Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD (Psalm 128:1-4).
How odd Psalm 128 must sound in the ears of our culture, and perhaps in some of our churches. Here the Lord’s blessings are spelled out, specifically, for the man who fears the Lord. The first blessing is the ability to eat of the fruit of one’s labors: “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you” (128:2). It does not speak of riches, per se, but of the satisfaction and security of being able to provide for one’s family. So far so good. The second blessing is the abundance of children: “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. Unlike the blessing of prosperity, the blessing of children is a bit more complicated.
Why? Because we live in a world that deems children a blessing … if we want them. This is not simply a reflection of an abortion culture where killing unwanted children is a necessary component to a society committed to sexual license. It is also the underlying premise of a contraceptive culture concerned with limiting children, spacing children, even deciding whether or not a married couple would seek to have children. Even the trend of marrying later and later in life reflects the idea that marriage and children are not necessarily of a piece, since it is not unusual for a couple to marry near the end of (or even beyond) the woman’s childbearing years.
Recently I was reading a reflection on these matters by Michael O’Brien, a Catholic artist and writer who commented that the Canadian society in which he lives stacks the deck against large families. A family with many children and one wage earner faces serious challenges in a society built upon the assumption of few children and two incomes. The example he gave was a law requiring expensive child seats, which in turn requires the purchase of a large vehicle that can hold those seats—an outlay beyond the reach of most such families. His larger point was that there is much in Canadian law that works against large families. Such cultural pressure exposes the extent to which we believe, or fail to believe, that children are a blessing, God’s reward.
The abortion mindset in America insists that children are a choice. The church is right to reject the notion that children are only to be protected if they are wanted (by the mother), and unprotected if they are not. Yet, one may reject abortion and still maintain that children are a choice—the number and timing of which we determine, according to our desires and/or vision of our future. How different is this picture from the picture of a Christian family receiving all the children God gives gladly, and without reservation, even if it means that family foregoes much of what they otherwise might have had. The pledge that one may eat of the fruit of his hands is a blessing too.
Whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Rewards, one would think, would be sought and received gladly, particularly those given by the One who loves His children and works all together for their good. When God’s rewards appear burdensome, we do well to take a hard look at ourselves and ask why, and deal with God and ourselves accordingly.