“If They Want Children”

We attended the wedding of a young relative this past weekend at a mainline Protestant church. The service was dignified and largely followed the traditional text of the Western marriage service, which probably made it exceptional by today’s standards. I was struck by the conditional clause of one petition offered to God for the couple, something like: “If they want children, please grant them children.”

“If they want children…” Discussing this with a parishioner more recently departed Protestantism than I, I was told that the mention of children at all in a wedding service is exceptional. This person had attended many weddings in the past ten years or so and never heard children mentioned as part of the service.

So let me give credit where credit is due: at least this wedding acknowledged the connection of marriage with children. That connection is more often than not acknowledged or even denied today. Thanks in part to contraception and the casual acceptance thereof of  most Christians coupled with the prevailing conception of marriage as something joining two ‘soul mates’ for fulfillment and bliss. Children are an option in this sort of marriage as modern contraception gives a couple the power to choose whether children fit their notion of the fulfilled life.

The divorce rate gives the lie to this vision of marriage, but our culture continues to embrace it. Indeed, this vision of marriage contributes to the divorce rate: for when a couple marries and “falls out of love” or find they are not really ‘soul mates’ (whatever that is supposed to mean), then they consider they have made a mistake are are justified in seeking the fulfillment of their desires in another marriage or relationship without marriage.

In contrast to last weekend’s service, in the Orthodox Christian wedding service, we pray at the Betrothal “that they may be granted children for the continuation of the race…” Then in the Great Litany at the Crowning, we ask God “to grant them chastity and of the fruit of the womb as is expedient for them”, that God “will make them glad with the sight of sons and daughter”, that “He will grant to them enjoyment of the blessing of children”. Later in the first prayer for the couple, we ask God to grant them “long-lived offspring, gratitude from their children” and “that they may see their children’s children.” In the second prayer, we petition: “Grant them the fruit of their bodies, fair children” and “offspring in number like unto full ears of grain.” We ask again that they may see their children’s children. Then in the third of the three wedding prayers we request for them again “the fruit of the body and the procreation of fair children.”

All this goes to show that marriage and children are linked in the traditional Christian mind (and in the Jewish; it doesn’t take a deep reading of the Scriptures or history to see the link); they naturally go together. Children are not properly contemplated outside of marriage. Within marriage, they are the natural and expected result of the union (until now, that is, when we are in the process of redefining marriage to mean any self-chosen domestic arrangement).

Not every marriage, of course, produces children. Notice that we ask God “to grant them chastity and of the fruit of the womb as is expedient for them”. Children are not expedient for everyone, but that decision is best left to God’s providence and our faith in His goodness, not to our selfish, unenlightened whims.

Hence the conditional clause “if they want children” strikes against the essence of marriage. It would make man’s whim and desire sovereign over the Lord’s good pleasure and providence for man’s good. Rejection of children for selfish pleasure and convenience is in effect a rejection of marriage and of God’s intent for it. Ultimately, this is a rejection of God: a denial of His goodness, His wisdom, and His providential care as He seeks to reconcile us to Himself and bring us into His Kingdom. This vision of marriage is limited to this world and cannot deliver what it promises; the Christian view of marriage opens the door to the next and better world.

Published in: on Monday, 16 March, 2009 at 11:21  Comments (1)