I am always open to correction, in fact I desire correction. Therefore, I am interested in exploring, once again, whether there is a defensible "half-way" position that would allow for clear cases in which there would be absolutely NO SIN in contracepting. I propose that this would require one to believe there is nothing intrinsically wrong with contracepting - that only the motives for using it could be sinful.
My position against this "half-way" position is that there is something intrinsically wrong with contraception - that "be fruitful and multiply" is a moral absolute.
As such, what should we do if two or more of absolutes come into unavoidable conflict? At this link to an earlier post of mine on Christian ethics, you will read:
"Basically, there are three answers to this question. First, unqualified absolutism [Roman Catholicism favors this one] affirms that all such conflicts are only apparent; they not real. In short, no two absolute obligations ever come into unavoidable conflict. Second, conflicting absolutism [the more Lutheran position in my opinion] admits to real moral conflicts but claims that one is guilty no matter which way he goes. Third, graded absolutism (or the greater-good position) [favored by Calvinists] agrees with the view that real moral conflicts do sometimes occur, but maintains that one is personally guiltless if he does the greatest good..." [Geisler]
These ethical principles for moral dilemmas are the only ones open to honest Christians, and stand in stark contrast to the moral relativism or "situation ethics" of our secular culture.
I hold that contraception is either wrong or it is not. The "situation" does not make it right unless God has given a clear exemption in His Word.
It seems even those who take a "half-way" position agree that a married couple needs a defensible reason to contracept. Most people, even non-Christians, usually offer some sort of excuse or rationale for limiting their family. I think most of us on this blog would even agree on what might be defensible reasons - for instance, rare cases in which we should preserve the life of the mother (i.e. obeying the Fifth Commandment).
That brings up a moral absolute all Christians still agree on. God said "Thou shalt not Kill." Killing is always a bad thing. However, God has given us clear exemptions to this moral absolute in which there is no sin in killing: the vocations of executioner and soldier. Outside of these legitimate vocations, killing is ALWAYS sinful. These vocations are not cases of "conflicting absolutes" because God has given these vocations as specific exemptions to the Fifth Commandment.
So, if one accepts the premise that "be fruitful and multiply" is a moral absolute, has God given any specific exemptions to this divine ordinance? Luther writes regarding this as follows:
"...from this ordinance of creation God has himself exempted three categories of men, saying in Matthew 19:12, 'There are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.' Apart from these three groups, let no man presume to be without a spouse. And whoever does not fall within one of these three categories should not consider anything except the estate of marriage. Otherwise it simply impossible for you to remain righteous. For the Word of God which created you and said, 'Be fruitful and multiply,' abides and rules within you; you can by no means ignore it, or you will be bound to commit heinous sins without end." [Luther's Works, vol. 45, page 15 ff]
In addition, 1 Corinthians 7:5 allows for abstinence within marriage for a very specific and limited purpose: "Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control."
It is my position that outside of these Biblical exemptions, contraception (whether "artificial" or so-called "natural" family planning) is sinful.
Again, so there is no confusion, I agree there are "hard cases" which would allow for the use of contraception. These are not illusions, but real moral dilemmas. If there is nothing intrinsically wrong with contracepting, there can be no dilemma, and no sin in contracepting. In fact, one would need no excuse to contracept if there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it.
On the other hand, if you agree that there is something intrinsically wrong with contracepting, the only disagreement I think we can have is what to call our actions in these "hard cases." I believe these are cases in which contracepting may be considered the "lesser evil" - not the "greater good." In these rare moral dilemmas, we try to choose the lesser evil (we can never be certain we have) and throw ourselves on the mercy found in Christ. We don't trust our decisions and actions to justify us, but rather Christ.
Let me take this a step further and, again, confess my own sin. Even my best efforts at obeying God's divine ordinance to "be fruitful and multiply" are in need of forgiveness. I do not use any forms of contraception, yet I am still guilty of being contraceptive in my heart. With our ninth child only eight months old, my sinful mind often hopes that my wife's on-demand nursing will still prevent conception for a time. I struggle with this sin. Don't get me wrong, I do LOVE our large family and believe I am very blessed, just as it says in Psalm 127. But I am at the same time saint and sinner, just as Paul confesses in Romans 7. I believe I should be open to God's blessing of children at any time He chooses, trusting that He will always provide our daily bread.
My knowledge of God's law regarding procreation curbs me from utilizing overt methods of family planing through the first use of the law. And it instructs me in loving God and His immutable good will for us via the third use of the law. But it also on this earth will always convict me via the second use of the law.
"What a wretched man I am. Who will save me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!" [Romans 7:24-25]