The Fear of Being Single
The prospect of a single life, especially if you are still relatively young, may seem for some a burden too great to bear. Jesus’ teaching that divorce and remarriage is adultery (with one exception) is to many hard and uncompassionate. Yet we must face His words humbly, honestly and bravely, counting the cost of obeying and following Him. We must be confident in our heart that His way is ultimately for our good though temporarily painful.
Is a deserted or divorced spouse expected to remain single and ‘doomed’ to a life of loneliness and heartache as some say to justify remarriage? Such fears are understandable but we need to keep in mind God is our ultimate refuge and source of comfort. We may even be encouraged by well-meaning Christians who, wanting to alleviate our pain, see our greatest need is to be remarried. But it is God’s word which must be our guide.
When my wife left the thought of possibly remaining single for the rest of my life petrified me. Yet by God’s grace those fears gradually subsided. We live in a couple orientated world which views singleness as a temporary or abnormal condition to be avoided at all costs. We are led to believe that to be single is to be incomplete. Yet scripture encourages those who are single or have become single to remain in that state for in Christ we are made complete. Singleness is not seen as a lesser state but even, according to Jesus and Paul, as the preferred state (Matthew 19:10-12 and 1 Corinthians 7:25-40).
Consider these questions:
Does the Bible clearly allow remarriage after divorce in certain circumstances? (This question will be considered in detail in Part 2)
We need to first understand what is at stake in upholding the covenant of marriage (for that is what it is). When we made the commitment to marry it was an unconditional commitment (even though we may not have fully appreciated that fact at the time). It is a promise, a vow, which God expects us to keep just as He is a covenant keeping God. No marriage vows include a phrase to the effect: “I will remain faithful to you as long as you remain faithful to me” or “I will love you as long as you love me.” Love expressed in faithfulness is the foundational principle of marriage, not our personal happiness.
Marriage is said to be an earthly type of the heavenly relationship: between God and Israel and between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:31,32). God’s relationship and promise to Israel still stands. Though He divorced her at one time He did not take another nation (Jeremiah 3:8). And also with us, as members of the Church, His future bride, He remains faithful even if we are not (2 Timothy 2:13).
Do I have to remarry?
Of course the answer to this question is no. We may have had no choice in divorce but we do in remarriage – we remarry because we want to.
Is there encouragement in the Bible to be or remain single should I find myself single?
While marriage is portrayed in the Bible as a covenant of much honour we are given many examples in Scripture of encouragement to be or remain single.
Jesus in His teaching about divorce and remarriage said this to His disciples:
The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:10-12 ESV).
Here Jesus gives us the possibility of being or remaining single for the sake of the kingdom of God. While we may have become single unwillingly as a result of divorce we should see that God’s grace and strength to remain single can be ours also.
Paul also encourages those who are, or have become single, to remain so:
Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn [with passion] (1 Corinthians 7:7-9).
Here Paul encourages those who are single (those who have never married) and widows to remain unmarried. Some have suggested the ‘unmarried’ also refers to the divorced but Paul goes on to say a woman who has been separated from her husband to remain unmarried (verse 11).
And again he encourages singleness:
Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife (1 Corinthians 7:27).
So we at least ought to see that singleness is not impossible or a disaster but a real possibility in God’s purpose and grace.
Two false ideas permeate modern society: 1. our identity is tied to sexual orientation and 2. a sexual relationship is necessary to be a fulfilled person. We are first and foremost man and woman, created in the image of God. Our sexuality does not determine who we are in God’s eyes. Jesus never married or had an intimate relationship with a woman, yet He was the most complete and fulfilled person to have lived in this world. The world tells us that one must be either a sexually active heterosexual or a sexually active homosexual to be complete. This is a lie. For a Christian true completeness is found in Christ. If we make a sexual relationship a necessity to be fulfilled as a person we are effectively making it an idol. So whether we have same sex or opposite sex temptations, we are told to resist them and by God’s grace we can (1 Corinthians 10:13). Human love lasts for a moment but God’s for eternity. That is our choice.
We may find ourselves effectively single for reasons other than divorce. For example when our spouse is imprisoned (and this is happening more and more in persecuted Christian communities around the world). Another circumstance may be if our spouse becomes seriously ill and has to be hospitalised or moved to a nursing home. The expectation in both cases is that the remaining spouse be faithful to their marriage though it may mean a long time (or even a life-time) apart with consequent hardship. The same should apply if we find ourselves single as a result of divorce. We may have had no choice where a partner has left us, but we do have a choice to remarry or not.
Is God’s grace, comfort and love sufficient for me?
Our greatest need is to know God’s grace, comfort and love which is pure and eternal. Human love is inevitably imperfect and temporary.
In support of remarriage after divorce it is often argued a spouse who has been unjustifiably divorced should not be expected to remain single while their former partner is alive. To our human nature, remarriage seems a just and compassionate outcome. Yet what is kinder: to tell the truth which may be temporarily painful or to tell a comforting untruth? What seems just to us is not necessarily God’s way:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Our guide must ultimately be God’s word for even our sense of justice can be corrupted by sin because we are by nature self-centred, not God-centred. The Bible in many places reveals God’s laws which to our humanness seem hard and unjust. We might well learn from Job who suffered greatly. Though we in retrospect know why he suffered, Job didn’t and God did not tell him. Job complained of his suffering and apparent injustice but in the end he confessed before God “I did not understand…I did not know…I retract and I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:1-6). So we ought also have the same attitude when we face or have to endure the injustice of divorce. We may have to come to a decision: to trust God even though we don’t fully understand His ways. Who or what will we trust? God or our own wisdom? As the Proverb says:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).
Divorcees desperately need loving and wise support, not necessarily sanction to marry another. Suffering for the sake of righteousness is something we cannot always avoid in this world. In fact it may well be the price we have to pay to be faithful and obedient to Jesus who said we must deny our self and take up our cross to follow Him (Luke 9:23). And if we claim to belong to Christ, His future bride, heirs of the Kingdom and eternal glory, how can we say we are doomed?
We need to be prepared for trials and suffering
Jesus never promised that our life here would be without trial or suffering. On the contrary, we should expect it- because it is through such trials that our character is refined, as by fire, to be like that of Christ (1 Peter 4:12-13). We may feel betrayal and injustice at the actions of our mate. Jesus also suffered betrayal and injustice at the hands of sinners, yet never said a word or took action against them. Our attitude ought to be that of our Lord.
In this life we are forewarned and told to be prepared for suffering, especially where that suffering is unjust. As the apostle Peter reminds us:
For this finds favour, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favour with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:19-23).
Therefore we can expect to suffer for the sake of righteousness if we choose to follow Jesus and live as He taught us.
Yet despite suffering and emotional pain we can know God’s peace and the comfort of the Holy Spirit as we pray, give thanks (Philippians 4:6-7) and place our cares and needs into His hand (1 Peter 5:6-7). This may be difficult, but it is a choice we can make. Giving thanks when things are going well is natural but to give thanks to God when life is difficult, requires faith and the strength of Christ’s Spirit in us. I am not saying we give thanks for what is wrong but to think upon and give thanks for the many good things God has done, especially our forgiveness and salvation in Christ.
Make God your refuge and strength. Many times in the Psalms we are urged to make God our refuge when in times of trial and difficulty. His grace and power will enable us to not only endure through troubled times but come through them stronger.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1)
Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us (Psalm 62:8).
Keep eternity in view
When we have eternity in view it is plain that the marriage relationship here, while shadowing the eternal relationship between Christ and His church, is temporary. It is our relationship with Christ and the members of His body – other Christians – that will last for eternity. Therefore while we may feel aggrieved at becoming single, it is our relationship to Christ that matters most and therefore it is Him we must ultimately please – not ourselves.
Is a divorced partner bound to experience a life of pain and loneliness? No! On the contrary he is free! Free to love, free to serve, free to be a son of God and free to demonstrate the God-kind of faithfulness in an unfaithful world.
Make God your delight and sufficiency. Keep constantly in mind how great is God’s forgiveness, grace and love towards you and the eternal joy that is awaiting. So if you find yourself single believe God’s grace will be sufficient and that His love will sustain you. See singleness, not as a problem, but a new opportunity in God’s grace and purpose for you.
(I would also highly recommend John Piper’s truthful and compassionate teaching on singleness on his Desiring God website.)