A friend reminded me of a piece I wrote a year and a half before I had even thought of blogging, one that I've had sitting online without anything linking to it. I had always intended to move all my previously posted pieces to my blog, but I'd completely forgotten about this one, so here it is. This was written in the context of a discussion list within a Christian campus ministry and assumes some very particular arguments for positions that I'm seeking to find a middle ground between. I wouldn't word everything this way now, but I'd like to leave it as it is. The original piece was written 24 April, 2002. When I posted it to my old website on 28 February 2003, I modified it in a few places to remove the names of the guilty, to fix grammar, and to clarify some misleading statements. What follows is the statement as I posted it on that day.
OK, I've got to say one thing about the "God picking someone out for you" issue. I'm convinced that the reason people are so resistant to this idea is that they fail to see the biblical point that God is sovereign over everything that happens in a way that's totally consistent with our making our own choices. Read Isaiah 10 very carefully and compare it with Genesis 50:20 and Acts 2:23; 4:24-28. It's hard to get around that.
The only way I can read the resistance to this is that people somehow think what's being said is that God picks someone special out for you but then has no interest in what you do to get to the point of finding such a person, which assumes God isn't ultimately sovereign over everything but has this obsession with this one thing about us, and we have to spend all our energy to figure out who that person is before we can live our life normally.
The reality is that we need to live out a godly life, and if that leads to something developing toward marriage, then that's great. Otherwise you'll have the opportunity to serve God more completely and not be distracted by the things of your family. This sounds like second best to many people, but that's because you haven't absorbed the kingdom mentality of Paul in I Corinthians 7. (In my case, God didn't want me to marry until I had come to understand this.) If you really understand that, you'll see that the ideal situation for someone devoted to the kingdom of God is not in marriage, but some people end up needing it (and it turns out this some is much higher than average). So it's almost as a concession, though it's a concession with a basis in God's original design for creation. Therefore, it's wrong to conclude that Paul had a low view of marriage or that marriage is God's second-best for anyone. However, Paul is correct to point out hat someone who is married is distracted from being fully devoted to God's people in general, due to the focus on a particular family, in which ministry certainly should be taking place in service to the kingdom, especially with regard to discipleship of the family itself but also when it comes to when one's family as a family can minister to others.
So there's no devaluing of marriage, children, and sex, which were all part of God's original plan of representing himself (in modeling something of the Trinity's relations of authority and submission within equal persons and in modeling the church's submission to Christ and Christ's total self-giving to the church). However, in this kingdom age, when the priority would normally be the gospel, the ultimate issue is the gospel, and living as a godly parent, husband, or wife distracts you from that. So ideally, Paul says, we needn't marry. Unfortunately, it won't always work that way, but that's also all part of God's plan to represent himself through our having godly relationships.
The point is this: it can be true to say that God has a person in mind that each person who marries will marry, though that doesn't mean sinful choices won't be involved, and it doesn't mean you made the right choice just because it happened. God can still be behind it in some sense in the same way that he could be behind Judas' betrayal of Jesus, though it's not likely the consequences of this kind of thing will be anywhere near as significant (and even that is a massive understatement). But just because it's true to say this doesn't mean it's best to be thinking it all the time. Our responsibility is to live with what God has given us, and for most of you God hasn't given you this yet if he will. Be faithful with what you have, and God will bless you, perhaps in ways you won't at all expect and maybe in this area but maybe not.
The view I think people have in mind in which God has a special obsession with picking out a mate for everyone but not telling us in any way does sound silly the way I put it, but I'm convinced that's what some people are denying when they say that God hasn't picked someone out ahead of time. (Another view that might be in mind is the view that everyone should assume they will eventually marry. Some people who say this sort of thing are just denying that, but this also would be a very misleading way to say such a thing.) If you keep in mind that God is sovereign over everything that happens in our lives, something that does not conflict with our responsibility to act, as scripture clearly shows, then you don't end up with such a one-sided view. God knows full well who every person on this earth will marry, if they indeed will marry, and in some cases it will be because of a bad or even sinful choice. That doesn't mean God isn't behind it in some sense. But he's just as much behind the process of arriving at the point of meeting this person, developing a healthy or unhealthy friendship with the person, whatever steps are taken that lead to considering marriage, etc.
Now if these steps are taken righteously, it's only because of a particular work of the Holy Spirit, while if it isn't then it's just God's normal care over how history unfolds (yes, we're a major part of history and in a big way according to scripture -- since Christ it's been the last days when his kingdom has been blossoming, and we're the key agents in this incredibly important episode in history). Also, he's just as much a part of all the other things we do, either by a particular work of the Holy Spirit to move us closer to him and to help us grow more like him or by his sovereign guiding of all things, which he could well have had go otherwise if he'd wanted.
I should head off one worry. This shouldn't make you think God is morally responsible for evil, since God was in some sense behind the worst sin in the history of the world -- the putting to death of the only innocent person ever to walk the planet. (See Acts 2-4 for a number of statements from Peter about this.) I don't think any Christian would want to say that God didn't have that planned, and the accounts of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis, especially chapter 50, and the King of Assyria in Isaiah 10 are similar. Other examples abound. If God can be in this sense behind an action that's as bad as the crucifixion (in one sense the worst evil ever committed), then when I say he's in some sense behind evil actions of ours you shouldn't worry that I mean he's morally responsible for them.
I'm not talking about God forcing people to do things. I'm talking about his sovereign care over all things and his love for those found in him who benefit from his working out of all things for our good. This involves steering us in certain directions, and it often involves our learning from our mistakes, not that he approves of those mistakes to begin with. But that's how God works in a fallen world out of perfect fellowship with him (even believers aren't in perfect fellowship with him yet), and his sovereign plan can involve our mistakes, since he's always known what we would do and chooses to work through sinful people rather than saving people suddenly without giving us a chance to see how awful the consequences of our sin are.
The view people often have in mind (that I'm not sure very many people hold), that funny view that God has an obsession with this one aspect of our lives and has picked someone out for us yet lets us loose in other ways that he doesn't care as much about, is not the picture scripture presents. Yet God cares about the very little things like what the sparrows are doing and has his sovereign hand on things as insignificant (in the grander scheme) as what we eat and drink or what we wear (see Matt 6:25-34).
It's we who have the obsession with this one issue of who we might end up marrying. People who happen to be married now (like me) just don't have it anymore. This understanding of God's greater purposes in even the little things should motivate us to serve him even more, since we're privileged to be part of such an incredible movement of God's Spirit in bringing people to him and in transforming us from one degree of glory to another (II Cor 3:18). As we seek to glorify him and love him, why can't we look forward to all the wonderful things he's got in store for us without having to expect particular things we've got in mind? It's hard to anticipate blessings you don't know particulars about, but the promises God gives us are all very general, and we would do well to meditate on some of them (e.g. II Peter 1:3-4; Eph 1:3-14; Rom 8:18-39; Phil 1:6; 2:12-13; etc.)