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.

Grace, Sovereignty, And Excuses

Here’s a parable:

There was a young man who loved Jesus.  His ministry with people was growing and God was doing great things.  As he hit his mid twenties he was still single.  He began to pray and ask God what the deal was.  As he prayed and talked to others it seemed as if God was calling him to celibate ministry.

But this man didn’t want that.  He kept dating and eventually fell in love with a great lady.  Once again, in his heart he felt like God was calling him to celibate ministry but he was in love and he shoved down God’s call.  He married this lady and decided to not even do full time ministry.

He went to work for McDonald’s.  He started as a mid level manager and then moved up to running his own store. Now somewhere along the way, he again sought God.  He turned back and repented of his disobedience and sought God for how he should live.  He ran his store in a Godly way.  He loved his workers and many came to know Jesus. Because his workers were so good his store was the best in the state.  People would drive a little further to go to “that” McDonald’s.  He and the staff knew customers’ names and what they liked to order.  Some of them even came to know Jesus.

On top of all of this the man loved his wife well.  They had kids and they grew up loving Jesus and loving others.  God blessed them in all sorts of ways.  Was this God’s plan?

One of the huge traps for any part of life, but perhaps especially singleness and marriage is this idea that whatever happens is God’s plan.  The idea that whatever happens must be what God wants, which in my opinion really means it’s never my fault.

“I’m single right now, must be where God has me.”  “I can’t help that I like this guy, even though he leads me away from what God is calling me to.” “God wouldn’t let me have these feelings if it wasn’t His plan.”  Or my favorite, ‘God let me sin this way so that. . . .”

God doesn’t need you to sin in order to show you something or use later in ministry.  He shows us stuff and uses us in His kingdom IN SPITE of our sin.  It’s called grace.

In the parable above it worked out, sort of.  But that doesn’t mean that the man wasn’t disobedient to God’s call.  It means that God’s grace was bigger than his disobedience.  It means that God worked something that was a bad decision into a good one.  God’s grace is not the same as God’s plan.

So why does this matter?  Isn’t this basically a theological argument? 

It matters because we shouldn’t assume stuff will work out anyway. Yes God’s grace is always available but not always in the way we think.  We especially need to be careful in what we tell others.

“My wife and I had sex before marriage.  I know it was wrong but it’s worked out.  We’re following God now.” “My wife wasn’t a believer when we got married.  But she became one later and now we are on the same page.” “We just couldn’t stay married anymore. But now God has provided someone else.” If we share it as testament to God’s Grace, that’s awesome. If we share it to excuse ours or someone else’s sin, that’s not so good.

Just because God rescues it and it turns out ok doesn’t make what we did right. Disobedience is just that.  God’s sovereignty and grace are not a license to do what we want.

This is very important as we walk with others.  We shouldn’t advise sin or tell people its ok.  In the example above it wouldn’t be good for this man to tell people, “Go ahead and blow off God’s call, you can always repent later.”

Most of the time disobeying God’s call, especially when it comes to what we know for sure to be his commands biblically, doesn’t work out that well.  As an example, for every couple that lives together first and later ends up in a life long marriage there a bunch that don’t. Why stack the odds against yourself?

Obviously we all sin and make bad choices. I know for sure I have and do. That doesn’t mean we should excuse it, and we sure as heck shouldn’t advise it.  Using God’s grace to justify sin is not ok.

What we can do is advise against it.  We can point out God’s grace and how as we’ve turned to Him, He has blessed us.  It means there is hope in absolutely any situation. Instead of justifying the mistakes, let’s focus on God’s grace and use it as a platform to save others.

Is This God’s Best For Me?

A few weeks ago I was listening to a sermon a friend sent me on singleness.  It was actually pretty good which was a pleasant surprise.  The pastor had humility and admitted he was on thin ice because he had never really been single.  He then went on to actually preach on what Paul said about singleness.  You read that right – he actually talked about it.  Over all this guy had a lot of great things to say.

But of course he had to toss out something “comforting” at the end.  He said essentially, “If you are single right now, you need to recognize that God has you there.  It is God’s best for you right now.”  Really?!

Often in an attempt to respect God’s sovereignty, we end up assigning things to God that we need not.  This idea that where I’m at is God’s best for me can be really, really tricky.

First of all, I personally choose against God’s best for me every day.  Even though I am a saved person, I still struggle with sin. I do not choose God’s best every time.  So unless you want to blame God for my sin, I’m not always doing God’s best.

Secondly this sets us up to assign all struggle to God.  This can lead to terrible conclusions about God, myself and others.  In an extreme example let’s take the Penn State story. Was that God’s best for those kids?  Just because it is happening does not make it’s God’s best or God’s fault.  There are consequences to sin – mine and others.  This doesn’t even include the fact that we have an enemy (heaven forbid that we actually discuss that from the pulpit – but I digress).

My point here is not to get into a theological debate per se.  My point in this context is that me being single doesn’t necessarily mean that God “has me there” or that this is God’s best for me.

Now as I’ve said many times, God may well have you single right now.  He may even call you to a life of singleness (I want to say more about that later but it is more a call to a vow of ministry than a call to not be married – you are called in the positive to serve in that way, not the negative to focus on what you will not do – that is get married).  If that is true then that truly is awesome and right.  It is God’s best for you.

But if you don’t feel that call then I think it is risky to say that singleness is God’s best for you.  This leads to us being mad at God when maybe it’s not really Him holding out on us, or keeping us single at all.  Maybe it’s my own sin or other’s sin.  Maybe it’s the reality that we live in a broken world and a culture that values marriage less.  Maybe my singleness is driven by my fear and woundedness.  If I just chalk it up as God’s best for me then why would I choose to engage all of that.  Assigning it all to God can keep me from facing my own sin and hurt.

Here’s what we do know.  God loves us right where we are.  He has not abandoned us. He is not holding out on us.  It may well be that He wants to walk us though some stuff so that we are better able to pursue marriage but that is different than saying that He has us right where He wants us.

Maybe instead of saying, “God, why are doing this to me?” (man I spent a lot of time there), we ought to be asking Him what He wants to do in me right now.  In the context I’m in, what does He want me to do next.

God’s will can be hard to determine – not that it’s bad to try necessarily.  We need to be careful with assuming that just because I am somewhere that means that is where He wants me.  To do that ignores sin and brokenness.  Instead we need to lean into Him and start to work through that sin and brokenness.  Whether that leads to marriage or not is somewhat irrelevant.

Let’s say I get married in the next year.  Am I to assume that God has willed me to wait until 40 to get married?  Was that His best for me? Maybe it has been his plan all along or maybe not?  Does it really matter? What I do know is that regardless of my marital status when I turn to Him, He is constantly willing to lead me to the best He has for me.  And that should lead me to be thankful in all circumstances – including singleness.

Is It God’s Fault I’m Single?

So I’ve read a lot of online profiles.  I mean a lot.  I don’t even want to think about the number.  Here is one of my least favorite lines, “I know that everything happens for a reason.”  This usually follows (or is followed by) some sort of statement about not knowing why they still haven’t found “the one”.  I hate this line.  I call it Oprah theology.

A lot of Christians put their own sort of twists on it.  “I know God has a plan” or “God made this happen for a reason” or “I don’t know why but God does” or “God has His reasons” and so on.  I don’t really like those much better.  Especially when it comes to marriage and singleness.

I can’t count the times someone has asked me why God has me single, or “encouraged” me by saying that God has a plan, therefore implying that me being single right now is because God wants that.  Worst of all is when single people use it to hide from dealing with their sin, insecurity, and hurt.  Or they use it to keep from engaging the opposite sex. “It’s God’s deal so I don’t have to do anything.”  That’s convenient.

First of all this is not the point of God’s sovereignty.  God’s sovereignty should be a launching pad not a hiding place.  If God is sovereign then I am free to deal with all of this stuff.  I’m free to deal with my sin.  I’m free to face my insecurity.  I’m free to deal with my pain and loneliness.  If I feel called to marriage, I’m free to actually pursue that.  Because if God’s got it, then I can go for it.

Now maybe you are reading this and thinking, “I really believe God wants me to be single right now.”  That is great.  If you’ve been engaged with God (preferably in community) and that is what you feel He is telling you, I absolutely affirm that.  Sometimes we are called to singleness for a season. Or maybe you are called to be single for good.  That is awesome. If you are following His call to singleness that is right on. In fact I think it is essential that we ask Him these questions so that’s not what I’m talking about here.

What I’m talking about is blaming God or hiding behind God.  I’m talking about assuming that it’s God’s fault that I’m single.  What if it’s my fault?  What if at different times it’s been other’s fault? What if it’s because I don’t know how to get married? Heck, what if it’s spiritual warfare (you know that thing that we say exists but never actually live like is happening)?  Do you think there might be a battle over your love life?

There are a lot of reasons that we are single (we each have an unique story) but we need to be careful before we start assigning it all to God.  For one thing, if it is all God’s fault then it is also God’s fault that 49% of Americans are single.  It would mean that back in the day God wanted everyone to be married early but then about 25 years ago He changed His mind.  He said, “You know I’m tired of everyone being married, lets change it up.”

Look, I’m not pretending to know God’s will. But really who does? What we do know for sure is that His grace is big enough to redeem and use any situation for good.  We know that He can use our singleness or marriage (or any other situation) to bring us closer to Him.  That is the whole point – that is the one thing we know He wants.