This is a portion of a personal letter written by my close friend, future-uber-blogger, current college professor, and soon-to-be missionary to Cambodia–Jeremy Farmer. I’ve removed the context of the letter but really wanted you to read his important comments about the theology of children. Please take some time with these thoughts. Chew them up and feel free to leave comments here about what you thoughts. Christie and I are expecting our fifth child and were thankful for the reminders contained here and lessons we learned from these words.
Stop and think upon these things. It will adjust the way you view your role as a parent.
…I’m coming to see [that the real] starting point for answering every question in life is biblical theology. From the very first page of Scripture, children are everything. No, I don’t think that’s overstatement. Gen. 1:26-28 makes a very tight connection between (1) the image of God; (2) man’s dominion over the earth; (3) and offspring. I think the most natural reading is that dominion is one of the primary means by which man is to image God (at least in the pre-fall state) and multiplying is one of the primary means for exercising this dominion. [Yes, I’m aware that the image of God involves much more than merely dominion and that offspring is not the only means of exercising dominion, but these are the most prominent items in the text.] After the fall, God immediately promises that the one who introduced sin and death would one day be crushed by the woman’s offspring. Thus, children are everything. The rest of the story of the Bible is about this multiplication of children—this is why genealogy is so important throughout the Bible—it’s the record of the offspring God is choosing to be the serpent crusher.
Interestingly too, from the very beginning, God also promises the woman that bearing children will now be painful—a pattern that continues all the way through the end: the victory over the serpent is certain, but it will be difficult and will not come without a fight (ultimately a fight that will cost the very Son of God His life). Anyway, I digress.
So, as Scripture continues to unfold, children are constantly prominent; in fact, if God wants to bless a person throughout Scripture, one of the, if not the, primary ways He does it is by giving him/her children—just do a simple search of how often “bless” and “child/children/son/sons” occur in the same paragraph. The results are quite amazing. On the flip side, one of the most grievous burdens throughout Scripture is barrenness—the absence of children (quite ironic when you consider the present aversion to children among many Christians today). Not only are children prominent throughout the entire storyline of the Bible, even in the poetic commentary of Scripture (such as Psalms, Proverbs), they come in for much attention. Thus, when the psalmist wants to describe children, out of all the things he could say (they’re expensive, tiring, a hassle, etc.), he calls them a “gift” and a “reward” (Ps. 127) designed to be a balm from the weariness of life’s rat race (vv. 1-3). Psalms 127 and 128 are both “wisdom psalms,” part of whose purpose is to describe “the good life” (i.e., what does life look like when lived in the fear of God?) And both of these psalms highlight the role of wife and children. In other words, when God wants to give a man the good life, he gives him a family (obviously, I’m not saying that barren couples or single men are in any way less favored by God necessarily; just that family is indeed always viewed as highly positive).
So, at this point, we have to stop and ask, “Why in the world would I not want children? What higher blessing can I invent than the one God has been using since the beginning?” I think that 1 Tim 2:15 makes most sense when read against this background—the woman was deceived and thus carries a horrible stigma for her role in leading the human race into sin; nevertheless, she will be saved (in the sense of her name being redeemed from this stigma) through the bearing of children. That is, the woman who invoked the curse is actually the instrument for reversing it, as she bears godly children (“if they continue in faith and good works”). Thus, even after the birth of the promised Offspring, the bearing of children is still in some sense redemptive, obviously not in the same sense that the birth of Christ (and the births leading up to his) were redemptive, but at least in the sense that as godly people multiply, God’s plans for the earth come more and more to fruition. This leads me to my next major reason…the Great Commission.
As we study and prepare for ministry, whether missions, pastoring, or whatever, we are constantly longing for more opportunities to minister; sometimes the Lord brings us people who are ripe for our ministry, eager to learn and do anything we tell them. When this happens, we often get quite excited—“what an opportunity for discipleship!” Yet there will never be a discipleship opportunity where I will have even close to the same kind of influence, input, and control in the life of the disciplee as I will in the lives of my children (and spouse too). For good or ill, my children will be like me (something very exciting and very scary). I influence them constantly, whether I am trying to or not—even my absence will influence them. I will never be able to influence the people in my church to this degree. So, if you want to fulfill the great commission, take Christ seriously and start making your own disciples; we’ve made four so far. Something that has come home to me with almost overwhelming weight over the past year has been the unparalleled opportunity I have for preaching the gospel as a father. Every time I discipline one of my girls, I go through the basics of the gospel—what you did was sin; you have a sinful heart; God loves you anyway; because Jesus died and rose, God will forgive you and give you a new heart if you want him too; you need to talk to God. No exaggeration, I get to preach the gospel up to 15 times daily! That’s hard to find even in the most “unreached” pagan village on earth! And the more I preach it to them, the better I’m learning it—the whole thing of God loving me even though I sin…