I guess it’s not that surprising that lots of Christian singles get caught up in the idea of “the one” that they’re “supposed to” marry. We have a lot of God-ordained-ness in our larger history. God chose Abraham through whom to bless the rest of the world. God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God chose the Israelites. And, if you swing this way theologically, God also chooses who’s going to believe in Him and be saved, and maybe also who isn’t.
Many of us consult God about vocations, relocations, churches we choose to attend, and I believe this is commendable and even commanded. (I’m less convinced we always know for certain what the answer is, or that people who swear up and down that God told them to do something are really always right about that, but that may be another post for another time.) How much more, therefore, should we try to ascertain God’s will about the person we are going to commit to spending the rest of our lives with? I absolutely think we should–talking to God about it should always be part of the process.
On a practical level, however, I think there are a few ways that this can sometimes break down. (By which I mean contribute to the inherent awkwardness that is Christian dating.) First of all, I’m not prepared to definitively state this, but I wonder if there really is (at least all the time) one right person for everybody. Or . . . everybody who God wants to get married, that is. (Oh yes, we’ll be posting about that, too.) It is pretty well acknowledged, at least in the circles I do or have run in, that if, say, you’re asking God for direction about a job change, and there are two equally good, God-honouring options, He probably doesn’t intend for you to beat your head against a tree and play guessing games with Him about Which One is the Right One. He probably just wants you to make a decision, and He’ll work with you and through you in whichever one you choose. I just kind of wonder if sometimes it’s like that with the whole pairing-off scene. Maybe–maybe–there is more than one person with whom you could be compatible and with whom you could effectively minister for the rest of your life, and circumstances and your own choice, more than God’s direct intervention, might have more to do with who you end up with, or if you end up with anybody. I myself have been praying through this entire “experiment” I’m on, and I sure hope God is actively part of the process, but I have seen people paralysed in the process and the reason seems to be that they’re waiting for some sort of beam of heavenly light and chorus of angels, and though I’d never say God can’t, wouldn’t, or even doesn’t work that way, I don’t think that’s His usual modus operandi.
The other way that this gets weird is for those of us who are internet-dating but are still not totally convinced that this is a “godly” way to meet a spouse. I used to be in this camp. There are two reasons I can see for this: 1) We buy everything else online these days, and there is definitely a “shopping” feel to dating websites. This makes it seems like we’re objectifying each other and feels rather carnal, especially for people who are ostensibly looking for a godly life-mate, etc., etc. 2) It feels too self-directed, and we want to marry “the person God has for us.” What if we’re being disobedient . . . and . . . we meet somebody on-line . . . who isn’t who God “has for us” (have you ever noticed that Christian grammar is kind of bizarre?) . . . and . . . we marry them . . . and . . . God allows it because He’s punishing us for being such self-sufficient pinheads . . . and . . . the marriage goes horribly wrong . . . and . . . we’re either miserable ever after because we’d better not disobey Him again by getting a divorce, or we disobey Him again by getting a divorce? (I’m not saying every Christian out there thinks like this, but I do in my less lucid moments, and I don’t think something like this thought process is really that unusual for some of us out there. At least the ones who still have very active imaginations.) Based on conversations I’ve had with other people, I’m not the only one who has wondered if joining a dating site is the faithless equivalent to Sarah’s giving her slave girl Hagar to Abraham so he could have the descendents God promised him.
I don’t really think it’s the same thing though. (It might be if you knew–somehow–that God told you you were going to marry a specific person and things didn’t seem to be going in that direction so you decided you had heard God wrong and joined a dating website to meet someone else . . . but I’m still not convinced you could really know that.) I think it’s more like Abraham sending out his servant to look for a wife for his son Isaac.
Every Christian single wants a story like Isaac and Rebekah’s. Maybe some Jewish ones do, too–the Matchmaker certainly mentions the pair often enough. One guy on one website screen-named himself waterformycamels. It’s everywhere. This story is clearly a case of God ordaining two specific people to be together (in spite of the fact that there were some serious breaches of trust and communication later on). It’s great: God makes a clear choice, the couple are actually into each other, and they stay married for life. It’s Biblical and romantic. What’s not to love?
Here’s the part that I think sometimes gets missed, however: yes, God directed, and yes, it’s romantic, but Abraham didn’t just kick back and say to his forty-year-old son, “Oh–what? You want to get married? Well, you can’t marry any of these Amorites around here because they’re pagans, but don’t worry–God will bring a nice, Him-fearing girl into your life. Just wait for it.” Maybe he could have, since Isaac was already a miracle and God had made it pretty clear that He was going to build His chosen group of people up through Isaac’s descendents–if anybody could have anticipated some kind of teleportation of “the one” into someone else’s life, even before anyone had thought of teleportation, it would’ve been Abraham and therefore Isaac. But Abraham (maybe wanting to forestall the scenario which would actually have been like the Hagar thing–deciding it might be okay for Isaac to marry a girl who was outside of the still fairly newly-forged Covenant with God) got practical. He saddled up some camels and made his servant swear a legally binding promise that he would go find Isaac a wife from God-fearers, or nobody.
The servant set out and, as Abraham was also probably doing, prayed. He prayed for direction and he prayed specifically. I don’t really think his prayer that a girl offer to water his camels was so much asking for a random sign as trying to discern someone’s character really quickly. I mean, it was a sign, but it was a sign of something practical and relevant–when Rebekah went above and beyond what the servant had even prayed she would do, it showed she was courteous, hospitable, respectful and generous . . . in about two seconds. In a way, the servant was “shopping.” In a way, he had to. (Luckily for him, he didn’t have to go through the whole catalogue, unlike some of us.)
I guess what I’m saying is, when it comes to Christian marriage, there’s a whole lot wrapped up in it, and because of this we should absolutely be on our knees asking for God’s will and direction about it. Maybe there are those of us whom He will specifically tell to only stand and wait. However, I think the rest of us should be a little more pragmatic, because marriage in itself, while encompassing many other things, is not un-pragmatic. I want to get married. Maybe it is not God’s will for me to get married (like I said, more on that another day), but so far I cannot tell that I have been commanded not to. If I live in the land of the Amorites and I don’t have a servant to go find me a husband (most of us do, and most of us don’t), then it seems to me dating websites fit the bill of matchmaking-servant about as well as anything these days. The biggest difference is that I have to pray the prayers and ask the questions and do the discerning myself. Who is this person? What is his character? What are his gifts? What is his calling? What do we have in common? What do we not? Could we be called in the same direction? Could we be called to each other?
Maybe. Maybe not. But I don’t think it’s disobedient to use a dating website to try to get the dialogue going. It just might be how God wants to show me (or “him”–whoever that is) His choice. It’d be nice to have a camel rubrick by which to assess different suitors (although . . . they might catch on). In the meantime, something like strawberries tied up with a ribbon aren’t totally irrelevant.