Thursday, November 15, 2007

Love and the Pro-Con List

Julie has another terrific post, this time about expectations of singles for marriage, especially among Christian singles. Well worth checking out. I'm going to do a bit of fisking here, but in a good way.

Julie writes,
During my first year of college (which was a Bible college), there was a girl named April who firmly believed that she was so special and unique in God's sight -- this had been drummed into her head by well-meaning parents, teachers, and youth pastors trying to protect their young flock -- that her list of qualifications for a guy was incredibly long and incredibly impossible. Nothing but the best for her, she insisted, pointing out that God wanted the best for his daughters. April did not have any comparative list of such actual qualities in herself.
Just so. I've observed before that everyone is always looking for the "right person" for himself or herself; hardly anyone is looking to become the "right person" for someone else. Which, when you think about it, is pure selfishness: I want precisely what I want, at the least possible cost or annoyance to me. What's more, that process of becoming "right" for one another doesn't end with an engagement, or even a wedding. It's a lifelong process of learning, growing, reacting, rebuking, and generally becoming intertwined.

Think about it. People are fluid. You're not the same as you were a decade ago. You won't be the same in another decade. How can you possibly know what future-you will need or value most? How can you know if future-him or future-her will be able to provide it? So how can a list, based on present-day needs and expectations, possibly forecast the future?

At some point, we have to realize that the process of becoming one is a lifelong process, directed by God, sometimes painful to our individual desires, but nonetheless beautiful, wonderful, and eminently worthwhile. I don't know who I would be without Cecile in my life for the past eighteen years; I'm not sure I want to know.

Too often the phrase "God has called me to be single" is a Bible-laced excuse to continue being selfish, fearful, proud, and content with smooth sailing. Many beautiful books and web sites by lovely men and women discuss singlehood as if we were all Paul, mysteriously and unfairly going through life without the healing of our affliction.
Yes. Reread 1 Corinthians 7. Does Paul ever say that singleness was to be pursued for its own sake? That it's a spiritually superior mode of being? No. All his reasons for preferring and advocating singleness are practical. Singleness is practically preferable for a dangerous, itinerant ministry like Paul's (you don't have to worry about how your family will be provided for while you're being thrown in jail, thrown out of town, and shipwrecked) and in times of persecution (you don't have to worry about what will happen to them if you're beheaded). It allows you to focus on service to God, exclusively. So if someone genuinely has that gift and is genuinely called to be single, then they will also be called to some form of ministry that makes apparent why marriage would be significantly detrimental in that situation.

I'm not saying that everyone who is not specifically called to singleness must get married by age x, to the first available candidate. I am saying that avoiding marriage out of fear and selfishness, and calling it a calling, is wrong. Marriage and parenthood are two of the most powerful tools God uses to get our focus off of ourselves and make us part of something larger. They teach us things that are difficult to learn in any other way.
The Evangelical world should stop having singles ministry that encourages singles to stay single and get their weekly relationship fix over pizza or coffee with the rest of the group -- sans any icky side effects from commitment -- and instead tell them to quit waiting for "the right one" and get over themselves and get married to a good and decent one.
Oh yes. What biblical justification is there, anyway, for this concept of "the right one"? That if you don't marry the one person in six billion that God has Specially Chosen Just for You, that life will be toast? As Julie says, we've become "vast herds of terrified, lonely, confused people insisting that good people right beside them simultaneously moving in the same direction are not the right people." If we find someone who is good and decent and loves God and we're genuinely attracted to them and we share interests and like being together, then that should be enough to start on. God will take care of the rest.

Please understand. I'm not saying take the plunge hastily or thoughtlessly. And we are entitled to our own preferences. But somehow, because of fear of making a mistake, we've forgotten that marriage is also a gift. A really, really good gift.

Kudos to Julie. Brave words, coming from someone who is single herself. So far. Check out the entire post; there's a lot more there.
For more on marriage, check out my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God .

Marriage, Family, and the Image of God



  1. Excellent point about being the right person for somebody else, rather than merely going around with a magnifying class looking for the "right person" for me. Very edifying.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Nick. Of course, the flip side is that the more you become the right person for someone else, the more that someone else seems to be just the perfect fit. Funny how that is.

  3. Yes, I would do well to practice these things as I am a young single. That led to another thought which some have misunderstood: No woman judges a prospective man by giving him a test, or a list of things to do while she carefully examines and takes notes on a scorecard. Her finding a man and being pleased by a man tends to occur in a relational and casual setting--simply observing, for example, how he reacts and relates to other believers in the church. And men do not look for a wife by giving her a scrub brush and asking her to clean the floor like a maid. I'm not looking for a maid, but a wife.
    I would argue that with God it is much the same way. Observe how Eliezer found a wife for Isaac in Gen. 24 (A beautiful chapter, as you know, that foreshadows Christ and the church. No one brings this out better than Frank Viola in "God's Ultimate Passion"). He did not command Rebekah to draw water for his camels. He simply watched, and she made the offer. Similarly, I think God is not looking for legalistic obedience from his followers to a list of commandments, as some have caricatured religion and turned aside to infidelity. But He is looking for a loving and faithful heart (which, incidentally, produces obedience). He is pleased by a people who walk with Christ as they go about their normal days in normal, non-religious ways--at work, at school, at K-mart, in coffee shops. This is the example Jesus shows us in the Gospels (his evangelism included dining with tax collectors and prostitutes, much to the contempt of the Pharisees), and this is what it's going take to win people to Christ in the 21st century.

  4. Keith, my next question is this. Some Christians have said that if you get married you must have children. That it would be selfish for a married couple to forgo having children. I'm persuaded that it is acceptable, and often practical. Paul may be referring to this when he says in 1 Cor 7, 'those who have wives should live as though they had none.' What are your thoughts on this?

  5. Well, Nick, 1 Cor 7 needs to be read all together in context. In particular, the verse you quote needs to be balanced by verses 3-5: "The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer." So I think that eliminates the possibility that the verse you quote would refer to abstinence within the marriage relationship (which would have been the only reliable method of birth control at the time). Overall, Paul is discussing singleness as practically (not spiritually) better than marriage, because of persecution and the ability of a single person to throw himself or herself wholeheartedly into ministry.

    With regard to children, I've written more about it here, but basically, I believe that the Genesis account to which Jesus appeals when questioned about divorce (Matthew 19:3-12) places marriage, parenthood, sexuality, and the image of God, all together in one context. While I think it is fine and desirable for a couple to remain childless for a few years as they're getting to know one another, I think a long-term plan never to have children is fundamentally trying to tear apart marriage and sexuality from parenthood, which God intended as an organic whole. This is not to say that sex necessarily needs to lead to reproduction, or that that is its only purpose. But if someone strongly feels that, for the sake of ministry or some other godly purpose, they should not have children, I think they should reconsider marriage at all. If they are unable to have children, that is a different story. But as Jesus said, "What God has joined together, let not men tear apart." I don't think that's just the marriage bond; the organic whole that is marriage, sexuality, and parenthood is something that I don't think God wants divided, for reasons that may not be evident to us when we construct rational reasons for wanting one without the other.

    Just my two cents. Since you asked.

  6. "While I think it is fine and desirable for a couple to remain childless for a few years as they're getting to know one another, I think a long-term plan never to have children is fundamentally trying to tear apart marriage and sexuality from parenthood, which God intended as an organic whole."
    Yes, that's a very good point. I appreciate these thoughts. Thanks