God The Great Withholder

I want to revisit one of the beliefs that I think can really hurt us as singles and even as marrieds.  It’s the idea that God has one person for me that he is going to provide but just hasn’t done it yet.

This idea is everywhere.  It is in books on dating.  It’s said from the pulpit.  It’s encouraged in small groups.  “You just need to be patient – God will bring you the one”.  “God will in His perfect timing, bring you the perfect person for you.”  “Just live your life and don’t worry about it, because God will provide.”  “Rejection is God’s Protection – she just wasn’t right for you.”  The list goes on and on.

People try to use scripture to back this idea up.  They use situations like Isaac and Rebekah and say see God will provide.  Yeah I’ll just send my servant to a well. You have to make some major leaps to make this idea scriptural.

The heart of this usually comes in one of two places.  Most people are mainly trying to be comforting.  It’s a quick, painless way out of a the “why are you single” conversation. It’s what I call help you sleep at night theology.  While it might help you sleep, it probably won’t help you find a wife.

The other place it comes from is the good hearted place of wanting to recognize that God is our provider for all things.  Well He is, but the problem is that we don’t treat that the same way in any other place.

If I came to you and said, I’m broke and I need a job, would you tell me to sit tight – that God will provide the perfect job that is just for me at the right time?  I should wait for the perfect job, and for sure not settle right?  Obviously this would be a bad idea.  You’d tell me to go look for a job.  Or maybe you’d say I need to go back to school to train for a different job.  What you wouldn’t likely do is blame God for my joblessness.

I think this whole idea is dangerous to us personally on a lot of levels.

First of all it perpetuates the idea of the Christian Soulmate.  This idea that there is this one person that God has for you.  This to me is not scriptural and frankly more a mix of bad Calvinism, Oprah theology and romance novels.  Nowhere in Scripture are you promised a wife, let alone a soulmate.  You do not have a soulmate.  In fact Jesus specifically says that there won’t be marriage in heaven.  The other funny thing about the soulmate is that the focus is typically on how they will be perfect for me, not so much the other way around.

Second is that many end up in fear of choosing wrong.  What if I marry someone that is not the one perfect person that God has for me.  This can also become an excuse where every person I date just “isn’t the one“.  Not to mention it’s a great excuse after marriage for leaving the marriage.  I mean if I meet someone who seems more like the perfect one, well then I must not have been right the first time right?

It can keep us from working on the things that get in the way of us getting married.  Our (and other people’s) sin, insecurities and/or lack of ability to communicate with the opposite sex.  It’s not anything that I’m doing, or the choices that I or others around me make.  It’s God’s fault.

But perhaps the worst thing about it is that it turns God into the Great Withholder.  God loves you and has someone for you, He just isn’t bringing them to you.  Really?!  This always get’s explained as you’re not ready or they’re not ready or something to that affect. But people get married all the time.  God thought they were ready but you aren’t?  All this does is create unnecessary anger and frustration with God.

It would also mean, as I’ve mentioned before, that God has changed His mind about marriage.  Now I know logic is dead in our culture but hang with me here.  For thousands of years, people got married young.  As recently as 40 years ago if you were 18-29 there was a 60% chance you were married.  Now there is only a 20% chance that you are.  So God used to think it was good to “provide the one” in your early 20s or teens, but now He waits to do it until you are 30.  Really?!

Now here’s the thing.  God is the Great Provider.  But His provision looks a little different than this.  First of all we need to get in our heads that He is not as much our provider as He is literally our provision.  Read that again.  God has given us all we need regardless of our context because He has given us Himself.  We need to start here or all else is foolishness.  The beauty of living in this is that I can live life to the full in any context including single or married.  If I get this, then I am free to search for a wife, instead of The One. If I get married, I’m more free to actually love my wife.

If we walk with God, He will provide opportunities.  But we have a role to play in that and we live in a fallen world where we and everyone we interact with (including someone we could marry) make mistakes and bad decisions.  I believe that God indeed brought my wife and I together.  I fully believe that He was in that.  But I also believe that we both chose to do something about it.

Here’s what we really want.  We want a system where either we don’t have to do anything or where we control everything.  But neither of those are right.  Neither require actually walking with God.

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.

Interpretation Is Everything

In the movie “A Perfect World” Kevin Costner plays a criminal, Butch, who has escaped from prison.  He takes a young boy, Phillip, hostage.  As times goes on, they become drawn to each other.  Phillip has never really had a dad and Butch begins to teach him all sorts of things about “manhood”.  In one scene Butch has just gotten Phillip some new clothes.  They’re in the car and on the run, so he tells him to go ahead and change.

Phillip is hesitant (I get that the whole premise of boy being kidnapped is bad, but hang with me anyway).  Butch basically says, “Is it because you’re embarrassed I might see your pecker?”  Phillip says, “It’s . . . puny ”  Butch says, “Let me see, I’ll shoot you straight.” Butch looks over with a quick glance and says, “Hell no Phillip, good size for a boy your age.”  Phillip smiles.

Who interprets your life for you?

When I was in third grade I got picked on by some sixth graders. They threatened me on the way home from school.  For the first time in my life as a kid, I was scared of injury from another person.  I can still see that kids fist in my face.

In my third grade mind I was now weak.  Once you have an interpretation other events begin to get interpreted the same way.  In fifth grade a peer straight up punched me in the face as hard as he could.  I didn’t even fall, but I didn’t fight back. I could have thought, “I just took that kids best punch and I’m not hurt – I’m tough.” Instead, I took it as another confirmation that I was weak.

All sorts of things are constantly happening to us and around us.  Each time, we interpret what is happening and make agreements about what it means. Others help us interpret, starting with our parents when we are little.  If you’re a parent understand this: One of the most important things you will ever do is speak interpretation into your kids lives. How you react, what you say and what they hear from you when something happens to them forms the base interpretation for their lives.  No pressure. . .

We all deal with this of course, married, single or otherwise.  But I think this affects the single person in an extremely significant way because many of us are asking, “why am I single?”

There are all sorts of people helping us interpret that answer.

There’s hollywood.  You’re single because you are not a 10 or don’t have a flashy enough car or job.  If I were 007 I’ve had all the ladies.  I laugh as I write that but seriously, for a lot of us, the media is one of our main interpreters.  We’ve grown up on it and the message is obvious.  You’re not cool enough, hot enough, or rich enough to be loved back by another person.

There’s our well meaning friends.  Mostly they tell us that there is nothing wrong with us, which doesn’t seem right, but we hope it’s true.

Then there is the Church.  Usually this interpretation hinges on the fact that God has a plan – meaning that He has a Christian Soulmate for me.  It them moves in one of a couple directions.  Either I need to become better so that God will reward me with a spouse (this could mean date better, be content, wait on God, etc) or I don’t need to do anything because God’s perfect spouse for me just isn’t ready or the timing must not be right.

The worst part is that most of us, myself included for many years, have some sort of sick twisted combination of all of the above going on in our head.  I’m not good looking enough (insert strong enough, rich enough, spiritual enough. . . etc), and/or there’s nothing wrong with me (men/women just suck), and/or God will bring me the perfect person but for right now (and apparently for the last decade) He’s just holding out on me.

How you interpret your singleness affects your view of God and vice versa.  It affects how you see yourself and therefore how you relate to others.  If we interpret it wrong, then we’re going to have a hard time figuring out our calling (celibacy or marriage), let alone our pursuing it.

What we need first though is God’s interpretation of who we are as a person.  We need to grow in our identity in Christ.  If we are going to do that, we will need to reinterpret a lot of things and we’ll need to let some people in to help.

Most of us are afraid of the truth, but in reality most of the time the truth is better than how we have interpreted. Either way we need the real actual interpretation in order to have a chance at true spiritual health.

Who interprets your life?  What is your interpretation of your singleness?  How sure are you of that interpretation?  Who are you helping with their interpretation?

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 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.