My wife of almost 19 years and I have been blessed with four children (one of which was taken to be with the Lord at an early birth), and after having a recent uncertainty if we might be pregnant again (I’m almost 42), we decided for me to have a vasectomy. After the procedure, our oldest son, 17, had a pretty strong negative reaction, equating it with “castration” and “abortion.” I’m a nurse; I know the difference between contraception and birth control, so I have no qualms about that. My main concern is how to adequately explain the theological tension between God’s sovereignty and wisdom in our ability to be godly parents when we feel we’ve reached our limit to raise more children in a godly manner. Any advice and/or resources you could share on this would be greatly appreciated.
This is not an easy issue with which to deal, and we must try to think in a broad way biblically. There is enormous debate among evangelical Christians and no firm consensus on something like a vasectomy, so we have to be careful in how dogmatic we are in whatever position we take.
In our day, when we are all prone to struggle with walking by faith in the face of the rapid advances of technology (including reproductive technology), only God’s Word can be a sure guide. So what principles in Scripture are most helpful?
1. Certainly the most central one is that God is absolutely sovereign in all areas of our lives, including how many—if any—children we have. The Old Testament mentions God closing the wombs of various women (Gen. 20:18, 1 Sam. 1:6–21), and the dialogue between Rachel and Jacob in Genesis 29–30 shows the desperation a woman felt in not having children. But how could she charge God with a fault? We submit ourselves to the mighty hand of God, who freely claims ultimate authority. In other words, the Lord uses even the barrenness of the womb to make us see that it is his hand alone which rules our lives. Likewise, there is extensive discussion of the eunuch—too much to go into here. But again, there is a theological point that God is making. In the Old Testament a eunuch was not qualified to enter into the Lord’s service or even come into his house. But Christ has removed all barriers, so we can freely come to God through the Savior as we repent of sin and trust in Christ to save us. In both situations there is something much bigger than the issue of having children or not, it is our trust in God’s love and grace demonstrated in Jesus Christ (cf. Isa. 66:9).
2. While we have to think carefully as believers about using reproductive technology (more below), it is unwise to compare a vasectomy to abortion. Abortion is clearly condemned in Scripture as the taking of life (the sixth commandment). We believe that life begins at conception. These two things must be kept separate. I assume that, since vasectomies are not perfect, God can intervene and give you and your wife a child that is “unplanned” but must be loved and nurtured in Christ, and you would say, “Whate’er my God ordains is right”! You can’t rely on man’s plans to accomplish what God intends. At this point you and your wife have Christian liberty to prayerfully make decisions (see Westminster Confession of Faith, chap. 20; also see WCF 24.2 and Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 135–139), and once you recognize God’s sovereign rule over your family size, you submit to “whate’er he doth; and follow where he guideth.”
This brings me to the most important point in your question: Do you and your wife believe that you are responsible for the salvation or godliness of your children? You write, “when we feel we’ve reached our limit to raise more children in a godly manner.” If we are thinking in terms of the covenant, we have to acknowledge that we can never raise even one child in a godly manner! God uses sinful, imperfect, inconsistent parents (which we all are) to raise up godly seed (Mal. 2:15). That is seen repeatedly in the Scriptures. We must not look to ourselves—our strength, our own godliness—as the keys to how our children will turn out. I encourage you to think carefully about this. If your children were baptized as infants, you made vows, and one of them was to bring your child up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; but you can’t do that apart from the work of God’s Spirit in your and their lives.
This is an opportunity to accept what the Lord says and thus grow in your dependence on his power which is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12). I will pray for you about this tonight.
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