When comforting someone who is single, it’s not uncommon for people to say something like, “Oh, I’m sure God has someone picked out just for you.” It’s well-intentioned, and I guess there’s a sense in which it might be true, but if the article title didn’t give it away for you, I think this idea is utter hogwash.
In the way I often hear this idea articulated, it sounds a whole lot like a Christianized version of the concept of soulmates, that someone out there is “the one.” “The one” whom you are destined to fall in love with and be with happily ever after forever. Now, if this idea were merely incorrect, that would be one thing, but I think this idea can actually be pretty destructive for a lot of reasons. Most importantly, it gives us a distorted view of what’s going on when we commit to a relationship and when we marry someone. At its best, it sets us up for some serious disappointment, and at its absolute worst it can even be used as a justification for unnecessary divorce or abandonment.
God’s “Plan” for Your Life
Part of this gets into a much larger issue. I see it especially among young Christians, especially evangelicals, as they talk about God’s plan for their life. They’ve been told that God has a definite plan for their life and so they very earnestly try to divine that plan somehow. I’m not really sure how they figure this out with any definiteness, but somehow they do. Of course it’s usually focused on big stuff like what college they go to, what career they go in to, whom they marry, etc.
In the more extreme forms of this people will even claim to know definitively that God wants them to be with a particular person or to go to a particular school. Unfortunately, I’ve known of men who would use this sort of thing to manipulate women into being with them or even to give them a seemingly pious excuse to end a relationship.
Now, while it’s true that there are some people in the scriptures for whom God did in fact have a definite plan for their lives, this does not at all mean that the same is true for all people. Yes, God had a plan for Moses, for Sampson, for Jonah, for Paul and for others. But in all of those instances God directly spoke to these people and he let them know what his will for them was. When God speaks this isn’t the quiet stirrings of your heart or the ideas that just pop into your head. When God wants to tell people something, he makes it known and clear. For example, there was no uncertainty or trying to divine God’s will for Paul when he was blinded and knocked to the ground by the very real appearance of Jesus. As much as Paul and others tried to run away from it, God came and found them and put them on the path he had given them. Basically, if God has a plan for someone’s life, then it’s going to happen. There’s no messing it up. There’s no running away from it, at least not for long.
But even for these people like Paul, they still got to make decisions about how the plan worked itself out. For example, Paul was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles, but Paul got to make decisions about where he visited, who he took with him, what he wrote in his letters, etc. That doesn’t mean that God was not guiding Paul or that God wasn’t using Paul’s decisions. He was. But Paul was also an active participant in this “plan.”
Even more so for us. Sure God has a plan for us in a more general sense, e.g. living according to his word. However, this does not mean that God has picked out a college for you to go to or a career for you to go into or a person for you to marry.
And while I might be able to say that God knows whom I will marry (assuming I do marry someone), this is not the same thing as saying that God has someone picked out for me. Saying that God has someone picked out for me implies that God has actively chosen someone for me, played matchmaker for me. Saying that God knows whom I will marry merely affirms that he knows all of the choices that I will end up making as well as the results of those choices. It’s a way of affirming that God does in fact know all things. Now, if it’s true that God has picked someone out for me, then it’s my job to go and figure out who that person is. But this is some incredible pressure to have on yourself. How do you know that someone is actually the one God has picked out for you? And what about when you inevitably have doubts about the person whom you previously thought that God had picked out for you?
This is the part where someone says, “You just know!” And I guess it would make sense to say that if you believe that God goes through the trouble of picking a particular person for you, then he is also going to go through the trouble of making sure that you find that person and that you “just know.” Perhaps.
But what about the people in bad marriages? There are a whole lot of good, believing Christian people who end up in toxic marriages. They did everything the way they were supposed to and it still didn’t work out they way they were told it would if they just followed all the right steps. Did they make the wrong choice? Did they not really listen to God? How could they have known? Did they screw up the relationship with the one person that God had picked out for them?
When Things Go South
Honestly, my biggest concern in all of this is that if people have this mentality, then when things get rough, as they inevitably will, they are likely to find themselves in despair because they’ll end up thinking they have chosen the wrong person. Because if this was really the person God wanted them to be with, then it shouldn’t be so hard, right? It shouldn’t be like this. At its absolute worst, this mentality can even open up the door to justifying needless divorce, because after all shouldn’t you be with the person God has picked out for you? If God picked them out for you, then how can you deny that call, even if it’s not your spouse, but your coworker or someone else you’ve met since you married your spouse?
You Get to Choose. So Choose Wisely.
Of course, nowhere in the scripture does it say that God plays matchmaker for us. Yes he cares for us and provides for us, but that care is more in the realm of Lord’s Prayer sorts of things. He gives us our daily bread. He forgives our sin. He delivers us from evil and temptation. He promises to keep us safe from the schemes of the devil and ultimately raise us up on the last day.
So, what then do we do? Proceed through life knowing that you have the freedom to decide these sorts of things. You get to decide where you go to school, what career you go into, and whom you marry. Of course, you need to do that with a whole lot of godly wisdom and just plain common sense. But you get to make the choice, which means it’s you and your spouse’s responsibility to make your relationship work. No amount of following the rules is going to spare you from the hard work required to make a marriage work.
When you marry someone, you are not saying that you have found “the one.” Rather, you are saying yes to this person and saying no to all others. You could have had a successful relationship with lots of people, and given different life circumstances you might have married one of them, but when you marry your spouse you are committing yourself to this person. Now, I know for some (usually women), the idea that you could potentially marry numerous people, and there’s no such thing as “the one” might be incredibly unromantic. However, I think it’s incredibly freeing, since the success of your relationship is no longer dependent on them being the magic one person right for you. It’s dependent on two people actually and fully being committed to making it work and loving each other with the love of Jesus no matter what happens. In a sense you could call this person “the one,” if you like. They’re the one that you are choosing to join yourself to. This one and no one else.
And for my money, that’s more romantic than any Christianized version of soulmates.
 Unfortunately there is such a thing as needed divorce. I want to make it abundantly clear that people who have been abused or abandoned in some form or another are in an entirely different situation than what I’m talking about here.