Editors note: In Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up About We (Waterbrook), Claire and Eli (aliases) reveal themselves as a couple who "met," "dated," and "broke up." Sure, that sounds like the predictable story of innumerable other couples. But Claire and Eli went further. They took stock of their relationship, considered why things had gone awry, and awakened to "the possibility that marriage was less of linchpin to Christianity than we initially thought." And they collaborated on this book, a joint memoir of their courtship spliced with theological reflection on the dangers of allowing blissful anticipations of marriage to distort our understandings of love and discipleship.
God gave me a desire for a husband or wife, and therefore I know he'll provide one."
Heard this before? We have, countless times. Whether in small groups, post-breakup consolations, late-night talks with roommates, or any number of conversations with other Christians, there was often the sense that our desire for a spouse meant that God would provide one. We're not sure we ever heard it from the pulpit, but quite a few of our friends, and even ourselves at times, thought that longing for a spouse meant marriage was imminent.
But if we desire a husband or wife, does that always mean God will provide one? We can't answer one way or another, of course, but the breadth of the statement and the conclusions drawn from it make us uncomfortable. We ourselves often don't know the difference between our own desires and desires from God. And even if we are sure a desire is from God, can we be sure He'll be faithful in the way we think He will? It would seem that if our desires always translate into a particular outcome from God, then God becomes something like a puppet.
God clearly can and does lead us through our desires, and desires from Him can illuminate, inspire, or provide a loving reproach. At times, holy desires are just the spark we need to orient our lives away from something destructive. And yet it seems there is also wisdom in not being overly sure that God will fulfill our desires in the time and manner we expect. Any time we're positive God will give us something, we must remind ourselves that His ways are above our ways (see Isaiah 55:9), and that our desires should be humbly considered in view of who He is.
As we thought about this in light of marriage, we wondered what Christ's teachings meant for our desires in the average search for a spouse. To be sure, we need to remind no one that the desire for intimacy is a good and God-given gift, a pillar of the created order and God's beautiful design. And yet we can sometimes forget our human potential to distort that design. Sin stalks and stains the beauty of how things might otherwise be.
As we reread the Gospels, we kept stumbling upon a recurring thread of self-denial, the idea that following Christ requires us to let go of the things we have and want. Try as we might, the theme could not be dodged: everything is to be given to Him, and that includes our desires.
A.W. Tozer described the situation this way: "The roots of our hearts [grow] down into things," and this is a danger because "God's gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature is upset by the…substitution." Nature is upset not because the gift is bad, but because we make too much of it, because we treat it as a god rather than a gift from Him. And this is no less true for relationships, one of God's most beautiful gifts. Even marriage can risk replacing God in our hearts (see 1 Corinthians 7). So long as our hearts grow into it instead of God, the gift threatens to replace the Giver.