Is there only one? Or knowing the will of God in marriage

Originally published 18 July 2011
See details of the free ebook version of this post here

OK, this is a post that I have been thinking about for quite a while.  I have found myself getting into discussions with people about it, and I think it tends to come up a lot when I’m discussing marriage, especially with people who  also attend Black [Brown-skinned] Pentecostal churches.

The question is:  “Is there only one person that God has planned for you to marry?”
Once again, I believe my viewpoint is quite radical.  The unspoken assumption I tend to pick up from things people say, as well as things left unsaid, is that many people, at least in the Black African Pentecostal churches I have attended, believe that there IS one particular person that God has planned for you to marry, and if you miss this person, then your marriage is set on a faulty foundation from the outset.

I disagree strongly with this mindset, and I will set out my reasons in this blog post.
Now, before I start, let me make it clear that this is one area in which I concede that I could be wrong, even as I disagree with the majority  view.  Some issues in the Bible like Tithing (how did you guess?!)  are frankly “black and white”, because they involve a simple examination of the Bible to see what it says.  In fact, the question of Tithing as a Biblical Commandment (that is, it is NOT a biblical commandment) is as clear cut and as irrefutable as the issue of wives submitting to their husbands, and I have found few people who ever want to disagree with that one.
Some other issues, like knowing God’s will in marriage are not so clear cut, because they do not involve passages in the Bible where principles are explicitly laid out.  In the first case, where issues are clear cut, it is “an Appeal to Reading”- that is, if you read the Bible, then you will see what it says.  In the second case, where principles are not explicitly laid out, it becomes “an Appeal to Reason” where you consider the weight of an argument, or layers of arguments piled one on top of the other, to convince you either one way, or the other. Where I put forward a viewpoint, it is because I think the weight of the argument overwhelmingly falls on one side.  However, I concede that I could be wrong, because after all, God is greater than human reasoning; His power exceeds what I could think of as being rational or logical.  Moreover, someone could come along and demonstrate that “No, actually, the weight of the argument actually falls on the opposing side…”

So with those thoughts in place, these are the reasons why I disagree that God only has one person in mind for you that you should marry.

To be honest, the real reason why I disagree with this is because I find the thought too complicated.  In fact, I should make it clear that I do not believe that “God’s will” means that  He  has one specific plan for your life, and that missing it will limit the effectiveness of your life.  What I believe is that God’s will is for us to walk in holiness and righteousness and a restored relationship with Him through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that within that there is great freedom for us to make personal choices; that we have a genuine “Free Will” as to life decisions. When some Christians refer to “Free Will”, they seem to mean that we have the will to decide whether or not we will obey God’s specific plan.  That is, that God tells us what to do, and we choose whether to obey or to disobey. I believe that we have a genuine free will, where we can legitimately choose between a number of options, and they will all glorify God.

Now, there are definitely times that God will give specific instructions to us, and have very specific plans for how we are to behave in certain situations. Within that, I am sure that there have been times, and there will continue to be times when God will tell specific people to marry specific individuals. What I disagree with is the idea that the Bible teaches that this is definitely the way God always works.  I do believe that in any one situation that you find yourself in, when you get to a marriageable age, and you are still single, and you want to get married, there will be a best person (or a selection of excellent people), that you could marry; or maybe God would lead you to hold off from getting committed to any of the individuals available. And yet, this is different from saying that there is one person that God has specifically planned for you to marry from eternity.
This is why I find the thought complicated: At any one point that you get to in life, you will already have made so many choices, and taken so many turns. If God’s will for us is a specific plan of action with every part of our lives mapped out, then would it not be true that most of us would have gone astray right from the time we could make our own decisions? And since then, disobedience could have been piled on disobedience – leading at any one time to a course in life that would be very different from the one that God planned. So then, does that mean then that no matter what I do, I have definitively missed The Will of God for My Life – and what is left of my life cannot be redeemed – or can never be said to be in the will of God?
That does not sound right to me. So now, if we were to consider it in terms of marriage – if God’s will for me was to do X then Y then Z, then maybe He planned that my husband should be waiting at point Y. If however, I have gone off to do my own thing, and completely bypassed Y altogether, and the husband patiently waiting there, does that then mean that once again, I have totally missed the will of God for my marriage; that any marriage I could enter into is already doomed because it does not correspond to that perfect will of God; that I have already catastrophically failed in my marriage, dating back to many years before I even started noticing boys – all because I took the wrong choices in life that led me against God’s will?
This is why I reject the idea of God’s perfect will being a specific plan: because I think that for most of us we’ve already gone our own way so far, and it seems so graceless to suggest that we could never be redeemed. This is why I reject the idea of God’s specific will in marriage being one person: because the nagging worry is that I would already have missed this one person, from decisions I have taken a while ago. Now, it is not as if these decisions were sinful or in any way unholy. However, sometimes they were my decisions. For instance, I decided quite spontaneously to move up to Edinburgh from London a few years ago. I can’t honestly say that I “prayed and fasted”; I thought about it one day and I was up in Edinburgh less than a week later. So what, if it was not actually “God’s will” for me to leave London for Edinburgh, is it then the case that any potential marriage I enter into with any potential husband I find in Edinburgh is necessarily doomed to failure because God’s will for my life was actually that I should remain in London.
I just cannot accept these thoughts.  It makes more sense to me to say that God in His power can work in any situation that we find ourselves in, to restore us to His will; no matter how far we have gone, or what disobedience we have cultivated against Him.  This is why it just makes better sense to me to suggest that God’s will is actually a way of being, rather than a specific plan.  I believe that God’s will meets us where we are, regardless of any choices we may have already made in the past.
Now this is where I could be wrong – because God is all-powerful.  If it was the case that He had a specific plan – ABCDE for anyone’s life, then He knows how bring it about to restore us to this plan, even where we have disobeyed Him.  I think that the surest way we have of walking in His specific will, if He does indeed have one for our lives, is by praying to Him to ask Him what His will and plan could be, but also by doing the right things, for the right reasons – walking in Biblical integrity and pursuit of Him and His word.
Now, looking back to marriage: I believe that at any one point of your life (ie, no matter what decisions you have made to get you to that point); there most likely will be a best choice of what to do and how to do it; in marriage as surely as in any other aspect of life.  This is why we still need to pray and seek God desperately.  It is not that I am rejecting the will of God, it is rather that I am rejecting it in that common interpretation.  So then, if I had stayed in London, there would be a best choice – or a group of excellent choices – of husband for me; and so too here, in Edinburgh, there might be a best choice – or maybe one or two equally good choices.  I’m definitely not saying that people should not pray to discern the will of God concerning their spouse, as in either of these situations I would still need to know which of the available choices would be best for me.

Other thoughts about this: (perhaps these should form another blog post!):

There does not seem to be any clear Biblical teaching that God works in this way regarding marriage. Now I raised this point at a recent church teaching session on marriage. The teacher in response gave the example of Isaac and Rebekah – how the prayers before their marriage led to them having a relatively smooth marriage, compared with Abraham and Jacob either side of Isaac; where for both Abraham and Jacob they married more than one woman, and where there is no record that Abraham or Jacob prayed before getting married.  I would say “Yes, but the point for me is more that there was prayer, rather than that God was saying that this (Rebekah) was the one specific person that God had unnegotiably designed for Isaac before time began.”  Even within that, it was not like their marriage was perfect, as Rebekah was barren for twenty years.

Off the top of my head, that is the only instance in the Bible where prayer forms a part of the marital choice -except where God told Hosea to marry a prostitute – and even then He did not specify any particular prostitute “Go take yourself a wife of harlotry” – Hosea 1v2.  Yes, God instructed Joseph the future husband of Mary the mother of Jesus to marry Mary, but this was after the marital choice had already been made; God was reassuring Joseph that he should still marry Mary after Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant.
Paul in talking about widows remarrying does not refer to “the will of God”.  Rather, he says that “if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord”. I Corinthians 7v39.  In fact, I do not think that Paul or any other Scripture writer, refers to “the will of God in marriage” the same way we do in church, at all.  I think this is one of those situations in which Christians have added to the Bible – although it can never be wrong to pray to God to ask His will and His advice.  One big reason why I personally do this is because I do not know people’s hearts.  Someone may appear all golden and shining on the outside, but only God can see their true nature.  This is why I will always pray for God to have His way, even when someone appears simply perfect to me.

Ephesians 2:10
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV)

A special mention has to be made of this passage, as I was discussing with someone on the opposing side of the argument, and then he sent me this verse to prove that God has specific deeds that He has planned for us.  This is the way I look at it.  God has planned specific things, but we still have our will to choose which ones we will perform – and whichever ones we perform, they will all function to His glory.  For instance, one of my favourite analogies:  God has already designed roses and dahlias and foxgloves and delphiniums – these are specific plants that He has lovingly created.  However, if we were to design/plant flower gardens, we could happily choose which of the thousands of available flowers that we want to cultivate – and we can be confident that many choices would still lead to a beautiful garden.

He has created the good works; we choose which ones to cultivate – it is still to His glory.  Now, it may be that a certain flower would thrive best in one kind of soil rather than another, or needs certain kind of rainfall – so it is with some decisions that we make – this is why we still need to pray.  I believe that as with a garden, so it is with a marriage that when you’ve got a good match of people that would work well together, the hardest work is to maintain the garden of your marriage, lovingly tend it, carefully weed it – that more than anything will probably contribute to having a beautiful garden, rather than the specific choice of flower.
Saying the same thing?
OK, having written this very long blog post, I will here concede that I might actually be saying what others are saying, just putting it in a different way.  Maybe most people would also say that the will of God for your marriage is about where you find yourself, not about where you would have been if you had made the correct decisions your whole life.  I think my issue is more to do with the concept of the will of God for your life, which I intellectually find hard to accept.  However, when I’m sure I’m right about something, I say it again and again, and equally here, where I could be wrong, I will repeat it over and over –  I think I’m right; this way of thinking makes sense to me, but I could definitely be wrong!  😉
Added 20th March 2019:
Now that I have written all that, a further thought has occurred to me: The reason I struggle with this is because it seems to be a computational nightmare, trying to think of all the relevant permutations of the options that someone could have chosen in their life and the possibility that just a single wrong choice would throw everything out… If I were to use a computer programming analogy it would be like this:  it is the difference between a non-dynamic website, where every last thing has been coded, and for it to work you as a user have to enter exactly the right input, and a dynamic website, which is coded with flexibility for whichever input you as a user put in, it is still dynamic and it will work, whatever you input, as long as you put in the right kind of input.

More than that, however, God is BIG, and His computational power is immense (infinite, actually), so if He wanted to work with that rigid application of His will, then He certainly can!  But you know what, it is probably not static, so for some people He might direct them according to a specific plan, where every major decision is mapped out, and with other people He might direct them with more freedom to make their own decisions, or it might swing back and forth even within the lifetime of a single individual, so that at some periods of your life He specifies exactly what you must do, and at other periods of your life He gives you freedom to make wise choices within holy constraints. Ultimately the meaning of “God’s will” is this:  God is God, and He can do whatever He likes, however He wants, even when we cannot remotely understand it with our human understanding.  That is one of the perks of being All-Powerful!!!

Man, I love the way God brags about His Godliness in the Bible, as if to say:  “Do you not know that I am God?!!!”  After all, this is not just anyone we are talking about, this is God!
Isaiah 55v9:  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are My ways higher than your ways, and My  thoughts than your thoughts…”  declares the LORD.

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