Faith, hope and children (What Kevin DeYoung could have said)

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Here’s an extra article this afternoon instead of sharing afternoon tea. The Kevin DeYoung article about having lots of children has certainly stirred emotions. Some people have taken this to mean that there are obstacles to pastors talking about discipleship issues that affect women. I don’t think so. I don’t think that the problem was DeYoung talking about a pastoral issue affecting women but rather the specific message he delivered both in tone and contents. So I though I’d have a quick go at a little thought experiment – how I might have approached the question of having children. I would love your feedback

We live in pretty awful times don’t we? Some of you are setting off into married life and perhaps you are thinking “I don’t know if we should even try to have kids.” You look at a world shut down by coronavirus and wonder if your children will ever be allowed to go to church with you again, or hug their grandparents.  You fear the discrimination they are going to suffer, perhaps the same prejudice you have faced. You watch what is happening politically and see the way that things are becoming bleaker in terms of freedom to express your faith. Is that the kind of world you want to bring your child into?

Not only that, but some people are telling you that it is selfish to bring more kids into the world. This may be particularly true if you have already had a couple. You’d like that third child but you constantly hear that you shouldn’t do that because it will be irresponsible to stretch your family finances or that having children is contributing to the destruction of the planet.

Well, I want to encourage you to pause and think again. Here’s a Bible verse that has so often provoked controversy but I believe is actually incredibly helpful if we look at it to see its pastoral thrust rather than trying to create a debate.

 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”[1]

Now there has been lots of debate about what this verse means but we can rule out one possibility immediately. Paul is not saying that women become Christians and receive eternal life through having kids. That flies in the face of everything else the Bible teaches, everything Paul has to say in his letters and even I would suggest in the context of this very letter.

So some suggestions have been made including

  • That the verse refers to “the child-bearing” so it is talking about Christ. All women are saved through Christ’s incarnation, used as gloss for his whole life of active obedience, death on the cross and resurrection.
  • That the verse is saying that Eve’s own salvation was locked up with her having children because it will be through her seed that the serpent will be crushed.
  • That the word “saved” does not refer so much to salvation here but is talking more about being kept safe, that women do not need fear child
  • birth -still an issue in terms of mortality in many places because if she trusts in God then she will be kept safe through it, whether that means she physically comes through or that she is taken safely to be with the Lord.

Just pick up on that middle option for a second. Now have a look at Genesis 3:20, after the fall, after death has come, God has pronounced judgement meaning pain in childbirth for Eve and an increasingly hostile environment. We read

“The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.”[2]

Then we turn to Genesis 4:1-2.

“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten[a] a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel.”

Eve trusts God’s promise and of future seed bringing deliverance and so she has children. The names are clues as well. The first name, Cain is an expression of her trust in God, he has helped her. The helper is dependent on another’s help.

I have heard people talk about “Abel” negatively. It means breath or vapour and some take this to suggest fragility and the idea that Abel was an afterthought. This may well link to the negative associations with hebel[3]in Ecclesiastes which is often translated as vanity, emptiness and meaningless.

However, that idea of breath or vapour also comes up through the Psalms. It does suggest fragility and fleetingness and so there may be an element of recognising that aspect of its meaning in Abel’s name.

But at the same time, his name reminds us that it is God’s breath that gives life.  [4]

So, here is the point, whether it is Eve after the fall living in a now hostile world, expelled from paradise, Mary living in occupied territory with the potential stigma of a birth outside of wedlock or the women in Paul’s days as the church prepared for coming persecution, each birth was an act of faith. It may have seemed like a small, mundane step in the world’s eyes. It may well at times have looked like the foolish thing to do but God’s wisdom often looks like foolishness.

This is an encouragement for all of us. For those of you had are asking that question “should we try for children” despite this world shouting out to  you “no that’s the foolish thing to do” there is encouragement here. Yes it is worthwhile, it is a wonderful, precious act of faith. 

And for all of us, knowing that some will already had their share if children and grandchildren and some may find that for all our desire for children and all our trying that it isn’t possible, this promise remains good. There are so many ways in which we live by faith and show our hope, being ready to give a reason for it.

  • Choosing to buy a house and settle down
  • Deciding to give generously even when there is an element fo sacrifice involved
  • Sharing food with someone in need even if you don’t know when the next supermarket delivery will come.
  • Preaching a facebook sermon not knowing if anyone is really watching.
  • Acting as an additional uncle or aunt to a single parent family.

These are all little steps from the world’s perspective but huge in terms of faith. Most of all, in a world wherew we are told that no-one wants to listen to the foolish, offensive message of the Gospel, we show faith by keeping on telling friends, neighbours and family about Jesus.

[1] 1 Timothy 2:15.

[2] Genesis 3:20.

[3]  Abel has the same root meaning.

[4] Nb  see Elyse Fitzpatrick and EM Schumacher, Worthy, where they look at these verses in Genesis 4 and see evidence of saving faith in Eve’s act of trust in God

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