God Didn’t (and Won’t) Tell You to Marry Your Spouse
“It’s been miserable, Gary,” the woman confessed. “We’ve only been married for three years but it has been the worst three years of my life. My husband has just been awful. And what frustrates me so much is that God confirmed that I was supposed to marry him, ten times over.”
You could have served the bitterness in her voice to a thousand people.
In another conversation, another woman, married not just years, but decades, to a man who proved to be pathological, slipped in the same sigh and words, “But God told me to marry him.”
To these and many others who said, “God told me to marry him/her,” I want to cry out, “No, He didn’t.”
How can I say that?
My response is simple: How can you say the opposite? There is nothing in Scripture that suggests there is just one person we’re ‘supposed’ to marry. Proverbs 31 urges young men to be guided by a woman’s faith and character in making their choice—there is no mention of second guessing some divine destiny. In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul tells women (widows, in particular) to seriously consider singleness, but assures them the choice of whether to get married is up to them, and then specifically says women can marry “whomever they wish” as long as their potential husband is ‘in the Lord.’ (v. 39) If the Bible explicitly says, ‘it’s your call whether or not to get married’ (a sentiment Jesus echoes when he says some “choose” to become eunuchs—celibate—in Matthew 19:12, with emphasis on the word “choose”) and it’s entirely your choice as to who to marry, why should your subjective feelings and reasoning override living by the truth of Scripture?
You might wish God appointed a spouse just for you and will bring him or her along at “just the right time,” but what if that’s not how God works?
There is, quite frankly, nothing in Scripture that ever tells us it is our sworn duty to marry one particular person. Whether we marry, and who we marry, are spoken of in Scripture as part of God’s “permissive will,” something He allows us to choose.
Is it possible God has told a couple to get married? Look, I’m not going to put God in a box. I can’t say “He can do this but He can never do that” (and thus I’m admitting the title of this blogpost is a bit provocative to make a point). All I can say is that the clearest scriptural teaching makes marriage our choice—both as to whether we get married and to whom we marry. Presuming that some mystical leaning you’ve received overrides a clear biblical teaching is always risky and often foolish (regardless of how many times God seems to subjectively “confirm” this call; after all, God objectively said something very different in Scripture).
Why does this matter?
To move forward, we have to own up to our choices—why we made them and how to be responsible in the face of them. To a woman who was abused by her dad and then married an abusive husband, I’d say, with a pastoral heart, “You were deeply sinned against and hurt. The kind of man you felt ‘comfortable’ with, because of your upbringing, wasn’t good for you, so you chose a man who continued your father’s practices. Psychologically, that’s perfectly explainable, but let’s discuss how the grace of Christ can redeem your situation, help you evaluate what the right thing to do now is, and help you make better choices in the future.” I would never tell a woman who had been abused by her dad that God’s “perfect will” was for her to also marry a violent husband. There is nothing about the biblical doctrine of God’s providence that demands that application, unless you slip all the way over to determinism.
Far healthier, spiritually, than to sit in resentment against God, is to say to yourself, “I chose this man/woman. It might or might not help to explore why. But since I made the choice of my own free will, I bear certain responsibilities for the commitment I have made.” Then God becomes your ally, not your enemy, in helping you face the future. Instead of, “God, why did you lead me into this mess,” you’ll pray, “God, help lead me out of the mess I’ve made.”
That’s a huge difference, spiritually speaking.
On another level, the virtues of kindness, faithfulness and goodness demand that if I convinced someone to marry me, or agreed to marry someone, knowing it was a lifetime commitment, knowing it would be beyond complicated to dissolve the union, I need to step up to face the lifetime consequences. That means not just staying married but staying engaged in the marriage, working to make it the best for this person that I can.
If you’re a single person reading this, I implore you to avoid trying to “second guess” God’s will as to who you “should” marry and instead look for the character qualities in a spouse the Bible exalts. What I’m saying may not sound very romantic, but please realize that the consequences to living by a sentimental romanticism are real—and in the case of marriage, can be long-lasting. I just received an email last week, saying, “Sadly, I was one of those people who believed with all my heart that God has only one person for me to marry. I also believed that God would do the choosing. I believed it was God’s will for me to marry my husband. This has had disastrous consequences. Based on all the things you outlined in The Sacred Search, my husband and I should not have gotten married.”
Here’s what I’m going to insist on: Just because you think God wants you to marry one particular person, doesn’t mean He does. And just because God doesn’t “stop” you from marrying someone doesn’t mean He agrees with you that it’s a wise decision (he didn’t “stop” a lot of people from robbing banks who are even now serving time in prison). He will never forsake you. He will be with you every second of that marriage, giving you the grace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to live by your decision, but He has stated in His word that it is your decision, so it is risky to assume otherwise.
Rise up to your regal calling in Christ and own your decision. Of course, seek God’s blessing, but just as much, seek His wisdom in Scripture. While the Bible is silent on how you can definitively know who you’re “supposed” to marry, it does talk about the process of making wise decisions—applying biblical principles, seeking wise counsel, being deliberate and wise in your choice, considering the future, and basing your decision on the right priorities.
As the sad e-mailer suggests, I hit this hard in my book The Sacred Search and I’d suggest if this is still not clear to you, that you check out that resource.
Gary Thomas, GaryThomas.com
while I appreciate the biblical basis of the points you make as to how choosing a spouse is let of our submissive will, I think it is also important to consider the times in the Bible where God specifically led or asked two people to marry each other. The story of Isaac and Rebekah is one of those examples where the servant asked for a clear sign of who Isaac’s wife should be and the Lord made it clear. Also, when God asked Hosea to marry Gomer for His specific plan and will. These are also important to consider that there are situations God asks us to do something that scripture doesn’t necessarily spell out for our own personal lives but we are led by the Spirit to make specific decisions (I.e. going into ministry, becoming a missionary, etc.)
I deal with Isaac and Rebekah extensively in The Sacred Search–in this case, I believe Abraham’s servant was seeking a particular TYPE of woman, not one specific woman. With Hosea and Gomer, Hosea was asked to marry a prostitute but not, specifically, Gomer. Having said that, Joseph WAS specifically told to marry Mary, and I don’t want to EVER sound like I’m putting God in a box. But for the vast majority of us, we should follow the didactic (teaching) portions of Scripture that clearly leave the choice up to us. Narratives are powerful, but we can’t always make a direct application. No one suggests that because Jesus had Peter catch a fish to pay their taxes that we should do the same. Gideon’s fleece is clearly a concession, not something Christians should follow.
Wow, this was powerful and made me really take a long look at my marriage. I have many times, because of circumstances felt that my marriage was “meant to be”, but after 18 years of the same issues coming up, I really wonder if we should have ever gotten married. We have a beautiful daughter, but there are some really big differences that I sometimes have trouble getting past. Each day, I wake up and choose to love my husband because of the commitment that I made to him and to God. Luckily, he is a good, loyal man, we just come from two different cultures which clash often.
Here’s the thing. God absolutely gives us all the choice for every decision we make. Just because we CAN choose whoever we want does not mean that God does not have His perfect plan for your life. That means, every choice you make will either take you closer to God’s plan or further away. There is no way that I believe a God who is Sovereign (I’m not a calvanist either) would not have the ideal situation and possible spouse for you. If you marry someone who God would never choose for you can it work? YES! My parents are examples of that. God will not TELL you to marry someone. But maybe if you live your life walking closely with Him, then He will bring someone into your life and give you a peace about it because He knows that is the best person for you to live your life with, Someone who will help you grow and change for the better if both people continue walking with the Lord. He wants the very best for us. Choice, yes. “Hey, whoever the heck you want as long as he is a Christian?” No. Those are my views anyway. 🙂
Never would I suggest we marry “whoever the heck we want.” In The Sacred Search, I beg singles to consider faith and specific character and relational qualities. But I don’t disagree with you that, when we walk closely with the Lord, we can gain a sense of whether someone is a wise match.
I can remember the exact date, time and place where God told me who I would marry and I didn’t even want to at the time. His words and truth he spoke to me so divinely, it almost made me pass out, it was so intense. Going through marital problems is one of the worst feelings ever and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. This article is right that there’s nowhere in scripture that says specifically that God will tell us who we will marry, but scripture does say that God speaks through all of his creation. Whether it’s rocks or burning bushes or donkeys or birds, or fish or our own minds or anything on earth, it is all subjective to Gods word. Of course someone could mistakenly think God told them something that he didn’t, but that’s not for another human to judge. I am only saying this because I believe it was one of the rare times in my life that I would consider pure divine intervention that wasn’t even in line with my will, and I am giving witness and credit to God’s divine power and love. There’s no way I could ever deny that it happened no matter how rocky things got with our marriage. When God speaks, whether its from the bible or from outside the bible, we need to have our ears open.
Yes! I love this post. We Christians tend to over-spiritualize the marriage decision at times and get it mixed in with secular idea of a “soul mate” or “the one” as so many romantic comedies depict. I wrote an article that touches on this very subject a few years ago:
Also, loved this line: ” Narratives are powerful, but we can’t always make a direct application. ” So true!
I clicked on the link and read the article, Danielle. Loved it! If anyone wants to explore what I talk about here further, click on Danielle’s link.
My sister sent this to read. I am on the verge of getting divorced and I am not sure what to do. I have struggled with my walk with Christ for years now. Working to find my faith and myself again. There is someone there willing to take that journey with me. Unsure weather to continue the fight for my marriage or continue on this new path in life.
Frank, I have seen dozens of marriages brought back from the brink of divorce–and even marriages that found reconciliation, healing, and deep intimacy after divorce (and a subsequent remarriage). You may have to learn to depend on Christ like you never have before to see your marriage restored, but doing so will draw you closer to Him and ultimately, I believe, to your own happiness (though it may not feel like it now). I pray you’ll stay true to your marriage vows. Even if you DO decide to get divorced, every credible counselor would tell you it is foolish to immediately go into another romantic relationship. Someone willing to end a marriage in order to procure their own (speaking of the other person) doesn’t reveal the character necessary to ultimately build a truly satisfying, intimate marriage that will last. I don’t like to give advice where it’s not sought, but since your reply seems to be in the form of a question, I’ll risk it: Please end that other relationship and put all your energy into restoring your first love. Let God become a bigger part of your life, and trust Him to use this challenge to make you a new man with an eternal hope.
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