Christian Singleness: Lifting the Curse
“Who do you fancy?”
The immortal question, heard in school playgrounds, youth groups and university bars across the land for countless years, phrased in one way or another. Wherever you go, it is seemingly impossible to escape the common fascination with romantic intrigue and dating. As a 23 year old not long out of university, you can bet that in recent years I have heard and participated in such discussions more times than I care to remember. Moreover though, this is one cultural trend that we as Christians appear to have adopted with gusto. In fact, in my experience it is Christians that are the worst culprits of this kind of romance fixation. I can clearly remember my early experiences of CU being dominated by discussions and gossip surrounding who was interested in who, or which girl that guy had been seen hanging out with. Similarly, in every church I’ve ever been to there are few things which pique peoples’ interest as much as a new, budding romance, as people fall over themselves to get the latest updates, offer counsel and find out ‘How it’s all going’. And if you’re not in a relationship? Well no fear, you can almost guarantee that someone is already thinking on your behalf about who would make a good match for you!
Now please don’t be under any illusions, I am just as guilty of this kind of intriguing as anyone else, and am by no means writing from within my ivory tower. Similarly, I am not seeking to condemn romantic relationships or taking an interest in them, rather I am merely making observations. Hopefully you agree though, we as a society and we as Christians can often find ourselves fixated on romance. Living in such a culture, and on this, the most romantic day of the year, those of us who are single can easily feel the pressure to be actively pursuing a relationship at all possible moments and ultimately to ‘conform’ to the norm of romantic involvement. Indeed for many people I’ve met, and in my own case for a long time, singleness is viewed as an unfortunate ailment, a placeholder life-stage in which one exists until you can find a partner and ‘cure’ this most unfortunate state of being. The number of times I’ve heard people discussing the future in terms of, ‘Well I’ll get married and then after that I’ll be able to do…’, or better yet, ‘I think I’ll get married and then see what God has in store for me…’. Relationships and subsequently marriage are seen as prerequisites for progress and success in life; boxes that need to be ticked before God can make use of you and you can really grow in the faith. This attitude was brilliantly summarised in a satirical Babylon Bee article entitled ‘Woman In Singles Ministry Gets Married, Promoted To Real Christian’ (if you want a laugh, I’ll leave the link below).
Why do so many of us hold this low view of singleness then? And is it Biblical? The Apostle Paul's assurance - ‘ 8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am.’ (1 Corinthians 7: 8) - is often thrown around as an encouragement to singles, but it rarely seems to halt to the endless pursuit of relationships, or to inspire truly joyful singleness. So why do we struggle so much to be joyfully single? Before going further I must credit Andrew Bunt of King’s Church, Eastbourne; Andrew spoke excellently on singleness at our January ID Training Week and provided a brilliant handout alongside, which I will be drawing from here (I’ll post a link to Andrew’s talk on singleness at King’s below).
Viewing singleness as a curse is something which we can actually see throughout the Old Testament. This is all to do with the nature of God’s salvation promise. God’s promise after the Fall was that the offspring of the woman will be the one to destroy the serpent; “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15). God’s promise of salvation was tied up with an offspring and by extension with marriage, the context in which childbearing was intended to take place. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, God’s promise of salvation and blessing was continually tied up with marriage and fertility; one of the primary forms of blessing was children. We see this with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the numerous miraculous births in Genesis. In this context of offspring representing blessing and ultimately salvation, singleness consequently became a curse, given that singleness meant no children. By the time we arrive at the New Testament therefore, marriage and having children is inextricably linked with the ideas of blessing and salvation, meaning that singleness is distinctly undesirable.
Is singleness still a curse then? Well obviously, no. Jesus changes everything. Jesus is the promised offspring come to crush the head of the serpent, he is the promised blessing to all nations that came from Abraham’s line (Genesis 12: 1-3). This means that God’s blessing is no longer tied up with marriage and childbearing, it is tied up in the person of Christ. Singleness is no longer a curse, married and unmarried alike can receive salvation. Jesus himself affirms the virtue of singleness in fact, especially the choice of singleness in service to the Lord (Matthew 19: 10-12), likening it to the service of eunuchs in the royal palace. Furthermore, it is in this context that Paul can wholeheartedly say that it is indeed better to be single in some cases such as his own, still safe in the knowledge that he is in Christ. It should be noted, Paul also emphasises that singleness is in no way spiritually superior to marriage (1 Corinthians 7: 26-28), however singleness may bring you freedom from certain worldly concerns and help you more easily fix your attention on the Lord (1 Corinthians 7: 32-35). For those of us who are in Christ then, singleness can now be a blessing.
If this is the case, why are we still living as if singleness is some kind of curse?! We are living in a way that says Christ is not enough! That his blessing and salvation are not sufficient! If we are truly in Christ then we can now live joyful, grateful, satisfied lives as single people, without the need to get all down in the mouth about not having a date for Valentine’s Day! So why can’t we see singleness as good? Well in short, it is because we are believing the lies our culture is telling us.
Humans are relational beings, created to be in community with others. We see this right back in the Garden of Eden; ‘18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2: 18). We are hard-wired to require some kind of love and companionship. To be human is to be relational. Somewhere along the way however we’ve taken this basic truth and adapted it into something else. The lie that we too often believe is that the pinnacle of relational fulfilment comes from romantic relationships, and that the love we all really need is this kind of eros, amorous love. When looking for pictures to use for this post, I searched the word ‘love’ on Unsplash and almost every result was a picture of a couple engaged in some moment of intimacy. To me this is a telling example of what our culture primarily imagines love to look like. If our mindset is that romance trumps all other kinds of platonic or familial love, then we will endlessly seek this kind of romantic fulfilment.
A similar fallacy is that finding a partner is necessary to 'complete yourself' as a person. Now I'm all for seeking self-improvement and complimentary personalities, but this attitude is flawed. While your wife/husband or girlfriend/boyfriend may be able to help you grow in certain areas, ultimately it is God and our relationship with him that brings about true, lasting change for the better in our lives. Relationships need to be the coming together of two whole people, not two half people seeking completion. Looking to romantic involvement to provide you with all the fulfilment and completion you desire is on the whole just downright daft.
The truth is that all the love and relational fulfilment we need should be available through our relationships with God and with the Church. If people are unable to find this kind of fulfilment in Church then we are doing something wrong, but people also need to open themselves up to the idea that they don’t need a partner to provide love in their life. In a similar vein is the lie that we need sex to find fulfilment, thereby necessitating relationships and marriage. Wrong. We are hard-wired with a need for love, not with a need for sex. Now I appreciate that most people are born with some measure of sexual desire, however if sex was necessary for true satisfaction, why on earth would God have created people who are unable to achieve that due to physical or mental disability for example? Complete relational fulfilment is available to all through relationships with God and His Church, it does not require sex and it does not require romance. Christ is our ultimate example in this; he existed in perfect union with the Father and lived the most truly fulfilled life. We must stop thinking that partners and marriage are ‘must have’ items if we want to be truly happy.
What can we do about all this then? How can we reverse our perception of the ‘curse’ of singleness? Well the first step is to redress our thinking by identifying the misconceptions noted above. We as the Church also have a responsibility however; we have to make singleness a desirable, plausible life choice in which people can still find all the love and fulfilment they need. If we can’t truly act as family and love each other regardless of life stage or relationship status, then single people will naturally feel as if they’re missing something. This means sharing life with one another in the normal, everyday, and giving people an opportunity to be part of something more than themselves. Essentially, singleness should not have to mean loneliness. Of course singles also have some responsibility to seek out friendships however, and not sit there feeling sorry for themselves because nobody is inviting them to family picnics.
It also means actively trying to recognise and celebrate singleness just as much as marriage and relationships. How often do we publicly applaud engagements, marriages and births? And how often do we celebrate those who have chosen singleness or used their singleness to better serve God? Engagements, marriages and births are all truly wonderful occasions, but if we present these as the things to be most celebrated, we reinforce the idea that marriage and children are the greatest blessings, thereby invalidating singleness. Couples also need to be real about the unique challenges of marriage and relationships. I believe that a large part of people’s pathological desire for relationships is the misconception that romantic involvement is a state of perpetual bliss, in which you’ve got someone who you always get on with and is an endless source of emotional support and affection whenever you need it. I’m sure that anyone who has been in a relationship or married for any good length of time will tell you that this most certainly isn’t the case. Relationships are not the kind of idyllic experience that many imagine, and shattering this myth through honesty and openness about struggles would go a long way to making singleness a more attractive prospect.
After reading this (rather lengthy) piece, you could be forgiven for thinking that I hate relationships and have in fact committed myself to a monastic lifestyle for the rest of my days. This isn’t the case though. Romance, marriage, sex and children are all blessings that God has graciously extended to us. If you’re in a relationship, God bless you, I completely respect you and the challenges that your situation brings. Similarly if you’re single but you really want a boyfriend/ girlfriend/ husband/ wife, I totally get it, there’s no judgement from me. I myself am someone who is single right now, and happy to be so for the foreseeable future. But honestly, thinking about the possibility that God might call me to a life of singleness and celibacy is something that gives me a knot in my stomach. As much as I enjoy singleness, I’d probably still like to be married and have children someday. But does that mean I have to pour all my energy into making that happen ASAP? Does that mean God won’t use me while I’m single? Of course not. God’s timing is perfect, and what will be will be. For us singles then, let’s not focus on trying to secure our own happiness in the arms of some nice guy/ girl. Rather, let us entrust ourselves to the love and care of our Father, offering ourselves to Him no matter what life-stage we may be in, knowing that in Christ we are blessed and beloved beyond all human capability.
Happy Valentines Day folks!
(Andrew Bunt, ‘Singleness’, audio from King’s Church Eastbourne, 26.06.16 (kings.church/teaching/singleness)
The Dating Dilemma: A Romance Revolution, Rachel Gardner and Andrew Adefope (IVP, 2013).
About the Author
Jon is a member of the City Students team and currently an intern on the Intentional Discipleship (ID) course at City. Originally from Sheffield, Jon studied Military History at the University of Kent in Canterbury for the past 4 years.