Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Role of the Will of Man in Birth

To open, I will concede that in modern western culture, too much emphasis is placed upon human will and planning, especially as regards pregnancy. The fact that the phrase "unplanned pregnancy" is almost a dirty word in society, a thing of stigma, shows how far the pendulum has swung towards the will of man being (or supposedly being) the sole determining factor in reproductive issues (and if the will wasn't involved, well, insert will after the fact via abortion).

I will also assert that historically the temptation is to over-correct, to swing the pendulum to far to the opposite side of any error. I would imagine that this would be conceded to me, without having to give a catalog of examples in detail (simple one - the Reformation over-reacting against Rome and dropping the Sacraments - okay, almost everything about the Radical Reformation).

There is a strong reaction in many conservative Lutheran circles against the over assertion of the role of man and his will in reproduction - and a reaction is needed. However, I wonder if we aren't in danger of going too far if we move to a position where parents are to simply have as many children as possible, regardless of any concern to the situation in which their family finds themselves. I can denote almost an attitude along the lines of "we should simply trust God to give us the number of children that we should have and not worry about it" - with even an implied "and if you don't simply leave this in God's hands, you are sort of a lousy Christian" occasionally arising.

If and when we move this far in our response against a modern approach which views the will of man as the only factor in when a pregnancy should occur (or be allowed to continue), I fear we go beyond what Scripture teaches. Of note I'd like to look at one passage at the moment: John 1:12-13, which reads:

"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

I actually love this verse as a talking point against decision theology - receiving and believing is directly contrasted to an act of man's will - however, this verse does describe the will of man as being the typical way in which a child is born. Human birth is not described just as being a matter left to God's will where man is simply passive - but man is an conscious, active participant.

There is a place for man's will in terms of looking at reproductive issues - there is a place for plans (although we must not try to make our plans trump God, either engaging in tomfoolery and vice to either create or terminate pregnancy). Planning in and of itself isn't a bad thing. Can there be bad, foolish, even wicked plans? Yes. But if we say that we can never make plans concerning about pregnancy, or that the only plans would be health of the mother, seems to go beyond what the Scriptures describe about man having a will and this will having a role to play in reproduction.

There are just some preliminary thoughts on this issue.


Anonymous said...

I've posted several ramblings on this issue already on your blog posts, so I will try to keep this short.

Our Lutheran Fathers saw that there was a role for man's will in reproduction. They also saw that contraceptives were wrong.

This can be clearly seen in Luther - especially on Psalm 127 and 128. In fact the notion you deride "we should simply trust God to give us the number of children that we should have and not worry about it" is a good summary of Luther's view. He saw this issue primarily one of faith, and what it means to live by faith in all areas of our life.

You are absolutely right that man is an active participant. You are wrong to assert though that because man is an active participant in this that he then it is ok for him (that he has the right) to interfere with the process.

1930 years of church history said vehemently no to that. What has changed? I think that's the key question.

Chuck Awesome

Anonymous said...

I find two issues with what you have posted:

1) You characterize your opponents by saying that they want to have as many children as possible. This makes it seem as though those who are saying contraception is wrong now have no other goal but to see how many children they can have. You make it seem like it is almost some sort of a game for those holding this position. The fact is they are advocating for God to do it for them.

2) Can you explain what is wrong with trusting in God? Too often I think we assume that because someone does not use contraception God is forced to give them a child. If God is really in control why is it that we assume that he is subjected to the planning that we do?

In some manners there is more freedom by trusting in God then there is in worrying about how to control things with our own actions. Does this mean it will always be easy no. But when was it easy to be a Christian?

Chuck Awesome's Awesome Friend

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

First to Chuck.

What changed? I'd guess the development of effective barrier methods of birth control. You then have a tool that is available in times when family planning would be allowable.

Second, to Chuck's friend.

Go trust in God. Excellent! Do so with gladness! However, I have heard much belittling of those who would deign to use contraception - not from you (or at least I think not from you, but I can't guarantee that I haven't heard it from you in another pen name - but you get the point).

But to say that to use contraception is to not trust in God is inaccurate. Can they be related - sure. But is every use of birth control a lack of trust in God -- or is it simply a person living our either life with tools that are on hand? It can be the latter.

I would note that the same arguments levied against contraception used to be made against having life insurance - claiming that this was a sign of a lack of trust in God. Where are the people complaining about the sin of having life insurance?

Anonymous said...

Rev. Brown,

Just to clarify I have never posted on your blog prior to today. I sent you an email explaining why I have been anonymous earlier today.

You didn't really answer my objections. You still are leaving the opposing position characterized. (Easy to knock down a straw man) And why is it that the God who still takes care of our needs is subject to our use of birth control. And when we don't use it he is required to give us a child.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Chuck's Friend.

1. I'm not sure what you are wanting here....

I have, myself, been berated for having used birth control. I have been told that I did not trust in God because my wife and I elected to use birth control until she graduated. When I said that her graduating was important so that she could support herself should something happen to me - I was told I should just buy more life insurance (again, we used to be opposed to life insurance). So, this isn't just a straw man - this is what I myself have been told.

Now, does everyone who oppose birth control denigrate those who use it? No - and to those, I say kudos! If you are convinced that birth control is wrong, so be it - live your life attempting to serve God and leave to me to do as well.

As for the second - Let me start over. "Can you explain what is wrong with trusting in God?"

I'm not going to answer your question directly this way because to do so concedes too much to you. There is nothing wrong with trusting God -- but I will not concede that using a tool implies a lack of trust in God.

Let me tell the good old joke. The flood waters are rising, and the policeman stops by an old man's house and says, "Come on, there's a flood coming, let's get out out of here." The man says, "Don't worry, I trust in God, He'll protect me." Then, the waters rise, and the National Guard drives up through 6 inches of flood and says, "Come, let us rescue you!" The old man says, "Don't worry, I trust in God, He'll protect me." The waters rise higher, and people come by in the house in a boat over the three foot waters. The old man waves them off - "Don't worry, I trust in God, He'll protect me." Finally, the waters rise so high that the man must go to the roof, and a helicopter comes by, but the man waves them off - "Don't worry, I trust in God, He'll protect me."

The man then dies, and upon seeing God he says, "I trusted in you - why didn't you help me out?!?" To which God replied - "I sent you a policeman, the National Guard, people in a boat, and a helicopter - what more did you want?"

The point of the joke is this - as Lutherans we understand that God uses means - that God uses tools, that He works through man. We don't need to go all enthusiast in our approach to having children. God is in control, but we can use physical means to influence our life -- and doing so does not automatically destroy or break trust in God.

However, let me put an important caveat. If for you to use birth control would equate or feel like abandoning trust in God - DO NOT USE BIRTH CONTROL. Don't violate your conscience in that way. (Provided your spouse is in agreement - if you and your spouse end up disagreeing, then some of those "weaker brother" rules come into play, but that's a whole 'noter kettle of fish)

Also, let no one chastise you for not using birth control. In this you are free - let no one bind you.

And one thing to note - you may not mean to, but if you say, "I don't use birth control because I trust in God", you are in fact implying and saying that anyone who uses birth control doesn't really trust in God. That is how people will hear it. If you mean to imply that - you are wrong. If you don't mean to imply that, make clear that you are explaining your own reasoning and how you yourself have approached a sensitive issue.

Anonymous said...

Not sure what happened to my comment but...

1) Just read some of the things you have stated about my position then read my comments from the first comment. You have characterized the opposing argument in your posts.

2) Everything in this world comes down to the 1st commandment in this sinful world. There is a difference between testing and trusting. I argue that children will not stretch you beyond the means that God has planned for that child. Does he stretch you in the world's eyes at times sure. But he provides for his children. He does not guarantee to provide you a nice car but he does care for his children.

The reason you can't argue from the hard cases is the same reason you don't do that with divorce or abortion. The arguments don't apply to 99% of the population.

Anyways, hopefully something today has made people look at things a little differently. But we aren't really profiting anyone in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Again CAAF. I apologize for doing that twice. Bad mistake to make.