God’s Will and the Procreation of Children

There is an idea often expressed among Catholics, that if something major happens in our lives, it must be the will and plan of God. But that is not a correct understanding of providence and grace. God does have a will for each of us. And His providence and grace help to guide us in our lives. But we also have free will. And God permits things to happen in our lives that are not specifically willed by God, but only permitted. Otherwise, free will would be meaningless. It would be like the decisions that a parent permits to a two-year-old. No decision of any substance is permitted to him, as he is a young child. But God treats us as adults.

Now when this idea is applied to the procreation of children, it is also an error. A couple who are using NFP will often say that, if they conceive a child, it was God’s will. I don’t think so. Not specifically. What if a couple have sex, and their union would conceive a child, by the very biological facts of the situation? Does God intervene to prevent the pregnancy, if it is not willed by Him? Of course not. That would be divine contraception. There’s no such thing. If a married couple have sex when the wife is most fertile, and they conceive, that situation is permitted by God, but not specifically caused or willed by him.

It may be the case, with some holy couples, that if God wills them to have a child, then by their cooperation with grace and the providence of God, they conceive. But God certainly does not prevent conception, except when He specifically wills it. We are fallen sinners living in a fallen world. Our actions have certain consequences. If you walk off a cliff, you fall. Always. Not only when God wills you to fall. If a married couple frequently have sex when the wife is most fertile, they will likely conceive. And that is not necessarily because of a specific decision by God. It is the case that we fallen sinners are subject to biological facts.

If a couple are using NFP, and they happen to conceive a child, they should accept that child as permitted by the providence of God, and as now a part of the plan of God. For whenever any situation occurs, in the lives of the faithful, God cooperates with them to bring good out of that circumstance. The couple will certainly obtain the help of God with their new child, if they pray and seek to do the will of God.

But not everything that happens in our lives is specifically willed by God. If a faithful Catholic gets ill, can we say that it is the will of God? Not specifically. God did not decide that you would get that particular type of illness, at that particular time. It is an unfortunate situation, that is permitted by God because we are in the fallen state and subject to disease and various misfortunes. And God will help you though that situation. But He did not choose to make you sick, or to cause you to lose your job, or to give you some other misfortune. In most cases, God is not responsible for the specific situation you are in, good or bad. He does guide our lives with His providence, but He does so with a light hand, not forcing each person into some exact situation. We can choose this course, or that, and God will assist us in whatever way we permit Him, by providence and grace.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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4 Responses to God’s Will and the Procreation of Children

  1. Matt Z. says:

    I have to disagree with this post. St.Alphonsus Ligouri says in his work Uniformity With Gods Will that everything happens, save sin, because of the will of God. Although the distinction he makes, compared to your distinction, is that by God permitting something, it is Gods will.

  2. Grindall says:

    I believe in miracles (the Virgin birth, bible heroes conceived in old age, inexplicable healings from prayer, shrapnel missing a crucial organ). On the flip side, Proverbs 3 says the Lord disciplines those he loves (40 years in the desert, the Tribulation).

  3. Francisco says:

    What about those married couples who have taken the being open to life teaching seriously, perhaps to the extreme? – I have seen a mother of 7 children who has had C sections, had a difficult pregnancy (almost died), and now is pregnant again. The couple say they want to do the will of God of being open to life, but it seems that they don’t take into considerations the circumstances of their lives to morally space out children. God may be telling them something by providence in a situation, but they just say they have faith in God regardless of their difficult situation, and of course, God may help them in their situations because He is merciful, but that does not necessarily mean that it is God’s will to have more children in a determinate difficult situation. I understand that it may be the case that it is the will of God, by His Providence, for some healthy married couples to have many children, but it is not the same for all Catholic married couples. Each case is different according to their situations in their lives. I think that open to life does not mean having children without reasoning about it. God gave us abstract reason.

  4. Josh says:

    Thank you for the article, Mr. Conte.
    It is very good.

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