Church: Don’t set up your “singles”

Here’s the problem with teh interwebz. For every great article/blog post/comment you read, there are a million not-great ones that you have to sift through to get there.

Sometimes you don’t even have to go looking for them. More often than not it appears in your Facebook feed. That’s what happened a few days ago. This article was shared by a fb friend, as despite knowing their good intentions in sharing it, this article is so wrong it’s not even funny.

Before I tell you why, let me be up front and say as soon as I saw the title of this article (Church: set up your singles) I knew I was going to hate it for 2 reasons – 1) a ‘single’ is an individually wrapped piece of cheese. I am a person. The whole Christian world should STOP. CALLING. ME. A. SINGLE. 2) The article wasn’t called “Church: encourage all people to follow Jesus, regardless of their marital status”.

There’s too many things wrong with the theology of this article to possibly mention all of them, but let me tell the 3 most discouraging and dangerous errors.

1. Is singleness good?

A friend asked me recently, “If God said it is not good for man to be alone, but all he does is good, is my singleness actually good?” Sometimes the best answer to difficult questions is to just say, “I don’t know but he is good,” and so I did.

If someone asks you if their singleness is good the correct answer is yes! I know this because God has told us it is good.

1 Corinthians 7:7 says

I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

The 2 gifts Paul is talking about are marriage and singleness. (see the comments on this post for more detail on the Greek of this verse). Singleness is a gift. The Greek word used is charisma (literally ‘grace gift’) and is the same word used in chapter 12 about spiritual gifts. Singleness is a good gift from a good God. Of course, sometimes it feels like the kind of gift you get and give a fake smile in response, while inwardly thinking ‘what do I want this for? Can I exchange it for what she has, please?”

That’s exactly the reason I need to be reminded it’s good. When I’m finding it hard, and sad, and bitter I need my Christian family to remind me that God is good and he wants good things for me, and that even when I hate it, yes, my singleness is good.

(For those who are single, this what I want you to know about your gift.)

2. Is marriage a glimpse of the eternal marriage?

Help your unmarried brothers and sisters taste a glimpse of the eternal marriage by helping them get married.

Yes, it is. But in the same way singleness is itself a glimpse into eternity.

Andrew Cameron says it best

Jesus’ new teaching arises from the new future. It turns out that human marriages are not reinstated in the new future, because they point to the ultimate ‘marriage’ – a final union between Christ and his people (Eph 5:29-32; Rev 19:6-8; 21:2, 9-11; cf 22:17). But we need a little more theological detective work to determine how chaste singleness points to the new future.

In the new future, John looks and sees ‘a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the lamb’ (Rev 7:9). The significance of normal social identity markers (nation, tribe, people and language) has melted away. The markers remain visible – but people now gather on a new basis other than ties of culture genes or kinship. These structure social life now, but not then. As theologian Oliver O’Donovan puts it ‘Humanity in the presence of God will know a community in which the fidelity of love which marriage makes possibly will be extended beyond the limits of marriage.’

Single people offer a glimpse of this kind of society. They’re harbingers of an aspect of heavenly community, because they’re not constrained by family boundaries of genetics and kinship. They know how care and intimacy can go beyond family boundaries. They nudge members of families out of the introverted obsession with family life that becomes its dark side. They remind families that God calls everyone into the ‘great multitude’, and they call couples and families to attend to the wider community, and t0 point to heaven. (Joined-up Life, 234-235)

If I was to rewrite this sentence in the article it would say ‘Help your unmarried brothers and sisters taste a glimpse of the eternal marriage by sharing your life with them. Likewise, you too can taste a glimpse of eternal community by sharing in their life.’

3. What’s missing from a single person’s life?

It is not good for a man to be alone and he who finds a wife finds goodness, but it takes the beauty of a family to see the goodness far below the surface and in the crevices of these clay jars. Church, be that family, be the mothers and father, the sisters and brothers. Guide them, protect them, show them what is true and good and honorable in marriage, and then, please, help them get there.

It is true, it’s not good for anyone to be alone but as Christians we must recognise that our loneliness is only fully met in Jesus. Earthly marriage is but a shadow of this, and it’s a shadow that, no matter how good, will never completely satisfy our need. Jesus is the one who does that. The answer to the lonely single person is not simple ‘get married’ (though of course they may) but to enjoy Jesus and his people.

This paragraph should say “It is not good for anyone to be lonely. Church, to those who are lonely, be their family. Be their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. Guide them, protect them, show them what is true and good and honourable in following Jesus and run the race beside them.”

(Here’s more stuff I’ve written about singleness)

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Identity & Sexuality: Part 1

Issues of human sexuality and how it relates to our identity are more and more becoming crucial and much talked about issues in our culture. It’s hard, if not impossible, for Christians to shy away from these discussions. And while they are complex issues, shying away from them is one of the worst things we can do. We need to be prepared to engage at some level.

It makes sense that if we what to start to answer the question of who we are we should look at where we started. The beginning of humanity – the 6th day of creation.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” [Genesis 1:26]

Humanity stands out here as the only thing to have been created in the image of its creator. We bear the image of a trinitarian God, who is eternally in relationship with himself. So to be human is to be relational.

It’s this that differentiates us from the animals that we are to rule over. But that’s not all that is different between Adam and Eve and the animals. Here’s what we’re told about the animals

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so.  God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. [Genesis 1:24-25]

The animals are produced and arranged according to kind. And there are many kinds. Humans are their own kind – there’s a reason we call it called humankind. But what we do see, which we don’t for the animals, is gender. Part of being made in God’s image is being made male and female. We are different, and yet of one kind and together image bearers of God.

In the last few weeks, as part of some sermon prep. I’ve been reading some writing of several Queer Theorists who would like to convince us that gender is fluid. It’s not set in stone and it can be changed easily because it’s not based on our physiology but on some transitory feeling within us. But Genesis shows us a very different picture than the one they are trying to sell us. Gender is there in the very first description of humanity. Before we’ve heard a word from either of them, we’re told they are created male and female. Their gender isn’t fluid because their male and femaleness isn’t based on how they feel. They are male and female simply because God made them that way.

You’ll also note that they are described as male and female rather than man and woman. This is because the Hebrew words for male and female are intended to express sexuality. To be human is to be a sexual person. So gender has played a role in the first introduction to both humanity and sexuality.  The sexual bond of the man and the woman are part of God’s good creation and integral in his purpose for them to fill and subdue the earth.

Genesis doesn’t leave room for the confusion of gender or sexuality. Being male and female is fundamental to both our identity and our sexuality. And it’s part of the creation that God declared was very good.

The Struggle for Love

I found this gem of a sermon from Tim Keller on happiness from Genesis 29:15 – 35. This stood out to me –

Through all of life, in every event, and through every aspect of your life there always will be a ground note running of cosmic disappointment and you’re not going to lead a wise life until you know that. See Jacob goes to bed with the one, I finally got the one, the one thing, the one person who is going to make my life okay. But what we are told literally in the Hebrew says ‘but in the morning behold, it was Leah.” Now I love Leah and I’m protective of her and I love what we’re about to learn about her but let me tell you this, Leah represents something. Every time you get started into a relationship, every time you move into a marriage, every time you get a job, every time you get into a new project, into some new pursuit and you think this finally is going to make my life right, I want you to know, in the morning it’s always Leah. You go to bed with Rachel, in the morning it will always, always be Leah. And nobody put it better than C.S. Lewis who said “Most people if they really learned how to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something this world can never give them.” There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you but they never keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love or first think of some foreign country or first take up some subject that excites us, these are longings which no marriage, no travel, or no earning will ever satisfy. I’m not speaking of what would ordinarily be called unsuccessful marriages or trips or so on, I’m speaking of the very best possible ones. There is always something we have grasped at in that first moment of longing that just fades away in the reality. The spouse may be a good spouse, the scenery has been excellent, it’s turned out to be a good job, but IT, the thing that we thought was going to be in the centre of it, always evades us in the morning. It’s always Leah.

Get it (free!) here.