Contemporary Idolatry

Are we making too much of marriage and motherhood?

In a recent Crossway article, “When Marriage and Motherhood Become Idols,” author Jen Oshman speaks with a heart of compassion, seeking to encourage the many women in our day who find themselves outside what seems to be a favored sisterhood shared by wives and especially by mothers.

At the same time, her goal is also to persuade the church that their insensitivity to these women is essentially immoral. She writes:

The thing about “motherhood is a woman’s highest calling” is that it’s a moral judgment. It says good women are moms. It says motherhood is the best way to be a female....

When we moralize marriage and motherhood in this way, we inadvertently create a hierarchy in the church with the moms on top (the more children the godlier) and the singles without children on the bottom. Unknowingly, we laud the former and alienate the latter.

It’s inarguable that women who are single or barren often suffer deeply enough without the added pain of feeling inferior or excluded. What Oshman and others like her conclude is that the solution is to reorder our ideas about how God intends our sexuality to be viewed.

Yet in spite of her effort to remain biblical, I would contend that her perspective is more informed by 21st-century American culture than it is by Scripture.

To be sure, Oshman commends the church for opposing “cultural counterfeits ... like the autonomy of self, hooking up, and abortion.” However, she goes on to say that in our reaction against the denigration of women, marriage, and families, “we have unwittingly devalued singleness and childlessness, which are no less valuable, no less designed by God, and no less intended by our Creator than marriage and parenthood.”

The Question of God’s Design

While the Bible nowhere says that single and childless individuals are not equally God’s amazing creation and equally eligible for salvation, it also does not speak of singleness and childlessness as his intended design. The sole mention of singleness as being even desirable, in 1 Corinthians 7, was written in the context of great distress, and was possibly being promoted because Paul was anticipating the soon return of Christ (“For the present form of this world is passing away,” verse 31).

In the rest of Paul’s writings and throughout Scripture, marriage and parenthood are both honored and generally assumed. The exceptions usually mentioned (Jesus, Paul, and John the Baptist) were men who had extremely unique callings. While it is indeed possible for others throughout history to be specifically called (and graced) for singlehood, these callings are usually connected with factors not relevant to most of today’s singles.

What is far more prominent in the Bible is the truth that women, beginning with Eve herself, were explicitly created to be wives and called to be mothers. In the stories where women went through a season of barrenness (Sarai, Hannah, Elizabeth), the resolution was God’s miraculous provision of a child. Only in our day are we attempting to modify the basic design of womanhood in an effort to accommodate a world that makes these roles increasingly difficult to live out.

Concerning Idols

We also need to consider another aspect of modernity that colors Oshman’s perspective: the idea that idols are those things we look to to make us feel meaningful, valuable, and secure. Biblically, an idol was something that displaced God as the object of our worship and submission. It was less about what made the people feel significant and more about their acknowledgement of who was supremely significant. It was less about satisfying the self and more about obedience to another. While there is a sense in which marriage or children—or careers or accomplishments—can be idolized, what lies underneath these idolatries may in fact be the idolization of the self.

We might also note that until recent times, marriage was viewed as the social arrangement which was intended to give a woman security, and motherhood was known to be a role that brought her real significance. But with the incremental infusions of feminism, women have become persuaded that their sources of security and significance should instead replicate those of men. On the surface this has appeared doable, but underneath, both women and men have been deprived of the distinct forms of fulfillment God designed them to experience.

Our Realities and God’s Provision

But let’s come back to the specific realities that prompt people like Jen Oshman to speak with such passion and compassion. If indeed God designs and desires women to be wives and mothers, how then do we approach ministry to the many women in our day who will never fully experience all they were created to enjoy?

I believe the answer is found, not in persuading those around us to adjust to our sensitivities, but in realizing that God offers us strength and comfort that is ultimately supernatural. Every human encounters the brokenness of creation—and I would add that the brokenness of manhood and womanhood in our day is particularly acute and painful. Even for the men and women who marry and become fathers and mothers, the beauty and joy of what God intended them to display and experience is frequently diminished, if not altogether absent.

In a day when society appears to be rebelling against God with unprecedented fury, it is my conviction that the church needs to rediscover the redemptive power of the gospel. Rather than modifying our thoughts and ways to fit something other than God’s design, we need to face our complicity with the brokenness, seek Christ’s forgiveness, and then devote ourselves to living a life that is fully engaged in, and yet fully distinct from, the world around us. We do this, not by brooding over our pain, but by learning to lean on the tangible grace and comfort he provides.

In fact, I believe what the church needs today are women who will embrace the deep yearning in their hearts for marriage and motherhood, yet who have also gained an even deeper assurance that the God who gave them that yearning is good and wise, even if they are never able to live it out.  

If that describes you, you have discovered a rare treasure that those around you desperately need. Rather than letting the weight of your real sufferings draw you away from God and his people, choose to focus on, model, and share the glorious truth you have found.

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

is a homemaker who lives near Centerville, Tennessee. Her website is

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