Recently, I was asked to preach part of a sermon series on love and relationships. As I prepared, I thought of the romantic cultural ideal of finding and marrying one’s “soul mate.” The idea was particularly popular back in the 90s. For example, as Thomas Moore wrote in his 1994 bestseller Soul Mates, what we seem to want “is someone to whom we feel profoundly connected, as though the communicating and communing that take place between us were not the product of intentional efforts, but rather a divine grace. This kind of relationship is so important to the soul that many have said there is nothing more precious in life” (p. xvii).
I wondered how popular the language might still be, twenty years later. The day before I was to preach, I was in a long meeting. During a break, I started rummaging around in a Styrofoam cooler for a bottle of water, and there it was: the Coke can above, encouraging consumers to share a Coke with their soul mate. Apparently, therefore, the idea is still quite alive, albeit with a little help from Madison Avenue.
And small jolts of caffeine.
I’ve written on soul mates before, so I won’t belabor the same points here. But my general concern is this. It’s far too easy to import cultural ideals and expectations of love, romance, and marriage into congregational life, without necessarily even realizing that we are doing so. And there are consequences.
Consider the place of people who are unmarried. Sometimes, they’re left with the feeling of being defective; after all, shouldn’t all nice Christians be married? Isn’t that God’s plan? Not that anyone would necessarily declare that out loud. But it only takes a few instances of people helpfully saying that they’re praying for you to “find someone” before you get the idea that you’re supposed to get with the program, and that the real problem may be that you just don’t have enough faith.
Or take the unrealistic expectations that can be created by Moore’s quote above. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be “profoundly connected” with someone. But it is also profoundly misleading to suggest that true connection means effortless communication. Why work at a relationship, one might be tempted to think, when there’s someone waiting for me out there with whom that kind of effort isn’t necessary?
Think about it: if God’s love for us were of that variety, we’d all be toast.
If you happen to find someone you think of as your soul mate, I’m happy for you, really — just as long as that profound connection gives you reason to stay committed even if (when!) the going gets rough.
Bottom line: I see no biblical reason to expect that love is about finding one’s soul mate. But there is every biblical reason to think of love as the way we demonstrate the belief that God has loved us first, through all our sin and rebellion and brokenness; that God loves our fractured world and wants to restore it to wholeness; and that God has called us to persevere in showing his loving character.
The Coke is optional.