I spent a lot of my twenties waiting to be completed. Brought up in a community that idealized marriage as a norm for Christian living, my single years were filled with frustration. “God created us for marriage,” Debbie Maken wrote in Getting Serious about Getting Married: Rethinking the Gift of Singleness, a book that has, for nearly two decades, made the rounds among those looking for answers to the struggles of singleness. Maken wrote, “The reason we feel a lack of wholeness is because God designed us to feel incomplete without a spouse.”
Maybe you have heard some iteration of this idea that only marriage can make you feel truly complete—until then, you’re stuck in the waiting room of life, unable to fulfill your full potential as a person or even as a Christian. Maybe you read Maken’s words and they feel true to you! They certainly felt true for me through many of my early single years, and I wish someone had told me sooner that God’s plan for his people is much, much grander than earthly marriages.
No human relationship will fully satisfy
As we grow up, we receive from both the church and the wider culture the message that relationships are important. Romantic comedies tell us that the city girl with good friends, a good job, and a good home won’t really feel complete until she falls in love with the baker from her hometown. The music and movie industries sexualize the human experience, and Disney has told generations of us that the princess can only be saved by true love’s first kiss. Sometimes, the Christian community borrows this idea of—as Maken calls it—a “spouse-shaped void” in a person’s life.
And yet, a quick look at God’s people will show many whose marriages have ended in death or divorce, or whose wedded bliss has been impinged by sin or by circumstances. Marriages—even wonderful ones—are not perfect or lasting. And, ultimately, no spouse can do what only God has the power to accomplish: satisfy.
What does the Bible say about marriage?
If you are wrestling with your singleness—or with your marriage—it is important to see what God reveals to us about his intention for marriage, the first account of which we find in Genesis 2. After God makes Eve, he brings her to Adam in a kind of marriage ceremony and Adam—upon seeing the first other human he has ever met!—says, “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” (Gen. 2:23). From this one-flesh union, all other marriages are patterned (Gen. 2:24). When two people marry, it is as though they become one person in the same way that Eve literally shared Adam’s flesh. The apostle Paul explains that this one-flesh unity means that spouses should love and care for each other as you would care about your own body—and even more importantly, this unity stands as a picture for how Jesus cares for his bride, the church (Eph. 5:25–32).
So we know that marriage is ordained by God and a beautiful picture of Christ and the church. Scripture also tells us that it should be held in high honor (Heb. 13:4) and that he who finds a wife “finds a good thing” (Prov. 18:22). Does all this mean that a Christian is obligated to marry? Are we missing out if we never find someone to share life with? Paul speaks to this as well.
Do I need to get married to feel complete?
In his letter to the believers in the city of Corinth, Paul encourages them to “let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Cor. 7:17). Those who are married should care for each other well; those who are single have the freedom to remain so. He can tell Christians this because the family relationship fundamentally changes in the New Testament. Christ establishes a new family within the church, one in which anyone who professes him as Lord and Savior is a child of God and, therefore, a brother or sister to other believers. Singles shouldn’t feel alone in the fellowship of the church any more than married couples should feel independent from it—the body of Christ is our heavenly family with whom we share our hearts and homes on earth!
Paul also knows that the relationship of marriage is temporary. It is passing away (1 Cor. 7:31). We will not take our marriages with us into eternity, but greet our spouses there rather as coheirs—siblings of the promise of God. And as coheirs, the members of the church are also the bride of Christ. The apostle John describes this heavenly wedding on the Last Day:
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” — Revelation 21:2–4
If you are feeling loneliness, frustration, or loss in your season of singleness, know that God has promised a wedding for you. If you are feeling the weight of the curse bearing down upon your marriage, know that a better one awaits. Indeed, we were not designed for earthly marriages, but for a heavenly one, as the bride of Christ, when we shall be with God and he will wipe away our every tear.
Debbie Maken, Getting Serious About Getting Married: Rethinking the Gift of Singleness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2006) 27
Maken, Getting Serious, 23–24. Emphasis added.
Maken, Getting Serious, 111.