I’m often asked to give advice to Christian singles. It’s pretty tough for me since I don’t really have experience as a Christian single. I’ve been a married Christian for the last 35 years of my life! Be that as it may, I will attempt to give guidance to those of you who are dating and single. There is one area that I see as being particularly problematic for single people. It is rampant in the secular world and has infiltrated our Christian culture. This is the idea of “soul mates”.
I know this won’t make me very popular with a lot of people, particularly many of the ladies, but the idea of the perfect “soul mate”—that God made one special person just for you—is the stuff of sweetsy, twenty-five-cent romance novels, and has no footing in Christian thought.
“When you grow up,” the wind whispered in the young girl’s ear, “you’ll meet your soul mate—the one with whom you can share your life and experience ecstatic, joyful love. You will find yourselves entwined as one in conjugal bliss.”
“How will I know who it is?” the little girl questioned. “How will I find the right one?”
“Oh, don’t worry,” said the wind reassuringly. “Destiny dictates the meeting of our soul mates. You will meet the one who is right and you will live happily ever after. ”The idea that there is just one special person for me—my soul mate—comes from an alleged altercation between the human race and the Greek god Zeus. According to Greek mythology, we humans originally had four arms, four legs, and a single head made of two faces. Because Zeus feared that the authority of the gods might be compromised by this race of beings, he decided to split each person in half, condemning us to spend the rest of our lives wandering unrequited until we find the half we were separated from—our lost soul mate. It was thought that our undying pursuit of perfect love is the result of Zeus’s scheme to keep us busy—far away from meddling in the domain of the gods.
According to this account, a person’s soul mate is the one-and-only other half of one’s soul—we would always be less happy with any other person. Today millions base their hope of marital bliss entirely on the Zeus account.
If this is true, then when a relationship fails, it isn’t that we have done wrong or failed to do what is right, it is that we have not found Mr. or Ms.Right. Hence, when relational failure comes, the best we mere mortals can do is cut our losses and return to our quest for the one who, once found, will cause us to live happily ever after.
But come on. Doesn’t the idea that we were once two-faced, four-armed, and four-legged beings that got split by a paranoid Greek god come across as just a little crazy? And aren’t thoughts founded in a mythical story really just myth? Yet this idea has been successfully universalized; most people today hold to this view, even the non-Zeus followers.
Mixing Myth and Faith
The view that there is a predestined one-and-only out there for each of us has permeated even the Christian view of courtship and marriage. We have spiritualized it. We teach, “God has made one special person just for you.”
If that is not the epitome of self-centered, narcissistic thinking, I do not know what is. God did not create another human being just to satisfy your needs or to make you feel complete.
Yet many believers pray for God to lead them to the “right one.” Instead of negotiating through the decision making process of selecting a mate in a down-to-earth, biblical approach.
Those of us in Evangelical circles have even taken this to a whole new level by encouraging parents to start praying for that “one special person” that God has chosen for our child while he or she is still young. Rather than praying for our children to embrace righteousness, justice, wisdom, sacrifice, goodness, et cetera—all things that would make them wonderful mates to whomever they chose to commit their lives to—we are praying for that “special one” god has already chosen for our child. Zeus be praised, I guess.
Surprising to many, there is absolutely no biblical evidence to substantiate such behavior. The Bible never tells us to find the one God has chosen. It teaches us how to live well with the person we have chosen. And there is a distance of infinitude between those two thoughts. The first assumes that life, love, romance, and marriage are the result of a couple living by God’s principles—that never fail. But this version, which places true love and marriage on the footing of human choice and responsibility, just isn’t nearly as romantic or seductive.
Many people of faith bristle when I take this position and ask me, “But what about when Isaac prayed that God would bring the right woman to him at the well?”
First of all, Isaac never prayed such a prayer; it was Abraham’s servant who did. Abraham shad sent his servant back to his homeland to find a relative for his son, Isaac, to marry. True, the servant did pray at the well that God would help him find the right girl, but he wasn’t looking for some divine soul mate, he was looking for a relative of Abraham. In fact, when you read the story in Genesis, the servant does not begin to praise God until he learns that the girl is in fact, one of Abraham’s relatives.
Now, if you are comfortable with one of your dad’s employees searching for a cousin for you to marry, I guess it would be appropriate for you to pray that God will lead him to the “right one.” But beyond that, the Bible is clear that marriage is your decision—not the result of divine edict. In point of fact, I can find only two places in the Bible where God ever told someone to marry a particular person.
One is when God spoke to Joseph to take Mary as his wife. Joseph wanted to abandon her when he learned she was pregnant, knowing he wasn’t the father. But God revealed to him that her pregnancy was by the Holy Spirit—obviously, an unusual situation. But even in this case, Joseph had previously chosen Mary.
The only other time God told someone to marry a particular person is when God told the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute. (And I will concede that if you are considering marriage to a prostitute, you probably should have a divine revelation before doing so.) But even then, God did not tell him which prostitute to marry. It was still up to Hosea!
Though it is not supported in Scripture, there is something about the soul mate blather that is a siren song to the human soul. We want to believe it –it is so…romantic. And with this longing deeply embedded in our psyche, we inadvertently impress these thoughts onto the Bible as we read it. Sad to say, but the sacred Scriptures, which have brought unspeakable comfort and a blessing to countless mortals, have also been used over and over to justify numerous untenable positions.
I’m suggesting that the problem is that we don’t understand the dynamics of true love. We think we do. Our songs, movies, romantic novels, and TV shows all echo the belief that true love will always appear when we meet the right person, our destined soul mate. And this love will hit us hard out of the blue—an idea charged with mystery and romance. So the search for romantic love continues to occupy the minds of people, even those who are married! The result. High divorce rates and a plummeting marital happiness index.
The truth is a successful marriage is not the result of marrying the “right” person, feeling the “right” emotions, thinking the “right” thoughts, or even praying the “right” prayers. It’s about doing the “right” things—period.
Why doesn’t God have a special person just for you? Because He knows that His principles of love, acceptance, patience, and forgiveness work, and they work all the time, every time—no matter to whom you are married. That is why the apostle Paul never told us to find that “special someone,” but rather to make sure we find someone who truly believes and lives by the principles of love, acceptance, patience, and forgiveness. He referred to such a person as a “believer.”
Even though I don’t think there is such a thing as a soul mate, I’m not saying the dating process shouldn’t involve a hunt to find a special someone—someone compatible with you, someone with whom you have made a connection. If you are single, I think you should expect that, even strive to find a person with whom you can share feelings of deep affinity, friendship, sexual attraction, and compatibility. That being said, I think finding someone to journey with in marriage is the slenderest part of life-long relational journey. A great marriage is mostly about two people committing to each other and then employing principles such as love, acceptance, patience, forgiveness, sacrifice, and unselfishness, to enrich that committed relationship. Marriage is more about work than about divine luck, more about finding someone to love than about finding someone to meet your own laundry list of personal needs.