In the fall of 2007, I wrote a series for the Boundless blog about trusting God with relationships. At the time, I was single and well on my way to my 30th birthday. The series generated hundreds of comments from readers who found themselves in a similar place.
Two and a half years later, my life has changed: In the course of nine months, I began dating, became engaged to and married the man I believe God chose for me. In light of what has happened since I wrote these posts, I believe even more resolutely that God orders our steps in the journey toward marriage.
I’ve recently been thinking a lot about God’s participation in my love life. Mostly, I’ve been wondering to what extent He cares about it. There was a time when I believed that the Lord was carefully preparing and refining my future spouse and orchestrating the exact events that would bring us together. I still want to believe that, but it’s a struggle.
Does God really care about who I marry? Is my waiting period part of His plan or just a side-effect of a culture confused about marriage? Is marriage a standard-issue arrangement ordained by God or is He interested in my specific choice? My theology on this will deeply affect the way I view my heavenly Father and His involvement in my life. It will impact how I go about relationships. It will affect the way I live while I’m waiting.
As I considered my current state of disillusionment with my former view, I thought it would be helpful to consider again some of the basic truths about God’s purpose for and involvement in human relationships.
One foundational truth about my singleness is God sees my need. Moments after creation, God takes a personal interest in Adam’s lonely state. “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). God did not create humans to live in isolation. He designed us to long for and experience companionship and love. And if He had compassion toward Adam’s loneliness, I can trust that He sees and understands mine.
Not only did God see Adam’s need; He responded to it in a specific way. “I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). As a remedy to Adam’s loneliness, God created Eve. God designed her to be Adam’s helper. It’s true that we don’t know if “helper suitable for him” was simply talking about Eve’s complementary attributes as a woman. But this declaration seems to show God’s detail in providing a perfect match for Adam.
I know a lot of singles who wish they were married. For most of us, these circumstances seem out of our control. It is easier to trust someone when you believe he cares. The Lord is compassionate toward singles. Adam started out as one. In God’s dealings with Adam, we discover two realities: 1) God established marriage as the antidote to a basic human need (“It is not good for the man to be alone”); 2) God was concerned about the individual fit of the relationship (“a helper suitable for him”).
My Part, God’s Part
My next installment was going to deal with God’s perspective on romance, but I’m going to hold off on that. From the comment section of my last blog, it’s evident people are interested in this issue of free will versus God’s sovereignty in relationships, which Scott Stanley talks about in “Is the path to marriage predestined or freewilled?”
Stanley seemed to play both sides in his discussion, but he concludes that whatever your view on God’s sovereignty versus man’s free will, you should be careful to avoid the potential relationship pitfalls that accompany each.
Stanley points out someone with a high sovereignty view may believe God will deliver “the one” to his or her doorstep. The resulting mistake might be passivity (e.g. He never asks her out; she never makes an effort to show herself friendly) and waiting for a “burning bush” moment that never arrives.
The freewill person, on the other hand, believes it is up to him to make the best possible choice. And considering there are approximately 1.5 billion women worldwide to evaluate, he will most likely be overwhelmed with choice and be tempted to spend exorbitant time and effort seeking out his soul mate while perhaps never deciding on one.
I resonated with what Stanley says about the freewill person:
If I’m the freewill guy, then the error that I might make is that not only should I search and search and search, but God isn’t even that invested in who I make the choice about. It doesn’t matter a lot who I make the choice about. Because, you know, He’s not really thinking at that level of detail about my life.
It’s unnerving to think about a God who doesn’t care about something I care about so deeply. Stanley suggests a more moderate perspective:
If I don’t want to believe in the one thing, the one woman, one mate idea, I at least should have a balanced view that it should take a fair amount of my effort and thought. I should be wise about this. There are things I should be paying attention to. And at the same time, I should believe a bit from the sovereignty perspective. This really matters to God not just because He’s hoping I really make the right choice, because it somehow fits into His big plan of what He’s trying to do.
Something I have found helpful is to look at relationships through the filter of the same biblical worldview that colors other areas of my life. For example, Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Whether I lean toward total sovereignty or free will, this is a practical step. Trust God at a deep heart level. Don’t rely on my own wisdom. Invite God into every area of my life … relationships, singleness, ministry. And He will make my paths straight. That’s comforting. However the details are working out, if I’m acknowledging Him, He is making my path straight.
Stanley also employs the path analogy:
I want to end by talking to that reader who looks at the disappointing direction their life has taken in the area of relationships and wonders where God is in it all and how they are to face the future. It’s so important to realize that God will take whatever path we’re on and get the maximum mileage out of us learning on it.
If I am on a straight path where God can teach me and use me, that is the most important thing. As Stanley suggests, I need to be aware of actions or attitudes that may be leading me away from the marriage and family I desire, but there is no need for me to be panicked that I’m on the wrong path.
God is a Romantic
After years of researching relationship statistics, studying principles for godly relationships and analyzing (or attempting to) what the opposite sex is thinking, it sometimes seems as if I’ve reduced dating and marriage to a sterile series of rules and decisions. In recent years, I’ve veered toward viewing relationships in a depressingly pragmatic way: Find someone with godly character and as little baggage as possible and make a choice to intentionally pursue marriage with that person.
While intentionality is good (and I’ll address this more in depth in a future blog), part of me is sad that I’ve developed such low expectations for romance. I believe this is, in part, due to a misunderstanding of God. Consider the following question: Is God interested in romance, or did He create marriage as a pragmatic arrangement?
There are some stories in the Bible that seem to hint at God’s romantic nature. When Isaac meets Rebekah, for example. Abraham sends his servant to retrieve a wife for his son. And through a strange turn of events (which involves an extensive camel-watering episode), God leads the servant to Rebekah. There’s undeniable romance in the conclusion of this tale. Isaac sees Rebekah. Rebekah sees Isaac. Sparks fly. And:
Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
Song of Solomon offers a blush-worthy description of physical attraction. You find bona fide “girl talk” in Ruth. And it’s pretty romantic when King David intentionally seeks out the virtuous Abigail after her husband has died. God is clearly into romance. The very scenario of Him sending His Son to be our sacrifice and ultimately our bridegroom speaks of His romantic nature.
Why is it then, that the longer I wait, the more inclined I am to believe I must leave romance out of the mix? Michael Lawrence and I have both downplayed the importance of attraction. Addressing this issue is a fine line, simply because the way the world defines “romance” is different from the committed and sacrificial romantic love advocated by the Creator.
We can be easily tricked into believing attraction is eyes meeting across the room in an electric jolt. When, in actuality, romance is more in line with Boaz hearing of Ruth’s outstanding character, noticing her in the field, pouring out special favor on her, protecting her from his men and ultimately becoming her kinsman redeemer. As you can see, the second romantic scenario contains far more substance than the first.
I recently saw a video about Iraqi believers receiving the Bible in their own language for the first time. One woman equated receiving the Bibles to an Iraqi saying that went something like this: “I thought that when I saw my beloved, I would experience the greatest happiness possible. But now that he is here with me, that happiness is exceeded.” It’s a beautiful picture of romance and so very powerful when you consider this woman’s joy at receiving God’s Word. God is into romance.
While it’s important to guard against worldly, unrealistic standards of romance (Do you think those Seattle doctors are seriously happy anyway?), it is exciting to know that God established romance and celebrates it. Romantic love may appear in ways unanticipated, but at its source it flows from God’s character.
Copyright 2009 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.