May 18, 2017

Does God Care How Many Children We Have?

Gary Thomas — 

Here’s a shocking thought:

Most of us approach child-rearing from the perspective of, “How many kids do we want to have?”

Will any of us approach parenting from the perspective of “How many children does God want us to have?”

Is such a perspective even in the church’s mindset?

The very first command God gave to humans was to be fruitful and multiply, but this isn’t a command that most modern Christians take seriously. “The world has enough people,” some say. “If anything, it’s overcrowded. That command was given a long time ago, to a much different world. It no longer applies.”

Others think the command has been “cancelled” by the “reality” of over-population, even though Paul Ehrlich’s famous The Population Bomb predictions in the 1970s now sound laughable and Al Gore’s infamous ten-year prediction (in 2006) of reaching the “point of no return” for a “true planetary emergency” has also come and gone.

Readers know I avoid politics in this blog—I’m not trying to be political here. I’m just saying that a human being, an image bearer of God, who can worship, research cures, spread love, build businesses, create art, and conceive other people, is a breath-taking creation. People aren’t the problem, and the world has room for more—particularly more people raised by Christian parents who disciple them in the ways of the Lord.

If we think the job of populating the earth is “done,” or that there are a sufficient number of children born to Christian believers, we don’t understand the world, how economies work, how much God loves children, or the miracle of creating life that will live on into eternity. I’m not faulting you—I don’t think my wife and I had a clue about any of this when we were young parents. In the interest of full disclosure, Lisa and I have three children. We would have liked to have more, but there were medical considerations that, to this day, I still think make sense.

But the fact remains, when other faiths take the command to be “fruitful and multiply” seriously while Christians don’t, there are enormous implications. There is no guarantee that a child born of any faith will embrace that faith, but it is far more likely that they will. And if we train our children well, using biblical priorities, it is even more likely that our children will embrace what we believe to be the true faith: God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

Remember when Jesus sat down, called the twelve disciples to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and the servant of all”? But do you remember what He did next? He took a child into his arms and added, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:35-37)

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the bit about being a “servant” comes right before Jesus mentions how welcoming a child is tantamount to welcoming Him. Kids take a ton of work. They are expensive. They can be exhausting. But Jesus loves them. And He says that to welcome a child into our home is to welcome Him.

Jesus doesn’t deny the sacrifices parenting demands of us, but He also taught that there are more important priorities than a few extra years of being less tired, having more money in the bank, nicer cars or homes, or taking satisfaction in bigger retirement savings. God prioritizes people. People have eternal destinies. Nothing else a couple does can compare with bringing a child into the world and training that child to follow the true God. Nothing.

Some might say one of my biggest human accomplishments was writing Sacred Marriage, but ten thousand years from now, no one will be reading that book. Jesus says there is no marriage in heaven, and on the new earth we’ll be perfectly holy, so I can’t imagine anyone wanting to read a book about a relationship that no longer exists in order to become something (more holy) that we already are. But Lisa and I will be able to walk hand in hand through heaven, enjoying a family reunion with perhaps thousands of descendants we never met on earth, look at each other, and say with awe, “These people are here on the new earth because of the love we shared on the old.”

If you’re a younger family trying to decide whether you’re content with the 2.1 children so favored by Christian couples today, will you at least consider the theological implications? Does it hurt to even ask the question, “Is it possible God might desire for us to have more?”

Nobody should have more children simply because they are motivated by guilt. That’s an awful thing to do. I’m also not telling any couple how many children to have or even whether to have children. All I’m saying is this:

If you consider God’s command, if you meditate on the spirit of Christ’s affection for children, if you will reflect on the implications of Christians thinking that populating the world with more Christian families is passé, if you consider carefully the eternal impact of creating and raising image bearers of God, and if during this exercise God’s Holy Spirit convicts you—well then, at least you will have made a biblically informed decision, giving God the opportunity to take off your cultural blinders and perhaps consider a new perspective with which to decide, “Just how many children should we have?”

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

When you subscribe to Gary’s blog, you will receive blog posts directly to your e-mail inbox. You will be one of the first to learn about the latest in Gary’s writing.

27 responses to Does God Care How Many Children We Have?

  1. Thanks, Michael, for the very thoughtful response. What I wanted this post to do was to encourage people to at least consider the question, seek the Scriptures and consider the mind of God in choosing to build a family. Being able to actually choose family size is a rather new phenomenon for the church, historically, and I’m not sure we’ve taken the time to think through all the issues. . You’ll notice I didn’t give a number of children. I just said, “Think about it.”

    Much of the hysteria around overpopulation from when I was growing up in the 80s has just collapsed. Paul Ehrlich’s predictions look laughable in comparison. But I appreciate that you remind us we are called to be good, thinking stewards. However, in today’s “group think” people usually come out on the losing end. I’m just trying to challenge the default position on that.

  2. Rose Wild-Woods May 22, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Thank you Gary !
    Yes God does care and the commandment to be fruitful and multiply still stands.
    I am a mother of 8 children ranging from 27 to 15, I had 7 in 7 years and then another 4yrs later, 7 c-sections (1 set of twins). I’ve been a stay at home wife/mother for 28yrs, we’ve gone without a lot over the years but have been blessed with health and our needs have been met. We didn’t upgrade our home (4bedroom home and converted the game room and formal dinning room into bedrooms) only replace phones and cars as needed or simply fix what we’ve had. Truly God has supplied !
    Only burden I’ve faced is not having other women to spend time with. Are my children perfect, no, but they have a love for the Lord and a love for others that surpasses most people I see these days.
    God calls us all to the task of living by His plan for our lives, some of the commands I’ve found it easy to follow are the tithe and children, both have been a blessing to me !

  3. Be fruitful and multiply was a command to His chosen people the Jews. Us gentiles can’t swoop in and pick and choose what commands to still follow from the Old Testament.

  4. Great post! We were convicted that God is in control of the womb when we were in engaged and “went out on a limb” and let God control our family size. He gave us 3 children, no miscarriage. I find it kind of funny since I was scared after the first baby arrived 6 weeks before our first anniversary that I would have a dozen kids before we were done! We are thankful for our family and have the peace of knowing that we didn’t hinder God by preventing any children He meant us to have. They are now 23, 20, and 17 and our biggest joy.

  5. Gary, I think there is some truth to your points here, but in our modern world, over population is a real issue. I think it is short sighted to talk about family size, and neglect this part of the discussion. As stewards of God’s creation, we need to find ways to consume less. More kids usually equates to more consumption (for this generation and those to come). Those looking at a balanced family size of 2.1 kids often decide this after seriously weighing their moral obligations to the earth and to future generations. I think a beautiful solution is to encourage adoption for those called to the larger family.

    • Thankfully the myth of overpopulation has been busted, but I think overconsumption and stewardship of our gifts and resources are very valid concerns!

    • Adoption is a wonderful demonstration of the gospel, but not because of overpopulation. Overpopulation is an issue in some regions (parts of India come to mind), but it is not an issue at the global level. Even with current inefficiencies of distribution and resource allocation, the earth is nowhere close to capacity. A quick calculation will show that the entire global population would find itself on enough arable land to sustain itself even if it were restricted to an area the size of Brazil. Additionally, the idea that children can only be consumers flies in the face of our inherent, God-given capacity for production — creativity, invention, problem-solving, etc — and denies the potential benefits provided to the earth and its inhabitants by those future generations.

  6. Debbie Anderson May 18, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks for reminding us that God loves children and that as we welcome them, we are welcoming God Himself. My husband and I have chosen to welcome children by adoption through the foster system, not because we couldn’t biologically have children, but because the Bible says that “true religion is to care for orphans and widows and in their distress” (James 1:27). We have 4 biological children and have adopted 6. As our children grow up and move out, we are continuing to adopt more as God has called us to do. So many kids are just waiting for a good, loving home. Why not take them in and show them the love of God? You could be saving them hell.

    • That is amazing Debbie and such a selfless thing to do. That truly is loving the way Jesus taught us to. I can’t think of anything better than giving someone a home and a family who previous had none. There are so many unwanted children in the world. We need more people like you who are willing to open up their hearts had homes to them, the way Jesus taught.

  7. My husband and I have six children here and four more in heaven. I had the last one when I was 43. (she was 12lbs. and 24 inches long!) They are all wonderful, loving people and have become not only adults that I am very proud of, but each one is my friend and confidant. They have given us, so far, seven precious grandchildren, and a couple of more that are also in heaven. I homeschooled all of them through high school. It took 28 years, because of the years between the first and last. Looking back, there were MANY days I felt overwhelmed by the task at hand, frustrated by strife between siblings when they were young, the thought that my house always needed more attention, that my meals should be better, and always having the question hanging: “Are the children going to turn out okay?” I guess older people-I’m 64- always say this to the younger parents, “Enjoy these years, they pass quickly!” Well, it IS true.
    And I don’t regret having all six of them at home for all those years. I wouldn’t change a thing, except for my wrong responses in pressing circumstances! What a privilege to have had the opportunity to know these six people intimately. The last few years that I had some of them living at home, I became more and more thankful for all the construction boots, wet athletic shoes and motorcycle helmets lining my entry way. Beautiful things to have in your home!!

    • Thank you for your testimony. I’ll be 42 this year, still “in the trenches”. 🙂 But because women like you have encouraged me to count my blessings all along the way, I really have, and I have enjoyed the ride so much more than I would have.

  8. Rachel Janzen May 18, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Malachi 2:15 says: Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.
    As a follower of Jesus, I want to follow what God seeks. God seeks more followers of Him raised by parents who can show the way. This verse has been something I encourage young couples to pray about.
    Children are such a blessing. Training, discipline,and love are a challenge to our faith and strength. God gives strength for each day. I am so thankful to be the mother of four wonderful, loving, grateful grown up children in their twenties… I pray they all have many children, whether by birth or adoption.
    Thank you for your article.
    Only in the home education community have I heard encouragement for large families, so it is good that you are teaching the unpopular parts of God’s Word to everyone.

  9. So many of us only realize what an enormous blessing children are when we are too old to have more. As a young women I thought one or two children would be plenty. I ended up having four, and I love each of them so very much, and they have all been such a blessing to me, that I honestly grieve now that I did not have one or two more children when I was younger and still relatively healthy. I am 38 now and have a lot of health problems. My marriage is also failing miserably. In those circumstances I don’t think it would be wise to bring another child into the equation. But if could turn back time 4 or 5 years, I absolutely would have more. Children are God’s greatest blessing of all! And yes, the world does need more Christians. Thank you for having the boldness to share this message, Gary.

    • I feel just the opposite. I have four children and I don’t feel able to have a close relationship with them because there is always so many things to do . I want to spend time enjoying my children or talking to them, but there is always cooking to be done, cleaning, chores, etc etc. I think daily if I only had two I could devote better attention and be more intentional with my love than feeling overwhelmed and oh so tired

  10. Brian and Barbara Doyle May 18, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Thank you. It has always puzzled me why pastors and leaders never speak about something so relevant as making disciples by having children

  11. d’Anne Smith May 18, 2017 at 10:46 am

    Although I sometimes have struggled with the realities and uncertainties of our increasing family size, deep down I chose to believe that God was wiser than us in choosing the composition of our family, and that He would always provide for us. God is trustworthy, 100% of the time. Through all of the mountains and all of the valleys, He has always been near. He blessed us exceedingly, abundantly, more than we asked or imagined, with eight precious children. They are a truly marvelous treasure, so worth all of the very hard work. And now they are able to faithfully rise up and bless the next generation. I urge you to trust in the Lord in all things, even this. God is wise, and God is good.

  12. I believe many couples would have more children if they felt more support around them. Those I personally know who have a larger number of children usually have the involvement of grandparents and extended family to support them. But our American culture is bent toward independence of the nuclear family that makes the task of raising children fall almost entirely on two parents…or even one if the other parent works a lot. I’d like to see us return to a more balance view of “it takes a village,” or more accurately “it takes an extended family,” even if that extended family is the church.

    • Yes.

      We have five children with no support from extended family. It’s both hard and isolating. Churches don’t know what to do with large families especially as the incidence of special needs children is rising. “Childcare provided” doesn’t apply to families with a special needs child. We can’t leave him with just anyone. We don’t get invited to other people’s homes anymore because who wants to feed a family of seven? Something that costs “only” $20 per child turns into a lot of money with a bigger family. So many of the fun programs and events are not possible for us.

      If anyone is thinking of a bigger family, it’s worth it, we don’t regret it. But understand you’ll probably be a lot more isolated than you realize. And many will think you (as the mom) should have to do it alone because “nobody made her have all those kids.” Or, they’ll see how you “have it all together” and think you don’t need any help. I was offered LOTS of help after the birth of my first child. Less with my second. None with my 3rd, 4th, and 5th. People get excited about a young woman having her first or second baby. There’s very little excitement when a woman in her 40s has her 4th, 5th, or 6th.

      The only support I get is from other homeschooling moms. They all have a lot on their shoulders, too, but they do offer emotional support. We trade kid clothes back and forth to save money, we meet for picnics and coops.

      Having a bigger family can also mean that there is no such thing as the “sacred” date night. I’ve rolled my eyes many times after reading that my marriage can’t survive without date nights. When a babysitter isn’t an option and you have one toddler that’s a night owl (up til midnight) and another that’s an early bird (up at 5 am) there are no date nights. And the fatigue is monumental. Thankfully we weren’t in that stage forever but it was real and it was hard and our marriage did make it.

      Having a big family is one way to be fruitful and multiply. Creating a community of faith with people who are not our children is another way. Not everyone is called to marriage, parenthood, or large families. But, if you are, embrace what you have and try find community with other families that embrace your larger family.

  13. Yes. I needed this word of encouragement this morning.

  14. I am one who wishes I had “known” of this understanding 25 years or so ago. I have four beautiful daughters. But even as a little girl, I would tell people I wanted at least a dozen children. 🙂 I think there’s something deep in innocent little ones that is more closely aligned to God’s desires than adults. So I stopped at four thinking I was too old at 31 to have more. 🙁 In my church, we have several families with the biblical mindset. One family is expecting their 10th child. One family has nine children. Another family has eight. None of these families are on government help for anyone reading this and thinking they would have to be. One of these families is one of my pastor’s so he’s not rich. And no one could accuse the other two families of being rich either. God blesses in extraordinary ways when you give yourself to His direction. As a side note, I love the paragraph about descendants in Heaven. 🙂

  15. Darlene Grieco May 18, 2017 at 7:21 am

    Don’t forget adoption and foster care! It’s God’s heart to love, care and sacrifice for these kids as well, and to introduce them to the love of Christ!

  16. Thank you Soo much for this post Gary! We have been blessed with 7 children and are thankful for each one! Many people make comments about the size of our family and if we know what is causing it. Yes we do know and thank God for given us children!! They are such a gift! They help us in many ways, overcome our selfishness, appreciate the little things in life, see the beauty in others and nature,(even dandelions), forgive quickly, love without conditions, learn how to share, and sooo much more! Jesus says,Mat 18:3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. How can we learn that except thru children’s example? We are happy with our big family and praise God for His gifts!

  17. A lovingly bold…refreshing…and politically incorrect application of God’s WORD in a ME, Me, Me generation. In truth, we really do not trust much of the Father’s viewpoint, except where it makes us feel good. And VIEWPOINT always determines destiny!

  18. So well written- no man made rules for Christians regarding family size, but simply asking couples to consider what God’s heart is on the matter. Thank you!