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Is It All Right for a Married Couple to Choose to Remain Childless?

A. That's a bit like asking, "Is it wrong not to marry?" Obviously not! But when the apostle Paul, for example, chose not to marry, he saw it as a sacrifice for the sake of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:5). Paul was willing to give up something good for the greater good of his special calling from God.

Similar principles apply to this question. Declining God's gift of children is a choice never to be taken lightly. However, while the well-known words of Genesis 1:28 to "be fruitful and multiply" seem at first glance to communicate a biblical mandate to couples to bear children, this verse actually communicates a blessing from God to the human race.

As Genesis 1:28 says, "God blessed them and said, 'Be fruitful and increase in number.'" The Hebrew grammar utilized in this passage is the same used in other parts of Scripture to express prayers and wishes of blessings upon families (see Genesis 24:60). So the statement to "be fruitful" doesn't refer to what couples must do to please God, but what God can do for and through humankind.

Sometimes circumstances guide the decision not to have children: It's time to finish an educational degree, or health issues or a genetic condition make having kids unwise. Occasionally a couple may feel the world is such a bad place they fear bringing more children into it. But this fear forgets that "perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18). Christians need to trust that God's ultimate love triumphs over the terrors of history and that he will keep our children and us in his hands through thick and thin.

What's unusual is the choice never to have children. Couples contemplating this decision need to ask themselves what their motives are. Are they being self-indulgent or making an idol of career or money? Or are they choosing this path prayerfully because they feel called to love God and serve him and others in a different way? Childless-by-choice couples always should ask whether they have a special responsibility to serve God's people in ways couples with kids can't. The key to all this is that Christ asks us all to take up our cross, sacrifice ourselves, and follow him out of love in some capacity.

I know of one young married couple where the wife's been gifted to be a leading cancer researcher. The intense demands of her work exclude the time and energy for bearing and raising children—a sacrifice she and her husband are willing to make. And yet, should a pregnancy surprise them, they would make the adjustments needed to love and rear their baby.

It's possible God will overrule our plans with a "surprise" child, for no form of birth control is perfect. Marriage should be a place that's open to children, even when they're not planned. Such children are God's way of saying, I have different plans for how you should serve me. Love this little human I have given you!

In a sinful world (and that includes us), people sometimes have children for wrong reasons, such as egoism or low self-esteem. Just as couples who choose childlessness must carefully consider their motives and callings, so must couples who desire to become parents. My concern, however, is with those who choose not to have kids because they think the task of bearing and raising children robs them of their "freedom" to do and have what they want. Such couples forget that true freedom is service to Christ, and that God knows better than we what makes for true happiness. The great Christian historian Christopher Dawson called raising the next generation humanity's greatest and most important cultural task. It's also one of the most rewarding.

Raymond C. Van Leeuwen is professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in Pennsylvania.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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