Why do we have children?
Why do we have children? Make up your own list. I suppose the list would include things like, "Because we had sex and she got pregnant (but we can fix that with an abortion)." "Because we loved each other and this was the natural outcome of our love for each other." "Because we just love kids." "Because we were going through a tough time in our marriage and thought a baby would stabilize things." "Because we got married and isn’t the purpose of sex to produce children!?" "Um...never really thought about it." "I didn’t plan on it, they just came." And on and on and on.
And when some thoughtful child, maybe a bit insecure or wondering what life is all about, comes asking, "Why did you have me?" the answer is...? Asking a Christian this question is not the same as asking it of a non-Christian. The answers might come out the same though it’s clear that they shouldn’t. To ask a Christian, "Why do you have children?" and "Why do we (Christians) have children?" is not the same question because the second one implies that there is a distinctively Christian reason for having children.
That there is a distinctively Christian motivation for having children doesn’t alter the fact that there may be numerous motivations for having children nor does it mean that Christians and non-Christians don’t share some of them. But if there is a distinctively Christian reason for having children that would be the one they would want to focus on (though not to the exclusion of others).
Taking it that there is a distinctively Christian reason for having children does that mean every Christian knows it and has acted on it? The answer’s clearly no. But this wouldn’t mean that Christian ignorance renders God unable to do his work in the world through Christians. For pity’s sake, isn’t he always carrying on his work of blessing and redemption even in the face of our disobedience so why would our ignorance keep him from doing his marvellous work?
I think Genesis 18:17-19 is a critical text for Christians. ( I should already have said that ancient Israelites had a distinctively Israelite reason for having children.) Here’s the text: "Then the Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham shall surely become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him." [I've bold faced two purpose clauses.]
The central actor in the text is the Lord himself. He is the revealer, he is the chooser, he is the moral exemplar, he is the one that promises and the one that fulfils the promise. That's what the text insists. But this Lord doesn’t operate in a vacuum nor does he show himself outside of history—he works within history and through specific events and people. In this case it’s Abraham and (secondarily) his children. There are two critically important "so thats" that support the "for" in verse 19 that speaks of God's over-arching purpose. The first "so that" concerns God’s reason for choosing him. He chooses him "so that" he will direct his children after him to walk in the way of the Lord. The second links the purpose of the Lord with Abraham’s obedient response. No, it’s a bit stronger than that. They aren’t only linked; Abraham’s obedient response to direct his children is the method by which God fulfils his promise to Abraham. Read the text again.
This is where the children come in. God is the first actor, Abraham the second and the children are part of the whole unfolding drama. The text says, "he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him." Let me say it again: the means by which God blesses Abraham and brings about the blessing of the world (see Galatians 3:8 and other texts) is the obedient response of Abraham and his children.
You understand that their obedience never (and especially in this text) becomes anything other than the means by which God accomplishes his redeeming purposes. It isn’t a quid pro quo arrangement where God does them a favour and they do God a favour. The initiative is always of and remains with God. It is God at work through Abraham and his children to fulfil his promises. But in this text as elsewhere it is always God through Abraham and his children!
So why did Abraham have children? (Why did God give Abraham children?) The text is clear. It isn’t so that he can count their heads and see that he has become the father of a grand nation—they’re not merely an end in the blessing of Abraham. They are with him a means to the blessing of humanity. Of course God means to bless them so they’re not to be seen merely as means to an end but they do have a mission and a destiny.
And why do Christians have children? For the very same reason. The blessing of Abraham in Jesus Christ goes on and on (see Galatians 3:26-29) and the children of Christians are to bear witness to each generation of the redeeming and blessing work of God that will be brought to an abiding and glorious completion.
Christians have children not only so they can love them, not only because they hunger for them as potential mothers and fathers, not only that they can enjoy life with them (all true!) but also that they can provide witnesses for God in every generation.
"Ah, there they go again, these Christians. They take the spontaneous joy out of life and turn it into a religious duty." So a critic might respond, but the response would be from "outside the Christian box". There is no destruction here of joy, affection or any other lovely possibility but there is a deepening and an enrichment of the lives of both parents and children.
Let thoughtful children be told in a rich, wise and certainly gospel-centred way that they have a destiny and see if it hinders or narrows them in any sinister way. Tell them that the world is in need of rescue and blessing and that God has come in Jesus Christ to do that and they are alive to bear witness to that. Tell them, "You have a destiny and a mission. You are in the world as God’s blessed child to help him redeem the world." Tell them that along with all the other fine things you’ll tell them and not only will you be telling them the truth you will be giving them something that won’t fade and something for which many in future ages will be eternally grateful for. And when they have their children they will tell them the same thing and so we have the never-ending story. And can those of us who didn’t know anything about this sort of thing still tell our children, "We had you so that God would have witnesses for him when we are gone"? Of course, for while we may not have known we aren’t unhappy that God always knew.
And when some poor well-meaning soul is telling his/her children that they were destined to be a movie star, a famous athlete, a pop star or some such thing—end of story!—you won’t regret having been part of Genesis 18. Christians speak to their children of pleasure and joy, of hope and assurance, of heaven and hell, of forgiveness and uprightness but we say nothing (or nearly so) of destiny. There is so little talk about our place in the divine drama—why we are alive and who we are.
Whatever else is true, having children is to be expressed as part of our living our lives out under God and in Jesus Christ.
Finally, in point of fact many of us choose not to marry or to have children, and given healthy reasons that’s all right with God too. See
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.