This is Part 3 of a series of reflections on singleness, sparked by public comments that “intentional singleness without the “gift of celibacy” is “at best, a neglect of a Christian responsibility”.
Such strong comments naturally strike hard. Matters of the heart are delicate. There are enough subclasses of singles, enough sensitivity around the issue, that I find such opinions – in this case, from Dr. Albert Mohler – falling short of the mark even with the right caveats.
For one, many wise, obedient street-level singles would say that their efforts to marry have been divinely thwarted (Part 1 of this series), a God-operation Scripture accommodates but Mohler does not. “You don’t have to tell me that marriage matters,” they’d sigh. “God’s told me no.”
For another, the “gift of celibacy” isn’t easily delineated. Some people have it who don’t yet think they do; some happily married people once swore up and down that they’re 21st-century Pauls. And some singles confuse the gift with irritation over being herded into a congregational marriage machine (Part 2 of this series) instead of being loved for who they are.
But my first thought upon reading Dr. Mohler’s comments? “If you want to know why marriage is fading, sir, you could look within your own circle.”
Now…I do not want to make this another Joshua Harris bashing session.
Please, Jesus, spare me from that. Poor man.
But…while the reasons for singleness’ increase are many – the “me first” or “boy culture” Mohler refers to, the rareification of good prospects – the muckraking of dating in some Christian spheres also bears examination. Many single Christians would love to marry. They simply feel the tools have been taken away from them. And it’s got them frustrated.
I know too many such singles to dismiss this as a factor. There’s enormous hesitation around even everyday interactions, and I’m not talking about the Graham Rule. I have single female friends who get theologically nervous about even walking up and talking to a guy they’ve noticed. I get leaving pursuit to men. I love that. But when they don’t even feel permitted to invite him to church or Bible study, of all things, I grow concerned. It’s possible to for our system to be so legalistic that it no longer serves either God or man. Especially if they’re actually mainly concerned about what people will say.
“How can you learn anything without practicing?” a friend asked one day at Panda Express. He was chasing the first gal God led him to pursue(!) and it was daunting – the flowers, the listening, the art of it all. And this was a righteous, mature guy. It’s a chronic problem today that humbly yet confidently (and righteously) pursuing a woman’s heart is lost knowledge. We want to pursue. Many women want to be pursued. But there’s a vague sense that it’s just…wrong somehow. So we abstain.
The result? We are…single. And wondering…single because that’s God’s perfect will for his 21s-century church (an idea for which I’ve never seen any Biblical support), or single in the same way that submitting no resumes tends to leave you jobless?
The confusion strikes right at the practical. Harris told the story of how his father was instructed by God not to pursue his mother when they met. God knew she was fed up with immature Christian guys and that traditional wooing wouldn’t work. God worked it all out. Somehow. Though the “somehow” was never really explained.
You can imagine how this unique story imprinted upon skittish young hearts and theologies in all the wrong ways.
To be fair, the common anti-dating sentiment in its present form is not necessarily what Harris intended. Messages get distorted. They jump gender and maturity lines. And Harris, to my admiration, has been starkly honest recently in refining his own teachings.
But we’re still left with two decades of echoing opinion that labels pursuit in all forms – from solo coffeeshop chats to dating websites – as “training for divorce”.
In the interim, dating has been replaced with…well, nothing. Sit back, serve somewhere, and hope to get noticed (that’s not why we serve, by the way). In other words, something awfully close to passivity is held up as 1) true surrender, 2) more romantic, and 3) a guarantee that God will preserve your marriage. Because spending time alone at a restaurant with someone just looks too much like the world.
The last thing Christian males need these days is more passivity.
I imagine Mohler would agree. I imagine we’d all agree.
Now, Christianity may not have died out on earth because fewer Christians are dating; indeed, for some people, total inaction has worked just fine (and some Christians just shrug and date anyway). But any leeway given to passivity among us young men is something I’ll never feel good about.
By the way, I’m not saying any of this to give myself permission to date. I don’t like to. Some of us are introverts. And dating is exhausting. The time and money, the repeating of the same information, the minefields of rules and expectations and toxic dates..eh. Maybe there’s a reason we all embraced Harris’ ideas with such relief.
I also acknowledge that this “wait on God” teaching is largely directed at believers who are too eager to marry – dating rabidly, making poor partner choices – in hopes of giving them holier alternatives. I totally sympathize. I also still think it’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater (and y’all know how I feel about that). Or Nyquil, as a better metaphor – going after the symptoms and not the virus. Hearts are what need healing there, not removing social tools that work fine for adults.
In the end, there’s no explicit Scriptural guidance for either side of the debate. There are principles for not doing anything stupidly or selfishly. There are examples of God directly matchmaking. Or giving individual dispensations to avoid certain things, which are absolutely proper if confirmed through prayer and church support (I have friends in that group, too).
But a blanket command is just not there. Which puts the matter squarely in Romans 14 territory – those who date shouldn’t judge those who don’t (or parents who don’t permit it), nor should those who don’t judge those who do.
I believe God does lead some people to date people they won’t marry. That’s my testimony and that of several friends. I believe a properly constructed Christian’s life can include divinely-appointed relationships before marriage. Mine includes two so far. My friends are now happily hitched (or about to be). Our experiences were bummers, but not nasty or depressing. We survived. We learned. And, by God’s grace, we moved on.
I’m just some bozo let loose on a keyboard, but if you ask me, Christians should feel free to date. It should be done prudently, prayerfully, with good discernment of the other’s character and the readiness to move on if needed, and probably not every month. But it shouldn’t be condemned. Assuming responsibility for God’s purposes in our lives is not tantamount to “taking things out of God’s hands”. It’s just…life.
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!