Marriage and the Family - 12 - Tears and Technology

Chapter 12

Tears and Technology

Perhaps one of the greatest trials and griefs for a married couple is the problem of coping with infertility. Some may think this is hardly an issue which needs addressing, but for those who struggle with this problem, it can be a defining issue in their marriage and their lives for God. The problem is not only the sense of loss which is inherent in an infertile marriage, but it is compounded by the confusion over the use of the technology available, and by the misunderstanding of so many.

Couples marry and bring to their marriages dreams, hopes, and expectations. The desire for children is natural for virtually every woman. There are exceptions, but the God-designed desire is strong in the vast majority. The husband also looks forward to a son to bear his name and with whom he can share his wisdom and life. Many choose to wait, perhaps wisely, for a year or two, to become adjusted to the new relationship before embarking on having children. But when the time comes and the children do not come, frustration, anxiety, depression, guilt, and confusion all arrive instead. Each month becomes a roller-coaster ride of hope and then frustration. Friends conceive without any difficulty and each picture of a newborn results in both joy and sorrow: joy for your friends joy, and sorrow over your own barrenness.

Advice is usually sought from everyone from a physician to friends. As each new element of hope is interjected, the roller-coaster ride continues until, conditioned by failure, the couple begins to bury the issue and no longer talk or think about it. In relationships which are poor and lacking in communication and security, there may even be a temptation for one of the spouses to blame the other.

Now add to this emotional cauldron, the questions from well-meaning believers such as, “Don’t you think it’s time you started a family?” or, “What’s wrong with you two?” and of course, “When are you going to give us grandchildren?” Then there are those who will criticize and label the couple as DINKY, or “Double income, no kids yet.” As though the real pursuit of the couple is for material things and all that money can buy of experiences, travel, and possessions.

It is interesting that Hannah’s barrenness was a reproach to her as the people among whom she dwelled viewed this as a sign of divine displeasure. Likewise, another godly couple in our New Testament, Zacharias and Elizabeth, are introduced as barren and beyond years for bearing children. Yet Elizabeth, in hiding herself for five months, owned that the Lord had taken away her “reproach among men” (Luke 1:25). So for these couples, infertility was linked with misunderstanding and even false accusations from the people of God who should have been supportive and compassionate.

All this reminds us of the need as believers to avoid anything which suggests a critical or judgmental attitude toward another couple. The pain and grief of infertility hardly needs to be augmented by a lack of understanding and empathy on our part. If a couple has made a decision not to have children, then it is probably best that the particular couple not have them, even though it is God’s intention for a marriage to be blessed with offspring. But these are rare and not the norm. If a couple is infertile, they need the support, encouragement, and advice (when asked for) of other believers.

To some, infertility approximates a failed marriage. If having children is the chief purpose of marriage then a barren marriage would be a failure. But the great design God had for marriage rises far above offspring. God’s intention in marriage is a picture, a daily hands-on lesson, a flesh and blood object lesson, of the truth of Christ and His Church. Nothing can hinder this purpose, and the presence or absence of children does not tarnish it in the least. Every husband and wife constitute a family, not just a marriage.

But yet ... the longing remains, the tears flow, and the expectations rise and fall. A year goes by. You have waited as the doctor has suggested. You have been reassured that “most” couples will be able to conceive in a year. Yet the year has come and gone and the pregnancy has not come. Now comes the difficult part.

You sit across from the infertility specialist as he discusses your options. You listen as he explains natural methods such as timing and basal body temperatures. But your mind begins to reel as he starts going over a list of possibilities: fertility drugs, in vivo fertilization, in vitro fertilization, donor sperms, donor eggs, surrogate mothers ... Each suggestion is met by a myriad of questions which rush to mind, some scriptural, some ethical, some practical, some financial, and some emotional.

Is this right? Is it Scriptural? How far do we go? Are we fighting against God? Are we falling short of what God wants? Can we afford it? Can we handle this emotionally? What are the chances of success and what are the risks? If you have been there, you could probably add to my brief list.

Once it was simpler. If you were not able to conceive, you took it that God was either leading you to adoption of unfortunate children or to remain without children. But now with the disappearance of available newborns other than from foreign countries, and the myriad of options to assist conception, you are bewildered.

While there are no clear black and white answers for every couple, are there any Scriptural guidelines to help amidst the sea of confusion in which the couple is engulfed? The first issue to be faced is that while Scripture does not directly speak of the problem, it does guide us in every decision of life. Technology with its bright hopes and its equally baffling ethical issues, was not an issue which first century believers faced. But it is not something which God did not foresee. We must look for principles of Scripture to guide us and give us wisdom.

Principles are invaluable when faced with dilemmas. But we must face this cautionary note: while none might argue the validity of a principle, there may well be a difference on how it is applied to a given case. Care and wisdom, the counsel of others, and prayerful exercise before God are vital.

What are some of the principles which can guide us?

Principle No. 1 Technology is not Evil

There is nothing inherently evil in most technology. Men are simply discovering the laws which God placed in nature. Was it Pascal who said, “I am thinking God’s thoughts after Him!” Technology simply is discovering what God has known all along. The mysteries of conception, techniques for enhancing the likelihood of fertilization, the viability of an ovum outside the uterus for a period of time, the techniques of in vivo fertilization, these and a host of others, and still others not yet discovered by men, are all part of the present and eternal knowledge of God. God is the creator of all (Genesis 1) and all the laws which scientists discover are laws which He originated and placed into His creation.

What men do with technology and with knowledge is another issue. Because of our natural bent as sinners, everything which is committed to our hands eventually is prostituted for selfish ends and evil. That does not negate the value of the technology, only the use to which we have turned it.

Principle No. 2 Knowledge brings Responsibility

A principle which runs throughout the Old Testament is, that while ignorance of the law is not an excuse, knowledge brings with it increased responsibility. To know of a consequence to an act brings me into a sphere of greater responsibility for either doing that act (if evil) or being remiss in performing it (if it is good). James 4:17 would confirm this to us.

Knowledge brings with it a choice: I must act based on the knowledge revealed. The fine line between trusting God and tempting God is something with which many believers have struggled. An extreme example of this might be the thinking of some that if we trust God we do not lock our doors at night. God can protect. While it is true that God is our shield and protection, yet since we know that evil abounds, and since God has provided the means (though technology) for doors to be locked, then we should employ the means that God has provided. If no locks were available, then we would be cast upon God for the need. We are expected to use whatever means we can within the scope of the Word of God to carry out our responsibilities. At the tomb of Lazarus, while the Lord was the only one who could issue the command which raised the dead man, others could, and were expected, to roll away the stone and to loose Lazarus. When no one could roll the stone away at the tomb due to the presence of soldiers, an angel came and rolled back the stone (Matt 28:2).

Principle No. 3 Choosing to not Proceed is Not Wrong

There was the danger of a critical spirit arising in Rome over differences of days and meats. Paul makes it clear that no one can legislate for another in these areas and that to force a view on someone is to risk stumbling that believer. He issues the principle, “Let every one be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom 14:5). This principle is applicable here. External pressures, peer pressure of seeing other couples with their children, expectations of relatives - none of these should preempt the conscience before the Lord. In the case of fertility, it needs to be both husband and wife together who have a sense of the Lord’s direction in the matter.

If there is reservation, if there is concern that the action taken is going beyond the scope of the will of God, then it is better to wait upon God. I realize there is the inevitable issue of the “biologic clock” which is running down. Decisions do need to be made within a timely manner. But the Lord is aware of all such and can guide.

Keep in mind the case of Sarai who, in her desperation to have a child, moved outside the will of God (Genesis 16). You could almost label this the first case of child by proxy or a “surrogate mom.”

Principle No. 4 Natural versus Unnatural

Some would divide the various means of enhancing fertility into two categories: the natural versus the unnatural. The division does have a bit of overlap and perhaps some gray area, but it may be helpful for some. Under the title of natural are such methods as the best time for conception to occur, fertility enhancing medications, medications to control polycystic ovarian problems, in vivo fertilization, and, for some, in vitro fertilization and re-implantation. It is the enhancing of the body’s ability to conceive.

Under the category of unnatural are donor sperm, donor ovum, and surrogate mothers. No doubt, future years and evolving technology will see this list grow along with its ethical problems. In these methods, something foreign is being introduced into the equation. It is no longer the couple who is conceiving. Means of fertilization which involve a donor or surrogate seem to most to be unnatural and going beyond the specific couple. It is not really “their” child. Some might argue that adopting a child is similar in that someone else has “given birth” to the child which you are now raising. But the equation is not really the same.

Principle No. 5 The Fear of The Lord

We need to remember that while “the lot is cast into the lap ... the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Prov 16:33). God is sovereign. That does not mean that we do as we please and then ask the Lord to bring positive results if it is His will and to negate the act if it is not His will. Principle number 2 must be considered: knowledge brings with it responsibility for my actions. But what it does mean is that even when we move in the fear of God and are not sure of the way, the Lord is sovereign and able to bring His purposes to pass. Perhaps more than anything, there needs to be a total surrender of self-will and a desire to please God. “What man is he which feareth the Lord? Him shall He teach in the way that he shall choose” (Ps 25:12).