Sex Should Be Fruitful
How many children?
If the population of a country is to remain stable, every woman needs to have 2.1 babies. (The reason it is not exactly 2 is because of childhood mortality.) Of course, no woman has point one of a baby – 2.1 is an average. This is what demographers call the replacement rate. The number of babies that women actually have is called the total fertility rate, and in many western countries this number is way below 2.1. For example, in Poland it is only 1.23.
This means the Poles might become extinct sometime in the next few decades.
More interestingly, it shows how our attitudes to children have changed. Lots more kids are growing up without any brothers or sisters around than used to be the case, and lots of women are choosing not to have any children at all.
Add to this the fact that people are living longer, and we can predict some very strange changes in society. By 2050 the majority of children in Europe will have no brothers or sisters, no cousins, aunts or uncles. But they will have three to four grandparents and one to three great-grandparents still alive.
This is very different from how human society has operated throughout the rest of history. What the human race has been used to is being part of a family, and community, where there are lots of children and young people, fewer adults, and hardly any old folks. With the changes in breeding habits we are now seeing we are going to have to get used to living in a world where the family is very small, but very stretched – rather than having brothers and sisters and cousins to hang out with, it will just be your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents.
This has huge practical implications. It has huge implications for pension provision and care for the elderly – how will pensions get paid if there are no younger people to produce money? How will the elderly get cared for if they outnumber younger people? What will life be like when your great-grandparents and grandparents and parents have all died, and there are no children or grandchildren coming through to replace them? Sounds lonely…
It seems to me that there are a lot of conflicting attitudes to children in our society. On one hand, we live in a society that idolizes children. Kids aren’t allowed to do anything dangerous anymore – or anything that looks like it might be dangerous. Parents keep their kids cooped up inside watching TV and getting fat on coke and pizza because they are too scared of the traffic, and the paedophiles, and the plague to let them play outside. And too many parents treat their kids like little gods.
If you have ever seen a young child in a supermarket screaming at its mother to put more sugar in her shopping cart, and the mother doing so in order to keep her child quiet, that is an example of treating your child like a little god.
But on the other hand, children are also often seen as a burden. One of the reasons people are having fewer babies, or starting families later in life, is because children are seen as something that stops adults from doing all the things they want to do. Adults have so many important things to do – we have got to build our careers and having kids gets right in the way of that. We also need to make sure we have plenty of time to pursue all our leisure activities, and it is not so easy to go out drinking or climbing mountains if there are kids holding us back.
Babies = Blessing
The biblical view of children is very different from our world’s. The Bible sees children as a gift from God and as a sign of his blessing. We see this right at the beginning of the story in Genesis chapter 1. The story is about God creating the world, and making it ready for Adam and Eve to live in. But where all this amazing creative work leads is to God pronouncing a blessing, and that was a blessing to make babies:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”
In the Bible blessings are very powerful. They are not like when someone in church says, “Bless you” as a kind of alternative to saying “Goodbye.” In the Bible when someone pronounces a blessing stuff really happens. And when it is God who is making the blessing you can bet there is power involved. So God blessed Adam and Eve and told them to get on with making babies. They were to be fruitful.
This attitude of seeing children as a sign of God’s blessing continues throughout the Bible. For instance Psalm 127:3 says, “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.” In the Old Testament just about the worst thing that could happen to you was to not have kids.
This has huge implications for us all: You are not an accident. You are not just a lump of flesh uselessly sitting around consuming the earth’s resources. You exist because of blessing! If God had never pronounced that first blessing over Adam and Eve you wouldn’t be here today. This means you can be confident that the blessing of God in your life is real – and powerful.
Sex = Babies
It is pretty obvious that sex is meant to result in babies – that’s what all that equipment we carry around with us is for! But because we now have efficient contraception, we can forget the obvious, and many people seem to think men have been given penises and women vaginas simply as recreational items.
However, the Bible is clear that sex is meant to result in children. This doesn’t mean that sex is meant to be some kind of clinical activity, like a vet performing artificial insemination on a cow. Sex is relational – which we’ll look at more when we consider the ways in which it is meant to be faithful and sacrificial – but it is also meant to be fruitful.
There will, of course, be times when sex is not fruitful, and babies don’t result, because of infertility. For those couples who experience infertility, this is a really tough thing to handle, which takes a lot of time and love to work through – I have experienced few tougher things in my role as a pastor. But generally speaking we can say that sex is intended for the purpose of reproduction.
Biblically speaking, marriage is the place in which a man and a woman are joined together as one, and this joining must include “loining” – if a couple don’t have sex they’re not really married. And if a couple are having sex, they should be open to the possibility of achieving the end for which sex is intended – children. This is not to say that we should not use contraception. But it does mean that the possibility of making a baby should not be permanently excluded from sexual activity. If we choose to permanently exclude the possibility of reproduction from sex we choose to exclude ourselves from the blessing promised us by God in having children.
When God joined Adam and Eve together he created the first building blocks of community. It was a community that was meant to grow, and it grew by having children. This first marriage provides the pattern for all subsequent marriages – marriage is meant to grow community, and it does so by producing children.
Sex is meant to be fruitful.
I like the way that Christopher Ash summarises this:
We conclude that in general a couple determined to serve God (as all should) will wish for the blessing of children. They do not wish for children because they like children. They do not wish for children because they themselves need to be needed by children. They wish for children because they understand that humankind has been given a world to care for; and the next generation need to be conceived, born and brought up in godly nurture so that this may happen. One day, when death is no more and the new heavens and new earth are inaugurated, this need for successive generations will be transcended – but not yet. Until that day, nurturing children is not an alternative to godliness but rather a natural expression of godliness within marriage.1
Or, to summarise that summary, procreation is a primary purpose of marriage.
1. Christopher Ash, Marriage: Sex in the service of God, p. 184.