Day 359 (Dec. 25): John encourages us to love one another as God commanded, everyone who believes Jesus is God’s son will be children of God also, Jesus proved He was God’s son by being baptized with water and shedding His blood on the cross, Jesus protects believers from the devil, avoid anything that can take God’s place in your heart, be leary of deceivers, welcome the traveling teachers

Merry Merry Christmas!  The king is born!  Or, was He born on this day?  Read to the end for a discussion.

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

3 John 1:1-15

1 John 4:7-5:21

2 John 1:1-13

Questions & Observations

Q. (1 John 11-12): This verse reminds me of those people I meet that are just radiating with kindness.  I want to ask them if they are a Christian because I am very curious about that.  Is that OK to ask, or should I just assume they are Christian?

A. I can’t really see someone taking offense to the question, but I personally confess that I rarely ask people when I am similar circumstances.  Someone who is a true, confessing Christian should frankly be eager to tell you so.

Q. (5:6b): I am still foggy on what this means: “And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with his testimony.”  Does that just mean that we know that Jesus is God’s Son and, when we are baptized we get the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus said we would.  Therefore, His promise came true.  And the Holy Spirit confirms Jesus’ teaching because the Spirit shows us the right way to live, the same as Jesus did.  Thus, the spirit of Jesus (who taught us to be godly) still resides in us.

A. One of the things we established in Ephesians 1 is that the presence of the Spirit is the “mark” of our salvation, so in a sense, it is His presence that serves as a “testimony” about our faith in Christ.  He would not be present within us if we did not believe in God’s work in Christ, so His very presence testifies about what we believe.

Q. (5:16b): The sin that leads to death is denying that Jesus is the Son of God?  And, talking about praying for sinners, my daughter has started praying for Satan.  What do you say to that?  It actually stemmed from me because God says we are to love our enemies.

A. John tends to describe things in very strong black and white terms: you are either with God, or an antichrist — that sort of thing.  So it is little surprise that he would say that denying Jesus was the Son of God is a sin that leads to death.  As to your daughter’s action, I love her vision for praying for her enemies!

Q. (2 John 1:1): Is John singling out women believers?

A. Not really.  There is some speculation that 2 John is written to a particular woman, but the scholarly consensus is that the “women” represents a congregation or a particular church.  Revelation will repeatedly refer to congregations using feminine imagery, so it is hardly an uncommon thing for the NT (watch for the bride of Christ imagery).

O. (3 John 1:1-4): Growing up, I remember taking care of visiting evangelists and musicians that came to our church for a revival.  I think they stayed with us some, we fed them, had church dinners.  But now that I belong to a megachurch, there isn’t that sense of close-knit community.  I miss it!  But, as my life has changed from going to a small community to a big metropolis, we can still carve out ways to help others.  And, our church definitely supports missionaries who must travel abroad.

Q. Rob, since this is Christmas Day, can you explain if Christmas was the actual day Jesus was born?  I have heard studies where He was born in January.  Regardless, it’s a very important event to celebrate!  I think it’s interesting to hear how dates get set or rearranged in history.

A. The word Christmas comes from the words “Christ” and “Mass,” or Christ’s coming or arrival.  In the old days, the celebrations were known as liturgical feasts or feast days, as they still are in the “high” churches.  The first indication of the Christ Mass in the Western Church dates to around 354 AD, but the Eastern Church (what we today call the big “o” Orthodox) had already tied the birth of Christ into one combined feast day known as Epiphany, which takes place on Jan 6th of each year.  The Western Church also recognizes Epiphany as the date of the Magi’s arrival (Matthew 2), obviously have a different date for Christmas.  (In passing reference, you get 12 days if you add the dates from Christmas, Dec 25th, to Epiphany, Jan 6th, which would be the 12 days of Christmas, in case you ever wondered).

Okay, now about that date.  Well, as you can clearly see from what we have already discussed, there was no consensus about the ACTUAL date of Jesus’ birth, because the Gospels do not tell us.  The OBSERVANCE of the birth is what takes place on Dec. 25, so it should not be understood that the liturgical churches have been saying Jesus was born on Dec. 25 for 1700 years … it hasn’t.  As to WHY Dec. 25 was selected, well, now we’re in deeper water.  There is some close proximity to what is called the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and a major holiday for pagan culture, the dominant force in the world both Jesus and Christianity were “born” into.  So there is frequently discussed and “known” pseudo-knowledge that the 25th was selected to “replace” the feast of the Solstice, but I do not think this is actually what happened.  What caused it then?  Since that’s a long answer, I’m going to recommend you read an essay from a Catholic writer named Mark Shea (he’s a great writer and normally blogs here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/) on that very topic here: http://pblosser.blogspot.com/2006/12/is-christmas-really-just-warmed-over.html

Hope you find it as interesting and thought provoking as I did.  Merry Christmas!

Day 354 (Dec. 20): Faith is key to salvation, Old Testament heroes were rewarded for their faith, others suffered and died for their faith knowing they would have a better eternal life, God disciplines those He loves, there is a peaceful harvest after suffering the pain of discipline, listen to God so you don’t miss God’s grace, God to shake the earth so only the unshakable will remain

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Hebrews 11-12

Questions & Observations

I could write observations for every verse in this reading.  All the reminders of the OT and how they have come to fruition in the whole picture of God’s word were so enlightening!  God is blessing us with so many answers and insightful closures at the end of the Great Book!

Q. (Hebrews 11:1): Let’s try this again: I don’t understand the virtue of hope.  Why should we hope for something if we believe it will happen?  To me hoping signifies doubt.  But, the teachings of the Bible encourage hope.

A. As this passage alludes to, the line between hope and faith gets fairly blurry, but I confess I do not understand in what sense you feel that hoping for something involves doubt — hope is very opposite of doubt.  God has give us a vision in the Bible of how life can be when we follow after Him instead of our own desires, but again, we live in that tension of “already” but “not yet”.  So we have seen how things can turn with God’s help, but they have not “turned” yet, so to speak, for many of us.  But we believe that there is a better future, a better world, etc. for us (and our children, and grandchildren, and…), and that I think is the basis of hope.  We seek and desire the world to come, the rewards of our labor, and the purging of sin/evil from the world — Revelation will cast a vision of — but we know that it is not yet here.  So we wait, but we wait hopefully, not pessimistically.  C. S. Lewis had this to say about hope:

Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.

Q. (Hebrews 11:6): So to ask questions is to seek and by asking does not mean that I am weak in the Spirit, rather that I am trying to clear up confusion so I can gain understanding and BE closer to God/Jesus/Holy Spirit.

A. Yes, I would say that is correct.

O. (11:26): When a believer says, “Look up,” I have thought it just meant to consider God when I deliberating about something.  But, here we see it has more meanings like, “Keep your eyes on the eternal prize.”  And greed for the joy we’ll have in heaven is a great reason, but it has earthly goodness in it by actually bringing joy to your life and others.  Making others happy, makes me happy, makes God happy and vice versa: you get happy from others and God gets happy all over.  Making God happy makes me happy.  “Looking up,” always thinking of our heavenly home can get us through the hard times on earth and helps us make the right choices to get there.

Q. (12:7-9): What is divine discipline?  Does this mean that when something hurts us that we are being punished?  So, we should rejoice because if God punishes us, we know He loves us and is working to set us straight?

A. What the writer is arguing here is that the suffering and persecution that Christians often face (not from God directly) should be seen as discipline and instructive training for our own spiritual development.  Many who have suffered greatly under persecution achieve a level of faith that is difficult for us to even comprehend — God used (but did not cause) the situation and the persecution to deepen the faith of those who were suffering for the Gospel.  And as the passage reminds us, Jesus Himself is our example of how to persevere in the midst of suffering: He is our example and the truest Son of God.

O. (12:14): This reminds me of the Jackie Robinson story when instead of getting irate at the people persecuting them, he turned the other cheek.  He won his battle by staying true to his goal, having endurance and then many could see that he was no different from them.  If we let our oppressors ruffle our feathers and they see us get irate, then they are not seeing the Jesus’s love.

Q. (12:27-28): By unshakable, I would take it that “sin” and Satan have no power over us?

A. The power of sin will be broken (as we will soon see in Revelation), and the Kingdom that God will establish will be eternal, not finite as this world is now.

Day 342 (Dec. 8): Let Spirit be your power source, husbands and wives should be in a relationship as Christ is with the church, children should honor their parents, parents should bring them up in the Lord, God rewards slaves and masters alike who are in the Spirit, Put on armor of God, Pray at all times, Tychicus is going to Ephesus to give report, Paul greets church in Colosse, Christ is image of God, Christ is supreme!

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians while imprisoned in Rome.  He sent the letter to Colosse with Onesimus and Tychicus (See Col. 4:7-9), who were also carrying the letter to Ephesians (see Eph. 6:21-22).

Colossians 1:1-23

Questions & Observations

O. (Ephesians 5:18b-19, 20): I would say this is a good charge to be playing Christian music at all times.  We have a great station in Orlando, Z88.3! On a different note, v. 20 answers something I brought up a long time ago, that about when you pray, you only have to say “in Jesus name” if you ask for something.  Here it says that you should also when you give thanks.  I just think it’s important to give glory to Him every chance you get.

Q. (5:20-33): Rob, it’s OK, I’m not on my women’s equality throne.  I used to cringe at this Scripture because I never wanted to be considered less than a man.  I think the bigger picture here is our relationship with Christ.  He is the one we need to respect, honor, obey, love, worship, etc.  And, he gives us love and blesses us in return.  He really does that without us doing our part.  Likewise, if wives respect, uphold and love their husbands, just as we should with Christ, our husbands will be better people, just as Christ is better if his believers are virtuous.  After all, together, we are His body.

V. 33 hits the core, I think, of what men and women struggle with in their relationships.  Men love themselves, i.e. can have egos.  If they love their wives to the same degree, they will have a loving relationship.  If they put themselves before their wives — note Christ washes the disciples feet and he endured a grueling crucifixion — they will likely have discord.  I have seen many relationships where if the man has a strong ego, the wife is usually quiet and obedient, not a light like God desires.  And, I think some wives may struggle with the respect virtue.  We have a mind of our own, and especially in modern times, we are nearly equal in prosperity.  So, when entering a marriage, you both have to think of each other and not make major decisions by yourself.  I struggle with this, as you can probably tell, because I didn’t marry until I was 31 and had my own ways.  I was always headstrong though.  Anyway, I think some decisions he makes are wrong, but I know that he is human.  Also, I have learned that if I don’t agree with him, I shouldn’t just be quiet.  I talk through it with him so then I have understanding of his thought process and then, I can fully respect him.  This scripture describes more of working together and submitting to one another — not that husbands dominate their wives — like v. 21 says.  Note that it says, “submit to one another.”  It doesn’t say just “women submit.”

A.  You’ve hit upon the key to this section at the end: the idea is mutual submission, and the husband leads in that he is the first to submit.  That, of course, does not make him perfect, but it certainly demolishes any foolishness about this being a “men should dominate their women and the women should just take it” kind of passage.  The man should lead the relationship (and the wife should follow) in his willingness to die for her- to be willing to die to his own desires (especially control over her).  Many times men mistake the meaning of this passage (as women do) and say things like, “she won’t submit”.  But that’s not what Paul says: he says she should submit- after YOU DIE TO YOURSELF!  That is radically different, and it is a shame to me that more people of both genders do not understand the true meaning of this passage.

O. (6:1-3): Note to parents that it says children “belong to the Lord.”  That means we should cherish them treat them with respect.  I have never heard v. 3 before.  I’ll have to read that to my children.  I have a great aunt who will be 104 in January.  I think she wishes she hadn’t been so obedient.  Just kidding.  She is lonely.  All her friends are gone.

Q. (6:5-9): Rob, here’s a good one for you.  Explain slavery in the pre-Civil War U.S. in regards to this Scripture.  The war ended slavery because the Union said slavery was bad.  Here, the Scriptures say is just a way of life.

A. Ok, here goes: the slavery system in the ancient world was a system of slave debt, which frequently ended in the freedom of the slave.  People were frequently sold into slavery to settle debts in lieu of going to prison- and this type of slavery was rarely for life.  Now this is to be contrasted with the life-long, horribly abusive slavery associated with the slaves who were kidnapped from Western Africa during the colonial period of the United States and the Caribbean.  Slavery within the colonial system was for life, with beatings, brandings, separation of families (something the Roman system would not have allowed), and, don’t forget, it would have been entered into via kidnapping.  A master could also hang or beat an American slave to death, something that would NEVER have been allowed, even in barbaric Rome.

 

Something important to note here is that, despite Paul’s writings, there were people on both sides of the colonies (England and America) that took up what they saw as God’s command to abolish a slavery system that was exploitive and not necessary any longer.  You can read about one of the most famous, an Englishman named William Wilberforce- his story is told in a fairly recent movie called Amazing Grace (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0454776/?ref_=nv_sr_1) which I would highly recommend to learn more about the reasons behind the abolition movement.

O. (6:8-9): Again, I would like to point out that God says everyone is equal here, no matter if you are a bazilliionaire or impoverished.  Remember where we read in the OT about how the tables will be turned when everything comes to light.  The overbearing people — rich, powerful (if used in the wrong spirit) will be shadowed by those they dominated on earth.  I think that is so cool that we will see our reward.  The test is to stay humble and on the right path.

Q. (6:11): What is the God’s armor?

A. It is a series of reminders that Paul presents using the metaphor of a solider putting on his armor for battle.  Paul is providing a reminder that there are spiritual, not merely physical, dangers in the world.  The devil has you in his crosshairs, Paul is saying, so you need to be prepared to deal with the spiritual realities of the world that we cannot see.  His advice is to remember the ways that God has provided for our spiritual needs, from the Bible, to guidance for our faith, to instruction in righteousness, in order to stand against the devil’s actions, and not retreat.  He is telling his people to stand firm!

Q. (6:18): What does it mean to “pray in the Spirit”?

A. I think he means using the Spirit to guide our prayers and give us insight into God’s will for us.

Q. (Colossians 1:22): There is so much depth to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  I have never thought of myself as holy and blameless, without fault.  That is hard to imagine/accept.

A. Well, if its any consolation to you, your blamelessness is not your doing, but rather God’s.  Amazing Grace indeed.

 

Day 294 (Oct. 21): Parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Jesus explains God’s intentions on marriage, Jesus welcomes the children, rich man has difficulty letting go of possessions

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Luke 18:9-14

Mark 10:1-31

Matthew 19:16-30

Luke 18:18-30

Questions & Observations

Q. (Luke 18:9-14): I take it from this scripture, that none of us are better than the other.  As soon as you think you are doing well by yourself because of yourself, you become less dependent upon God, which pulls you farther away from Him.

A. The issue here is not the being “better” or worse (and you’ve got that right, by the way).  The issue is pride and contempt: the Pharisee holds those around him in contempt, and sees himself as superior.

Q. (Mark 10:5-12, Matthew 19:9): I don’t understand what “a concession to your hard hearts” means.  Also, here the Bible says that couples should not get divorced.  It’s a sin.  But, I take it’s a forgivable sin? Divorcees can still be saved, right?  Isn’t it Catholics who deny divorcees from some customs?  I didn’t think they will marry anyone who is divorced.  Also, Matthew says it’s OK to divorce if a spouse has an affair?

A. There’s a line between what God desires for us, and what God permits, and this is a clear case of a line given.  God allows divorce under certain circumstances, but His IDEAL is that there would not be divorce.  As we have mentioned, any sin can be forgiven, and this one is certainly included.  It is not the policy of some churches, such as the Roman Catholic Church, to permit divorce routinely, because they see it as a separating of what God Himself joined, for better or worse, I guess.

Day 232 (Aug. 20): God describes Israel’s sins and Judah’s siege using a riddle about eagles, punishment to go to the sinner not multiple generations, funeral song for Israel’s kings

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Ezekiel 17-19

Questions & Observations

Q. (Ezekiel 17:1-10): Not sure why God told this story with a riddle.  I had a little trouble following it.  But, know that I think about it, I guess God is showing how one grows and prospers.  On a side note, this riddle sounds like something I would hear from The Doors.  I wonder if they read Ezekiel.

A. Here’s how I would break it down: the cedar is the royal family of David, and the “top” of the tree, which the eagle captures, is the most recent king.  The first eagle is Nebuchadnezzar, who took the “top” people of Israel back to Babylon.  Those who were left behind, not being the best of the society, were mere “vines”.  These vines, those not taken by Nebuchadnezzar, including the king Zedekiah, rebelled against the first eagle by reaching out to a second eagle, most likely the Pharaoh of Egypt.  God is condemning the actions of the “king of the vines” by saying that Egypt will not rescue them from Babylon, and all will be lost.  But in the same sense, God has also described the way that the righteous of the nation will be saved, for the first eagle has “preserved” the cedar in a foreign land.  The real kicker is in 17:22, which contains a Messianic prophecy about the ruler that God Himself will “plant” or make king.  This king, Jesus, is of David’s line (the cedar), and will be chosen by God to be the eternal King that will draw all nations to Himself.

Q. (17:24): That last comment “I will do what I said” reminds me of the steadfastness of God and also of the free will vs. predestination argument.  Rob, you are on the “free will” side.  I agree with this because we have obviously seen where God gives people choices and most of the time, we read that they make the wrong one.  But, we have also seen where God empowers people where things are done that they could not do on their own and may have not chosen to do.  So, that’s not free will.  Maybe God just strengthens intentions, i.e. an invading army would become stronger with God’s help and win.  For Christians, we really only have one choice and that is to follow God.  So, there are no options if you want to receive God’s blessings.  I don’t think God would interfere with someone’s faith in Him.  I think He tests us with some pretty harsh circumstances (like he did with Job), but as long as we remain steadfast and see the only real choice — if we want to receive His gifts — is to follow him.  And on the predestination side, do you know of anywhere in the Bible that says God purposefully created someone to fail or be evil?

A. Ok, first, let’s get a few things straight; because I think you’ve rigged this question a bit (not intentionally of course).  God does not require us to follow Him in order to bless us (as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5:45), but He blesses all of His children just for the sake of them being His children.  What you are describing is the opposite effect: you see or realize the salvation that God offers in Christ as a blessing, and IT IS!  But, many do not see it that way: Muslims, Jews, atheists, etc.  They see Jesus as not being divine, or not dying for our sins, or not even existing (which is frankly stupid, but a discussion for another day) or something like that.  This does NOT mean that God does not bless them, quite the opposite.  God provides what we might call “basic” blessings upon all people, no matter how sinful.  For Christians who have come to faith, we believe that the Bible teaches that Holy Spirit plays an active role in our lives, but only after our saving faith.  Those who do not have faith in Christ do not have access to this particular blessing, but this hardly means God does not bless them.

 

So I think the question of God’s determinism as it comes to human choice is not as slanted as you have indicated.  You can certainly point to a large number of references to human choice as you have mentioned.  There is a degree of interplay between what we might call God’s overriding will and man’s free will that is simply impossible to know this side of heaven.  We will only be able to see the way that our choices (or whatever role we have in our eternal destiny) and God’s will intersect on the other side.  So as a manner of focus in this life, I choose to focus on human choice, there are others (primarily Calvinists) who choose to focus on God’s sovereignty, but neither position has all the answers- there is simply no way to know how these two positions fit together.  As to your question about specific people in the Bible and their “predestined” role, let’s revisit that question when we read the book of Romans (Paul addresses the topic there and I don’t want to jump ahead too much) or if a relevant scripture comes up before we get there.

 

Q. (18:4): Historically, God has punished multiple generations for the sin of one.  It appears that He is changing His rule here? “For all people are mine to judge—both parents and children alike. And this is my rule: The person who sins is the one who will die.”  Personally, I don’t understand why God would turn such a 180 turn on this subject.  I thought He punished several generations for sins as a deterrent to try to stop them from sinning.

A. I think that there is no change in God’s “policy” if you will, but what God is talking about to Ezekiel is related to what we have established before.  In Exodus 34:7, God tells Moses that He will “punish” children to the third and fourth generation for the sins of the parents.  It says nothing about their deaths for the sins of their parents; and while some might see that as a subtle distinction, God is, well, in the details.  What God is addressing is whether the children should DIE for the sins of the parents, and to me that is a whole other can of worms.  Each of us (says the person who believes in free will) must make our own decisions when it comes to God, and each generation has to make its own choices, no matter what their fathers or grandfathers (or mothers or grandmothers) have done.  So while God may indeed punish us for the sins of our parents, we still have some form of capacity to choose God of their own will.  While the generations may be interconnected via good and bad decisions parents make (as we have discussed), the burden of life verses death lies with each of us in every generation.

Q. (19:1-14): OK, I am trying to connect the characters here.  At first, I thought it may be Joseph was the first cub and Benjamin the second.  Don’t think that works out.  Then, I thought that the first cub was Israel and the second, Judah.  But, then who would the vine be?  Can you clear the confusion here?

A. I think the lioness is Judah (David’s symbol was a lion), and the two cubs are her two sons who have been recent kings: the first, viscous, cub (verse 3) is Jehoahaz, who ruled for only a short time and was taken to Egypt as a prisoner (2 Kings 23:31-34), and the second cub is Zedekiah, who was taken to Babylon as a prisoner.  Their fierceness and man-eating habits are most likely a subtle critique of their cruel and viscous rule that killed many people even in a short period of time.

Day 146 (May 26): Solomon’s leaders, Solomon’s prosperity and wisdom, Psalm 72: May God give the king wisdom to rule justly, Psalm 127: Without the Lord’s direction, work is futile, blessed are the children

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

1 Kings 4:1-34

Psalm 72

Psalm 127

Questions & Observations

Q. (1 Kings 4:20-34): This account greatly contrasts from his father’s.  Why was Solomon so blessed and David’s reign was so tumultuous?

A. Um, let’s hold that thought until the story is completed.  But the answer to your question is David’s sins.  Solomon has done pretty well to this point, but things are about to turn for the same reason David’s kingdom fell apart.

Q. (Psalm 127:3-5): I love these little sprite verses.  They make me smile.   Here it says “how joyful is the many whose quiver is full of them (children).”  We were going to talk about this before, but decided to hold off.  Here it sounds like having a lot of children is a desirable thing by society.  Nowadays, families are normally much smaller with 1-3 children.  Are there any verses that address how God views the many ways of a planned family via birth control?

A. Well, obviously, artificial birth control is a modern invention undreamed of in the days of the Bible, but many of the ways that society has shifted in the last two centuries reflect the movement away from large families (i.e. they became the exception and not the norm).  First, until the modern age, no one planned for retirement (partly because a lot of people didn’t live that long), and so if you did, you were fully dependent upon your children.  So if you had more kids, you were probably pretty safe.  This was especially true of women, who would have depended upon the care of a male relative (most likely a son) after she was widowed.

Regarding the issue of how the Bible approaches family, there’s a lot going on: many of these issues have to be held in tension, but I think there’s a consistent thread.  Part of it has to do with the distinction between OT and NT.  In the OT, the main goal for each generation was raising up a new generation who would love and have a healthy relationship with God so that they to could inherit the Promised Land.  That obviously makes family paramount, so verses like these surely express the sentiment that they felt: they honored God by having many children.  But after Jesus (who as we have discussed, was NOT married), the mission focus was expanded to not only Jews, but also the entire world, while not losing the focus on an individual family (I hope that makes sense).  The individual family was still prized by God: it is still HIS primary design for how His loved is passed from generation to generation, whether among Jew or Christian.  But with Jesus as the example, God set a new standard: family was not the ONLY way to spread His word.  So to some people who were not married — like Jesus, including Paul, and most major western Church leaders, and this would include women — God gave them the task of spreading the word about His actions and having only the congregation or Church as family, rather than offspring.  In other words, they were called to celibacy.  It goes back to Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-15: God has blessed different people in different ways — some He (clearly!) desires to have children, and others He calls to a life of celibacy that they might follow Him more closely for their lives or some portion of it, they are not mutually exclusive.

The problem is that even though God honors BOTH paths equally — as long as we are faithful to Him while on these roads — we find that our society often confuses isolation and not being married with being incomplete.  Part of that incompleteness in our world is removed by having children, but sometimes having children is actually a very selfish way of dealing with feelings of isolation or loneliness.  That is often a very tragic situation.  Now, I am not saying that God cannot redeem such situations, but as we have discussed over these months, how God acts to redeem us and WHAT HE IDEALLY DESIRES are often very different things.  When we allow anything other than God to provide our fulfillment, even children, we have created an idol, however noble its creation might appear to be.  We are not living as the men and women He desires us to be if we are seeking ultimate fulfillment in a child rather than God.  So basically, as long as we keep first things first — that is, God above all else — then I think we have a great degree of freedom as Christians to seek out a partner to have children with within community.  We must honor God with our families, whether they are biological or bound by the Spirit.