RELATIONSHIP QUESTIONS (#6 in a series)
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Is there a way to know someone is “the one”? How do you avoid choosing the wrong person?
At the risk of alienating or disillusioning a whole bunch of people, let me just say it: I don’t believe in the idea that God has one “right” person for you to marry. I don’t think it’s a biblically defensible idea. Moreover, that way of thinking can lead to its own kind of problems.
Many Christians believe in the religious equivalent of the secular soul mate idea: God has already picked out our perfect mate, and it’s up to us to find him or her. The idea owes more to Plato than to the Bible, and can lead to needless anxiety.
Do you believe in a God of love and grace? Then ask yourself: how does that fit with the implied threat that if you marry the wrong person, if you make a less than perfect decision, you’re doomed at worse to suffer, or at best, to “miss out on God’s perfect plan”? I fear that too many believers treat God as if he were the host of some cosmic version of Let’s Make a Deal — the big prize is behind only one of these doors, so choose the right one or you’re a loser.
There are other complications. Some believers seem to behave as if the only thing that mattered was finding the right person. And when they think they’ve succeeded, on the basis of whatever criteria, the think their work is done — God’s will has been fulfilled, hallelujah and amen! In the moral exhortations of Scripture, however, I find nothing about finding the right person, and everything about being the right person, about being a person who lives by grace and humility, wanting to be made more and more in the image of Jesus. Trust me, your work isn’t finished yet.
A further complication comes when the unwittingly Christianized version of the soul mate idea gets combined with the ideology that God, first and foremost, wants us to be happy on our own terms. We think we’ve found “the one” and marry, hoping to live happily ever after. And then we start running into problems. “I thought this was the one,” we lament. “How could I have made such a mistake? What do I do? Surely, God doesn’t want me to be unhappy. And my soul mate is still out there somewhere. Maybe it would be better for me (with the appropriate amount of soul-searching guilt) to leave this relationship so I can find my true match.”
For all these reasons and more, I find the idea of “the one” to be potentially dangerous and theologically unsound. Don’t get me wrong: if two people in a loving and committed marriage want to talk about how grateful they are to God that they married their soul mate, I’m OK with that. But don’t miss the difference in meaning. It’s one thing to become “soul mates” in the context of an ongoing covenant relationship; it’s another to look for someone who is already your soul mate before you’ve even met.
To be blunt, there are many reasons why we choose to marry a particular person. Some reasons are wise, and some are…well, some just aren’t. And there are many reasons why one marriage may be more difficult than another, including matters of personality and circumstance. If you’re hoping to find the one right person who will make the whole relationship smooth sailing, forget it.
Choices matter, so be as wise as you can. For example, if you have reason to believe that a person has a serious moral deficit, don’t tell yourself, “But this could be the one, and if so, it’ll all be OK after we’re married.” Just don’t expect any guarantees, no matter how wise you think you’ve been. Remember, God’s will isn’t about finding your soul mate. It’s about becoming more like Jesus yourself, whatever choices you make.