By: Ng Zhiwen
From day one of marriage, the questions will pour in. “So when are your going to havechildren?” “Isn’t it about time?”
There are other not-so-subtle hints. When your mum prepares herbal soup of the womb-strengthening sort every time you have dinner together, or when she drops hints that she is slowly getting too old to look after children, you know what’s on her mind.
Perhaps their generation had taken it for granted that what a married couple does is to have children (end of conversation).
But our generation is of the more skeptical sort. With our increased knowledge in bio-medical science (and thus, the health risks associated with pregnancy), as well as the plethora of choices made available to those of us aged 35 and below, you would naturally expect us to be more considered (or confused) in our choices.
A cultural spiral effect has also developed… previously it was common for families to have 3 or more children (and therefore, how hard could it be to just have one?). Nowadays, with the TFR at less than 2.0, and some of our peers struggling in their marriages (let alone contemplate having a child), it is now less of the cultural norm to have children.
There are other issues that go deeper. In an increasingly humanistic society, the question about whether or not to have children is getting approached from the angle of opportunity cost – as a parent, what do I sacrifice? Or what is in it for me? I wonder how many people these days would cry, like Rachel, “Give me children or I die!” [Or have I become so skeptical myself?]. If we merely thought about parenthood using cost-benefit analysis with respect to our own selves, we could easily reach the conclusion that it is better not to have children.
I’ve also heard of the following objection: What’s the point of bringing children into a sin-soaked and sorrowful world? What good could there possibly be for the child in this sorry life, in this sorry world? In Singapore the discussion can become one of national policy – “We are already over-populated, why contribute to the problem?” This question of course could be countered by saying that precisely because we are over-populated is why we need more children now to bear the burden of the future aged population. Which leads us down the road of futility in the end!
So why, if at all, have children?
I don’t think that we want to satisfy ourselves with a purely pragmatic solution – “I want to have children so that someone will take care of me in my old age.” “I will have children so that I have someone I can love.” Even the apparently “spiritual answer” – “I will have children because it helps in my spiritual formation” or “It helps me to know God better” – will not suffice. [Side note: It is true that being a parent, even changing wet nappies at 3am in the morning, can do heaps of good for one’s spiritual formation. But that’s another matter entirely!]
Surely there must be something in it for the child? Even if God has ordained that we should be fruitful and multiply, and that having children would do us good, surely there must be something good for the child, or for the world at large?
This brings us now to the Word of God.
What does the Word of God say?
First, in Genesis 1, we read that after God had created the heavens and the earth, and had populated it with humans and all kinds of creatures, He declared it very good (Gen 1:31). More than that, God decreed that the seventh day (the very day after the six days of creation) would be a day of rest, wherein mankind would enjoy communion – with whom??? With God, with each other (Adam and Eve had been created by then), and with the rest of creation. God even made the deliberate mention that He blessed mankind (Gen 1:28) and He also blessed time (when He blessed the Sabbath; Gen 2:3). We should also mind that after the fall in Genesis 3, mankind was not cursed. The serpent was cursed, the ground was cursed, elements of the human experience was “cursed” (e.g. childbearing and work), but mankind was not cursed (the blessing of God in Genesis 1 remained upheld).
What conclusion can we draw? In spite of the potential horrors and sorrows of life, there is something intrinsically good about it. Because God had made it and declared it so. Communion was meant to be good.
I think there’s even more to it… God didn’t create us out of sheer randomness. He created us in conformity to His character.
God is love (1 John 4:8,16) – Love is not just an attribute of God, but the very expression of who God is and what He does. Therefore, we were made as the result of the outpouring of His love that had pre-existed between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We were made for love.
Thus, if we go back to the original intent and purpose of life, we find that it is good. Yes, the world has been seriously tainted by sin and corruption, and it’s dreadfully easy and despairing to set our minds on that aspect of reality. But above and beyond what we see with our eyes, we find that we were made for something more – and that means that I imitate or partner with God in creation when I become a parent. The created one, the child born, born out of love, is therefore blessed and good. I wonder what joy it brought the Lord to see His creation when it first sprang into existence, and correspondingly what joy it would be to see one’s child get born.
An objection can be raised. But what then of Job? Didn’t he curse the day he was born (cf. Job 3)? Weren’t his friends rebuked by none other than God Himself for challenging Job? After all that he had gone through, didn’t he have a right to wish that he hadn’t even been born?
All that Job had gone through can be said to have plumbed the depths of human experience. I find it fascinating that God allowed the book of Job to be recorded for our appreciation. Here is a man who went through so much, wrestled it out with God, and emerged victorious. Victorious? No, I do not mean that the book shows that Job was right and God bad. But one thing Job did gained God’s commendation, he brought his issues to God and talked to God about it. And somewhere along the way, Job stumbled upon the gospel (Job 19), and puts his hope in God’s Redeemer. Lo and behold, the book ends with Job having even more children (7 sons and 3 daughters) – but only after having had a face to face encounter with God after which he realises that his personal vision of God had been so small.
I think that if we can grasp the lessons of Job, we could probably face anything that life would throw at us… for Job tells us one thing… If we are without God, and if He does not provide for our redemption and our hope, we are hopeless indeed. Life under the sun would truly be meaningless (and this, I suppose, is the condition attached to the declaration that creation was good). Life apart from God would be meaningless. But with God, everything is possible.
God has provided for us a Redeemer. He has assured us that He can be trusted and hoped in.
I have believed in this. I have believed in Him for my own salvation. In fact, against all odds… for I see the sin in my own life (even since becoming a Christian) and wonder how I can really be saved. I see the sin in the world and wonder how I can live a life that is good. I see the multitudes of apparent life failures and wonder what hope there is for my own life not to be a failure.
But then I see Christ, and everything changes. The Bible says that the just shall live by faith… how true!!! (see Romans 3 – 5). As long as I stand on His grace and His righteousness, my own sins and failings can be undone. As long as I live in Him, and He in me, I will have all I need to face this life. I realise that when God sends His love, He is really sending Himself. And that is enough. And that makes life truly worth living and wonderful.
If my own life has hope and good only by faith in Christ, the same will apply to any children I may have.
If I am to have children, then the part that I am responsible for the child’s blessing in his or her life is, first and foremost, to pass on this heritage of faith.
Do I have to attend to my child’s pre-school education so that he doesn’t fall behind his peers in school? Yes (but with some moderation!)
Do I have to nurture the physical, mental and social development of my child? Of course!
Should I help my child to acquire a variety of skills or talents (e.g. piano and swimming)? Why not.
Should I work hard to help my child get a decent start in life (financially speaking)? If possible, sure!
Must I set a good example of social etiquette and manners for him or her (God help me!)? Yeah!
But if I did all this without attending to the spiritual development of my child (which subsumes moral development, and which can mean nothing less than a personal relationship with Jesus Christ by faith), I might as well have been nurturing a most healthy, intelligent, well-bred and good-looking child, but adrift from God, swept to and fro by the chaotic waves of the world, and therefore in the gravest danger of being as wicked as any man – and quite well-equipped to be so!
What sort of life then is that? How would I have been said to have loved God and my neighbour with my parenthood?
But if my child comes to know the Lord Jesus, he or she is set on a path for which he or she had been meant for in the beginning – to have communion with God and to be transformed daily into His image, dispelling the effects of the fall, and giving good service to mankind and all of creation, to the glory of God.
Therefore, I have to conclude that to have a child is a most solemn and serious undertaking – for one undertakes to participate in the character of God – not just in giving birth (“giving life” or “creating”) a child, but in raising the child up in godliness as a father nurtures his children. This can only be done by faith in God.
So I have be saved by faith. I will live by faith in God. When I have children, it would be (it must be) by faith in God. I would love and raise my children by faith in God, pointing them towards living their lives by faith in God.
That would be the greatest blessing I can give them.