The Future Belongs to the Barren

“The future does not belong to the fecund,” I spoke aloud to myself, emotionally exhausted only two days into the week. Early that afternoon, a friend and I were guests on a podcast to share our experiences with miscarriage. The host and his wife had never been able to have children. We relived the often-silent and lonely pain of losing an unseen life. Thoughtless comments. Unspoken fears. Empty arms. I remarked that the unfathomable number of miscarried children throughout history reminds us of how broken this world is.

When the interview ended, I opened my web browser to be greeted by the unfolding news of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Terror and death played out in what should be one of the safest places on earth. Eventually, we learned that two teachers and 19 students — nine, 10, and 11 years old — had died. Parents, siblings, grandparents, and a community went to bed weeping the fresh emptiness of missing loved ones.

“No,” I said aloud, “the future does not belong to the fecund.”

“Fecund” is not a word I often, if ever, use. I first encountered the word in an article years ago. “The future belongs to the fecund,” the writer wrote. That sentence stuck with me long after I’d forgotten the piece. I never liked that sentence or the sentiment it represents.

Fecund means “fruitful in offspring or vegetation.” That sentence would have us believe the future belongs to those who are fertile and productive, which biologically is sort of true. It implies that the world will be ruled by those who have the most babies; the future does not belong to the barren, the dead, or the bereaved. The author did later follow up with a post in which he addressed some concerned readers. But what a message to send to an infertile couple, a mother holding her miscarried child, the people of Uvalde. We’re sorry for your loss, but the future simply isn’t yours.

This mindset belongs to businesses, investors, and agriculturalists. To succeed, you must produce. Stall or stop production, and you’re done. It is certainly the mindset of naturalistic evolution. The animal that has the most surviving offspring rules the gene pool. The future belongs to them.

That may be the law of this world and of a nature red in tooth and claw. But it is certainly not the nature of Christ and his people.

In fact, this faith in fecundity only works if we limit our Bible reading to Genesis 1. It is there that God blessed the newly fashioned man and woman, commanding them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). They were to have babies who would have babies who would have babies until the image of God covered the whole earth. The future not only belonged to the fecund, it depended on them.

When sin entered the world, death came with it. Fecundity would be a painful and frustrating effort. Every child conceived and born would toil for some years before succumbing to death and returning to dust. Their production and reproduction mattered little to the future — from the most fertile of them to the most barren, every one of them would die (Gen 3:16-19).

In his mercy, the Lord promised redemption that depended on limited — very limited — fertility. The woman’s offspring would go to war with the serpent’s offspring. “Offspring” is a tricky word, too. Literally “seed,” it can be plural or singular, referring to many “seeds” or a single seed. The Lord makes his meaning plain when he adds, “He [singular] will strike your head, and you will strike his [singular] heel.” Our redemption would depend on the birth of one man (Gen 3:15).

The storyline between the promise and the promised one gives much attention to fertility and barrenness. Barren women, sometimes one after another, feature prominently in the line of the promised offspring. It is not the fertility of men and women that would conquer sin and remove the curse. Salvation is of the Lord — and him alone. The way of God’s kingdom says, then, that the future belongs to the barren, the empty, and to those who long to be filled.

That point is no better illustrated than in the entrance of the Messiah into our world. He first appears in the womb of a virgin. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, human fertility had nothing to do with it. No, the mighty one had done great things (Luke 1:26-55).

As that son, Jesus of Nazareth, grew up, he was hardly the poster boy for virility. “He grew up before him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground” (Isa 53:2). You don’t want to find a little shoot in parched soil when you check your garden. Sprouts and roots don’t reproduce in a drought. A field without water is barren — and so was this man. He never married (though he sought a bride), and he died a childless virgin.

Jesus Christ modeled voluntary barrenness. He, “existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity” (Phil 2:6-7). He looked nothing like the productivity cherished by our world. No, he became a slave and died beneath a curse owning nothing but the clothes they took from him.

After atoning our sins through his death, Jesus rose from the dead. Though crucifixion looked like the lethal piercing of a serpent’s bite, it crushed the serpent’s head. With new authority, Jesus gave his people their new mandate: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20).

The mandate at creation was fulfilled and surpassed in this command. Whereas God’s people were once to fill the earth through childbirth, they would now fill it by making disciples of all nations. They would preach the gospel, but God would give hearers a second birth. Whereas they would exercise dominion as God’s image-bearers, they would now subdue the earth by teaching converts to obey the perfect image-bearer — the Messiah.

The primary focus of the church is not baby-making. Like the Messiah the church follows, its calling is disciple-making. With the arrival of the promised child, the New Testament gives little attention to who begets who. The epistles devote only two verses explicitly to child-raising. Apart from miraculous conceptions, celibacy generally results in childlessness. The married persons’ interests are divided. The unmarried — the barren — are free to please the Lord without distraction, just like Jesus was (1 Cor 7).

“The future belongs to the fecund” makes sense if you seek to rule the world through politics, finances, or sheer power. You need numbers to get elected, store up wealth, or rule your enemies (and friends). But that’s not the concern of Christ or his people. Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension inaugurated the kingdom. That kingdom isn’t consummated when believers succeed in outnumbering unbelievers. It will be consummated when Jesus returns and makes all things new. It is then that he will be united perfectly with his resurrected bride. There is, by the way, no mention of the bridegroom and the bride producing offspring. Their enjoyment of each other has always been the aim.

Jesus never told his disciples to try to outnumber the unbelievers on earth. Though he redeems a multitude no one can count, we’re never told whether they outnumber those who go to eternal damnation. In the end, victory simply isn’t a matter of population. The future belongs to the childless and (for now) unmarried Messiah  —  and to the people who, by faith, are made like him.

Scroll to Top