The Myth of the Divine Matchmaker
Many Christians hold to the idea of soulmates. The notion of soulmates reflects the idea that there is one person out there personally created for us by God. Those who believe there is only one person out there for us to marry often advance a particular method for finding this "one" as well: diligently seeking the Lord through prayer, and being sensitive to His voice as communicated through personal feelings or signs. As romantic and spiritual as this may sound, upon further examination it's found to be unreasonable, unbiblical, and impractical. I will expound on each area of critique, followed by a brief exposition of the Biblical teaching in regards to making decisions such as marriage.
When it comes to marriage there is no such a thing as "the one." Soulmates do not exist as such. That this is so becomes immediately apparent when we consider the idea in practice. If God has destined one particular mate for every person throughout time what would happen if just one person wasn't "listening to God's voice" and chose the wrong mate? It would have a domino effect that would prohibit anyone in future generations from being able to marry their soulmate. Let me illustrate.
David's soulmate is Mary. David, however, marries Jane because He failed to hear the voice of God telling Him to wait until Mary comes along. What does Mary do, then? She has to marry someone other than her soulmate. She marries Glenn. But Glenn was soulmate to Brenda. Now that Brenda's soulmate has married someone else, she is forced to marry Roger. Roger's soulmate, Linda, is forced to marry someone else's soulmate. The circle widens ad infinitum until in encompasses every living person within several generations.1
If even one individual in the not-so-distant past missed the will of God by marrying someone other than their soulmate they would have started a domino effect that will consign all others to marry the wrong person as well. Over a period of several generations this domino effect will eventually prohibit anyone from marrying their soulmate because they will have been taken by someone else in the past due to the acts of their ancestors.2
This logical quandary should lead us to abandon the idea of "the one" altogether. If the lack of rationality supporting this idea is not enough, however, let us examine the Biblical data to see if we find something different there.
What is the Biblical evidence for the notion of soulmates? Frankly, there is none. Unlike most fictitious views concerning God's design and will for mankind, the idea of soulmates is not even so much as based off of a misreading of Scripture. In the absence of a Biblical basis it becomes difficult to offer a Biblical critique. The only way to do so is to examine what the Bible does say concerning the topic, and then show how this is inconsistent with the belief being passed off as Christian. Because I will do this later, here I will simply challenge those holding to the soulmate idea to provide a single passage of Scripture that either implicitly or explicitly teaches this idea.
I am confident that no such verse will be provided because no such verse exists. Sure, we find an example or two in which God plays matchmaker at human request, but there is no indication that the individuals would have been out of the will of God had they married someone else, nor is there any indication that this is the divine pattern for finding a marriage partner.3 The fact of the matter is that Scripture describes many different ways in which people obtained a spouse, but never proscribes any of them as the divine method of mate selection.4 Jacob, for example, worked 14 years to obtain his wife Rachel (Genesis 29:15-30). The children of Benjamin had a unique method of obtaining wives: they hid in bushes while foreign women danced, then at just the right moment ran out and kidnapped them, taking them for wives (Judges 21:19-25). How about we try David's method: cut 200 foreskins off of your future father-in-law's enemies and get his daughter for a wife (1 Samuel 18:27).
I don't hear anyone using these passages as the Biblical model for finding a marriage partner!! To choose one instance of how one individual came to find their spouse and uphold it as the Biblical norm to the exclusion of all other methods is arbitrary, and an example of poor Biblical interpretation. There is simply no Biblical authority to hold up one example over the other as the preferred method, yet alone the norm.
I have known or heard of many sincere individuals who have experienced heartache due to this myth of divine matchmaking. Some of these individuals have passed up many possible mates because they just did not feel that he/she was the one, or because God failed to give them the signs they were expecting to receive when they had stumbled upon their soulmate. Years later they find themselves alone and full of bitterness over the hand that "God" has dealt them. "How could it be?" they ask? "I thought God promised me a soulmate?"
Others married their spouse because they just knew that they knew that they knew that they were Mr(s) Right. The way they felt when in the presence of this person was so different than the feeling with all the others that came before that it must be God's will. Then there are those who had all the "confirmations" that they were supposed to marry so and so. They prayed that God would let the phone ring three times before their newfound love picked up, and this would be a confirmation that they were to be married and it did. They prayed that if it was God's will for them to marry that they would turn the radio to such and such a station and there would be a song about marriage and there was. They were driving down the road wondering if they should marry this person when lo and behold they see a car just up ahead with a sign on the back: Just Married. This must be God!! So they marry.
Years later, however, when Mr(s) Right fails to exhibit the same characteristics he/she did in the beginning of the relationship, or when he/she has had an affair or leaves the faith, or when he/she files for divorce they are left wondering what happened to their match made in heaven. Did God lead them astray? Were they not spiritual enough to discern the signs God was giving them? Confusion and misery consume them as their ideal relationship vanishes before their eyes. Can the notion of soulmates hurt people? Yes, it can, and it does.
The Biblical Teaching
Rather than trying to touch on everything the Bible has to say about marriage I will focus exclusively on I Corinthians 7, the most extensive passage dealing with the issue of marriage and mate-selection.
As unspiritual as this may sound Paul never suggested that we should pray about who God wants us to marry,5 nor that God is in the soulmate matchmaking business. Ironically, the question Paul asked was not "Who should you marry?," but "Should you marry at all?" If I could sum up Paul's argument in common vernacular he said, "Here's the deal. "If you are single you can better serve the Lord, but you will have to live with the sexual frustration that accompanies the celibate life. If you are married you will be sexually fulfilled, but your spouse will be a distraction from serving the Lord. Oh yeah, if you choose to marry you cannot divorce. It's until death do you part. There's the pros and cons, now make your choice." He even gave his own opinion on the matter. His wise advice was based on spiritual expediency (vss. 20-21, 28, 29-31, 32, 40, exemplified and summarized in vs. 35).
Paul never appealed to prayer, nor did he tell the Corinthians to let the Lord make their decision for them. He never hinted at the notion of soulmates, nor did he teach that God will confirm for us who we are supposed to marry. Why? It's because the concepts of soulmates and divine confirmations are mere inventions of Western romanticism mixed with spiritual aspirations, not Biblical teaching.
The following is a list of the Biblical principles set forth by Paul concerning our choice to marry, and by implication our choice concerning who to marry:
1. Do what is good and profitable (1, 8, 26)
2. Do what is better (9, 38)
3. Do that which leads to peace (15)
4. Do what helps you best keep God's commandments (19)
5. Do what causes the least trouble (28)
6. Do what makes the best use of time (29)
7. Do what makes you most free of external concerns (33)
8. Do what is beneficial (35)
9. Do that which is fitting (35)
10. Do that which leads to undistracted devotion to Christ (35)
11. Do what is necessary (36)
12. Do what promotes personal happiness (40)-291
Pay particular notice to the following verses:
1 Corinthians 7:25-"concerning virgins we have received no command of the Lord"
1 Corinthians 7:28-"if you marry you have not sinned"
1 Corinthians 7:36 "let him do what he wishes"
1 Corinthians 7:39 "she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes"
These verses make it clear that the choice to marry, and the choice of who to marry are personal choices, not something God has predetermined. We are not obliged to marry at all, yet alone marry a particular individual. As Paul declared, we can marry whom we wish, so long as they are in the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:39). That is his only qualifier. So not only do we fail to find the idea of soulmates in this passage, but the perceived method of finding our mate (receiving signs from God) is necessarily nullified.
Contrary to popular belief Scripture does not teach that there is one person out there created especially for us as our soulmate, nor that God lets us know who we are to marry by giving us certain feelings or signs. From the Biblical data we must conclude that while God cares about what type of person we marry, He does not have a specific will on who it is that we marry. As long as the individual falls within the sphere of certain guidelines He has set forth in His Word concerning mate selection, the choice on who to marry is up to us.
What is the Biblical criteria for mate selection, then? There are only two. First, our mate must be someone of the opposite sex (Romans 1:27). This narrows our choice to 3 billion people. Secondly, we must marry someone of like precious faith (1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14). This narrows our selection down to millions of people. Here is where explicit Biblical teaching ends, and Biblical principles and commonsense pick up.
We cannot marry those we have never come into contact with, narrowing our choice to several hundred or several thousand people. To choose from among this group we must employ wisdom: Do we get along? Do we compliment one another? Do our families and elders approve of the relationship?
The next level of consideration is spiritual expediency: Will this individual bring me closer to God? Will they support me in the exercising of my spiritual gifts? Will they unnecessarily distract me from the work of the Lord?
The final level of consideration is personal preference: Blonde? Brunette? Caucasian? Latin? Family Background? Money Management? Neat or Messy? Make no mistake about it these things are very important.6
But God Could
The common objection at this point is to argue that God could reveal our mate to us through some sort of sign or feeling. I agree. Yes, God could reveal our ideal mate to us through some feeling, impression, or sign, but the question here is not what God can or cannot do. He can do anything He wants. The question here is What does the Bible teach concerning decision making in general, or in this particular case, making decisions about our marital partner? Do we have any reason to believe that as a matter of course God both determines, and reveals to us a specific person for marriage? No. For those of us who claim to base our beliefs and practices on the Bible, then, we have no other choice but to abandon the idea that there is only one person in this world we can marry in the will of God, and that He will reveal this individual to us through some sort of feeling or sign.
The Biblical, rational, and experiential evidence speak in one accord against the myth of the divine matchmaker. Rather than asking who we should marry the Bible asks if we should marry. Rather than teaching that God will reveal "the one," the Bible teaches that the decision concerning who we marry is a personal choice informed by wisdom. As lovely as the notion of soulmates may be, and as spiritual as the method for finding that soul may sound, neither are Biblical concepts and thus both must be dismissed by those whose authority for faith and practice is Scripture.
God is not in the matchmaking business. He has set forth some general guidelines in His Word concerning marriage and mate-selection, but has given us the freedom to choose who we marry within those guidelines. So long as our mate selection is within the moral perimeters of Scripture and informed by wisdom, spiritual expediency, and in consideration of personal preferences, we can be assured that our choice is in the will of God.
Chances are good that in our lifetime we will meet several individuals with whom we could establish a life-long, meaningful, and happy marriage, all of whom would be pleasing to God. If, when, and who we marry is a decision God has left to us to make in a responsible and wise manner.
With Scripture as our guide we must confess that there is no room at the inn for soulmates. Reason and experience follow suit in posting their own "no vacancies" sign. The myth of the divine matchmaker is just one more Christian fairytale that's made its way into mainstream Christian culture. As appealing as the myth may be to our romantic and spiritual nature, Scripture, not popular belief or fairy tale, must be our guide for mate selection.
1. This situation is further complicated in that some men take more than one wife, and some people marry more than once. And let's not forget about the problem of the children born to non-soul mates. These children weren't even supposed to exist. Who are they supposed to marry?
2. The sooner in time this might have occurred the fewer the generations it would have taken before no one can marry their soul mate. Considering the fact that evil men have existed since the beginning of time, the chances are enormous that someone failed to marry their soul mate thousands of years ago (or took someone else's soul mate in the case of polygamy), meaning that no one has been able to marry their soul mate for several thousands of years now.
3. I am thinking of the occasion in which God gave a sign to Abraham's servant that he was to choose Rebekah as Isaac's wife (Genesis 24). Even if one wishes to argue that in this particular instance the Lord specifically wanted Rebekah as Isaac's wife, one would need to consider the fact that God was preparing the lineage of the Messiah before they extrapolate any implications for mate selection from this event. The special nature of the circumstances would justify a special act of God.
4. Many misunderstand the difference between a description and a prescription. The former simply describes the way things are; the latter prescribes the way things should be. It is a mistake to extrapolate a prescription from mere description (in philosophy this is called the is-ought fallacy). There are many historical happenings recorded/described in the Bible that we should not, or need not do. The only way we are justified in mimicking some act as recorded in Scripture is if Scripture itself makes it clear that the action described is being described for prescriptive reasons. If the Bible is not clear that we ought to mimic the acts described, or expect the results someone else received, we are not justified in concluding that we are. If we do not carefully distinguish between the descriptive and prescriptive aspects of Scripture we will find ourselves creating doctrines and practices that are foreign to the very text from which they are supposedly derived.
5. This is not to say that prayer has no role in mate selection. Indeed, prayer is essential in the process. What this is to say is that the reason for which we pray during the mate selection process is often uninformed by Scripture. Usually we pray so God can tell us whether or not he/she is "the one." This sort of prayer finds no basis in Scripture. Scripture does advocate praying for wisdom (James 1:5), however, and wisdom is essential in the mate selection process.
6. To some this last criteria may sound the most "unspiritual" because they have this sadomasochistic view of God's will. For them God's will must always be opposed to their will. If they are attracted to blondes God's will for them must surely be a brunette. If they want somebody who is really "hot," God must want them to marry someone they consider a little on the ugly side. This is a distorted picture of God's will. God's will is not that we are miserable, or that we never get what we want, but that we receive the desires of our heart so long as they are within His moral perimeters. Clearly there is nothing immoral about preferring brunettes to blondes!
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