Several faith issues bother many believers. Some of them include the presence of evil which prompts some believers to question why the wise, mighty, caring and loving God allows evil to flourish. Some even wonder why God does not just annihilate Satan.
The suffering of the righteous, babies, children, the aged and even clerics from pain, poverty, persecution, discrimination, illnesses or even natural disasters also confuse some believers. Some faith groups teach their followers answers to these questions, but some denominations never touch on these subjects.
Another field that generates questions from believers is sexual and reproductive health and rights. Ask believers whether it is acceptable to use condoms, natural or modern contraceptives, or access to safe abortion; divergent answers will pop up. Instead of using the Scriptures to answer these questions, what some will do is condemn or even describe such a discussion as evil.
I believe that regardless of the different positions we hold on these issues, it is important to be discussing them because they affect believers directly or indirectly. We should also remember that knowledge is power. Proverbs 24:5 says, “a wise man is strong. And a man of knowledge increases power.”
I have heard my fellow clergy quoting some verses in piece-meals. One such quoted Scripture is “be fruitful and multiply,” as a justification for opposition to family planning or contraceptive use. Unfortunately, by focusing on ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ most believers conclude that intentionally preventing pregnancy through contraceptive use is evil.
But an examination of the whole verse gives a clear picture of God’s intention. Genesis 1:28 reads: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” There are several powerful words in this verse, so it is not just about fruitfulness and multiplication.
In my opinion, blessed is the first powerful word in that verse. Are you blessed or not? Are those who are not blessed going to claim the gifts and opportunities of those who are blessed? The second powerful word is ‘fruitful’. What is to be fruitful? Fruitful in what way? The third powerful word is multiply. Multiply what? And how? The fourth powerful word is ‘replenish’. What are you going to replenish? The fifth loaded word is ‘subdue’. How are you going to subdue it? The final word is ‘dominion’. What can enable you to have dominion? Does having many children give you dominion or power? What gives people power? Is it children?
One school of thought considers this verse as a basis for discouraging family planning and contraceptive use. The school of thought strongly contends that the instruction is straightforward: be fruitful and multiply. God ordered people to increase their population by having and raising children. The obligation to populate the earth was a part of God’s plan. Interestingly, most of the time, members of this school of thought often refrain from discussing the second aspect of verse which dwells on ‘subduing’ and ‘having dominion.’
It’s about stewardship
The second school of thought explains that this verse is part of the Scriptures discussing how God has given humanity stewardship over the world. This group observes that the verse has nothing to do with birth control as the Scriptures offer direct guidance on many topics of morality but not on contraceptive use, and any inferences from the Bible are mere opinions.
The clergy and believers who embrace the second school of thought emphasise that children are a gift from God and not just a product of sex. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3).
In the article “To Conceive or Not Conceive: A Christian Perspective on Family Planning”, one scholar, Elise Newcomer, observes, “children should be highly valued, and should be seen as gifts to us. Seeing children as just the by-products of sex is very detrimental and violates the spirit of such biblical texts.”
The second school of thought argues that the real issue under discussion in Genesis 1: 28 is God’s command of humanity’s stewardship over the earth and cannot just be tied to having many children. The verse, therefore, does not encourage or discourage contraception use as other quarters claim. The group further explains that being fruitful also means being productive and having the ability to prosper (multiply – the products and services you have). According to the verse, productive people are poised to have dominion or authority over others and the world as opposed to those just preoccupied with procreation.
Those who interpret the verse as about procreation should study 1 Timothy 5:8, “anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their household, have denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
The verse sets out the need for people to take responsibility for their families, starting with carefully planning the number of children. If in the name of ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ if you have a dozen children and fail to look after them, the Bible says you have ‘denied the faith, and you are ‘worse than an unbeliever.’
The context is that life is not just about having many children as the sand of the sea but also about looking after one’s household members, including children. The first man God placed in Eden, Adam and his wife Eve, had three children, Cain, Abel and Seth and never decided to fill the whole world alone.
God is a master-planner
In conclusion, it is essential to realise that God is a master planner. The Bible mention the words ‘plan’, ‘plans’ and ‘planning’ over 200 times. Proverbs 21:5, for instance, reads, “the plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.”
The book of Luke 14:28, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”
Just as successful people plan their careers, businesses, life and almost everything, it is also important to plan our families, including the number of children we can have and look after.