(This post first appeared at Theological Matters)
My family consists of six people—two adults and four children. Needless to say, in today’s economy, we do not eat out often. However, when we do eat out, there are numerous restaurants to which I cannot take the “Patrick 6.” First, there are the restaurants that possess tables bolted to the floor that fit a maximum of two or four people—there is no option of moving tables together short of breaking concrete. Then, there are the restaurants that possess large enough tables or the ability to move tables together, but they make it quite clear that they do not prefer children. I’ve even been coldly told, “We usually don’t have children here.” Finally, there are the restaurants that “tolerate” my family size but place us in the farthest corner a mile away from the other customers, afraid the children will make noise, throw food, or infect them. Yes, we’ve had other guests actually get up and move after we sit down.
My family’s eating out experiences highlight a growing problem in society, namely that society does not value a flourishing family. Herbert Hoover, our 31st POTUS in the early 1930s, stated, “Children are our most valuable resource.” This sentiment is no longer espoused today. For instance, the average U.S. household size has declined to 2.59 people. My four children are in the minority—84 percent of children in the U.S. have two siblings or fewer. Only 10 percent of children possess three siblings, and only 6 percent possess four siblings or more. If you have four or more children, you have probably been looked at oddly and asked, like we have, “You do know how children are made, don’t you?” The world does not understand our biblical perspective.
God was clear in Genesis 1:28:
God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (NASB)
He desires us to “be fruitful and multiply.” In Hebrew, these are two imperatives, or commands, that mean to literally “produce” and “greatly fill.” Interestingly, there are no caveats or personal preference contingencies with this mandate. That is, God does not tell us to have children only when we have finished our education, or when we attain a certain financial level, or when it is convenient for us. Nor does He provide a minimum or maximum to the number of children we are to have. God clearly states that, within a biblical marriage, a family is to flourish, and His provision of children are to be viewed as a blessing (Psalm 127:3-5, Psalm 128:3-4, Proverbs 17:6).
How much should a family flourish? That is, how many children should one have? Nowhere does Scripture prescribe a certain number of children or command us to have as many children as humanly possible. Psalm 127:3-5 comes the closest to alluding to family size:
Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate. (NASB)
So, how many arrows are in a quiver? It depends on the quiver size and country of origin (e.g., Egyptian, Israeli, etc.). Over the years, I’ve heard values ranging from 5 to 15. The best number I can interpret from the biblical text is “many.” We are merely exhorted to flourish. Each couple in a biblical marriage must seek God as to the number of children for their family. Perhaps a more critical question for one to ask is “What is one’s motivation for having children?” Is the motivation family tradition, societal expectation, or personal preference, or is it Gospel-centered? God’s ideal is for a biblical marriage to produce godly children that follow Him and expand His Kingdom by producing disciples themselves.
Church, continue to flourish. Be fruitful and multiply, filling the world with the next generation of Great Commission disciple-makers. One daughter and three sons—I am a richly blessed man and continue to move restaurant tables together with joy to accommodate my family size. “Waiter, four kids waters and two adult waters, please.”
For the record, my children are very well-behaved, and we often receive comments from other customers on how well-behaved they are.
Personal note: My wife and I felt called to flourish as much as possible through natural childbirth and through adoption. Our quiver holds four arrows. A chronic health issue has closed the door for additional arrows. We rejoice over the arrows we have!