God is absolutely true, absolutely good, and absolutely beautiful. Every smidgen of truth, every iota of goodness, and every ounce of beauty come from God.
Having children is a good thing. Having children is a beautiful thing. And having children is a true thing – true in the profound sense of doing God’s will. God’s first command to the human race was to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). God loves children (Matthew 19:14). Children are a blessing – a gift from Him to us (and like all of His gifts, not one that we deserve, but one that He bestows on us out of His infinite love and mercy).
If having children is good, beautiful and true, it follows that for married couples deliberately avoiding pregnancy through artificial means is not good, not beautiful and not true to God’s will.
God loves it when married couples have children. That doesn’t mean we’re obligated to have as many children as we can. But the decision by married couples to temporarily try not to have children needs to be made prayerfully, to discern God’s will correctly.
God gave sex as a gift to mankind for two fundamental purposes: to bring the husband and wife closer together (the Biblical expression “the two become one flesh” captures the deep love and unity that arises from married life) and for the procreation of children. Separating either of those purposes from sexual relations is a denial of God’s will, which is to say, it is a sin.
One might ask what is the difference between abstaining periodically from sex to avoid having children, and using birth control to achieve the same end. Why do the means matter? It matters because birth control makes possible self-indulgence, whereas periodic abstinence through natural family planning is a form of self-denial. God approves of self-denial, for it is in the denial of self – the living for God, the living to do his will and the living to serve others – that we say yes to his saving grace in our lives. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
Conversely, using birth control to have sexual relations while deliberately impeding procreation is a sin. It is saying no to God’s will. It is putting your own desires ahead of His.
John Paul II’s Theology of the Body has greatly enriched the Church’s understanding of God’s love for His people and how we should respond to His love. If it has a drawback, it is that it doesn’t lend itself to a bumper sticker (or tweet-sized) summation. But I would like to suggest that the Church’s teaching on love and procreation are based on a very simple, easy to understand truth that should be self-evident to every believer: namely, that children are a blessing.
For further reading: See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2360-2379.
Image: Suffer the little children to come unto me by James Tissot (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).