So God created man in His own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:27 – 28
Men and women were created to reflect God’s image through fruitfulness and rulership. The woman was designed to help her husband in these tasks. If you believe, as I do, that every part of this mandate applies to us today, you will quickly find that it is hard work. God has made it so.
After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, He brought consequences. Sorrow would be multiplied as women brought forth children (Genesis 3:16). There would be marital tension and the wife would desire to rule over her husband (Genesis 3:16). The man would subdue the earth provide food for his family only after much toil (Genesis 3:19). Both fruitfulness and rulership were now troubled, hard processes.
The hardship of raising families in a fallen world is one of the main reasons why Western society has embraced a small family size of few or no children (0 – 3). On the rare occasions when I mention that I’d like to have more than the usual number of children, people usually respond that I’ll think better of it when I realise how hard it is to raise two children. Oh, and have I thought about how my injured back will do?
The trouble with embracing this view on a society wide level is that when you ditch the ideal of fruitfulness and abundant fertility, you also reduce your ability to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. It is difficult to build a thriving culture if the birth rate is very low. Even secular commentators are increasingly realising this. Cybercast News Service recently reported on Demographic Winter while Dallas News brought out the old line procreate or perish.
Couples who have many children usually don't do so because they think it is nice, or because they think it is the easiest way to live in the short term. Most choose this lifestyle because they believe it is God's plan for them. I would be the first to say we should never judge other Christians on the basis of their family size. However, I am also happy to argue that we need to challenge the mindset that leads most couples to deliberately choose a small family. We need to stop pretending that the ordinary hardships of childbearing are a reason to minimise God's plan for us to be fruitful and multiply.
I cannot say this any better than Nancy Wilson does in her book Praise Her in the Gates.
While evangelism beings more worshipers into the Church, childbearing brings more disciples into the home. A mother should be fruitful like the vine in Psalm 128 . . . Of course, fruit requires tending, and tending can be hard work. But it is a good work. Women should see that their view of children is shaped by Scripture and not by the world. Hard work, when it is good work, is soul-satisfying and soul-prospering. No matter how many children the Lord may give you, be it two or twelve, you must rejoice in the number ad be fruitful in the rearing of them.
Being fruitful and multiplying was hard for Eve, and it was hard work for her descendants who bore “sons and daughters” (Genesis chapter 5). Yet she knew that God had ordained this work, both in His original mandate to her and in His addition of extra hardship. God did not make a mistake. We can rest in the same confidence, knowing that God has made it so.