Childbearing is great. It is a blessing from God. The psalmist likewise declared: ‘Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward’ (Psalm 127:1). Anyone who has experienced the joy of having a child knows how indescribable the thrill is. I can imagine how Adam and Eve must have felt when the first baby, Cain, was born!
Sadly, one of the tragedies of our fallen condition is how every good thing can become idolized. This applies to every part of creation – money or wealth, sex or relationships, power or fame. When these become our identity, when our lives revolve around them, or when they become our central passion, they become idols.
Childbearing is no exception. The desire to become a parent, wonderful as it is, can also become the main concern of our lives. And for many couples, it is. The biblical story of Rachel is a good illustration.
Here was Rachel, the lovely and preferred wife of Jacob (Genesis chapter 29). Although cherished by her husband, Rachel was unhappy. Why? She was childless. And nothing else mattered. Daily harassed and taunted by her sister, Leah, the only consolation was to have her own child. It drove her to get her husband to impregnate her servant so she could have a child through her (a common practice at the time, cf. Sarah in Genesis 16 ).
Yet it was hardly satisfying. This did little to diminish the longing. At a point, she became desperate and cried out to Jacob in anguish: “Give me children or I die!” Her cry showed both her despair and lack of connection with the God whom her husband worshipped. She sought in man what she could only find in God.
And that is a prominent sign of an idol. Once we do not seek something in God, we make an idol out of it. Her idolatry was not that she sought children; the desire is only natural. The problem was that she did not seek it in God. Idols are revealed not by what we lack, but by how we respond to the lack. When you are deprived of money, sex, respect – or children – what do you do? To whom do you call?
Contrast Rachel with another childless Israelite – Hannah. Hannah suffered the same taunt as Rachel. She enjoyed the same affection from her husband. The difference was that Hannah’s need drove her to God. She recognized that children were a gift from God. Furthermore, Hannah returned the anticipated gift back to God. This was a clear sign that she was not making an idol out of the child; she was giving it back.
Hannah sought her need in God, but Rachel fixed her gaze on man. Where Hannah surrendered her son, Rachel held on to hers. And her anxious man-centred longing for children eventually took away her life. She died in childbirth (Genesis 35).
What do you seek? Seek it in God or else you make an idol out of it. And God will not share our affection with any created thing. As Augustine reminds us, God has made us for himself and our hearts will be restless until it finds rest in God.