“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:23-24).
This is the glorious picture of marriage God painted for men and women at the very beginning of the Bible. The image suggests that a person is not whole unless he is married. Is this what the Lord was trying to convey when he established the marriage union?
God’s View of Marriage
The picture created by Scripture helps Christians to understand what marriage is and, by implication and omission, is not. Marriage involves two people, is heterosexual, and the Lord wants it to last.
His desire, pre-Fall, was that the man and woman would be equal partners, deeply connected, able to fully trust one another with their whole selves. They would be united in each other, submitting to the Lord ultimately.
But marriage is not the ultimate earthly relationship. God told his people through Christ that friendship is even better. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus lived a celibate life. He offered the best example of unity with others by showing that this unity starts with loving submission to the Lord.
The outworking of genuine love for God would involve becoming more like Christ and, thus, loving others as ourselves. Marriage was designed to emulate this selfless unification between best friends who would worship the Lord together.
God’s View of Completeness
If one could only be completed by marriage, single men and women would all feel incomplete and invalidated by their status. Yet, many men and women live a single life until the day they die. Many of them are widowed or divorced and can still enjoy fulfilling lives with God without remarrying.
Furthermore, numerous spouses feel incomplete within their marriages because their partners are not their friends. The other spouse is not selfless or loving but is, in fact, negligent or abusive.
Completeness comes from our status in Christ. Colossians 2:10 says, “In Christ you have been brought to fullness.” 1 Corinthians 6:17 tells us, “Whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.”
Why Do Singles Feel Incomplete?
A writer at Relevant Magazine put it this way: “We’ve been [...] separated from God by our sin and need to be reconciled to God through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Once we are reconciled to God, He brings us together as humans. Marriage is a glorious reality, but it is secondary to our spiritual identity as children of God and something that won’t even exist in heaven.”
Jesus was asked by the Pharisees whom the serial monogamist would be married to in heaven, and he said, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Luke 20:34-35).
Completeness via marriage is a cultural concept. “Society,” wrote Elyakim Kislev Ph.D., “believes that if you are not part of such a unit, you are probably incomplete, antisocial, and perhaps even dangerous. In turn, singles are made to feel less worthy.”
Reasoning for this stance on marriage is flawed, though speckled with truth. One will often find that marriage brings with it a better understanding of the needs of others; an expectation that one will learn how to see situations from an external perspective. But this result is not certain; nor are all singles shallow and self-involved by default.
Incompleteness is not a cultural issue but a sin issue. When we feel as though some part of us is unfinished, as though there is a hole in us, which cannot be filled without a marital partner, the real hole is the one which only Jesus can fill.
Divorce and death certainly tear people apart and leave lasting scars, but they do not kill someone who is secure in Christ. Fullness comes from the Savior, and no one else can save us but Jesus.
A Different Wholeness
The gospels placed little emphasis on the subject of marriage. Instead, a model of true friendship and community was established by Jesus with his disciples, including the women who followed him.
In Acts, the early church developed from the Lord’s call that we should be unified in faith and act as a body of believers, not as cowboys. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
A person’s perceived identity before believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior is in the past and is not indicative of how he or she is seen by the Lord, nor how this individual is called to live life from here forward.
Becoming a Christian means becoming part of a larger “whole.” This unit is completed by Christ; “he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
Jesus promised that our relationship with him would even divide marriages, yet Christians rejected by their spouses for following Christ would still be whole. “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:8). From Paul’s perspective, marriage was a distraction from the Christian purpose: glorify, obey, and serve the Lord Jesus.
Beware the Trap
For those who grieve their unmarried state, trite words about Paul’s or even Christ’s singleness offer little comfort. They sound hollow coming from those who are happily married or from anyone who enjoys their single status.
But there are biblical principles, which should influence the heart of every single person who is obsessed with the idea that marriage would complete them.
1. You are whole. Christ said that fullness comes from him. Not believing this suggests that one believes there is something or someone better equipped to fill us than Christ.
2. Desire for something good can become an addiction. It can become an obsession. When pursuit or longing takes precedence over our longing for the Lord, this is a sin. Furthermore, it will eat away at a person’s sense of direction and lead to anxiety.
3. A too-strong desire for completeness in marriage can lead to making a rash decision and marrying unwisely. God speaks — are we hearing him? If emotions get in the way, he cannot reason with us. “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9).
4. If one is facing the end of a marriage, this severing can feel so visceral that one will believe he or she is a worthless, gory wreck; or like a used piece of electronics with the insides taken out: invalidated, difficult to look at, defective.
A Christian’s identity, however, is not in his or her marriage but as a child of God made in his image. This did not change upon one’s marriage and is not lost when one is abandoned or widowed.
God’s View of Marital Wholeness
Paul teaches about marital roles by first saying “be imitators of God.” Jesus was tender to those women he met (according to what the gospel-writers shared) whose marital activities were indicative of loneliness, feeling incomplete, and unwanted.
Jesus exemplified the behavior and actions of the ideal husband. He gently and lovingly confronted sins. He gave his life for the church. While husbands must also submit to loving rebuke from their wives as their friends, Jesus is the perfect groom.
He completes us now by his Spirit, but we also look forward to a completeness we can see and feel equally with all of our brothers and sisters, where the only marriage is one all believers will take part in because we will be Christ’s bride, made whole for eternity.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.