Monday, January 18, 2021

Anonymous Asks (128)

“Should God choose our mate?”

That’s an interesting question, and I think the answer may have a bit of both yes and no in it. Obvious comeback: If he did, how would you know? What would that look like? What evidence would you need to feel confident God had stepped into your personal circumstances and ordered your future living arrangements?

There are definitely Christians who think this is precisely what happens; perhaps not in every case, but at least in those where a man commits his way to the Lord in prayer, or a woman seeks God’s will for her in the matter of marriage. I will not argue with anyone who feels that way, but again, that’s all it is: a feeling.

Unless of course you can produce evidence ...

Very Superstitious ...

Christians can be as superstitious as pagans. By that I mean that that there is always a danger that we can see in our circumstances a narrative arc that does not accurately reflect reality. Jesus was once told a story about a group of Galileans who had died horribly. The Jews telling the tale were in danger of making assumptions about the character of the victims because of what had happened to them. They were taking circumstances, creating a neat little narrative out of them, and tying the story up in a bow with a moral at the end. Jesus twice responds to them with the rhetorical question, “Do you think ...?” Whatever the story was that they had constructed in their minds, it did not reflect reality, and Jesus brings them back down to earth.

Choosing a life partner is one of those things where it’s very easy to start telling ourselves stories. “How did you two get together?” There are many ways that question could be answered. Some Christians will give you just the facts and let you draw your own conclusions. Others will put an interpretive spin on events that is by no means a certainty.

Mystical Thinking

When I hear phrases like “The Lord led us”, I always come back to the question I asked in the first paragraph: “Did he? How would you know? Did the Lord do it, or was it really more something the two of you did?” Or let me put it another way: If your partner were to unexpectedly pack up and leave tomorrow, would that cause you to rewrite the story you are currently telling yourself about the Lord’s part in bringing you together?

I can’t speak authoritatively about anyone else’s situation, but I do know that where matters of the heart are concerned, we can deceive ourselves rather easily. There is a sense in which the choice of a life partner is very much a human one, and we ought to be sure to take responsibility for the decisions we make. We ought to be grateful to the Lord for the circumstances that bring people we love into our lives, but we are unwise to invest the stories we tell ourselves about those events with too much fairy dust and mystical thinking.

So then, should God choose our mate? One hopes so, but we have no way to measure his involvement in our choices on the basis of circumstances alone.

A Little Objectivity

That’s a long way round to get to where I want to go, and that is this: despite any confusion we may cause ourselves by trying to discern from circumstances alone whether God is drawing us toward another person, there are objective ways that we can bring the Lord into the process of choosing a life partner so that we are not merely acting on our own, or in a merely fleshly way.

The obvious one is prayer. But assuming we are asking the Lord for a partner, or asking him questions about a prospective mate, there are very practical things that we ought to do once we open our eyes, get off our knees, and get back to relating to one another. The Lord cannot be involved in helping us choose our mate if we are not listening to hear what he has to say. Again, I don’t mean anything mystical. I am not talking about hearing voices in the dark, but rather, about hearing the Lord speak when we read his word, so that we ask ourselves questions like this:
  • Is my prospective mate a believer? If not, then pursuing a more intimate partnership is not a good idea.
  • Is my prospective mate a person of good character? God-fearing, hard-working, able to provide for others?
  • Are we able to work together effectively, or are our common interests more natural than spiritual? There’s nothing wrong with physical attraction, but it’s not a solid foundation for a Christian marriage.
Hard Metrics and Harder Choices

If you mouse over these questions, you will see that they have been prompted by familiar verses of scripture. There are dozens more useful questions we might ask about any prospective spouse, but they all have this in common: they derive either from the explicit teachings of the New Testament or from principles gleaned from the stories in the Old Testament, which have also been given to teach us how to live. They give us real, hard metrics by which we can assess the morality and wisdom of our choices.

This may not be the only sense in which we can say God “chooses” a partner, but it is certainly the only one we can actually measure and quantify. And it requires that we hear the voice of God in his word rather than the beating of our own hearts, and then that we allow that voice to dictate what we do.

That may mean some hard choices along the way. But marriage is very serious institution, and the spouse we choose affects every aspect of our lives. If we are not willing to allow God to weigh in on our selection of a life partner, we may soon find it becomes much more difficult to hear and obey the subsequent promptings of the Holy Spirit in the everyday decisions of married life.

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