Over the next two posts, I’m going where married women fear to tread: addressing single women. But my vast hope here is that these will be words of grace for you. I’m really liking some of the talking back that’s going on in the church and outside it about singleness, but in these two posts I want to address two common ideas about singleness. They’re questions the girls who write to me often bring up because of things other people have said to them, perhaps a friend, pastor or other Christian leader.
The first question is: Am I single because God is trying to teach me something?
The second question is: Is it OK for Christians to be discontent with being single?
I’ll take the first question in this post and the second in the next one. Both of them relate to the idea of God’s sovereignty, and, I will argue, misunderstand it.
So, the question, ‘Am I single because God is trying to teach me something?’ The crass version of this idea means that once you’ve learned that lesson, the prize at the end is marriage. The more subtle version just sees singleness as God’s way of making you more holy. Either way, it suggests that singleness is the antidote to a character flaw.
Now, if you believe in a sovereign God, anything that happens in the world is part of God’s plan for his glory and our good. That can lead you to look for what the ‘my good’ is in each situation, how God is undertaking your sanctification in it. This is why it’s worth asking, ‘What can I learn here?’ in just about any situation.
However, when it comes to singleness, this approach can overlook the fallenness of the world. Behind the idea that singleness is a way that God sanctifies us is a strong sense of individual sin, and our need for sanctification. I don’t want to argue with that. Daily I pray, ‘God I trust that your Spirit is transforming me’. However, not every difficult situation in our world is a result of individual sin.
Some things are hard because the world is not as it should be. There is sin ‘in me’ and then there is sin ‘in the world’. It’s not just individuals who are broken but our world as well. That’s why the Bible speaks of the groaning of creation: we live in a fallen world and that affects all of us. If you want to be married and aren’t, it may be a problem with the world rather than with you: mismatches, lost opportunities, ratios of men to women, for example.
It’s possible that God is trying to correct some sin in you by making you single; however, remember that when Jesus was asked about a misfortune, he refused to pin it down that specifically. Theologically it is equally possible that your singleness has nothing to do with your individual sin, and everything to do with the messiness and brokenness of our world. That doesn’t stop God using it to teach you something, just like he uses any situation, but it should set you free from the notion that you are single because there is something wrong with you that needs to be fixed. Actually, it might be something that’s wrong with the world, rather than you.
That’s not to say that all singleness is a result of the fall. Singleness can be a good thing and many who have been unhappily single have grown to appreciate it. But it’s to say that your singleness might be a result of living in a fallen world. Some sin is within us, so we need to be sanctified; some sin is ‘out there’ but affects us, and for that we need comfort.
In answer to the question, ‘Is my singleness a lesson from God?’, I think the theological evidence suggests that you learn whatever you can from the situation, but that you don’t read your singleness as in response to some character flaw on your part without considering that sometimes things in our fallen world just don’t work out. My hope is that this brings you comfort: you are OK, or at least, no more flawed than those of us who are married! Not everything that happens in the world happens because it’s God’s attempt to teach someone something. In the next post, we’ll see how Jesus experienced this truth and what he’s doing about it.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.