Who's Work is it Anyway?

In an e-mail discussion with me, Pr. M. L. F. Freiberg Sr. wrote:

When we say that God is the giver of life, that He blesses us with children through the means of procreation, how are those words being understood? Are we understanding them to mean that God is actually doing the knitting in the womb, or do we understand them to mean that he has put a process in motion that men and women make use of? If it is the latter, then NFP, for instance, may make sense to some.

That's a wise perspective on the topic. Of course God is actually doing the creating. The error we
fall into first in almost every sin is thinking that, while God started the ball rolling, we in the world are now in charge (the now "hands off" God having retreated back into His heavenly realm to watch at a distance what his creatures might do with what he has created). This is unfortunately a common worldview among Christians. I've often reminded my opponents in the contraception debate that, as with our spiritual (second) birth, the only thing we can do in procreation is reject God's gift of life. God alone creates life, spiritual and physical. Life is created through the unregenerate as well as the regenerate, and we know the unregenerate are incapable of initiating anything good. In the unregenerate, it is clear that God alone does the good work of procreating through the means of unregenerate man. Yet procreation for the Christian still must be looked at similarly from this perspective:

65] From this, then, it follows that as soon as the Holy Ghost, as has been said, through the Word and holy Sacraments, has begun in us this His work of regeneration and renewal, it is certain that through the power of the Holy Ghost we can and should cooperate, although still in great weakness. But this [that we cooperate] does not occur from our carnal natural powers, but from the new powers and gifts which the Holy Ghost has begun in us in conversion, 66] as St. Paul expressly and earnestly exhorts that as workers together with Him we receive not the grace of God in vain, 2 Cor. 6, 1. But this is to be understood in no other way than that the converted man does good to such an extent and so long as God by His Holy Spirit rules, guides, and leads him, and that as soon as God would withdraw His gracious hand from him, he could not for a moment persevere in obedience to God. But if this were understood thus [if any one would take the expression of St. Paul in this sense], that the converted man cooperates with the Holy Ghost in the manner as when two horses together draw a wagon, this could in no way be conceded without prejudice to the divine truth. (2 Cor. 6, 1: Sunergou'te" parakalou'men: We who are servants or coworkers with God beseech you who are God's husbandry and God's building, 1 Cor. 3, 9, to imitate our example, that the grace of God may not be among you in vain, 1 Cor. 15, 10, but that ye may be the temple of God, living and dwelling in you, 2 Cor. 6, 16.)

[FC, SD, Free Will]

The problem today is belief in the common erroneous sentiment the "God helps those who help themselves." NO! God does it all. He helps us because we CAN'T help ourselves. Everything we do that is of any good is entirely by the power of God, the God who HASN'T retreated to watch from afar, but rather has stayed in intimate relation with us and does not withdraw his gracious hand from all good works that we do - works which were prepared for us to do from the foundations of the world. The shame is that we so often slap his loving hands away with our flailing arms due to our misguided attempts to be in charge ourselves. Nowhere is this more obviously true than in procreation, because no other human activity is so clearly God's business than the creation of souls.
As Luther said of the divine ordinance to be fruitful and multiply:

"For this word which God speaks, 'Be fruitful and multiply,' is not a command. It is more than a command, namely, a divine ordinance [werck] which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore. Rather, it is just as necessary as the fact that I am a man, and more necessary than sleeping and waking, eating and drinking, and emptying the bowels and bladder. It is a nature and disposition just as innate as the organs involved in it. Therefore, just as God does not command anyone to be a man or a woman but creates them the way they have to be, so he does not command them to multiply but creates them so that they have to multiply. And wherever men try to resist this, it remains irresistible nonetheless and goes its way through fornication, adultery, and secret sins, for this is a matter of nature and not of choice."

[Luther's works, vol. 45, The Christian in Society II, The Estate of Marriage, pp. 15-21]


Eric Phillips said...

> Are we understanding them to mean that God
> is actually doing the knitting in the womb,
> or do we understand them to mean that he has
> put a process in motion that men and women make
> use of

What's the difference?

Eric Phillips said...

To be more forthcoming, do you (or the guy you're quoting) mean to suggest that conception and fetal growth are supernatural processes, or that men and women have no right to "make use of" certain _natural_ processes?

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

I made my understanding of Pastor Freiberg's words abundantly clear in my post. There are both natural and supernatural processes at work in procreation. And of course you already know that I do not believe we have a right to take action against conception (contraception) or fetal development (abortion).

Anonymous said...

Good to see you posting again
Eric P.

Eric Phillips said...


> There are both natural and supernatural
> processes at work in procreation.

Can you identify a procreative process that is supernatural? And are we allowed to "make use of" the natural ones, whatever they may be?

Tim the Enchanter (Rob Olson) said...

Good post, Caspar.

The putting 'a process in motion that men and women make use of' reminds me of Deism, God's supposed hands-off policy that we shall live life pragmatically and use Reason as the cornerstone for all that we think, say and do.

Moralistic therapeutic Deism?


Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Excellent point, Rob. You understood the meaning of the post well.

Eric Phillips said...

When we say that God is the Maker of All, that He blesses us with good things through the means of nature and human society, how are those words being understood? Are we understanding them to mean that God is actually baking the bread we buy at the supermarket? Collecting the trash we put out at the curb? Fixing the leaky faucet that threatens to flood our cellar? Or do we understand them to mean that He has put processes into motion that men and women make use of? If it is the latter, then the Lutheran theology of vocation, for instance, may make sense to some.

...and the perceptive reader will see that it is also the former.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...


Neither Pr. Freiberg nor I have denied the Lutheran doctrine of vocation. There's an important difference between "things" and the unique blessing of children - live human beings with souls!

Your argument here is a philosophical misapplication of the Lutheran doctrine of vocation. We don't make babies as if we're making bread, taking out the trash, or fixing a leaky faucet.

You have a nasty habit of virtually always placing theology in submission to philosophy rather than placing philosophy in submission to theology. I sympathize, because I used to do the same thing. But I can also tell you from experience that unless you place philosophy in submission to theology your human reason will lead you down all kinds of dark paths.

Have you read the first volume of The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism by Robert Preus? It is a study on theological prolegomena. The second section would be of great benefit to you, as it deals with the proper role of philosophy in theology. If you don't buy it, check it out and at least do yourself the favor of reading that second section.


Eric Phillips said...


I'm not subordinating theology to philosophy. I'm simply not buying your assumption (and it IS an assumption, with no theological support) that God makes new children in a qualitatively different way than He does everything else.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Oh, but it DOES have theological support!

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” [Genesis 30:1-2]

Do you think Jacob would have answered the same if Rachel had said "Give me bread, or I shall die?" Jacob knew that children were not something he could provide like a loaf of bread. There is most certainly a qualitative difference.

Eric Phillips said...

> Do you think Jacob would have answered the
> same if Rachel had said "Give me bread, or I
> shall die?"

If there had been famine in the land, he would have. Jacob was just pointing out that she was demanding something outside of his power to guarantee. When it was outside of their power to acquire food, the children of Israel "spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water" (Num. 21:5). If this verse does not lead us to conclude that food is something God provides outside of natural channels, I don't see why Jacob's statement should lead us to conclude that children are something God provides outside of natural channels either. Some soil is more fertile than other soil, and some wombs more fertile than other wombs. The farmer plants and prays for a good harvest; the would-be father does the same. There is qualitative difference in the desired fruit, but not in the role of man's will or the role of God's will.

Listen to St. John as he contrasts spiritual birth with physical birth: "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13).

You see, it is in SPIRITUAL birth, NOT physical birth, that the difference become qualitative. Physical birth, like farming, like every other human endeavor, results from "the will of the flesh" and/or "the will of man." Of course, no human endeavor will succeed if God does not permit it, but that's as true of walking down the street as it is of having children.

Thomas said...

Sorry for cutting in here, but I wanted to add that there is another another (better?) interpretation of that John 1:12-13 passage, eric. Your interpretation leaves the question: "What is the difference between the three (bloods, will of flesh, will of man)?" It's unusual for "blood" to be plural in Greek. It could be a "Hebrewism" indicating "bloodshed" but that is uncertain. I submit that what John is saying is that their spiritual lives are not owed to their Jewish bloodlines nor to their circumcisions (will of flesh) nor of their keeping of the Law (will of man). Rather, their Spiritual birth, which is the power to believe, is owed entirely to the will of God. Remember that John is writing to the early church who is under the heavy influence of the Law-driven Pharisees, who receive heavy chastisement from John throughout the Gospel.

Just my 2 cents.

Rachel said...


That's what you get when you interpret Scripture as an individual rather than corporately as the church has interpreted it for 2000 years.

“. . .nothing has been received among us, in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or to the church catholic. For it is manifest that we have guarded diligently against the introduction into our churches of any new and ungodly doctrine.” [Conclusion to the Augsburg Confession]

Eric Phillips said...


"Bloods" may well be a reference to human bloodlines, because those are involved in physical birth, but the other two suggestions aren't. When the passage says "born...of the will of the flesh," it makes no sense to interpret that as "born of circumcision" (nobody was ever BORN OF circumcision, nor does circumcision have a will), and when it says "born of...the will of man" it is rather fanciful to take that as "born of...the keeping of the Law" when everyone knows that physical birth results from the will of a man--an andros, notice, not an anthropou. "Born of...the will of a husband" would be a good rendering, if all births were legitimate.


Would you care to furnish evidence that the Church of the ages has uniformly considered procreation to be somehow "more supernatural" or "more monergistic" than any other natural process? (Not that it's actually possible to have _degrees_ of "supernaturality" or "monergism" in the first place, but that seems to be Erich's position, since he doesn't deny that natural processes are involved).

If you have no such evidence, then what are you talking about?

Eric Phillips said...


I left one of your questions unanswered. I think the "will of the flesh" differs from the "bloods" (perhaps a reference to the two bloodlines that converge in each child) and the "will of a man" (i.e. the father's decision to lie with one particular woman) as a reference to the desire for copulation that is universal in fleshly species.

Or to put it another way, "the will of the flesh" is the biological disposition towards procreation that God implanted in animals and humans when He said, "be fruitful and multiply." The Martin Luther quotation that Erich quoted at the end of his original post (and about thirty other places on this website alone) is directly relevant here.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Eric P.,

You wrote: If there had been famine in the land, he would have. Jacob was just pointing out that she was demanding something outside of his power to guarantee.

There was no famine of seed from Jacob. The question was who opens and closes the womb. Note the words of Jacob: "Am I in the place of God?"

Children are not Jacob's to withhold or give. When we make decisions about having or not having children, we are putting ourselves in the place of God.

Our calling is to do what married people do, and leave the decision about children resulting from marriage up to God, whether that is 0 or 20.