No Children? The Bible Brings Hope
All who belong to Jesus share God as their Father. To be a parent is, to some extent, to mirror our God and fulfil our created design. Indeed, God created humanity to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). Of course, many do not have children, so what hope is offered for them?
When exploring this sensitive subject, I hope these three principles will be used by the Spirit to offer hope and stir the “… inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8) that is available in Christ.
Share your sorrow with Jesus
For many, the realisation they will not have children is accompanied by acute pain and ongoing heartbreak. I’ve spoken to people who deeply desired children but were not able to have them for a variety of reasons. Sometimes our dreams don’t coincide with God’s sovereign will.
One of the most helpful pieces of pastoral advice I was given was to involve God in my struggles. Of course, when faced with emotions that seem overwhelming, this pastoral advice can sound trite. When I reflected on my own walk with God, however, it became obvious that I wasn’t being honest with the Lord. I’ve found that difference between involving God in our struggles and hiding from Him can be revolutionary.
Logically, of course, hiding how we feel from God is self-defeating. It conjures up the ludicrous picture of humanity playing hide and seek with God (Genesis 3:8). The Lord already knows how we feel, and what we need.
Why should we share our sorrow with Jesus? Well, I’ve never yet seen a time when being honest with God hasn’t proven to be beneficial. Could that be why we find such honesty in the songbook of God’s people - Psalms? To obey the command to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) - which carries the meaning of rejoicing in every circumstance - we can’t ignore the circumstances we are in. We must involve God in them.
When we share our unfulfilled dreams with God, He may help us to uncover the potentially sinful, or positive, desires that lay behind our plans. If God doesn’t grant our requests, we are then better placed to see how He might re-channel our desires for His good purposes. As CS Lewis noted in his book “The Problem of Pain”, pain is God’s megaphone. It can be a tool for our sanctification.
Be fruitful for Jesus
The childless woman who was graciously granted children by God is a recurring theme in the Old Testament. For example, Hannah was honest, and she cried out to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:10) and He answered her prayers. God answers prayer. However, I think this recurring motif points to another wonderful truth. The barren wombs being opened were shadows of the truly miraculous child, born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), who would enter the world to inaugurate God’s Kingdom.
Some members of TFT have entered marriage and had children. Some have not. Both are commanded to see the more glorious implications of this Scriptural trajectory.
Whereas God commanded humanity to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), now a different kind of fruitfulness takes priority. That’s why Jesus extols the virtues of being a eunuch for the sake of God’s Kingdom (Matthew 19:12), and the apostle Paul lists singleness as a gift alongside marriage (1 Corinthians 7:7) that is to be used in gospel service (1 Corinthians 7:32–40). Tragically, our fallen world means that some married couples are not able to have children without adopting, but I think the implications as to why singleness is a gift apply in this area too.
How fruitful we are for God’s Kingdom should be the priority for every follower of Jesus. Simply put, not having children does not mean that we won’t bear fruit. What’s more, Kingdom fruitfulness is not just equal to physical fruitfulness - it’s infinitely more important. One type of fruit lasts for eternity. Sadly, one may not.
Think about the message of Ecclesiastes – its existential angst certainly rings true. Everything in this world is vaporous. Death will come to all, so how can we find meaning? It is not in our legacy (Ecclesiastes 1:11), our wealth (Ecclesiastes 5:5), pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1) or anything else (including children and future generations that may follow (Ecclesiastes 1:4)). The only answer offered is to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). From our perspective, this side of the cross, the answer is obviously subsumed by the greater meaning that is offered in Jesus Christ. Our desire to be fruitful in the Kingdom, then, should trump our desire to be physically fruitful.
I do believe children are brought into God’s covenant family. For the Christian parent, to teach them the ways of Jesus is their most important task. Christian parents train their children for Kingdom living. But having physical children is not the only way to be fruitful for God’s Kingdom. Christians without children may have more opportunities to help nurture others in their faith, and be may be called to act as a kind of spiritual parent to others. Love is not self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:5), but outward-looking. Both physical and spiritual fruitfulness is designed to draw love out.
Enjoy the family of Jesus
When Jesus was hanging from a tree, He gave his mother into the care of His beloved disciple (John 19:26). Mary became a mother to John. John became a son to Mary. Of course, Jesus never had physical children. But He was deeply concerned that His people would live out who they are, His family on earth.
That pattern of spiritual parenting is repeated throughout the New Testament. Paul the Apostle, who like Jesus was single, learnt how to be a spiritual son. For example, towards the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me too” (Romans 16:13). He learnt how to enjoy the family of God.
But not only that. Paul felt a fatherly affection towards others too. In his exhortations to the Corinthians, Paul stated, “even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15). He also claimed Timothy as his “true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2).
As Christians we are not left without family. We are enfolded into God’s family and relate to one another as spiritual brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers.
So, how do we reckon with the pain of not having children?
First, remember to be honest and share our pain with God. Second, let’s look to the trajectory of spiritual fruitfulness that Scripture gives. Third, we can meditate on the wonderful examples that are given of spiritual parenthood in Scripture. We should be overjoyed that we are invited to play an active role in God’s family.
These principles may not minimise the pain that is felt. But, hopefully, it can edge us towards channelling that pain for the glory of God.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Winter 2020 edition of Ascend