Recently, I’ve become aware of past controversial comments made by Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on Christian singleness.
In previous years, Dr. Mohler has directed heavy criticism at kingdom singles. He has labeled as sinful the practice of delaying marriage by those who lack the “gift of celibacy”.
Singleness is not a sin, but deliberate singleness on the part of those who know they have not been given the gift of celibacy is, at best, a neglect of a Christian responsibility. The problem may be simple sloth, personal immaturity, a fear of commitment, or an unbalanced priority given to work and profession. On the part of men, it may also take the shape of a refusal to grow up and take the lead in courtship. There are countless Christian women who are prayerfully waiting for Christian men to grow up and take the lead. What are these guys waiting for? (Link)
Hailing from a Baptist paradigm that appreciates marriage’s Biblical shine (and having actually read the qualifiers in Mohler’s comments), I get what he was aiming for.
Nevertheless, if you ask me (and I know you didn’t), he’s left a lot out. Mohler’s comments are only a sliver of the much bigger message that Christian singles really need to be hearing. And that message is difficult, because not every single is created equal. God in his sovereignty is painting with a great many shades.
We singles are…complicated. A diverse bunch. Far more than is commonly recognized. We land somewhere on a spectrum best described so: I want someone, yet at the same time, I’m not sure I do. But I totally do! Yet…am I sure?
Some are tired of being judged entirely by, and being asked only about, their marital status. They feel unseen for themselves. That matters to millennials.
Others feel they lack the tools or a conducive personality (e.g. introverts) to move towards marriage.
And still others have tried to find a mate, spent countless nights bedside in tears praying for someone, and…nothing. They’ve put real effort into finding someone – and been resisted so serendipitously and relentlessly that they can only conclude God is the one keeping them single. Relationships buckle. Peace evaporates. Parties are called to move away. Or…nobody notices.
One friend, a passionate youth pastor who has served God far harder than some marrieds, lives in a formidably atheist country where kingdom singles are slightly more plentiful than unicorns (to say nothing of quality). Others live in rural areas, where they start wondering whether God has left them to the rules of probability.
This is the reality for singles at the street level. Needless to say, it might be a disservice to fall short of honoring these stories. Lack of pursuit is hardly the sole generator of singleness.
I and many of my single friends fall into this “unexpectedly unmarried” category in various ways, and trust me, we’ve been as annoyed as Mohler. Singleness at this age isn’t what we’d have chosen. Despite popular theories on the parameters of the “gift of celibacy”, the Companionship, Sex, and Family Lobe of our brains has not simply been divinely deactivated. You can take my word on that. Whether we “can accept this teaching” is not the question. We have been denied, and we don’t have sin as an alternative. That is our reality.
The desire-ectomy does happen with some. It happened with the apostle Paul. I have an aunt with that testimony (which includes the reignition of desires once the time for marriage came). But assuming a lack of desire is universal for Christian singles betrays a stark, eyebrow-raising lack of familiarity with our world.
Which means that blanket words of condemnation for being unmarried at thirty are the wrong kind of salt: rubbed in a wound.
Marriage-as-normative theology doesn’t have easy explanations for these scenarios. But it’s not hard to work out some Biblical reasons for them.
For one thing, God doesn’t guarantee easy or quick roads to even the destinations he explicitly sets. Even our sanctification, of all things, is a process.
For another, God doesn’t work identically with everyone. Many preachers have found it instructive that Jesus never healed the same way twice. “Never try to make your experience a principle for others,” Oswald Chambers wrote, “but allow God to be as creative and original with others as He is with you.”
For another, while there’s heartsickness in a hope deferred, there is also value. In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus warns a man about the cost of following him while telling two others to follow regardless of cost. You’d think Jesus would be the last to say anything that could discourage someone from following. His point: there’s a cost, and that cost lies in different places for different people.
Could it be that each of us has different faults and idolatries that need healed? Could it be that God sanctifies some through marriage, some through delays, and a few through permanent singleness?
Frankly, I’m glad God me wait. Younger Brandon didn’t enjoy it, but he would have enjoyed a young marriage far less. He wasn’t a monster. He just didn’t have the stability for the jostling matrimony brings. Am I ready now? Eh. I’ll let God decide this time. Meanwhile, I’m just grateful I have more of him.
Similarly, many of my friends, though disappointed, have had enough respect for God to seek him in the present, not just an escape. I find this choice worthy of credit, not a rebellion against God’s design. “Waiting is transformative,” one friend said simply. Such revelations can change a life, if we let them.
Later in this series, I hope to adequately address more shades – those who struggle to move towards marriage and the reasons why.
For now, given that we know reality fits the Bible, and that the parameters of the “gift of celibacy” are not Scripturally black-and-white, we’d probably be better served adjusting our theology. There is no explicit Biblical statement that one had better either marry by 29 or be able to produce a “celibacy card” with God’s rubber stamp on the back. Instead we should remember that God has his timetable, that sometimes he (gasp!) denies hearts’ desires, and that his ways are higher than ours.
May we make room for that. For him.
I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!