Marriage in Honor - Dr. W.G. de Vries
|Dr. W.G. de Vries (1926-2006) wasa minister in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands.He received his doctorate from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches in Kampen.He was also editor of Petahja, a monthly publication for the Reformed Men's Societies in the Netherlands.|
Along with the spectacular increase in the use of the pill has come an increase in abortion. Apparently the use of the pill has not led to a drastic decrease in unwanted pregnancies. We will work with J. Douma's definition of abortion: abortion is the removal from the mother's womb of a fetus which cannot yet live outside the womb. Lately a rapid revolution has taken place in opinions on abortion. Many who in the sixties condemned abortion as child murder have changed positions. H. M. Kuitert, for instance, wrote in 1965 that the prevailing morality must rule out abortion. According to him at that time, life is a gift of God that we may not take away. But in 1969 Kuitert declared: "If a woman absolutely does not want another child, she has the absolute right to request an abortion. It would make me positively angry if society should oppose this."
Dutch society has been in turmoil during the last few years because of a proposed new law to legalize abortion. For that matter, public opinion in other countries is in violent turmoil about this as well.
The usual arguments for abortion refer first to the distress of the mother. And indeed, many a woman may become deeply distressed when, married or unmarried, she becomes pregnant against her will.
Before we discuss arguments that seek to justify abortion, we will see what God's Word says about human life in earliest beginnings. Psalm 139 speaks of God knitting life together in the mother's womb. According to Genesis 1:26, man is created in the image of God. That is also true about every child that man begets: Adam. begot a son after his image (Gen. 5:3). As Adam's child, it carried his image, but with Adam's image, it carried the image of God. The Lord forbids all murder because all human beings are made in His own image (Gen. 9:6).
We also read in Luke 1:41 that at Mary's greeting the child leaped in Elizabeth's womb. Apparently the Bible considers life yet unborn to be a child, a person.
From the moment of conception we deal with a new human's life. It is not simply "human life;" at once it has its own unique structure. Douma. points to the statement of two experts: "It is beyond doubt that from the moment of conception the complete foundation is present for the development of a new individual, with all the individual characteristics which are determined by the chromosome pattern that came into being."
A woman who has an abortion is certainly not in doubt about whether she is pregnant with child. She is not pregnant with a plant or animal. In effect, she wants to very quickly do away with a human being in the making.
Naturally there are emotional limits to one's attachment to such a being, just as the death of a four year old child hits us harder than that of a stillborn child. Douma points out that the death of an old, senile father can be experienced by his children as a deliverance while the death of a father who is still fully functioning in life is experienced as a tragedy. But difference in appreciation does not exclude equality in deserving protection.
Besides, not reverence for life is the final norm, but rather reverence for Him who gives life. A Christian may sacrifice his life to save someone else, worshiping not life but God. God is the one who forbids the killing of the defenseless. What is more defenseless than a child still in the womb?
Something terrible takes place daily in abortion clinics. It begins innocently with a "menstrual adjustment." With a suction pump the mucous membranes of the uterus are removed and with them the fetus. The unborn child that floats in the amniotic fluid is already four centimeters long. The mouth makes sucking motions, the face looks human, the hands are flexing, and the feet make kicking motions, even though they have not yet been felt by the mother.
After the twelfth week, the risks of curettage by suction increase and other methods are used. A small cesarean section can remove the child from the uterus. A strong salt solution can be injected into the uterus so that the child swallows it with amniotic fluid. The child is poisoned and the skin shows bum spots; photographs have depicted the horror of this murder. The child can also be cut into pieces before it is removed from the uterus this way.
Abortion is atrocious murder of the defenseless. In 1974 it was performed on approximately 18,000 women in the Netherlands.
The proponents of abortion -something which we can only call murder -have a great many arguments to support this act. They do not see abortion as murder. According to them, the unborn fetus is still valueless. They speak of a conglomerate of cells, of a basic type of life, of mucus or of a blueprint. None of these qualifications cover the reality. Those who rip up a blueprint of a house, for example, have not destroyed anything of the house, for it does not yet exist. But those who kill the fetus in the womb attack something that really exists, a living human being in the making. One who kills a baby after birth is punished. Why should one who does it before birth not be punished? The Bible uses the word "child" for the fetus in the womb and the baby outside of it.
The justification of abortion is based on man's ostensible right of selfdetermination. We will look at some of the specific reasons given for abortion.
Perhaps a woman's psychological health is in jeopardy if her pregnancy continues. Pregnancy might put her in a psychiatric institution for the rest of her life. Is this a threat to life? This is a border case which must be considered under the medical indication.
In this case it is certain that a handicapped child will be born -perhaps a thalidomide or a rubella baby. We believe that Christians may not take it upon themselves to prevent the results of the fall into sin by killing the unborn fetus. We agree with Ouweneel who states: "It is absurd to believe that only healthy children can be a 'blessing."'
Pregnancy might disturb the relationship of the woman to her husband, family, and surroundings. Douma correctly states that if there is psychological distress, one must give psychological help, and if there is social distress, one must give social help. Consider these rather revealing statistics: of twenty-one women who requested an abortion for such reasons and who had been denied one, sixteen later thought that their circumstances had improved. At least half of another group of women who had been granted an abortion later stated that their difficulties had not been solved. It is interesting to pass on the opinion of Mante, whom Douma quotes: "There are indications that the circumstances given as reasons for the request to discontinue pregnancy, more often improve when that request is denied than when it is approved- "
Perhaps a family's house is too small for another child, or its financial position is bad; pregnancy might hinder the mother's studies or even spoil an intended vacation. Many things can be cited as social reasons, from real distress to flightiness, love of ease, laziness, and egoism. This reason certainly does not suffice.
Only medical considerations can be valid when life is to be weighed against life. Medical considerations include danger to the life of the mother or lasting and serious damage to her health. The latter term is rather flexible. Is psychological health also included under health? The psychiatric reason already mentioned surfaces then. However, the relationship between physical and psychological illness is beyond the scope of this book.
A situation in which a living child must be sacrificed during delivery seldom occurs. The necessity of terminating a pregnancy because of cancer of the uterus or an extrauterine pregnancy does happen. In such cases the life of the mother is threatened.
Roman Catholic ethics assert that if mother or child must be sacrificed, the mother's life must be sacrificed for the sake of the child. Over against this, Protestants have said that since the mother has to care for her family, her husband and children, she must not be sacrificed. One is confronted here with a terrible choice. Yet if it really is a matter of saving the life of the mother, then the relinquishing of the child's life is not murder.
It need not be said again that such a decision is one of the most difficult, tearing decisions ever asked of people. Only the eye of faith, trusting Him who gives life and can also take it, will see the right answer.
Medical reasons for abortion must indeed be medical. Today words are shuffled as abortion given on psychical and social grounds is called medically therapeutic. Consent given by a doctor is not necessarily a "medical reason." We want to use the latter term only when the life of the mother is obviously in danger. In the flood of abortions inundating the world-millions and millions of children are murdered in the womb - we are confronted with an outbreak of lawlessness. New pseudoscientific facts do not convict us that abortion is permissible. They do tamper with the hearts of people who no longer reckon with God's laws for life.
The love of Christ must open our eyes to the real distress of women with unwanted pregnancies. But such distress does not break down the law of our God. It can only be eased and healed when God is obeyed in the whole area of sexuality. Only from Him can we learn how to live, in peace and in difficulties.
To end all anxiety about having children, one might take the radical step of sterilization. For a man this means that the sperm ducts are cut in a simple operation (vasectomy) that takes little time and brings about no change in virility, sexual desires, and satisfaction. It does make him infertile.
Until recently this operation was more complicated and lengthier for the woman. But with today's newest methods, it is completed in ten or fifteen minutes. The procedure consists of melting the Fallopian tubes shut and cutting a little piece out of them. The eggs now end in the abdominal cavity and can no longer be impregnated.
The motives behind sterilization spring from the same normlessness and lawlessness which lead to widespread birth control. Women with two or at most three children think they have done their share. They let themselves or their husbands be sterilized so that they can "confidently" enjoy the pleasures of sexual life. They are indeed eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of man, rather than for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In 1973 more than ten thousand men were sterilized in the Netherlands. In America one out of six (men and women) is sterilized. The stream of requests for sterilization is so overwhelming in the Netherlands that waiting lists continue to grow longer (A. J. Verbrugh).
This is not hard to understand. The average Dutch woman has her last child when she is twenty-nine. Are you not socially aberrant if you have more than one or two children? Why swallow the pill for 15 or more years with all its possible side effects when the knot can be drastically and literally cut?
It hardly needs to be said that should his wife die the sterilized man could no longer beget children in another marriage; nor could the sterilized woman ever conceive again. When something irrevocable is done its future consequences cannot be known.
In only one type of case should sterilization be allowed, and that is for medical reasons. When a uterus must he removed because of a woman's health, she naturally becomes sterile. The conception of children becomes impossible. Or if pregnancy would so gravely threaten the health of another mother that she would not be able to fulfill her task in the family, there is medical reason for preventing pregnancy. As an alternative to prophylactics, sterilization is a possibility.
Taking the age and size of the family into consideration, a Christian must decide responsibly before God which operation would injure the marriage relationship the least. Any operation should be performed only because of medical necessity. Even the "best-planned" lives and marriages can be painfully broken by death.
Special attention must be given to a problem that is present in many young marriages. People who dearly want to have children and gratefully accept them from the Lord must still ask whether there should be a certain length of time between the birth of one child and the next. I have already pointed out that Scripture itself leaves this possibility open. It suggests that the command to be fruitful does not mean thoughtless, unlimited reproduction.
This does not mean that a man can arbitrarily decide how large his family should be. He may not make that decision on the grounds of housing difficulties, economic hardship, love of ease, or any other reason. God alone determines the number of our children.
At once the question arises: "How does the Lord do this?" Is He a deus ex machina, dealing with us outside of our own responsibility and without our involvement? Does He treat us as senseless "stocks and blocks," who act without thought? When we confess that the Lord gives us our work and food, our health and life, do we mean that we have nothing to do with such matters? Must not man himself, in the light of God's Word, seek a job, exert himself, and make arrangements? Those who know what Scripture teaches know that this question answers itself.
When God determines the number of children in a family, He involves the parents and their responsibility. This is already proven by the fact that the begetting of children requires certain decisions made by husband and wife. just as in the life of profession and labor where choices and decisions have to be made, so here too all circumstances must be considered in the light of God's Word. This is an essential part of God's calling regarding marriage. His will is not made known to us by magic but comes to us through using the means He has supplied.
After the birth of their first child, a married couple may consider when a second baby may come if it pleases the Lord to give it to them. The factors that need to be considered have already been discussed. The frequency and number of births in a marriage do not lie outside our own responsibility.
Through God's guidance in history, great changes have taken place in the vital strength of the family. Infant mortality has decreased considerably. While in earlier times six or seven pregnancies were needed to have three children grow to adulthood, today almost every child born grows to adulthood.
Thanks to a better understanding of God's Word, the conviction has developed that seeing God's hand in the process of conception and birth should not be a fatalism - as if the Lord would not involve man. This too has its consequences for marriage and the raising of a family. The blessing of children may not be isolated from God's other blessings which give man opportunity to develop and cultivate the earth.
Because of this Scriptural insight into the relation between God's providence and man's responsibility, we affirm that it is not human haughtiness and wilfulness that allows us to consider a decreasing infant mortality rate when thinking of planning births. Christians cannot forget that all of God's commandments, including those regarding marriage and family, come to us here and now. This conviction supports our plea in favor of family planning.
The difficult question, however, is this: "If husband and wife are convinced that another pregnancy in the near future would not be justified before the Lord, is total abstinence the only way to prevent pregnancy?" Abstinence would mean that for a certain period of time one of the most important and essential expressions of love between husband and wife has to be suspended. This could have enormous repercussions on the life of husband and wife, for the sexual unity of marriage cannot be isolated or turned into a mere function for the purpose of procreating children.
A person might correctly warn against the dangers of selfishness, love of ease, and self-indulgence when the term "family planning" is mentioned. But in rejecting the latter without any consideration, such a person may also be driven by selfishness, love of ease and selfindulgence. Motives are also all-important in determining which method of birth control to use.
We repeat that certain contraceptives may only be considered on the advice of a doctor. At the same time we hesitate to indicate total abstinence as the only solution. The encroachment on the whole of the marriage communion is too great.
This does not mean that other solutions do not entail imperfections, difficulties and objections. Conscious prevention of pregnancy does not mean that one begins to irresponsibly satisfy one's lust. On the contrary, as one acts in responsibility towards the Lord God, the forming of a family while maintaining the character of the marriage is pleasing to Him.
One cannot expect to find a totally satisfactory method of family planning. This must be kept in mind during the discussion of the various methods of birth control.
Coitus interruptus means intercourse that is interrupted at the last moment. This oldest, simplest, and most widely used method is the only one that has developed spontaneously. But that does not mean that it is lawful. It was used by Onan when he refused to beget children by his late brother's wife (Gen. 28:7-10). The Lord punished him with death, not because of the method but because of his motive. Onan was neglecting his duty towards his late brother, contrary to God's law.
The Roman Catholic Church forbids the father confessors to point out this method because of the psychological difficulties that could arise because the wife is prematurely prevented from reaching orgasm, and because exceptional self-control is required of the husband. For one married couple these things are more difficult than for another.
Today many are inclined to doubt whether the premature interruption of sexual intercourse does indeed result in the nervous and physical disorders attributed to it in the past. After all, when coitus does not take place primarily for sexual satisfaction but rather for the experience of the unity of love, the context of an all-encompassing satisfaction can make it easy to bear an imperfect expression of love.
When the woman experiences that her husband gives himself fully, that he is completely hers, she may experience incomplete intercourse in order to avoid pregnancy as a satisfying and relaxing expression of the communion of love.
one should also remember that love determines the importance of the expressions of human sexuality. The manner in which love, not sex, is experienced, accepted, and absorbed is of final importance.
These remarks, borrowed from J. H. van den Berg, agree with what the psychologist H. R. Wijngaarden says regarding the widely spread misunderstanding that every woman who does not come to the same degree of satisfaction as her husband during intercourse should feel troubled. He too pointed out that to a woman the most important thing is to receive her husband in love. She may feel perfectly happy simply because he gives himself completely to her.
God gave marriage as a two-oneness of husband and wife. They become one flesh even if, in coitus interruptus, for example, some imperfections mar the expression of "one flesh." Still, the primary objective of marital intercourse, the complete giving of husband and wife to each other, would still be reached even if intercourse were broken off early.
Certainly, opinions about this method are divided. The possibility of nervous complaints arising in husband and wife exists. However, such complaints might not be serious (Trimbos). A more serious objection is that the several drops of semen which may precede ejaculation can impregnate the wife. Therefore, if the health of the wife will be jeopardized by any further pregnancies, another form of birth control must be sought.
Intercourse may well be moderated in intensity as well as in frequency. "There are many other ways in which married people can cohabit (ways which outside of marriage would be an over-reaching or adultery) without complete sexual unity. Is it necessary that in a marriage there should never be any restraints as far as sex is concerned? Or can certain highlights in married life be reserved for those times when an addition to the family is especially desired?" (A. J. Verbrugh).
Once again, the motives which lead to temporary prevention of pregnancy are all-important. Motives must be valid before the Lord. However, we cannot see why in some cases total abstinence would be natural and self-control practiced at the last moment unnatural.
Ultimately, husband and wife, taking into consideration their own characters and psychological structures, must decide which method is the most responsible for them to use. This will differ from one marriage to the next. Paul's word not to refuse one another seems instructive in the case where husband and wife do not wish to withhold themselves from each other and yet must deal with the imperfection of their unity. This imperfection will take its place with others that are found in every marriage. The "perfect" marriage has not existed since the fall of man.
The rhythm method is based on a modern understanding of the human reproductive system. For centuries it was supposed that a woman was always fertile, but the truth is that she is fertile for no more than five days each month. There is a rhythm of ova maturation in a woman's body. This monthly rhythm is dependent on the functioning of a very small gland (the hypophysis) which lies well protected in a hollow in the bony base of the skull. Attached to the bottom of the brain, it is directly connected to the nervous system.
In the sexually mature woman, an ovum develops every month and releases itself from the ovary to arrive in the uterus via the oviducts (fallopian tubes). This nearly invisible ovum has a very short life. After some time it perishes while at the same time the membrane lining of the uterus is shed. This membrane which could have housed a fertilized ovum is ejected with the dead ovum. This "bleeding" is called menstruation or the monthly period.
The ovum stays alive only if it is impregnated by a male sperm during the journey via the fallopian tubes to the uterus. There it will develop and grow.
The moment of conception need not coincide with the moment of intercourse. The male sperm has the ability to stay alive several days after intercourse has taken place. Therefore we must add another three days to the five days per month during which a woman is fertile to account for still living sperm cells which may he present, and we conclude that between menstruations there are only eight days when a woman is fertile.
This knowledge is of great importance for a married couple who would like to have a child. Husband and wife can count on this brief period of fertility.
But if for valid reasons a pregnancy must be temporarily avoided, the important days are the infertile days. A couple would have to abstain from marital intercourse for those eight days in order to avoid a possible pregnancy.
Here too, motives matter most. If total abstinence is practiced because of love of ease, self-indulgence, and selfishness, it must be condemned. Of course, the rhythm method can also be used selfindulgently. Indeed this happens too often. The knowledge which God has given to man through research is then misused.
But for the couple who gladly receive children but, for reasons mentioned earlier, realize that the frequency and number of children falls within man's responsibility, the rhythm method is a blessing. Husband and wife may use this God-given aid because they want to take into consideration the limits which God Himself has placed on fruitfulness.
Naturally this requires accurate knowledge of the woman's fertile time. Most important is the date when the ovum is released. In earlier times the determination of this date was an uncertain and unreliable procedure. Today this date can be determined very precisely and with little effort. It has been discovered that on the day the ovum is released, a woman's body temperature rises a little, about half a degree Centigrade, or five small lines on a clinical thermometer.
There are booklets available which clearly explain the rhythm method. It would also be wise to seek the expert guidance of a doctor. In practice many objections about the unreliability of rhythm originate in misinformation and inaccuracy, although it cannot be denied that this method is not complete protection against pregnancy. Another method must be found if there are medical reasons for not having children.
Reading about these things, many may feel a certain resentment arising. Is all this not in conflict with the simplicity and spontaneity which belong to the expression of love between husband and wife? Some people make derogatory comments about "calendar love." However, the Bible itself limits so-called spontaneity by forbidding intercourse for certain periods of time.
The rhythm method is not calendar love; it is voluntary abstinence for a time. Godly and proper abstinence will be based on religious convictions and nothing else. Thus it is in keeping with the abstinence for-a-time of which Paul speaks.
If this periodic abstinence is not sanctified through prayer, it has no right to exist. This is also true for total abstinence. In prayer one "consults" with God. His will is to be reckoned with for marriage and family, in respect to the wife's physical, emotional, and spiritual health, and the health of the children.
As a matter of fact, temporary abstinence can be an important thing. It can be one of the best medicines against the routine and superficiality of many marriages. It is strange that many people insist on moderation in daily life but apparently forget it completely in sexual relations. Eating, drinking, smoking, going out, luxury, or comfort are not things about which a Christian says: "My measure in all these things is my own sense of my spontaneous needs and impulses." The Christian learns that he, as a responsible person created by God, must lead and rule his spontaneous needs. Therefore it is foolish to reason in marriage: "Nothing may hinder our 'spontaneous' needs." Whoever says this is not really fit for marriage. A certain restraint is beneficial to any marriage.
Real love finds many ways to express itself. Does love always need to be confirmed through intercourse? Is there perhaps not some unconscious egoism behind insisting on intercourse? In this connection an author wrote: "It might be particularly good for many husbands if in their love relationship they could find ways besides sexual intercourse to express their love." Is that opinion wrong? In our own culture, the love relationship is often appetisingly primitive, and unfortunately is limited mostly to sexual intercourse. Periodic abstinence as well as abstinence for a somewhat longer period of time can guard against one-sidedness in loving relationships.
However, "Whatever is not of faith is sin" also holds true for periodic abstinence. It must be part of one's attitude to life; it must originate in faith, and in the desire to act according to the law of God regarding marriage and the family. Only upon such an attitude will the Lord grant His blessing.
This promise of blessing comes to us in an imperfect world in which many relationships have been disturbed. Imperfection should be anticipated when certain methods for family planning are discussed. There is no need to glorify methods, for they are not a solution to the needs and problems that can arise in a marriage. Solutions begin on the human side of problems. First husband and wife must come to a spiritual understanding of their marriage and family. Both must ask themselves, as mature members of Christ's Church, for what purpose God has placed them on earth, why He has given them to each other, and for what reason they receive children. Only those who have come to an understanding of this in the light of God's Word will be able to answer these questions.
What has been written about these questions is intended as advice and no more. No married couple can evade their personal responsibility to God by blindly trusting in people. These then are not the final remarks, but nevertheless they are necessary remarks about this difficult matter.
It has been said that the harder it is for us to fulfill our desires, the stronger and more painful they become. This is true of the thwarted desire of some married couples for the blessing of children.
On the one hand, more and more married couples try in various ways to keep their number of children as small as possible and even wait some time before having children. On the other hand, many couples ardently yearn for children and do not receive them. This can cause real distress in a marriage, perhaps even spiritual distress. "Why does the Lord withhold children from us while others who neglect and abuse children receive one child after another?" If one knows from God's Word that children are a heritage of the Lord, and if one has constantly prayed for them, it is difficult to do without this blessing. This "why" is one of the many "why's" to which no answer can be given and about which faith teaches us to confess: "These things also are for our good, "
Is it known in the circle of the covenant how much grief is silently borne here? Even the unspoken thoughts of others can cause grief: "Without children no marriage can be complete," many of us who have been given children may think.
How differently Scripture speaks! The view that a marriage is not really complete without children stems from the misconception that marriage is only an institution for procreation. This is equivalent to saying that the communion of love between husband and wife exists only through the grace of a family.
Now it is striking that the Bible, in speaking about marriage, repeats the following words as many as four times: "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh." Children are not even mentioned. According to the Bible children are a separate blessing. God can connect this blessing to marriage but man has no power over it.
The only, first, and exclusive purpose of marriage is not the bringing forth of children. The child is certainly the confirmation of the conjugal love between husband and wife. God will indeed link the fruit to marriage in His gracious omnipotence, but the basis of the marriage lies in the unity of love of husband and wife. Luther called marriage: "a school of faith and love." In accordance with God's intention from the beginning: "It is not good that man should be alone." Consequently, a childless marriage is truly and completely a marriage in the full, rich sense of the word. God can make such a marriage as fruitful for His Kingdom as any other marriage.
Furthermore, it is God who decides that the "children" of a barren woman may be more numerous than those of a mother with many children. How many people daily thank God for what a childless couple have meant to them.
God does not want sterile self-pity from anyone. From the childless couple who do not have to care for children, God asks that they devote themselves all the more to the cause of the Lord (compare I Cor. 7:32-34).
In this way God makes available energy for His cause and gives opportunities and possibilities which elude parents with a busy family. If only these possibilities were seized and made use of! Then the grief about childlessness would be borne in a positive way and the married couple would use the two-oneness of their marriage to apply themselves to the tasks that await them on every side.
On the other hand, Christian communal love demands that no one heedlessly bypass the sorrow caused by childlessness. A childless couple once wrote me: "We often feel driven into a corner by people. We sometimes get the idea that we are only a family when church donations are collected or when there is a fund-raising drive in the congregation for some reason or other. " They went on to say: "As a childless couple we often feel that we do not really belong anywhere. Much is said and written about the problems and worries of large families, and we definitely do not want to underestimate them. Yet thanks is given when children are born and baptized, while people rarely pray for childless couples."
I pass on this complaint to our shame and for our instruction. How often we hurt one another in the church by our thoughtlessness. Ministers, too, forget the childless in their prayers and intercessions. The occasion of baptism, is an important time to commend to God's mercy the lonely ones and those from whom God withholds the blessing of children. Doing so reminds God's people that in praying and giving thanks there should be no forgotten groups in the church.
God places the lonely ones in a family as he places them within the church; there He will make a childless couple into a father- and motherin-the- Lord for others. Ties of blood will pass away; they do not bind together forever but faith, hope, and love do.
"Christ said: 'Who is My mother and who are My brethren?' And He stretched forth His hand towards His disciples and said, 'Behold My mother and My brethrenI For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother,' " (Matt. 12:48-50).
"Whosoever shall do the will of My Father, which is in heaven. . . " This is what matters in the end. Here you find the definitive answer to the question of who are God's people, His seed, His generation, and who are truly fruitful for the Kingdom of God.
However, all this does not mean that God's children may not inquire into the immediate causes of infertility as they would in illness and other adversity. It does not mean they must do nothing to remove the causes of infertility.
When we mention possible causes of infertility, the first misconception which must be removed is the misconception that infertility is only or mainly due to the wife. This unfortunate attitude leads to reproaches with all its sad consequences. Statistics show that by far most divorces occur among childless couples. If sorrow borne and experienced together does not bind husband and wife closer together, a gradual estrangement may result. That bond between husband and wife, while not leading to mutual reproachments, will make them look together for ways and means to remove certain obstacles in the way of having children.
Either husband or wife may be infertile. Frequently the husband's semen contains hardly any spermatozoa or they are deformed. Certain organs or certain diseases cause this, or perhaps malnutrition or a vitamin deficiency is at fault. There can be congenital anatomical defects of the male sex organs. One can acquire defects because of venereal disease contracted through one's own fault when young.
Other causes of infertility can be found in the wife: blockage of the fallopian tubes or an abnormal formation of the uterine cavity. A wife's defect can be remedied more often than a husband's.
A newly-wed couple should not worry about sterility until approximately three years have gone by. Then they should contact their family doctor who can advise them whether the help of a gynecologist should be sought. This step is not considered necessary in marriages between young people within three years of their wedding, assuming that normal sexual intercourse has taken place.
It is also possible that normal sexual intercourse has not taken place due to the husband's impotence. Such impotence may be related to the wife's strong, unconscious fears of intercourse which cause her physically to close up. The husband's impotence could be a result of anxiety and tension about his ability to impregnate his wife. Before he can have normal coitus, he must be able to relax and enjoy intercourse.
Subconscious psychological factors may also influence the wife. Her longing for a child may be so strong that it inhibits her. How else could it be explained that frequently women become pregnant after adopting a child? These and other factors may cause infertility. Some of them can be remedied by medical or psychical treatment.
This is not true of all cases. It is not easy to obtain clear figures about infertility in marriages since statistics do not show whether childlessness is voluntary or not. A conservative estimate tells us that between five and ten percent of marriages remain childless. Childlessness is no small thing and is often a source of difficulties and grief. Besides using medical remedies for infertility, there is another practice which will be discussed.
Artificial insemination means the injection of seed (sperm) into or near the uterus of the woman by means of a hypodermic syringe. A distinction is made between fertilization with the sperm of one's own husband, and the sperm of another man, or donor. The first practice, called homologous artificial insemination, does not take place nearly as often as the second, called heterologous artificial insemination. The second practice takes place in marriages that are childless due to the infertile sperm of the husband.
The latter practice has reached an alarming magnitude, especially in America, where there are already tens of thousands of children who owe their existence to the artificial impregnation of their mother by donor sperm, which in many cases consists of a mixture of sperm from different men.
The woman treated in a doctor's office is not allowed to know from which man the sperm has come. A man donates sperm for a certain price but does not know which children are begotten by his sperm and by which woman. There are even sperm banks which are supplied by students for five dollars per natural quantity. Someone has rightly said, in horror: "Imagine what it must mean for a person to have to acknowledge as 'father' the unknown spectre of a donor behind the sperm bank, and as origin of his existence, an act of masturbation for the sake of money."
If we think of the women who in this way procure a child for themselves, we are confronted with a spiritual abyss. Psychiatrists remark that often psychologically disturbed women are involved in this. They often hear from neurotic, unmarried female patients who would love to have a child but find it horrible that a man is needed for this. Should disturbed women be allowed to bring up an artificially begotten child?
An unmarried teacher in Nice announced the birth of her child in the daily newspapers stressing the fact that it was the result of artificial insemination. The Dutch Humanistic League and the Dutch Society for Sexual Reform plead for the practice of artificial insemination under the motto that "each individual has a right to a sexual life according to his own principles." Indeed, whoever accepts the rights of man as the highest norm has basically no defense against the practice. He may be shocked and reject it, but if he proclaims such supposed human rights, he will continue on a downhill course toward a world of lawlessness.
A Hungarian principal of a secondary school published an article in which she argued that donor sperm are the ideal method for the future. She wrote that to further the health of posterity, the sperm of the strongest, healthiest men must be collected to impregnate the healthiest women. In this way there would eventually be a nation with an army of super-individuals. We are confronted here with an abyss of unrighteousness. Indeed, in this way man is degraded to breeding stock.
One might well ask why a married, childless couple would resort to this method. No doubt it begins with a man who sees his inability to beget children as personal guilt. Needless to say, from a psychological point of view, the development of this guilt is far from healthy. That is why it would prove to be no solution at all for such a man to resort to having his wife impregnated artificially. It would merely strengthen the unhealthy process which caused the guilt feelings.
If one reasons that children are required to strengthen faltering marital love, then the child will have to foot the bill, as someone once sharply remarked. Even in a fertile marriage, the begetting of a child is no remedy for a shaky love relationship between husband and wife. Nothing has been said yet about the fate and emotional condition of the child begotten in this manner.
Everything that has been said about the essence of marriage being the loving two-oneness of husband and wife argues against heterologous artificial insemination. The procedure has nothing to do with the love between husband and wife who are joined together for life in a love to which God wants to connect the "reward" of children (Ps. 127).
The Bible uses the word "know" when it speaks of intercourse between husband and wife. The most intimate act of love is beautifully described by that word: knowing each other through and through, with heart and mind, body and soul. Artificial insemination replaces the intimate act of love by a sterilized hypodermic syringe in the cold, white treatment room of the doctor. The Roman Catholics speak of testtube babies to show the unnaturalness of these manipulations. Moreover, this is correctly called "artificial adultery." Indeed, as soon as a third person is imported into the marriage relationship, albeit artificially, the integrity of the two-oneness of marriage is broken. Marriage as a covenant between two people does not allow a third.
A plea is being made for the legal prohibition of heterologous artificial insemination because its juridical consequences are particularly dangerous and incalculable. The Roman Catholic Church and the Synod of the Netherlands Reformed Church (Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk) reject this form of insemination, as do many other churches.
A Christian knows that what is at stake here is the continuance of God's covenant from generation to generation. Through the marriage of His children, the Lord seeks His seed.
Artificial insemination with donor sperm must be absolutely excluded from our marriages. No childless couple should ever allow themselves to be tempted to use the method. It is a thousand times better to have a childless marriage with all the accompanying sorrow than to snatch a child for oneself in this way. Lawlessness must not be allowed to trample God's ordinances.
But the question of homologous artificial insemination still remains unanswered. In this case, the husband has the potential to impregnate but is incapable of intercourse because of anatomical or other defects. This is completely different from heterologous insemination where a third unknown party acts as donor. The latter act conflicts with
the nature of marriage. But now we must remember that we are focusing on the true marital love of husband and wife that seeks as its crown a child. Could artificial insemination be used in a situation where both partners request it and pregnancy can result in no other way?
Roman Catholic authorities reject this as being unnatural as well. The Synod of the Reformed Church (Hervormde Kerk) does not consider it unlawful. Much has been written about this in Reformed Church circles.*
It is no wonder that opinions are divided, for this is a very difficult matter. The Protestant Christian Doctor's Organization (Protestantse Christelijke Artsen Organisatie) has declared that homologous artificial insemination is to be considered as a treatment for infertility only if this is the only way whereby the consequences of a disorder in the functioning of the reproductive organs may be removed. The one condition that must be absolutely met is that it must be reasonably expected that no physical and psychological harm will occur to either marriage partner because of it. The P.C.D.O. is careful about the general acceptance of this procedure and wants to consider each case separately. Only on this condition do these Christian doctors take a positive approach towards it.
Those who reject homologous artificial insemination state that by this process the begetting of children becomes isolated from normal cohabitation. Faithfulness is not being violated, but the link between a faithful act of love and the child is eliminated.
*See Lucerna, Gereformeerd Interfacultaer Tijdschrift, Volume 2, No. 3/4,1960.Objections may also arise because of the method of obtaining the sperm, which is also isolated from intercourse. I would like to point out that in this exceptional situation, the physical relations in marriage are already disturbed and normal copulation cannot take place. Should this abnormality not be taken into account when judging another abnormality- artificial insemination. Collecting sperm becomes isolated from intercourse-but in this case, intercourse was not possible anyway.
The alternatives are: either childlessness because of disturbed sexual relations, or, although intercourse remains disturbed, making use of modem science in order to have children. In judging these things, one must reckon with the brokenness of life. Sometimes an abnormality must be used to mitigate another abnormality. Christian charity demands that we are careful about absolutely rejecting homologous artificial insemination.
Opponents of the procedure do not oppose bringing sperm further by instruments after coitus has taken place normally. This supports our case. For if coitus is not possible, we fail to see that instrumental help to make impregnation possible would be wrong.
Since such problems do not arise in most marriages, these exceptional cases must be discussed primarily with the doctor and the minister of the couple involved. A general answer is impossible.