Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Is God A Matchmaker?

"Are marriages made in heaven? Maybe, but so are tornadoes . . ." - Unknown

I'm reading "Singles at the Crossroads" right now as part of my Pre-marital and Marital Counseling class. The book is a in-depth exploration of what it means to be single from a Biblical perspective. It attempts to debunk the myth of "the gift of singleness," works through discerning God will as a single, and generally suggests that a balanced, Biblical view is one that honors singleness as a status equal to marriage. What really got my attention in the book was the author's discussion of the "Has God chosen a specific person for you?" question. Ah yes, I know the debate well: Does God have a soul mate for you? That one person who he created for you to get together with? When I was young I was strongly in the "yes, He does" camp. I believed in God's sovereignty, his interest in my life, and the beauty of romance.

I still believe in those things! But over the past few years I have changed my view. Although there are probably a few cases where God specifically chooses (predestines?) a mate for someone (Mary/Joseph as an example), for the most part I do not believe God chooses our mate for us. Why not? Well, for two main reasons: not enough evidence and too many problems:

1. There is no Biblical evidence that we are supposed to discover the one, specific person, who God wants us to marry or that he has such a person "saved" for us. Seriously, it's not there.
2. The idea of a soulmate (or "there is only one person in the world who is meant for me, and without whom I'm lost") is actually a pagan idea borrowed from Greek philosophy. Plato believed that everything in the material world is merely a temporal copy of an ideal, universal, and perfect form. Applied to relationships it means we have an innate, preconceived image of the one person who we are meant to be with, and our never ending quest is for a human facsimile that will match that perfect ideal. Voila, the birth of soulmate anxiety!
3. Unnecessary pressure and fear. I know people who literally suffer mental illness from worrying about if they can find their soulmate, if they'll be able to recognize them, if they've missed them, or that they've married the wrong person. That's a lot of pressure to put on oneself - discovering God's specific choice for who you are to marry or not missing that person when they come into your life. And does God change his mind about who you should marry? That idea too has problems.
4. Reality doesn't fit well with the theory. I know Godly people who have been completely convinced that they were supposed to marry someone - and then realized that they were wrong. My roommate in college one year told me he was absolutely sure that God wanted him to marry his girlfriend. God has confirmed it to him in several ways. A week later she broke up with him! Suddenly he wasn't so sure. Or what about the Godly Christian woman who's guided into marrying a guy who cheats on her and then divorces her against her will? Was it God's will that her soulmate would do that to her? Though I do not think it's impossible to discern God's individual will in some things (very, very carefully) and I don't want to put Him in a box, but to presuppose that everyone (or even most people) should be able to figure this out seems absurd to me.
5. Believing in one specific soulmate can make us passive and reactive. If God has someone for us, someone who is meant to be together with us, that person logically will come to us no matter what we do. Thus, we don't have to put much or any work into it. God will take care of it because it's God's will. Why put the work into becoming a better person, meeting people, discernment potential partners, etc?
6. Free-will. I'm always amazed at the number of people who believe strongly in free will as it applies to salvation but ignore it completely when it comes to the romantic notion of the one true soul mate.

It seems to me that the New Testament is much more concerned with how we treat the person we marry then whether or not we have married the right individual. But if we become a devoted Christ-follower, we have freewill to choose between several great (or poor) choices in a mate or perhaps to choose not to have a mate at all. Perhaps we need to focus more on God's general will for our lives then worrying about his possible specific will for us. If he wants something (or someone) specific for us, he is a Big enough God that he can make it happen. But perhaps you disagree? Feel free to comment or vote on my poll on the right hand side (near the top) of the blog . . .

May Light increase!


Anonymous said...

What an excellent post, Mark!!

Even if God predestines who we'll marry (or if we don't), the scriptures don't really encourage us to think that way about it. The Bible almost always speaks of singleness and marriage with the language of human effort and volition.

You can see it all throughout 1 Cor 7, which has been badly interpreted by modern biblical translators as emphasizing a "gift of singleness" and a "gift of marriage" -- the New Living Translation recently changed their version of 1 Cor 7:7 back to something more in keeping with the original Greek: "But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. Yet each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another.", which of course is just a preamble for verses 8 & 9, which basically say that it's good to remain unmarried (esp. if you're gifted with the ability with sexual self-control, as Paul was suggesting of himself in verse 7), but if not, better to marry than to burn with passion. So the decision is left up to the individual. In no way did Paul mean that marriage was something you had to you "wait on the Lord" to give you!

This theme of personal choice is emphasized elsewhere in the chapter: in verse 25 "no commandment from the Lord", verse 28 "if you do marry, you have not sinned", verse 36 "do as he wants", verse 39 "marry whomever she wishes". Human initiative and choice in terms of marriage and singleness are reinforced elsewhere in the Bible: He who FINDS a wife FINDS a good thing And obtains favor from the Lord (Proverbs 18:22), "made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:12).

Unfortunately, "the gift of singleness" has resulted in a "rogue theology" that overspiritualizes marriage and singleness, creating confusion about whether it's okay to desire and pursue marriage or singleness. What's more, it makes people believe that they should get divine confirmation that "this is the ONE", when nowhere do the scriptures promise that kind of divine confirmation. Heck, even Mary and Joseph were already promised to each other at the time of the anunciation!!

That said, I do believe that God cares about the choices we make and would want us to choose wisely ("only the Lord's", etc.). We should have confidence in God's work in us that if we walk closely with Him (through prayer, studying the scriptures, fellowship with believing peers, and guidance of elders), that we'll make a better choice than if we go it alone.

Anonymous said...

There is one specific person God has for you...if you are already married! I think then you kind-of live with who you've got and let God make the best of it. But, for unmarrieds, I don't think they should stress about it either. Yes, seek God's specific will for your life, but ultimately, I think Mark you hit the nail on the head with this: "It seems the NT is much more concerned with how we treat the person we marry then whether or not we have married the right individual."

Mark said...

Interesting thoughts. Just for my own curiousity I asked my co-workers at the restaurant tonight if they believed in a specific soulmate that Destiny or God has for you. I thought that for sure amongst irreligious people there would be few who would have this belief. Amazingly enough about 75% believed that we do have a soulmate out there! (Doh, wrong again!). One even believed that the soulmate changed from person to person. I found this very interesting that among so many non-Christian's there would be such a belief as it requires some sort of supernatural/non-scientific understanding of the world.

Lindsay said...

Hooray for this post, and for the previous post about emotional boundaries in dating. I've long been a champion of both of these 'theories' - and it's so nice to know that these are now open topics of discussion in the church.

I've seen so many people get hurt by inappropriate emotional intimacy, but I only heard people talking about the physical aspects. Both are important, but I think that people underestimate just how powerful the other dimensions of our relationships can be.

Mark said...

Hey Lindsay, can you say more about the emotional boundaries stuff? I'm curious to know what examples of this you have seen. Thanks!

Lindsay said...

Sorry for the delayed response... I was at the lake this weekend :)

My two cents:
When you're growing up in the church and learning about dating, you hear so much about inappropriate physical intimacy. It's important. But I think that it's absolutely tragic and unfair to our young people (and older people) that we don't also take the time to talk about inappropriate emotional intimacy.

This type of emotional intimacy is important to build into a relationship, but I also feel it's important that it grows slowly. It's unhealthy to spend all of your time with a new boyfriend/girlfriend, just like it's unhealthy to share all of your deepest, darkest secrets with them on your first date. I'm not advocating dishonesty or encouraging anything other than absolute authenticity, and it takes time together to build a healthy relationships - but I believe that these aspects of a relationship need to be build slowly, with a careful foundation, just like physical intimacy. And just like physical intimacy, there are definitely categories of emotional intimacy that are best saved for a committed relationship.

We've all seen these couples, and we've all seen the aftermath of the breakup. It's really, really sad. It's sad because you can end up feeling like you've broken off an engagement when you've really only been dating someone for a few weeks or months. It absolutely destroys your perspective, and you're missing that little piece of yourself when you enter into your next relationship.

So much 'Christian dating' has advocated inappropriate emotional intimacy, in my opinion. I've seen so many people begin to date with an expectation that they are going to marry that person, with the full involvement and blessing of both sets of parents. It's a double-edged sword, because I'll admit that it's dangerous to date someone with qualities that you'd never accept in a spouse. But it's also so important to keep early dating experiences FUN, and learn how to interact with boys/girls in healthy ways. As someone who's been there, it's a lot of pressure to dump on a fifteen year old girl when you expect her to decide if her boyfriend of two months is her future husband or not. It took me a while before I learned that you can have a date or two with someone without committing to anything - sometimes you just get to know someone who you never would have known otherwise, and you learn something unexpected about yourself, about others, and about the world.

I'm far from an expert... But I did end up married. And I wouldn't change anything about my journey here, the man I met at the end of it all, or the marriage relationship we enjoy.

Mark said...

Wow, thanks for sharing Lindsay. I probably have not thought about this kind of thing before but I can see how "emotional intimacy" early on in a relationship could be dangerous. In counseling we refer to what you are talking about as "enmeshment" or "becoming fused" and it is always an unhealthy reaction. Thanks for the thoughts on this matter, I will think about them some more . . .