A Good God And Singleness

In my last post I shared some thoughts in response to what Scott Sauls wrote at Relevant’s site about why we in the Church focus so much on the nuclear family.  The focus of that post was to point out that we need to focus on God’s family not the nuclear family.  Simply saying that the nuclear family is not the savior or necessary for salvation is not a good enough starting point.

Today, I want to talk about the idea that God is running every aspect of our dating lives.

I want to again say that I’m not trying to go after Scott but simply saying that what he writes, while better than what a lot of Church leaders are doing, is frankly not enough.  I believe he represents what many people in leadership are thinking.  There are assumptions here that I believe are at best short sighted.

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You Are Single For A Reason – But Probably Not The One You Think

In my 20 plus years of being single I’ve heard a lot of reasons for singleness.  Some of it was attempted pastoring or self righteousness, but most times it was attempted encouragement which I learned to appreciate because I knew people loved me.

As I’ve said almost ad nauseum here we in the Christian single culture have basically settled for spiritual platitudes that don’t really deal with the issue at hand – either individually or as a whole society.

One of those is the idea that God has you single right now. This is of course often followed by other platitudes such as “God has you single right now for a reason”, or “Since God has you single right now, take advantage of that”. Or “God has you single right now so be content in that”.

One of the big problems we have in protestant culture when it comes to singleness is a complete lack of understanding of what Paul is talking about when it comes to the unmarried.  It kills us because we keep bringing “the word” to the situation without even understanding what we are saying.  We mix and match scriptures in an attempt to make the current singleness culture fit into our favorite theological leanings.  It ends up being “help us sleep at night theology” that frankly doesn’t help many people live well single or get married.

Now before I say more and make some people really uncomfortable, let me say this clearly for the record – God may indeed want you to be single right now.  No doubt He calls us to all sorts of different things in all sorts of different seasons.  So I’m not negating that possibility in someone’s personal life.

But it is a terrible blanket answer to singleness.  It would mean that God has suddenly in the last 40 years of history decided that people shouldn’t get married until 30 or older.  Or I guess it could mean that for thousands of years people disobeyed God by getting married earlier.  I’m not comfortable with either of those answers.

First off, the bible never talks about singleness as we know it.  It just doesn’t.  In the oft referred to passage in 1 Corinthians 7 Paul is answering questions the Corinthians had asked about marriage and sexual immorality.  There was mass confusion and he was attempting to clear some things up.

Paul says a lot of things here but when it comes to the “gift” of being unmarried, Paul is NOT talking about a call to a season of singleness.  He is instead talking about a call to (or gift of) celibacy.  He is saying that some are called to serve God from an unmarried state. He is not saying you have the gift of singleness until you get married.  He is saying if you have it, don’t get married.  That is a HUGE distinction.  

What we’ve done is taken this and turned it into a way to avoid dealing with why we are single.  Or we take other things Paul says in other places and transpose it into this passage.  For example in Philippians 4 Paul says he has learned to be content in all circumstances.  We transpose that to mean, “God has called you to singleness right now and you should be content in that.”  But that isn’t what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7.  He says if you aren’t content (read called, or gifted) in celibacy – Go Get Married!

This is so critical.  Paul is not saying if you are unmarried that you don’t have to worry about the things of marriage.  It would be more accurate to say that one of the ways to see if you are called to celibacy is to ask if you are worried about it.  Otherwise he would be saying that celibate people are better followers of Jesus than married people.  If that were true then no one should get married.

My biggest problem with this is that we end up saying to people, if you are single right now that is where God has you and you should just sit there and be content in it.  That is not what Paul says.

There are lots of reasons our society is where it is in terms of marriage.  Most of it is not God’s plan.

God is not calling you to be insecure around women you like.  He has not given you the “gift” of lack of commitment.  He has not called you to live with someone you are dating instead of marrying them.  He is not calling you to consumer date.  He is not promising you that if you are called to marriage that it will magically happen without your effort.  He has not “gifted” you with the fear of divorce.  He has not given you the “gift” of extended adolescence.  I could go on and on.

We as singles need to quit hiding from our crap in bad theology and the Church needs to get off it’s butt and quit enabling us to do it.  The Church should be the safest place to deal with all of the reasons why we are single, not just the ones that make a nice sermon.

You are single for a reason – lots of reasons actually.  Some of that may be God’s timing or calling.  But a whole heck of a lot of it isn’t.  The way out isn’t mixing and matching scripture to feel better.

God’s Plan For Marriage

Several months ago. while talking about my upcoming marriage, an encouraging friend said, “It’s amazing.  You’ve had to wait all this time.  And this whole time God had this plan and person for you.”  I just kind of grinned.  After 20 years of singleness in the Church, I’ve heard it all.

You know he might be right, but if he is then we’ve got a God who has changed his mind about marriage.

Here’s what I mean.  If we play out that there is one person for you from the beginning and that God has a plan to bring you a perfect Christian soulmate, then God has changed His mind about how to deliver it.

It seems that early on God wanted us to grow up and get married at about 14.  Now this makes some sense.  I mean we hit puberty in our early teens (or earlier) so let’s do this deal.  Besides, you might only live to 40 so all the more reason.

But it gets better.  God also decided that for centuries he would deliver this soulmate through arranged marriages.  Now before you get in your head the perfect scenario for this where all parents are believers and they only hook you up with the hot chick, think again and ask yourself if you’d like your parents to pick your spouse for you when you were about 10.  As the song goes, “At 3 I started Hebrew school, at 10 I learned a trade.  I hear they’ve picked a bride for me, I hope, she’s pretty. . . Tradition.”

Not only that, but this was only done within your caste.  God didn’t want anyone to marry up or down economically or socially.  He just wanted the deal done.

But then God decided that in the “New World” things would be different.  Each person should now go and find their own spouse and everyone would have full right of refusal. (Unless you were a woman who kind of had to say yes to someone because you couldn’t get a job).

But God wasn’t done.  Not by a long shot.  He decided that even though he had this perfect person “planned” for you, that he wouldn’t be revealing that right away.  Now early on, he only made you wait until you were 18-23 (after all, He had already pushed back adulthood by 4 years – he was just getting started).

God enjoyed holding out on us so much that He decided to keep pushing the limit. In fact over the last 40 years He has been dropping the amount of people to receive the “great reveal” before the age of 29 by about a percentage point per year so that now in 2013 only 20% of those people currently receive this revelation.

To sum up God’s “plan”, if you were born 500 years ago He revealed your “one” to your parents when you were a kid.  If you were born 100 years ago He revealed to you by 20. And now, He’ll reveal it to 1 in 5 of us by 29.

Is that the message we want to send single people?  Because essentially when we drop the “God has someone for you, just wait on it”, that is what we are saying.

Here’s the truth, this whole idea is way more about western culture affecting theology than the other way around.  But worse, when we combine it with our culture, it sets up to fail, both in finding a spouse and in staying married.

I believe that marriage was meant to be a calling and a choice.  So is staying married.  Like any other calling you can of course walk away from it.

But this idea of having to find God’s one person that is perfect for me is a crazy way to go about singleness, even if it were to be true.

Among a myriad of other problems, it helps turn us into consumer daters.  We end up looking for this person that fits whatever we think God would have for us.  Right away we are in trouble.  I mean find the person who says, “God has this person planned for me who doesn’t meet all my needs and has all these personal issues”.  At the very least, if you are going to believe that God has one person for you to marry, flip the script.  In other words ask who you are perfect for instead of who is perfect for you.  That will get you a step closer to truth – Heck, that’d I’d maybe buy.

Look, I’m not suggesting that we go back to having our parents marry us off at 14.  We don’t live in that culture.  We live in this one.  I’m also not saying God doesn’t bring people into our lives because I know for sure that He does.  What I am saying is that we need to quit treating our singleness as if God is the Great Witholder and I just need to be good, and wait out this person He currently refuses to reveal to me.

God’s main plan is for us to know and walk with Him.  That is our first calling and vow.  After that we need to ask, are we called to celibacy or marriage? Then we need to pursue that calling with God, figuring out stuff that gets in the way.  We in the Church to stop giving out sleep at night theology and help people do those three things.