One of the most common irritants of the college student’s spiritual life seems to be the threat of marriage. Being twenty years old (and unmarried) myself, I don’t have any wisdom on the issue, but I think it may be useful to set down a few of the ideas that have helped me hold my head together in the past. These come from a conglomeration of spiritual mentors I’ve spoken to since I became a Christian. As always, if you have any concerns, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Heart of the Issue
About three months ago, I was talking to a dear friend of mine about how Christians start relationships. I had already told her my beliefs: God brings a woman or man into our path, God causes us to notice them (often through something spectacularly embarrassing, unfortunately), and God causes us to be attracted to them; in other words, God initiates our love for our significant other. But she shook her head vehemently. She pointed a finger straight up—this was an important point.
“My Mom told me this a long time ago. She said you don’t get to choose your friends, because you have to love everyone around you. But you do get to choose your boyfriends. That’s the one thing you do have.”
Later in that conversation, she told me she’d never been particularly attracted to me, and her track record seemed to match that; over the course of the previous four months, I’d asked her on several dates, and she’d refused every one. She’d finally agreed to oblige me for an evening and we’d talked for hours, wandering through the city, but on her doorstep I asked to see her again and she refused a final time. Later she told me the date was awkward and forced—there was so much she had wanted to say, but couldn’t.
Two months later, not only had we gone on several non-awkward, unforced, natural, fun, easy dates, but the Lord was drawing us together even aside from them. Daily, ministry opportunities were (literally) being canceled right from our schedules, and we used the time we had left over to figure out what was happening between us. But the Lord’s work continued, too; with a few good friends, we began a Bible study, and it became one of the most active focal points of all of our ministries. And somehow, mysteriously, she had gone from elusive and dimly estranged to fully and vibrantly present with me.
She mentioned to me later that she’d found herself farther towards my opinion on the issue of Christian love after we started a relationship together. She said that she had felt the Lord call her to notice me using the parable of the widow and the unrighteous judge in Luke 18:1-8 (personally, it doesn’t seem all that romantic to me, but I’m not complaining). Through ‘coincidence’ after ‘coincidence,’ she just couldn’t get away from that passage for a little while—it haunted her. After that call, she began to notice a few things about me that she hadn’t before, which led to her affection for me. From all this, and a few other things (these blogs need to be short), she had drawn the conclusion that God had given her the love that she had for me.
(Before we go on, I’d like to clarify my terms: I consider a call to marry and a call to date hugely different. There are times when people are called to date only for a time in order to learn lessons and whatnot, such as when I first became a believer and dated the girl who led me to the Lord. I was not called to marry her, but I do believe I was called to date her. Simply because the Lord gives a couple affection for each other does not imply a life-long relationship should be born, and the commitments that the couple makes to each other should respect that.)
So what’s really happening here? What does the Bible say about romantic relationships? Does God control what’s in our hearts, and does He pick out a specific partner for us to marry?
The Love Doctor
I’m not aware of any biblical passage which refers to God selecting spouses for Christians, nor do I know of any verse which discusses the American style of dating head-on, but those things were only distractions from the main point anyway. The focus of this issue is God’s sovereignty over the hearts of man.
Of course, this brings us back to theology. (If you’re interested in a further exploration of this topic, check out TGR 3: Some Theology and TGR 8: More Theology.) Does God select us, thereby injecting us unrepentant sinners with faith and love for Himself, or do we select Him, thereby enabling Him to inject us repentant sinners with the aforementioned qualities? Simply from the question, the former seems more biblical. We do not enable God. God enables us. A God we enable is also a God we invent. In addition, we were not repentant when Christ died for us; rather, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Therefore, if God is capable of injecting faith and godly love into us towards Himself, it seems logical that He is also capable of injecting godly love for others into us. In fact, it seems downright biblical, in light of verses such as “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:10) when what He commands is for us to love our brothers. There’s a chain acting here: we love God, God gives us love for people around us. Unfortunately, these articles are meant to be too short to truly do reformed theology justice in its argumentation, but I hope you see where I’m going with this.
Okay, so God can make us love others. God could also make us love our significant others, theoretically (again, there is no biblical reference that I’m aware of that matches this claim). So what does it mean if God is able to give us love for a woman or man of His selection?
Peace, Love and Joy
For the single folk, it means God has put our desire for a partner in us because that desire is valid, and it means that He’s ready to lead us to the fulfillment of that desire just as He will be faithful to bring to fruition all the other desires which the Spirit gives us. The desire for a girlfriend or boyfriend is neither wrong nor ignored by the Lord; although it may take a long time to complete, He honors that desire just like He honors our desire for His salvation when we become Christians—He gives us grace to recognize our need, and He opens His arms to provide for us.
Still, the wait may be long. Remember that God cares for us, and that when He brings you the one He chose, she or he will be enough for you to glorify God in His providence. The pause is there for good reasons, although we may not understand at the time.
For those in a relationship, it means that God has given us a beautiful gift, and it means that He’s opened the door for us to serve someone else with Christ’s servanthood in a way that no one else on the planet will be able to do. Embrace your role with joy, and seek His glory with the gift He gave to you. Above all, entrust your relationship to His care—unless the Lord builds the house and the love between you two, the house, and the love, will be built on sand, as Jesus warned against.
My King, please take my life and all that I have! I lay my relationship/my singleness at Your feet—please glorify Yourself through it. Take all my claims away from it, and make it only Your own. I pray that I would love others with love sent from You and not love from my own flesh, and that the love You send to me would be a powerful testament to those around me of Your presence and Your power. Please give me more love for You, that my passion for Your glory would result in my relationship/my singleness leading the way for many godly relationships to come. God, be lifted high through me, and may I serve others and You well. In Jesus’ name,