduate degrees. “We should wait until we are done with school at least, maybe even a year or two after that,” I told my then-fiance. We weren’t ready to have children just then. We were living paycheck to paycheck, and we wanted to “just enjoy being married,” like so many of our friends and family had urged us to do. We thought that if we can control when we have children, we should. Today, we are a little less than two years into our marriage and have a 10-month-old daughter. If you have the time to do the math, that means we became pregnant shortly after we got married. And despite what many people assumed, this was no “unplanned” pregnancy.
So, what changed? One day my wife approached me with a question I was thoroughly unprepared for. She asked, “If our human marriage is meant to mirror the ultimate marriage between Christ and his Bride, the Church, how does this change the way we view birth control?” Back when we went through premarital counseling, we discussed our views on birth control. I thought we were still on the same page. But now it seemed we had some serious thinking to do. “Well,” I replied, “I guess we have to ask ourselves, ‘What does the marriage between Christ and the Church look like?’”
We had two very important questions to answer, and we began with the second one first: “What does the marriage between Christ and His Bride look like?” We found that first, this marriage is characterized by love. But not just any love. Christ and His Bride share the same love that has been shared in the community of the Father, Son, and Spirit since before the foundations of the earth! In fact, it was the superabundance of God’s love within Himself that overflowed into the creation of those very foundations of the earth (and the creation of everything else, for that matter).
Second, we found that the marriage between Christ and the Church is characterized by union. In Scripture this union is referred to as being “in Christ.” When we are saved, we are incorporated into Christ’s body, the Church. Thus, the maxim of the early Church Fathers that often perplexes us becomes clear: “There is no salvation outside of the Church” precisely because there is no salvation outside of being joined to Christ. To be “in Christ” is to experience true union with God. When we are “in Christ,” nothing can separate us from His love; He assumed our humanity in the incarnation in order to forever bind us to Himself, sharing with us the love of the Father.
Finally, we found that the marriage between Christ and the Church is characterized by life. When Christ joins His Bride to Himself, Christians go from being dead in sin to being alive in Christ. Elsewhere in Scripture this is called being “born again.” In sum, the marriage between Christ and His Bride is characterized by love, leads to union, and brings forth new life. If this is what the marriage between Christ and His Bride looks like, then how does Christian marriage mirror this Ultimate marriage? One way Christian couples mirror the marriage of Christ and His Bride is by building a marriage that is characterized by love, leads to union, and brings forth life. There are an infinite number of expressions by which a couple might do this. One example could be when, in an act of love, a husband brings home flowers for his wife. This act of love leads to a more unified marriage, and brings forth a spark of new life in their relationship.
But what happens when we apply this pattern to sex within marriage? Sex then, becomes characterized by love, leads to union, and brings forth life. This is evident from the first pages of Genesis. When God created Eve by taking one of Adam’s ribs, He created the first human marriage. Thus the first marriage was a union unlike any other. It doesn’t get any more united than “bone of my bone” and “flesh of my flesh.” Marriage was not the only beautiful gift God created for humankind. He also created an act by which married couples can express their love for one another in a tangible way. Sex is the most intimate, uniting act of love that can happen between a husband and a wife. But along with this gift of marriage and sex came a mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply.” This mandate means that God created sex not only for the sake of love and union between a married couple, but also as the means to create new human life.
Because a couple does not (and biologically cannot) conceive a child after every act of sexual intimacy, we believe this mandate to procreate is more than just something to do: it is a command to be a certain kind of people. We are to be a people who are pro-creation (perhaps an even better title for Christians than “pro-life”). Being pro-creation in a contra-conception culture is not easy. It means being open to the possibility of life even when that possibility is inconvenient, untimely, or downright frightening.
This is usually the point at which our friends object, “So are you saying that procreation is the only legitimate reason for sex in marriage?” No, this is not what we are saying. Procreation does not “legitimize” the sexual relationship, as if sex is bad unless a child is conceived through it. What we are saying is this: procreation is one of the indispensable reasons God created sex, and we cannot remove the possibility of procreation from the sexual relationship without fundamentally changing the meaning of sex. It is not surprising that we as fallen humans would innately try to rip apart what God has joined together in the marriage relationship. Divorce is one of the ways in which we break God’s command: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6, ESV). But we do this with sex, too. Contraceptives are evidence that we want all the love and unifying intimacy of sex without the possibility that life could come forth from that union. In other words, out of God’s threefold reason for creating sex, we only want two out of the three.
Another objection we often hear is, “Well what about couples that are infertile then? Are they not able to enjoy God’s gift of sex because they can’t bring forth life from their union?” To this we answer, “Of course not.” Infertility is a result of the fall, and couples experiencing the tragedy of infertility know all too well that it is not the way it is supposed to be. However, we would be remiss not to mention that couples experiencing infertility are missing something (or perhaps, someone) in the sexual relationship. And this is precisely why infertility is so painful. It should not be that a couple is incapable of creating a new life from the act that was designed to do so.
Now, let’s talk about how modern contraceptive methods enable us to rip apart what God has joined together in the sexual relationship. Modern contraceptive methods do one of two things: they either put up a barrier that seeks to prevent life, or (in the case of hormonal birth control) disrupt human biology in such a way that the environment made to sustain life is rendered incapable of doing so. The contra-conception culture views a woman’s fertility as a disease that needs to be managed or treated rather than a beautiful cycle ordained by God. Again, it is important to note that a couple does not achieve pregnancy after every encounter of sexual intimacy, and that need not bother us. As we said earlier, procreation doesn’t legitimize sex. However, to be a people who are pro-creation, we ought to have an openness, a willingness to receive life from sexual union, lest we divorce sex from one of its threefold reasons for existence. Remember, God designed sex with the amazing potential that new life could come forth. By using contraceptives, we are saying “no” to this potential as we close ourselves off to even the possibility that new life might come forth from sexual union.
As Christians, should we close ourselves off to the possibility of life in the very God-ordained institution that points to the life-giving marriage between Christ and His Bride? A marriage that is characterized by love, leads to union, and results in new life? Or, instead of saying “no” to God’s “yes,” perhaps we might say, “amen, yes!” instead. However, knowing that we live in a world east of Eden, we are unwilling to say that there are no situations for which a Christian couple might need to prayerfully consider whether they might postpone childbearing for a season. Yet, the method by which they do so is not neutral. But, that is a conversation for another day, as is the conversation regarding what types of situations would call for a couple’s prayerful consideration to postpone childbearing.
Flashback to three weeks after our honeymoon: we were staring at a positive pregnancy test. We had just started the fall semester of our senior year of college. We had exactly $3.12 in our bank account. We were scared out of our minds. We had plenty of people question our decision not to use birth control. And for a while, their opinions really mattered to us. But then we had our daughter, the bond of our life and love. Because of her, we can see with our eyes what our love as husband and wife looks like. Because of her, we know that saying “yes” when so many others would have said “no” was the best decision we have ever made. ∞
Written by Anonymous as part of the Anonymous Issue (November-December 2017).