Does God have a right person picked out for each person to marry?

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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.)

14 Comments

Hello Jeremy,
I am blogging on the same issue currently, and have hit a snag. My blog is linked up above. But before I move to my snag, let me go to paragraph 2 of yours, which is a one single long leviathan sentence.

P2 Translation: Some people think that God picks out a Joe/Jenna, but will not help you in finding that Joe/Jenna. So He is sovereign in terms of the pick, but not the help in finding that special someone. God is obsessed with the "pick" but not the rest. In addition, since He wont help with the rest, it's up to us to do the hardwork to find Joe/Jenna. That is why there is resistance.

I think that the resistance might come for other reasons also. (1) What if I dont like Jenna and Jenna is the one God has chosen for me? (2) Or some people will use this kind of a thing to manipulate others. (3) Free will issues lurking in the background. Am I a puppet if someone has been picked for me and vice versa ?

I mean think of it. I once counselled a girl going through some trouble in life. She was a charismatic who said that God used to speak to her in dreams. One fine day she told me that she had a dream that I would get married to her. Needless to say, I ran for my life, and that dream of hers never came true. Ha ! Ha ! I mean how many times have you met undergraddies in a college christian group, who suddenly had a "word of knowledge" that Susie Q would be their future wife. No. Sorry, that your hormones doing that talking.

I, in taking some cues from a) compatibilism and b) Bruce Watke, believe that our desires will always be inline with the what God decided for us. Most often. If God has picked SusieQ, you will one day be singing, "Oh Susie Q, Baby I love you ! Oh Susie Q".

God bless, and will discuss my snag later,
Raj

Sorry to be annoying Jeremy, but a couple more nits. I found P3 to be a bit confusing. Lets look at a couple of excerpts:

(A) " 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. So it's almost as a concession..."

If I read (A) then my conclusion is that marriage IS 2nd best. (I mean what else can a concession be if not 2nd best.)

Then you say later on:

(B) "Therefore, it's wrong to conclude that Paul had a low view of marriage or that marriage is God's second-best for anyone."

If I read (B), then my conclusion is that marraige IS NOT 2nd best.

That said, it seems to me, that barring monks in monasteries (Aquinas), most productive Christians have been and are married. I mean turn on Christian radio. John Piper, Robert Charles Sproul, Chuck Swindoll, Jonathan Edwards, etc.

There are very few singles who have been particularly productive. In my own experience, christians singles in church today tend to be pretty unproductive when it comes to kingdom work. Just my observations.

-Raj

Raj, your additional explanations of people's problems with this (in your first comment) seem correct to me. I think those are all pseudo-problems, but those do affect people's views on this.

(A) is one of the things I wouldn't word that way anymore. What I meant by calling it ideal isn't that it's the best choice, with marriage a second best. I meant that if the only concern we had was Paul's main concern -- maximizing kingdom work for the sake of the gospel -- then it would be best, other things being equal, to remain single. Of course, other things aren't equal, and he gives one reason in that very passage.

Another issue is the goodness of marriage itself. If everyone followed his advice, hardly any Christian would marry, and then a great good would be lost (and also be largely invisible to nonbelievers).

Third, the kind of work Paul did isn't the only or even the best kind of work for Christians to do to further the gospel. The vast majority of Christians are not traveling missionaries or church planters but are simply living in a community, becoming part of that community and sharing many things in common with those in that community.

There's also the issue of whether the current crisis he was dealing with was just what's true of all Christians during the church age or a particular crisis the Corinthian believers were facing at the time. His point is much smaller if it's the latter. Scholars are divided on that, and I don't know if I still believe that it was a more general crisis for all believers across the church age.

John Stott is a good example of a very fruitful man of God who never married who is not a Catholic priest. You're right that this is rare, though. I think one reason for this is not in the nature of things but simply that evangelicals have an expectation that those who minister to them will be married. At least this is true of married evangelicals, which is the vast majority of evangelicals outside college ministries and unusual church settings like Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, whose membership is mostly singles in their 20s-30s, largely because of who lives in Manhattan.

One can, of course, bring to this discussion the standard distinction between God's knowledge and ours, leading to the point that God's knowledge of any particular thing or event is not necessarily relevant to the way we make decisions.

Stan Hauerwas has written a fair amount of helpful points about christian thought on marriage scattered through his writings (much of it in A Community of Character, stemming from his experience teaching a course on marriage and family at Notre Dame.

Stanley formulated what he calls "Hauerwas' Law" (and I thought of this immediately upon reading your post) which goes like this: "You always marry the wrong person."

This principle comes as a reaction to the popular idea, somewhat related to the idea of a god-chosen spouse, that there is one perfect mate out there for each person (or variations on same). SH points out that, like religious conversion, marriage is always entered into based on very limited knowledge and that the commitment is necessary FIRST as a requirement for the possibility of learning marital love.

I think all married people can see (and single people can imagine) that one only realizes how sinful and otherwise problematic one's spouse is after being married. However, the joys of marriage are the same way, only being realized over time, through commitment.

He says a fair amount also about the nomativity of singleness in pauline thought along the same lines as you, but I have nothing interesting to add there.

Jeremy,

I hate to interrupt, but, I met someone over twenty years ago and I believe we were meant to cross paths at least, there is a problem with it though. We only had two days together, and I just started feeling like it should have been forever, after all this time, although I do thank God for those two days. I had forgotten until I wrote my autobiography. I only wish I could tell my old acquaintance is, that I am thankful for that time we shared.

I been told that God has someone for me and God will bring him to me in the due course however a leader told me that this fact is wrong, since it isn't found in the bible is this true? but I do think that God picks out someone for us, since God has a purpose for our lives that's why we wait upon God, I think isn't about our desires but god's desires a good looking. for instance a christian guy can show up in my life but not because he's christian means that he's the one for me and since God controls our lives and we live for him we have to ask God whether this is the one for us or not and we should do it in prayer and in fast am i wrong?

Mabel, there's nowhere in the Bible that says that God has someone for you. There's nowhere in the Bible that indicates that everyone will get married. What I think does follow from biblical teaching is that if you will get married then God knows who you will marry and intends for you to marry that person for particular reasons, since God works everything out for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes. But there's no assumption that everyone will get married. God doesn't have anyone picked out for those who will not marry. There's also no assumption that everyone will marry only once.

Given the case that God does pick only ONE person for your life time. Is it possible for you to destroy that and like Moses not be allowed to enter into the promised land?

Are you assuming that God was surprised by Moses' and Israel's actions and then had to go to a plan that was less ideal than God's original plan? Or is it rather than Moses and Israel rejecting God's ideal and suffered the consequences, and that was part of what was God's original plan? I think the latter view is much more consistent with scripture. Sometimes we do wrong, and sometimes we face the consequences of that wrong in this life. The whole package can be part of God's overall plan, even if God won't endorse what we do as morally right. It's hard to reconcile alternative views with the way the Bible describes God's providence over human decisions that God then holds people responsible for while declaring that it was always in his plan that they'd do this.

Many times we leave our lives to chance and happen. If we view our lives as guided by God in every aspect including marriage then we must #1-Pray, #2-Hope, #3-Have Faith, and last but not least Trust that the one we are with or the one that God has sent is that potential life partner. In your words about Moses and in other parts of your blog you made the point very clear. No matter what we choose,(whether good decision or bad) God can and does take that and make it better not only for ourselves but for those around us for Gods glory. We have to be open to God and see the bigger picture. We forget that Gods plan does not fit inside a box. King Saul started out for God, but then changed; God used him to show the Israelites they should have trusted in God alone! God used King David next a sheppard boy, David was a man after Gods own heart; but he slipped by taking another mans wife; God showed his love for David none the less; Yes God took his son but in doing so he showed the Israelites they must be faithful to God to keep from reeping what they sow! Our decision should be based on Faith and understanding of God. He knows all things and we are subject to Him. God may have someone in store for us but if we go down the wrong road God can and will use that to benefit someone else for His Kingdom and to mention also that He can take the choice we made and make it better by us giving it to Him and being submissive to Him! Thanks for your thoughts and giving others something to think about! Great day.

i believe God gives every person's desire, as long as we are failthful. I couldnt love to think that God will not give us our desires becoz some pipo were not met to marry

Thanks for these postings. I've struggled with this thought for years. Now what I do understand is that surely the cares of this life and their process are simply instrumental in God providing us with understanding of Him, His love & faithfulness. We all know everything is temporal here on Earth, but to understand it's spiritual significance compared to God's eternal love is what life on Earth is about. It's not about our"life" choices. It's about kingdom choices regardless of life choices.

i really don't think so since i am a straight man looking to find love after my wife of 15 years cheated on me which i was a very caring and loving husband that was very much committed to her. with so many very nasty women today that like to curse at us men when we are trying to start a conversation with the one that we would really like to meet, which will make it very difficult for many of us men that are very seriously looking to find love again.

The issue here isn't really whether there's one and only one person that God has picked out over someone's entire lifetime, as I've already said in a comment above. Obviously marriage for life is the ideal, but people die, and Jesus explicitly allows for divorce in the case of unrepentant unfaithfulness. Paul explicitly allows for remarriage in some cases, and I believe they include ones like yours. My point is that God is sovereign over what happens to us, including who we marry, even when we make bad decisions and even if they involve sin on the part of one or both spouses.

In your case, I would say that as difficult as your situation is, God is sovereign over it and has you where he wants you. None of it was a surprise to God, and whatever happens from here on out isn't either. He will use it for good, including for your own good, and if you do remarry it will in fact be to the person included in God's plan for you to remarry. That's so whether it's morally good or not for you to marry her. I don't think your case is at odds with what I'm saying.

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