Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Multiply and Replenish

A discussion with a friend today got me thinking about how we each fulfill the commandment to "multiply and replenish the earth". I am going to take the plunge here into what for some is a controversial issue and express my understanding of this subject.
First of all, I think it is common for people to forget that "multiply and replenish the earth" is, indeed, a commandment from God, equal in weight to other commandments. Indeed, as the first commandment given to Adam and Eve it should perhaps be given especially careful consideration. In connection with this, I believe we too easily forget that obedience to God's commandments is a prerequisite to receiving God's blessings in our lives. The trend in our society is towards seeing children as a sort of high maintenance accessory, something that can be nice to have but takes a lot of upkeep, and isn't always worth the trouble. It is interesting to me that I frequently hear people express how blessed they have been by a child who's coming was unexpected and even frequently undesired. By constrast, I have yet to hear a couple say "we have six children and I really wish we had stopped at three!" Every child is a child of God, an individual with infinite potential and worth. As we welcome these children into our homes and seek to raise them in righteousness, we will be blessed.

It is clear from the history of God's dealings with man that the command to "multiply and replenish" is not fulfilled in number. If the number of children borne were a measure of how well a person was following this commandment, Sarah, Elisabeth, and many other righteous and worthy women and couples in the Bible would stand condemned for poor performance! If women were somehow ranked based on number of children born, Leah with her 7 would be far ahead of Rachel with her 2. I do not believe this is how God sees things. Remember, as the Lord told Samuel, "man looketh upon the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh upon the heart". It is our hearts that we need to be examining as we determine how fully we each are obeying not only this but each of the Lord's commandments.

Our generation has been blessed with a wealth of scientific and medical knowledge, some of which can be applied to regulating our reproductive capacities. Knowledge and technology in themselves are rarely good or evil, but in their application we can either honor or dishonor our Creator.

Scientific advances in reproductive understanding and technology allow us greater control over our fertility than at any time in the past. We find ourselves able both to enhance and to limit our fertility. Both of these abilities may be used or misused. Generally, I believe the distinction is found in the motives of those who use them: when the motive is to honor God, and to seek best to live our lives in a manner pleasing to him, our eye is on eternity and our use is lawful; when we base our decisions mainly on selfish desires and motives, our choices follow the myopic vision of worldliness and are unlikely to be in keeping with the will of God. Selfish motivation can go either direction: if I view children as possessions to be acquired and use reproductive science to bear as many children as possible--lets say I convince a doctor to give me fertility drugs in the hope of having a multiple birth even though I am fertile and have several children--I would technically be "multiplying and replenishing", but I don't believe my actions would be sanctioned by the Lord! Alternatively, if I decide to limit my family to one child, or not to have children at all, because they are just so inconvenient and after all my career/leisure time/freedom are just more important--I do not believe the Lord would smile upon that decision either.

Before I go on, I want to make it clear that I am not trying to judge any one person's situation. There are times when we must prayerfully choose to limit or space out pregnancies. Physical and mental illnesses, family situations, debilitating or dangerous pregnancies, individual capacities and capabilities--each couple, in counsel with the Lord, must make decisions for their family and circumstance. That being said, the trend toward smaller families among those who theoretically acknowledge the importance of following all of God's commandments seems too often to be driven not by prayerful consideration and desire to follow the Lord's guidance, but by social and lifestyle pressures. I attempt to address some of these below.

Financial and lifestyle concerns: Clearly God expects us to provide for our families physically, and providing for a large family is a challenge. It seems to me, however, that most people who express an unwillingness to increase their family size due to financial considerations are actually concerned not about providing the necessities of life for their families, but about maintaining a particular lifestyle--typically one that is remarkably extravagant by the standards of most of human history, even if it is commonplace in the modern developed world. I hear concerns about being able to pay for children's college, provide cars or fashionable clothes, pay for extended family vacations or frequent amusement park visits (yes, I have really heard someone express this as the reason they did not want more children!) It is natural to desire to provide the best for our children, but I nowhere find the Lord making his command to multiply and replenish the earth contingent upon our ability to buy our children everything the world thinks they need. As far as I can ascertain, when Adam and Eve were given this commandment they were not even in a position to clothe themselves, let alone a numerous posterity!
I like Mrs. Bank's reasoning in the book Mary Poppins on Cherry Tree Lane--I'm paraphrasing from memory because I don't have the book in front of me, but this is the gist of it:
"Mr. Banks told his wife that they could either have a nice house or four children, but not both. Mrs. Banks, after carefully considering the matter, decided that she would rather have Jane, who came first, and Michael, who came next, and John and Barbara who were twins and came last. And so it was that the Banks family came to live in the small house on Cherry Tree Lane"

The social default:
It seems to me that many couples decide to limit their families to two or maybe three children just because that has become the norm in our society. When we do this, we are surrendering our personal agency and ignoring our independent responsibility before God to choose our course in life thoughtfully and prayerfully. I do not believe that, at the day when we must answer for our lives before the highest Judge, the plea: "everyone was doing it!" will be acceptable. We are each, individually, accountable for our choices and for how diligently we strive to keep the commandments of God. To ignore personal responsibility in favor of following the crowd is a fundamental rejection of our God-given free will.

The Lord's commandment to multiply and replenish the earth, and to raise up a righteous posterity, has never been rescinded. Decisions regarding the bearing and rearing of children are of the most solemn and significant kind, and should be approached both thoughtfully and prayerfully, and with a desire to bring our will in line with the will of God, not simply to justify the easy choice and the common way.


Kate said...

Amen...I had a pack of children. I would have had more had God blessed me with them. I loved (most) every minute with them.

Chambers said...

I really like this post, especially the beginning. I'm not the most fertile woman in the world, and am often frustrated by what I feel is a righteous desire to follow this particular commandment. But hopefully with that desire and with whatever children I am blessed with, it'll be enough :)

B. Perky said...

What would you say to those of us who remain childless NOT by our own choosing?

Paula said...

In response to the question about childlessness, I will repeat what I said in the main text:
"It is our hearts that we need to be examining as we determine how fully we each are obeying not only this but each of the Lord's commandments."

If in our hearts we desire to bear children but remain childless, we are not in any way falling short in obedience to the Lord. And I believe the Lord, who sees and knows our hearts, will bless our lives accordingly. I am sorry if my message conveyed any sense of condemnation to those who have been unable to bear children. I know this is one of the heaviest burdens borne by some in mortality; I greatly honor those who go forward in life seeking to bless those around them when their own hearts ache for the children they do not have.

I have often wondered if Anna, who served in the temple at the time of Christ's presentation, was childless.
"36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; 37 And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem."
We are not told that she had no children, but her complete devotion to God rather than to a family (children, grandchildren) for so many years makes me wonder if she had no family. Certainly it was one of the Lord's tender mercies that allowed her to be one of the first to see and recognize the infant Christ.

B. Perky said...

I did not take your message in a negative way at all. I agree with the way you think and I like your response. I did not intend to sound challenging. I have found that I have had to give up the ache to experience the gift of feeling Mother's Love for one special child in my life.
Soul mates are not always in the same generation. Father has held
no experience from me including what it feels like to be a mother and a grandmother. I just don't have to do as many diapers.

Maile said...

What a fascinating post. This is something I have thought about quite a bit, but you express everything so much better than I would be able to. I really like how you make the point that we aren't judged on the number of children we have but on the desire of our hearts.