I recently renewed a friendship with a long-lost high school friend on Facebook and was surprised by her rather liberal views on politics and religion. After all, we had both attended a Catholic high school, although she is Episcopalian. At first, I thought that perhaps I should move on as our world views were so very different, but I enjoyed sharing old high school memories and conversing about topics that didn’t highlight our differences. We agreed to disagree on religion and politics while remaining respectful and loving toward each other.
Out of the blue, my friend sent me a message asking me to defend the Catholic Church’s position on artificial birth control. She had seen an alarming program on overpopulation and strongly believes in zero population growth through birth control. I replied with a link to a secular site showing how overpopulation is a myth, along with relevant quotes from the Bible and the Catechism, the importance of the family as the basic unit of society and the value of promoting a culture of life rather than a culture of death.
I added my belief that birth control negatively impacts a marriage because a barrier is erected, whether it is physical or chemical. Birth control prevents the complete giving of self. You are holding something back and essentially saying, “I love you, but I must put an obstacle between us.” It reduces this most intimate relationship to a purely physical one (“I want to have you whenever I please”) and objectifies the person without the reverence and respect required for an act so intimate that it can create new life. Birth control pushes God away by focusing only on the pleasure of the act and ignoring the life-creating aspect. When a couple uses birth control because a baby is not convenient and discontinues it when a baby is wanted, they have the illusion that they are in control, not God.
This topic consumed my thoughts for a few days, and I prayed that I could find the right words to convince my friend that birth control is not the answer to the world’s population issues. She believes that God has sent us birth control technology to help us solve our problems. In this light, I hoped to find a passage from the Bible to help her realize that this technology is not part of God’s plan for us. Surprisingly, I found the answer in the book of Exodus.
I was attending a Bible study at our parish, led by my pastor. His lecture the previous night focused on the story of Moses’ encounter with God by the burning bush. As Moses approaches in wonder, God admonishes, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) Father explained that God asks Moses to remove his shoes so that there is no barrier between man and holy ground. This requires trust on the part of Moses (the ground may be very hot!), humility and obedience. The burning bush is a very intimate encounter because God, for the first time, reveals His name, establishing a personal relationship with Moses.
It suddenly struck me that there was a lesson here on birth control. God does not want barriers between a man and a woman when they are on the holy ground of the marriage bed. This most intimate act images the Holy Trinity and the giving and receiving of love among the Three Persons. The love between Father and Son creates a third person, the Holy Spirit, just as the love between husband and wife can also create a third person.
Intimacy without barriers requires trust and humility on the part of both husband and wife, as well as obedience to God. Although married couples must use this gift responsibly, love without barriers is certainly the best way for a marriage to resemble the Trinity.
This comparison of married intimacy and Moses’ encounter with God may or may not convince my friend that birth control is not part of God’s Divine Plan. Yet it certainly reassured me that God’s Truth resonates loudly and clearly from the pages of the Bible and that those ancient words continue to speak profoundly to us today.