A friend recently asked me the question "What gives you hope?". It came up during a discussion about my outlook on marriage. I expressed that I don't have a pull to get married, and in fact I don't suspect that it is God's will for me to do so in the foreseeable future, and likely ever. It struck me that what my friend was really expressing through this question was his view that without a spouse I was facing a future of uncertainty, loneliness and incompleteness; that I was somehow falling short of God's plan for one of His children.
It has been my observation that the church in general does a rather poor job of expressing God's gift of singleness to people. Christians often make assumptions that singleness is a temporary condition. Temporary in that, under "normal" circumstances, it is only to be experienced while one seeks out that significant person to join with in marriage. This attitude implies that marriage is the highest of callings and leaves singleness as some sort of inferior state of existence. I also see the idea expressed, often subtly, that upon reaching a certain age, one who is still single must be in that situation because they are somehow damaged, are sinful, or otherwise "broken". Even those well intentioned phrases of referring to one's spouse as "my other half", or the statement that the marriage partner "completes me" further perpetuates this myth of single people being somehow only half a person or incomplete...
While singleness certainly has its own pitfalls, I have often found that the overwhelming pressure on people to marry as a way to find wholeness and maturity often borders on idolatry. By implying that the sign of a healthy and mature person is a happy marriage, or even just a marriage at all, we lead people into finding their own self-value and wholeness in a spouse and not in Christ:
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10 ESV)
Charles Spurgeon summarized Col 2:10 as "Ye are complete in Him!". It seems to me that it is only by realizing that it is by our union with Christ by grace through faith, (Eph 2:8) that we are able to truly offer ourselves to another in marriage. As long as one or both parties are seeking their own completeness in the other, the marriage is likely to be one filled with disappointments, struggle, and false hopes which arise out of a lack of trust and poor understanding of our position in Christ. He alone can (and will) satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. (Jn 4:13-14).
These same principles of finding our identities and completeness through Christ apply just the same to those of us who are single. We should not look at ourselves as defective or as being relegated to second class status in the church. As are all the faithful, married or single, we are one with Christ (Gal 3:28), filled with the Spirit (Jn 14:16-17), and equipped to do good works (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Paul clearly teaches in 1 Cor 7 that singleness and marriage are both gifts from God. God willing, I hope to delve into the topic of singleness and the Christian further in the future. It has been an area that has caused me to struggle severely at times, but also one in which I have felt powerful comfort and encouragement through the workings of God in this area of my life.
So I guess to answer the question posed by my friend, what gives me hope are the promises God makes to me in His word:
- The Bible is the word of God and reliable for all things (2 Tim 3: 16-17).
- Jesus gave His Son as a sign of love for me and the means to cover my sinfulness so that I may live eternally with Him (Jn 3:16-18).
- When I struggle He promises that through my trust and surrender to Him I will find rest and the path to follow (Mat 11:28-30).
- The trials of this life are passing and one day their will be no suffering, death and pain (Rev 21:4).
- That even when faced with difficulty, God's love for me is enduring for all time (Rom 8:37-39).
- When feelings of isolation, loneliness, confusion, and depression are present, God will be my source of comfort and love - whether directly or through my brothers and sisters in Christ (2 Cor 1:3-5).
- So like the hope that all Christians have for the future, I rest on these and many other promises of God. And I rest on Him working all things for good, whether I can see the good in the moment or not (Rom 8:28-30).
But hark! sinner, all you need is in Christ. He will fill you, satisfy you, enrich you, gladden you. Oh! let your friend beseech you, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." ~C.H. Spurgeon
Some Biblical perspectives on singleness: