“Why are you still single?” Verbalized or not, the question lingers in social settings, particularly in Christian circles. For those in the Reformed tradition, the correct theological answer to this question lies in the belief that God is sovereign over all things. We finite humans cannot explain the coexistence of God’s will and man’s responsibility this side of heaven—and that’s okay. After all, as Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck noted, “Mystery is the vital element of dogmatics.” However, when it comes to the role of human responsibility, the new year is as good a time as any to examine ourselves and prayerfully consider any changes that need to take place. If you are single, your relationship status is an area deserving of reflection.
Let’s be honest
In today’s society, adults are putting off marriage, and Christians are no exception. Many people are still single because they choose to be—whether they acknowledge it or not. Is this a fitting pattern for members of the body of Christ? Was the creator God wrong when he deemed, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18)? Or, is it possible that single Christians are using certain words of the Apostle Paul as justification for clinging to a comfort idol?
A potential copout exists in 1 Corinthians 7:8. “So I [Paul] say to those who aren’t married and to widows—it’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am.” Later on in the chapter, Paul explains why he offers this opinion. “I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.” (v. 32-35) The reason Paul states that it is better for a person to remain single is so that he or she can wholeheartedly and without distraction do the Lord’s work with the sole motivation of pleasing God, while remaining holy in body and spirit and set apart for his service. If the Christian chooses to remain single and uses this passage as a justification for doing so, then he or she should honestly consider if these are the real reasons for that choice.
Paul, the exception, not the rule
It is interesting that God believed it was not good for Adam to be alone, knowing beforehand that the “helper” he provided would fall prey to the serpent’s temptation and cause the couple to be banished from the Garden of Eden. If anyone ever had a reason to run from the opposite sex, it was Adam! What could be worse than being married to the one who contributed to the fall of mankind? Nevertheless, God intended and designed us for relationships, male and female. Paul is one of few exceptions to this rule in scripture. How did this exception morph into the accepted rule in the church today?
As single Christians, we’re operating a lot more along the lines of an old Meatloaf song rather than the lofty calling described by Paul. In 1993, the rock singer released a song entitled, “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” There has been speculation over the years as to what the “that” refers to in the song, as lyrics often invite a variety of interpretations. So…what is your “that?” What is keeping you from pursuing a relationship that will ultimately end in marriage? Is it a holy ambition, or a selfish existence? Are you setting yourself apart for ministry, or living “the good life?” Relationships involve risk. And they inevitably cause pain. Is your choice to put off dating and marriage an attempt to avoid heartache? Or perhaps a retreat from discomfort of any kind? When the single person determines what his or her “that” is, a potential idol of the heart will be identified at the same time.
No Pain, No Gain
It is important to note here that, without a doubt, there are those single Christians willing and longing to set self aside, to love and serve a mate in life and in service to the Lord—men and women ready to accept the challenges that accompany marriage in order to reflect the picture of Christ and his bride. God sees these individuals and will not forsake them. As their maker, he promises to be their “husband.” (Isaiah 54:5) Sadly, we who comfort single idolators aren’t helping them in their waiting.
For those who are in Christ, life on earth is a life of suffering on many levels. The Bible calls us not to make vain attempts to avoid pain, but to expect it in every aspect of our existence. C.S. Lewis sums it up quite appropriately in his book, The Four Loves: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable…We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if he chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.”
Dawn is an Outreach Volunteer at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Follow her blog at dawncoates.wordpress.com or on Twitter at @dawn_coates.