Theology of Singleness

Does the Bible have anything to say about getting married? (As opposed to being married)

‘He who finds a wife finds a good thing’ Proverbs 18:22

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So I am not sure about how you would feel, but when I received the ‘uplifting’ news at 25 (see previous post) that maybe I had been given the (unwanted) gift of singleness I was pretty upset. I couldn’t understand why God would give me something that I did not want at all and I wondered how God decided which people he ‘called’ to be married and which he ‘called’ to be single (whether they wanted it or not). It is interesting to ponder the point that nobody ever called marriage the unwanted gift and I know of no-one who was forced to marry when they didn’t want to because God had ‘called’ them to be married. Nope, the unwanted gift only cuts one way apparently (please excuse the heavy sarcasm, I guess even after some time I am still pretty annoyed about this!).

So I prayed ‘Ok God if you don’t want me to get married then please take away the desire to marry’. In the early 1990s that was the prayer that those with the ‘unwanted gift’ were told to pray. A strange prayer if ever there was one when I think about it, as how often do people actually pray that God would take away a very normal and healthy desire. I can understand praying and asking the Lord to take away the desire to smoke, or take drugs, or watch pornography or other potentially life harming choices. But a desire for marriage hardly falls into that category. How many women who can’t have children are told to pray God please take away my desire for a child (and I am so sorry if that has happened to you!), or someone who is sick told to pray that God would take away their desire to be healed, or someone who is unemployed to pray that God would take away their desire for a job. It is totally ridiculous. Wanting to get married is not an unholy desire, it is not a frivolous desire, it is totally normal and I would add that it is God given.

I decided that I needed to know what the Bible actually said about getting married, so I started investigating. I found that in the Bible the desire to get married is seen as a totally normal and natural. Something that was intended and planned for by God from the very beginning. In Genesis we have the first indication that God desires us to be in a marriage relationship when he forms Eve from Adam’s side and says the words ‘It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him’ Genesis 2:18. So it is God who said ‘It is not good for man to be alone’. But of course we are told well that was because Adam was truly alone, there were no other humans and so he could not procreate. As we read further however we see that finding a wife was indeed a priority and despite the fact that most marriages in the Bible are fairly dysfunctional on so many levels (adultery, incest, polygamy, murder and the list goes on), still there is no recorded incident in the entire Bible of someone wanting to get married and being told no. Simply not there. If they were searching for a bride they found one, as in the case of Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Rachel. Even when they had perhaps given up hope of marriage due to adverse situations like widowhood or age, see Ruth and Boaz, God still brought them together as husband and wife. In fact the relationship between Ruth and Boaz is held up as an example of the redemptive love that Jesus has for us and for the church.

In Isaiah 34:15-16 we read that even the birds shall be ‘every one with her mate’ and further that ‘none will lack its mate. For His (God’s) mouth has commanded and His Spirit has gathered them’. Now when I read these verses I am even more convinced that if God goes to so much trouble to ensure that the birds have their mates, then how much more shall He ensure that His people have theirs. Perhaps it is no accident that when Jesus talks about the love of the Father in Matthew 10:29-31 He tells us to look at the sparrows. Here Jesus says that not one sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s consent and that we ‘are of more value than many sparrows’. So I don’t think it is stretch to say that if God promises that no bird will lack its mate and we are more valuable than the birds, than it is a pretty safe thing to assume that we will also not be lacking our mates.

Looking at the Psalms we read Psalm 68:6 which says that “He [God] sets the solitary in families’, some translations say ‘He sets the lonely in families’ but regardless it is clear that God intends for people to live in families. Some might argue that this means that single people get to hang around with an existing family in the role of aunt or uncle or Godparent or something but I do not believe that this accurately captures what this verse originally meant. John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible speaks about the Targum or Tanakh, the oral explanations or translations that accompanied the reading of the scripture by a Rabbi in ancient times. While they were not supposed to be written down, some were and while these are not to be used in place of Scripture, they do help to shed light on its meaning in context. For this verse the Targum paraphrases the words to mean ‘ God is He that joins couples, single ones, into a couple as one’ while other copies add ‘to build a house out of them’. This is consistent with what God did and said in Genesis. When He said ‘It is not good for man to be alone’ he did not give Adam a friend, He gave him a wife. So it seems to me that when David speaks in the Psalms of setting the solitary in families he is speaking of them having their own family, not being add ons to someone else’s.

If we turn to the New Testament we find Jesus’ words on the subject on marriage and singleness in Matthew 19. In this passage Jesus is speaking about how divorce is permissible only in the case of adultery or death. The disciples say well this is pretty rough is it better we do not marry then? Now it is Jesus’ reply to this in verses 11 and 12 are where many people understood and constructed the idea that singleness is a gift. In a way it is but not in the way that many singles have been told.

In the King James version these verses from Matthew 19 read ‘But he said unto them, all men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs which were so born from their mother’s womb:and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it’. Unfortunately much theology related to singleness and trying to explain why single people are not married relies only verse 11 and the words ‘save they to whom it is given’. In this explanation those of us who are not married after a certain age have been given this gift, like it or not. But this takes the verse out of context and completely ignores verse 12 in which Jesus explains who the they is that He is referring to. Here Jesus explains that there are three types of people who can receive the gift of singleness. Firstly there are those who are born that way, that is people who from the beginning have had no desire to marry at all. Secondly, He says that there are those that have been made eunuchs by men and in this case I believe He is referring to actual eunuchs such that existed in His time or people that have been prevented by others from marrying (but not chosen). Finally, He speaks of those who choose to be single for the kingdom of God, that is that while they may not be opposed to marriage they choose to remain single to better serve God, such as some missionaries or those who come to priesthood later in life.

Nowhere does Jesus speak of people being told that they will desire to be married but will be forced by God to be single. This is a horrible thing to say about our loving Father. It is also important to consider what Jesus says about the Father in this context too and how God is a far superior and more generous father than any earthly father. If our earthly fathers would not forbid and prevent us from getting married when we really wanted to then why would our heavenly Father? It doesn’t make sense.

Finally, we have Paul who in 1 Corinthians 7:8 speaks about how it is better to be single than to be married, however in verse 9 he further says that this is a difficult thing to ask of someone and only those who can do it should do it. If you cannot though, ie if your desire is to be married, then Paul says do so! Nowhere does Paul say oh yes some of you will not want to be single but you will be anyway, against your will and desires. He continues his piece talking more about singleness and saying in verse 37 “But whoever is firmly established in his heart [strong in mind and purpose]. not being forced by necessity but having control over his own will and desire and has resolved this in his heart to keep his own virginity, he is doing well’. Paul here is saying that it is only if you really want and desire to be single that you should be and he commends those who feel that way. But note that he says ‘not being forced by necessity’ i.e. not because the one hasn’t come along yet or because you think you are too old but rather choosing singleness freely and having a desire for it. If you do not have a desire to be single than Paul says it is better to marry and you should go ahead and do so.

In summary the Bible, at least in my mind, is clear that the desire for a spouse comes from God and that God considers finding a spouse to be a good thing.

Now I know at this stage many of you, myself included too sometimes, will say well if that is the case then where is my spouse? Sadly, or perhaps happily, God does not tell us when this will happen, as His divine plans are far larger and more complex than we can ever understand but sufficient to say that with this knowledge we can and should wait hopefully and expectantly. The Bible says that ‘No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly’ Psalm 84:11. In the New Covenant thanks to death of Jesus on the cross where He shed His blood for His we have been given robes of righteousness and as such we walk uprightly now, not because of what we have done but because of what He has done for us. Accordingly we can stand on this verse. Now the verse speaks of a good thing, and what is a good thing? Well going back we see that Proverbs tells us that he who finds a wife (or spouse) finds a good thing! As such we should have faith in the Lord that if he says that he will not hold back from us any good thing (because we are righteous in Christ) and that a spouse is a good thing then we can wait and trust Him to provide a spouse for us.

When I was feeling really low I thought maybe I should just give up on hoping and trying  to meet my spouse and so I Googled ‘When should you give up on getting married?’ and you know what answer I found….Never! I found story after story after story of people meeting their spouse at all different ages and in all different places. Further to that I did some more empirical investigations, as while personal anecdotes are encouraging they often seem like the exception rather than the rule. I found that actually according to census data from the UK (see here) and from the USA (see here) that the majority of people do end up married. In fact over time you can see the never married group of the population grow smaller and smaller and smaller, until by around age 60 the percentage of people who have never married is less than 5%! That is right, less than 5% of people will never marry. Those 5% I would argue are those who choose not to marry or perhaps cannot marry for other reasons. But statistically speaking 95% of us will marry at some point. Now the lie that so many people believe is that if I do not marry by a certain age, what age is most common then I will never marry. But nowhere does the data suggest this. Rather it shows that we will just not all get married at the same time or follow the same life trajectory. So while we may not be in the majority it doesn’t mean anything about the likelihood of us getting married. It just speaks to different timings for different people. In light of this and of learning more about God’s love for me, I thought that I have no reason not to remain hopeful but if I die and am part of the 5% that never marry I would rather die hopeful, praising God and trusting Him and knowing that the moment I see His face in heaven everything will make sense!

The challenge is, and I will talk more about this in another post, how do we keep hopeful in the waiting? How do we, as Bill Johnson writes, encourage ourselves in the Lord especially when the wait drags on and on. For now I will leave you with a link to a message from Joel Osteen, it is called the Twenty First Day  and it talks about how God hears us when we pray and not to lose hope in the waiting. I hope that you feel encouraged to keep hoping, praying and thanking the Lord for his provision for a spouse (or whatever is on your heart) trusting Him that He has it all under control.

I would love to hear any stories of answered prayers or of prayers you need or any comments or thoughts. God Bless You today, you are loved and special!

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