In her book Singled Out for Him, Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes that there is “a growing number of unmarried men and women in the church today who feel ‘sad and alone’”. I can’t help but to wonder why all these sad, lonely single men and women aren’t marrying each other.
Why is it so hard to get married these days? In my Mom and Dad’s day practically everyone married who wanted to marry, with just a few oddballs here and there falling through the betrothal cracks. A man with a strange affection for animal skull collecting or a woman with a fastidious hair bun that matched her uptight personality would understandably be passed over. But today it’s not so easy to figure out why some people marry and others don’t. And, truth be told, it’s not hard for everyone. For some people it appears easier than falling off a log. For others it’s a long, arduous journey full of false starts and dashed expectations before finally reaching the much-anticipated destination of marriage.
Certainly times have changed since Mom and Dad’s day. Generations before us saw marriage as more of an adult obligation than the key to personal fulfillment and happiness. As a result, they tended to marry as soon as possible and within their own communities, searching not for their kismet sole-mate or a Hollywood-inspired romantic ideal, but simply a suitable marriage partner who shared their values. Not so in our times. Today, those hopeful for marriage often look far and wide for the one person they feel will be their perfect match, embodying a long list of subjective qualities and attributes. Add to this a much more mobile society, a less biblical understanding of the purpose of marriage, escalating divorce rates (even among Christians), and a widespread acceptance of sexual activity outside of matrimony, and it’s not hard to figure out why marriage is more difficult to attain these days. Even in this environment, however, God is still forming marriages. The Lord continues to help Isaacs find their eager Rebekahs and direct Ruths to their awaiting Boazs. But for a growing number of us it seems no amount of effort and exertion, waiting and wishing, struggling and striving, praying and pleading can get us there.
Does the Bible have anything to say about this growing dilemma? Many believe it does in First Corinthians chapter 7, the passage most applied to the unintentionally single. But though this chapter in the Bible is brimming with inspiring truths about the spiritual advantages of singleness over marriage, it doesn’t explain why many of us find ourselves still single in our 30s and 40s. The Apostle Paul was not addressing Corinthian singles struggling to find mates, he was clearing up confusion in the Corinthian church about whether singleness was a holier state than marriage. So as true and informative as this oft-quoted chapter is, it doesn’t provide much comfort to me as a single longing to be married.
Back in the day, it was easy to tell why some people never married. Now, not so much.
Could it be that God is withholding marriage from me for some reason? Does He want me to trust Him more, or to mature spiritually, or to develop traits and habits making me a more useful wife to a godly man? In an effort to be helpful, some of my friends have suggested this and it’s possible that’s exactly what God is doing. But since God does not reveal these things to me directly I have no way of knowing if that’s the reason. Furthermore, there’s nothing in God’s Word that says only those who trust Him, or who are spiritually mature, or who are the perfect embodiment of Proverbs 31 are allowed to get married. Many have married and continue to marry who don’t have any of these qualities. The spiritual giants, the spiritually juvenile……..God-fearing Baptists, God-jeering atheists………the school teachers, the nightclub strippers……...the Reformed, the Rastafarian…....all types, saints and sinners alike, regularly marry, enjoy the pleasures of intimacy, have children, and form families. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to who gets married and who remains single. And although I do want to please God by trusting Him more, growing more mature spiritually, and becoming more Proverbs 31-ish, I don’t want to do these things in an attempt to manipulate God into getting me married. Such a mindset would invite misery into my Christian walk and besides, God cannot be manipulated into blessing anyone. He gives and He takes away as He wills (Job 1:21).
At this point, when I’m analyzing the whys and whos and whens, and wheres of me and marriage, friends often say, “Just have faith in God! God can find a spouse for you! Nothing is too hard for God! Just believe!” And I do believe. I know without a doubt that our God is perfectly capable of providing a husband. In fact that knowledge makes my state more painful, because, even though I know God is able, I still find myself single…….year, after year, after frustrating year. Yet I have personally seen God answer the matrimonial prayers of others. I have witnessed Him drawing men and women together in such a way that His hand in the matter can’t be denied. And when you stop to think about it, it’s really something of a miracle when two people from two completely different backgrounds, meet each other at a time when they are both conveniently unattached, fall in love, and agree to marry. It can’t be easily explained – there is something beautifully supernatural about it. Yes, even in our sinful society, which denigrates marriage, God is still lovingly and graciously leading godly men and women to the altar. He is still as much the Matchmaker today as He was when He brought Eve to Adam.
A spinster's dream.
But He hasn’t made a match for me. What about me? Why am I still single? Why have my prayers gone unanswered? Why has no ardent suitor ever said the words, “I love you” to me? Why have I sailed past my child-bearing years without having even one child of my own? Does God love me less than He loves others? Why does He answer their prayers and not mine? Why does He bless others with godly spouses but ignores me? Is He trying to prove something to me? Is He giving me some secret message? Is He angry with me? Is He unaware how humiliating it is to be a woman unwanted, undesired, un-pursued? Does God care about me? Is He even there?
I was asking myself these very questions one morning during my commute to work – tears streaming down my face, snot dribbling from my nose, throwing a full-scale, unrestrained pity party with me as the guest of honor. Yeah, it was one of those days. I happened to be listening to a Christian radio station and right at that moment, at an oddly opportune time, I heard Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, ask the following questions over the airwaves:
“Where is God when we really need Him, and how do we keep believing when He doesn’t seem to do what all rational people would think a God should with all of His power? How do we hang in?”
My ears perked up. I wiped my eyes, blew my nose, and listened intently. Pastor Lutzer’s sermon titled “A Faith That Endures” centered on Hebrews chapter 11, the well-known “heroes of faith” passage. Although I have read Hebrews 11 many times, Lutzer pointed out something in that chapter I hadn’t previously noticed. I have always focused on the verses at the beginning which lists all the spectacular occurrences and marvelous blessings people received from God through faith –
“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection.” – Hebrews 11:32-35a
Pretty amazing stuff, huh? Those are the words that frequently come to mind when I think of Hebrews 11. I always brush over the second half of verse 35 to verse 38, which describe a completely different experience for some of the heroes of faith –
“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” – Hebrews 11:35b-38
Not as cheerful a read, is it? And that was the first point in Lutzer’s sermon: Sometimes faith changes our circumstances and sometimes faith doesn’t change our circumstances. We see in Hebrews 11 that though many of the heroes of faith (Abraham, Sarah, and Rahab, to name a few) saw blessings, fulfilled promises, and deliverance as a result of their trust in God, many others did not see positive circumstances at all. They were mistreated, beaten, some even killed. They were, however, loved by God and were also considered to be heroes of faith just like the others. This truth was Lutzer’s second point: Faith does not judge God by circumstances. God is good and His love for us is continual regardless of the circumstances of our individual lives. We see numerous examples in the Scriptures that God does not treat His children the same and He has His reasons for doing so – reasons that He often does not reveal. Lutzer said the faith of the heroes of Hebrews 11 “endured no matter what because faith isn’t simply receiving what we want. Faith is the ability to accept whatever God gives us.”
Consider James and Peter in Acts 12. Herod the king was persecuting the members of the church and he killed James with the sword. Pleased with that action, Herod arrested Peter, intent on killing him as well. The Lord rescued Peter, however, causing Peter’s prison chains to miraculously fall off and the iron gate of the city to open in front of him of its own accord. But why didn’t the Lord rescue James? We don’t really know except that the Lord’s plans for James were different than His plans for Peter. Why was John the Baptist not spared the horrible fate of being beheaded? He was obviously pleasing to God (Luke 7:28). John the Baptist appears to have the same question because while in prison he sends a message to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” It’s as if John was saying, “I’m on your side, Jesus, and I wasn’t expecting this treatment.” Jesus sends a message back to John: “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:1-6). That’s Trinity-speak for: “Yes, John, I am the One. And blessed are those who are not upset with the way I run my business.”
For reasons that He does not always reveal God does not provide spouses for all of His children. He blesses some and He doesn’t bless others, and we don’t always know why. None of us can earn the blessings He gives us nor can we be offended when He chooses not to bless us. But we can be certain that we are all loved by Him and that all He does for us is for our ultimate good and His glory, even if it’s painful to see others marrying around us as we continue to be undesirably single. We are all heroes of faith – those of us who receive the blessings and those of us who don’t.
It is critical that I remember this because this is an area where Satan loves to torment me. When I’m looking with envy at other Christians enjoying their spouses and children, I can almost hear Satan cackling with laughter, pointing his finger at me in utter contempt:
“God seems to have forgotten you, Janice. What good does it do you to have a God who won’t even answer your prayers? Why have a God who creates marriage and all its benefits, parades it in front of you, but then denies it?”
But unlike Satan, I know God, intimately. I know Him because of His Son’s sacrifice on my behalf, because of His Word, and because of His Spirit that dwells within me. God is not my servant to do my bidding, I am His to please Him. If my discomfort and struggles in singleness bring Him glory, so be it. I can live with it. I have a faith that endures.
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