As couples begin to plan for summer weddings, I’m starting to receive “save the date” reminders. I received one and started thinking back to my youth. I grew up going to southern Baptist youth camps where preachers would proclaim that God has picked out our spouse and we have to go find them.
Over the years, I witnessed friends frustrated by the process of dating and looking for “The One”. I questioned this theology of God’s promise of marriage. Then, I was struck with this truth: No where in scripture does God make a personal promise of marriage to a spouse.
Does God promise us a spouse? The Bible says “yes” by describing Christians as the spiritual bride of Christ. Our true spouse is Jesus. Yet, many of us say, “I’m glad to be spiritually married to Christ, but I can’t feel Him. Wouldn’t it be better if I could enjoy God’s love with someone else? I want Jesus with skin on.” So, we pray for God to bring us an earthly mate.
This type of theology has created a generation of frustrated Christian singles. Christians are not the personal spiritual bride of Christ nor “married” to Jesus. The spiritual bride of Christ is the Church (ecclesia). Scripture provides this sense of “bridal theology” in Ephesians 5:25:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Paul wrote about the love that exists between a husband and wife and mirrors that love in non-erotic language (Paul uses agapate to describe this love) to describe the relationship between the Church and Jesus. Agnieszka Tennant, writing for CT, posted this article about the over use of love language with Christ. Her most telling quote reveals the trouble with the over use of the love language of God:
But I have little patience for taking biblical metaphors too far and giving one’s relationship with God an air of irreverent chumminess. Somehow, the scenario in which “his princess” shaves her legs for a date with Jesus seems to leave little room for fear of God. And consider how unhelpful this misreading must be to single women who are hormonally awake. The cruel message they get is: If Jesus is really your husband, what’s your problem? Be satisfied!
Christians have turned these scriptures that speak about marriage into a promise. What is often misunderstood is that scripture gives a picture of what marriage and love looks like in Genesis, Ephesians, and 1 Peter (to name a few). Part of the reason for this mix up is our one word for love. In Greek, there are at least four words for love. C.S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves gives some insight to what these loves are:
- storgē: a natural affection, like the love between a mother and child.
- agápē: refers to a general affection rather than the attraction
- philia: friendship, or “brotherly love”
- érōs: often is a passionate love, with sensual desire and longing.
The “love” that exists between Christ and the Church is a different love that exists in marriage. Marriage contains several loves: érōs, agápē, and even philia. Paul clearly defines the love of Christ and his Church as agapate. Clearly, the picture bridal theology and marriage contain different nuances of relational love.
Telling Christian singles that their marriage is to Christ just leaves them confused and frustrated. Let’s stop telling every Christian then are destined for marriage because confusing human marriage with Christ’s love are meant to communicate two different things. If we are called to marriage, we need to understand that becoming “The One” to our spouse is what God desires.