No. God hasn’t chosen a particular person to be your spouse.
“WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!?! Justin, God has a wonderful plan for my life! That includes who it’s His will for me to marry! I seek Him and have faith that He’ll provide the person He’s chosen for me to be with! The best person for me to be with! Do you think God can’t do this?!”
No, I just think Scripture nowhere supports that idea.
“WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!?! You vile heathen! You ignoble blasphemer! This contemptible heresy cannot be tolerated! BURN THE HERETIC!!!
Wow. That escalated fast. I didn’t realize people would be that upset.
“YOU WILL DIE, SPAWN OF SATAN!!!”
Well, while they prepare my stake, why don’t I try to explain what I’m saying to you lucid people? Where should I begin?
In modern American Christian romance culture, many people have a strong sense that God has had in mind, even from before you were born, a particular person whom it’s His will for you to marry. It’s the idea that God chose your spouse long before you ever thought about him or her and has destined the two of you to come together in keeping with His will. So the idea is that if you seek God and wait patiently then He’ll unite you with this specially chosen person. This idea has been buttressed by the teaching that God has a calling and plan for each person’s life. Since marriage is a massive part of the life of anyone who enters into it, it’s presumed that God’s calling and will must encompass who you marry. This idea is supported, both implicitly and explicitly, by considerable Christian literature. Eric and Leslie Ludy’s When God Writes Your Love Story is replete with the implicit idea that God has a particular person in mind for you to marry.
“I know this may sound strange…but I’ve decided that I won’t give my heart to another girl until God shows me it’s my wife!”
“I believe that if God wants me to be married…He will pick her out for me.” 1
Similarly, Dr. Don Raunikar’s Choosing God’s Best explicitly states that God knows whether He wants you to marry, knows the person who is the best match for you, and will unite you with that person if you patiently seek Him. On the surface, these ideas seem to be rather sensible and biblical. They seem to line up with the idea of God’s will and purpose for our lives. But are they really scripturally sound?
What The Bible Says
Let’s take a quick look at 1 Corinthians chapter 7, where we find the most explicit instruction concerning God’s will for us in whether we marry and how we find our spouse. In 1 Cor. 7:6-9, Paul writes
6Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 7I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.8To the [singles] and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. 9But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (NIV)
There are several important things to observe about this passage. The first is that in verse six Paul clarifies that these instructions aren’t a divine requirement. He’s saying that he’s sharing important wisdom and principles for us to consider, but God doesn’t morally require us to go one way or the other. In verse 35, Paul reaffirms that his instructions about choosing to marry aren’t commands but wise counsel offered to aid in understanding what choice is a wise one. In verses 7 and 8, Paul explains that it’s good for people to remain single because they are better able to serve God without distraction in an age where God’s kingdom is in conflict with the world. He explains this more fully in verses 27 through 34 (I won’t post here for space, but be sure to read them!). But in verse 9, Paul makes it clear that wisdom maintains that a strong compulsion to marry should be responded to by marrying rather than trying to force oneself to maintain a personally straining self-denial.
What Paul is ultimately saying is that he sees dedication to serving God as a single as best while serving God in married life is still exceedingly good. But ultimately, each man and woman is free to choose for himself or herself what path to take. God doesn’t lay any requirement on a person to marry or not marry. His will for a person isn’t only one thing or the other. God gives each person freedom to choose. But the choice needs to be made according to wisdom in light of how God is calling the person to serve Him. Sometimes marriage hinders your ability to fulfill God’s unique calling for you.
The story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot is a beautiful and exemplary tale of how two people who loved each other greatly and desired to marry refused to do so for many years in order to be faithful to what God was calling each of them to do. Eventually, after remaining faithful to God’s call, their callings united, and they married. But for many people, God’s particular calling isn’t obstructed by marrying. In such cases, God gives us freedom to choose if we marry and, by extension, whom we marry. There’s no biblical support whatsoever for the idea that we decide if we want to marry and, if we choose to marry, then God tells us who He’s picked for us. If we’re single, God calls us to follow Him. If we’re married, God calls us to follow Him. We may freely choose which path to take, but let each choice be made with wisdom.
But What About…
“But, Justin, you didn’t mention the end of verse 7, where Paul says that each person has a gift from God. Some have marriage, and some have singleness. Doesn’t that say that God has a particular will for each of us in marriage?”
Ah, great observation! And great question! If Paul is saying in that sentence that God has a particular will for each of us to marry or not marry then the rest of what Paul says in the chapter makes no sense. Throughout the passage, Paul clearly shows our God-given freedom in making the choice. Why would he contradict himself in verse 7? What Paul is trying to say in verse 7 is that God’s goodness comes in different forms. Some experience God’s goodness through marriage. Some experience God’s goodness through singleness. Both are good gifts from God. Since both are good, we shouldn’t look down on the married as though they should be single or the single as though they should be married. The Corinthians struggled with this problem when they became persuaded that one mode of life was better than the other. Paul made clear that he favored singleness, but he also humbly recognized that for many people it was good to be married and he couldn’t frown on that. So, no, verse 7 doesn’t demonstrate that God picks our spouse for us.
Perhaps now you understand better why I believe it’s unbiblical to say that God chooses our spouse for us. The 1 Corinthians 7 passage reveals that, instead of wanting to determine marital our lives for us, God wants us to use wisdom and pragmatism in making a free choice. There are more passages in the Bible that support this, though 1 Cor. 7 is the most explicit.
Just as God loved us and chose us freely, not by compulsion, so He invites us to freely love and choose our spouses. In fact, love, by definition, must be given freely. Love that’s required is just obligation. I think you’ve heard the saying about why you shouldn’t take a robot to the prom. A person doesn’t truly love you unless he or she had the option of not loving you. So God invites us to love by inviting us to choose freely.
So Why All This Nonsense?
So why is there so much of this “God has chosen my spouse for me” idea throughout so much of American Christendom? And why do some people hold so strongly to it? I think there are several reasons. (1) I explained earlier how some biblically sound ideas of God’s will and purpose have been over-extrapolated to include Him choosing and destining us for a particular spouse. (2) I think many Christians have fallen into a sort of hyper-spiritualized romanticism where they adore the idea of God setting up wonderful marriages. After the reaction against broken dating romances in the early nineties, I think our Christian culture has come to overly adore the idea of the perfect, God-created marriage. (3) I also think this idea has been given as a comforting assurance to people who feel distressed over wanting a spouse and not finding one. When a person hears that the God of all reality is in charge of uniting him or her with a wonderful spouse, it often gives relief to fears of being alone for the rest of his or her life. And that leads into the biggest reason I think this idea has such a strong following…
We would rather embrace false security than true love.
The idea that God has chosen and will unite us with our desired spouse feels secure. It holds a guarantee that no matter what happens we’ll get the very best. If we remain single for life then it’s because God wanted it because it was best. If we marry then we marry the person God thought best out of everyone on earth. This is a massively comforting notion! The idea that you can’t miss the best in matrimony provides an extremely desirable security. The unpleasant alternative is to realize that if we are free to choose and marriage depends on our initiative then our mortal frailties leave us liable either not to find someone at all or to discover after marrying that maybe our spouse isn’t the match we were hoping for. But the truth is that the continued single life shouldn’t obstruct our love and service for God. Continued singleness may not be pleasant, but it doesn’t destroy our eternal standing or purpose with the One who should be our First Love.
That’s the reality I’m living today. Honestly, I’m tired of being single, but even if I remain single for the rest of my days I’ll continue to follow Christ. And at the end of my days, even if I don’t get quite what I was hoping for, I’ll still consider my life one well spent. The measure of one’s life isn’t spouse or children but the measure of one’s love for God and those made in His image. The truth is also that if you truly love your spouse then you’ll continue to love him or her regardless of how good a match he or she is or whether you got what you were hoping for in marriage. Even the best marriages include unhappy times. Love faithfully loves regardless. Instead of offering us the risk-free security of matrimonial determinism, God invites us to participate in the risk of choosing to love another person like He chose the risk of loving us. Security feels better. But love IS better, especially when that perceived security is based in falsehood and not really secure at all.
“Okay, Justin, I think I’m understanding what you’re saying. I see why you’re saying God doesn’t pick our spouses for us. But can God help me find a spouse? What I mean is, if I want to find a spouse and ask God to help me meet someone who’s a good match for me, will He do that? Even if He doesn’t require us to marry a particular person, can God play matchmaker?”
Ah, that’s a great question! And that’s what we need to explore in the next post.
“THE WOOD IS READY! BRING THE HERETIC!”
And if you want me to explore that with you then please pray for me as I run!
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with these arguments? Why or why not? I want to know what you think! Please share your thoughts in the comments!
And if you liked this discussion please share it with friends!
(The follow up post is now available! To read it click here!)
- Eric and Leslie Ludy, When God Writes Your Love Story (Multnomah, 1999), 19-20