Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mawwiage. Mawwiage is wat bwings us togedder toDay. 

At least, it's what brings you to this post. 

A few of you raised objections over the last post. Not everyone is happily married, you pointed out. Married people wish they had the benefits of singleness back, you said. 

I am not trying to argue that marriage is perfect, that we singles should rush out and marry the first person we see. Still, these objections are not in themselves an adequate argument for permanent singleness. A plumbing leak in your friend's house is not a reason for you to rent apartments all your life.

Milton argued in Areopagitica that the "knowledge of good [required some] knowledge of evil" - in other words, that we could not know a thing without knowing something of its opposite as well. Hence, our understanding of singleness (and for us single people, our acceptance of it) requires some knowledge of marriage. And so my last post sought that knowledge, for what marriage should be, if not always what it is. 

In this post, I 'turn the tapestry' to see the other side of that knowledge. As the last post laid out some of the reasons that marriage (trite as this conclusion seems) is so fulfilling, this one will explore the limitations of that view and the value of singleness beyond just a generic command to 'be content'.

A recent article in Christianity Today online, intended to critique the modern church's mixed discussions on sex, pointed out that both single people and married people have a valuable symbolic role in the church: "Just as single people need the image of Christ's fidelity and love that the married give," author Matthew Anderson points out, "so married people need single people to remind us that the 'form of this world is passing away.'"

Anderson makes this as a throwaway statement at the end of a mere two paragraphs on singleness and sex, part of a larger article that argues that Christians should be more discreet in discussions of faith and sex. I want to expand on the assumption in his comment, an assumption that Anderson ignores: Biblically, it is because the form of this world is passing away that singles have the chance to join 'the great web of life' - not human, but heavenly.

In the Psalms David (who was actually married) notes the limitations this belief in Marriage as Meaning. In Psalm 17 he calls upon God to save him
From men of the world who have their portion in this life,
and whose belly You fill with Your hidden treasure.
They are satisfied with children.
And leave the rest of their possession for their babes.
Given David's call for help, I assumed for a long time that the people described here were wicked. Problem is, they have actually received blessings from God: the "hidden treasure" of children maturing in their mother's womb, then growing up to inherent "the rest of their possession" from their parents. Physically, these people are not dangerous to David.

Spiritually, they are. Here is what Card misses: People who are "satisfied with children" have their "portion in this life"; they (sometimes, not always) forget that the form of this world is passing away and ignore the much greater riches of eternal life.

Let me never become, David cries out to God, one of those men who is satisfied only with this life: 
As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness;
I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.
In Shadow Puppets, Card tells us that parents pass on "generation to generation" their own likeness and so become "an inextricable part of the human race". Yet the human race is bound to this material life, and David remembers that the form of this world is passing away. Beyond this world, he expects to be fully satisfied "in the likeness of God".

Here is the meaning of life. It is not "for a man to find a woman, for a woman to find a man," as Card claims. It is for a woman (or a man) to find God and, instead of passing their likeness on to children, to instead receive the likeness of God and therein be truly satisfied.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that we who are single will be automatically content because we have Christ. That response would be shallow; we are in fact flesh and blood and in flesh and blood the desire to become an inextricable part of the human race will not go away. What I am saying is this: As those who are married pass their likeness along to their children, we are instead privileged to receive from God His likeness, to become, in other words, part of a heavenly race.

This, I think, is what Isaiah means when he compliments the single woman:
Sing, O barren
You who have not borne!
Break forth into singing, and cry aloud,
You who have not labored with child.
For more are the children of the desolate
Than the children of the married woman.
Today, believers often interpret this passage by noting that single people have more time to serve in ministry. "Single people," they say, "can work with AWANA. Or with the nursery. Or with the Youth Group. And the kids they work with count as 'the children of the desolate'. Maybe?" Okay, single people do have more time to serve, but given that this is an Old Testament verse, I don't think a demand for single people to work in the nursery captures the essence of Isaiah's message.

Paired with the Psalms, this passage makes more sense. Isaiah has just gotten through describing the coming Messiah and the redemptive act that makes it possible for believers to inherit the likeness of God. The proximity of this redemption prophecy to the command for "barren women" to rejoice suggests a relationship between the two passages. As we receive the "likeness of God" through redemption, so presumably we also will share that likeness with other believers through the Holy Spirit; we who are "desolate" do not have physical children, but across the generations we are an "inextricable" part of a heavenly family.

Again, do not misunderstand me: I am not saying that we singles will or even should feel at peace with our current state. I don't even think we're supposed to. All that David and Isaiah have prophesied is in the future for us: we, like David two thousand years ago, are still waiting to "awake" from this dream called life, and it is unrealistic to expect us to find complete human satisfaction in something we have not yet received. Right now we are yet "being transformed into the same image [as Christ] from glory to glory" (2 Cor. 3:18); we are not yet fully transformed, and so the full satisfaction is not to be had.

Rather, the expectation of receiving, then sharing, the likeness of God is stronger and more obvious (or intended to be) in we who are single. As we wait to receive, and then to share, the "likeness of God", so our singleness reminds the church that we have "seen God's promises] afar off" and we are "assured of them." As Paul goes on to say, the promise of the likeness of God reminds us that we "desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called [our] God, for He has prepared a city for [us]" (Hebrews 11:13, 16).

Put together with the Psalms and with Isaiah, here is Paul's point applied to singles. However much satisfaction married people have in this life, we who are singles recognize and wait for a higher, better satisfaction: the promise of God making us an "inextricable part" of His family, of God sharing His likeness with us and of us sharing that likeness with fellow believers. This desire is not to be fulfilled in this world; it is not intended to be fulfilled in this world. Instead, we who are single trade (and encourage even those who are married to trade) that desire to make a place for ourselves in the human "web of life" for a much greater one: a life beyond life, with God.

Like Eliot, I feel that "it is impossible to say just what I mean." I have spent two and a half hours writing this post (that does not count preparation), and I refuse to spend more, lest my blog start taking longer to compose than graduate school papers. Indeed, my writing is "only hints and guesses" about what singleness means: not a state which must be filled by marriage, nor a state in which we should be content with in this life, but a state which keeps us looking heavenward, expectantly.

What we hopefully look for is just beyond sight
We are pilgrims to the City of God.
~ Michael Card


  1. Megan, my comment on these blogs about marriage and singleness has to do with something the Lord has been making me aware of recently. He works in each of our lives in such individual ways! There are always general principles that are true, but he brings people, experiences, and even truth from his Word to us as individuals. When I see what he is doing in another person's life or read a biography of a heroic Christian, I can learn from that, but it doesn't mean that the Lord will use the same pattern in my life. While this relationship with the Lord is so personal and individual, we also need each other to encourage and build up one another. And that applies to all of us, whether married or single. And we all need to be setting our "hearts on things above, not on earthly things." Col. 3?2

  2. I love the addition of the Colossians verse, Patsy - yet another great reminder that we do not have our "portion in this life". I don't mean to imply that only single people can set our "hearts on things above" - by no means! I don't even think it's necessarily easier for us to "set our minds on things above". Just, since we single people clearly don't have a physical tie through children to future generations, it is more obvious for us to "set our minds on things above," though no more important than for anyone else.

    I agree with the Christianity Today writer that single people are a REMINDER that ALL Christians have their hope somewhere else besides this life.

  3. Amen! Amen!
    Ii must admit, that after your last blog, I was ready to complain a bit too, but I had an idea that you'd finish your thought well - and you did! Single folks are symbols of our ultimate satisfaction in God, while married folks are a symbol of the sort of satisfaction that our marriage to God is, or (in both cases) should be. A "symbol" in this context is a person whose very existence teaches other members of Christ's bride what is true of us all. This means, that singles are by nature a-bit discontent with the way this life is. We shouldn't let that bother us too much, though. We often forget that God is not in the business of making us happy, but of making us happy In Him.

    A comment about singles serving: I do think that single people have more... ability to serve than married, but I don't necessarily think that it is only (or even primarily) PHYSICAL ability. There is also a flexibility and emotional freedom built into the single person's lifestyle that means we can serve as much by prayer and by availability to give when no one else can. It does not necessarily mean that we should be as physically busy as a married person with ten kids. Everyone's fruit is different.

    However, all that said, the fight of the christian life, whatever your state, is a fight for contentment in the place we are, while at the same time understanding that we are not home yet. It's like finding the right job - the place God intended you to serve - while at the same time, doing your best in the place you are. There are all kinds of scripture and commentary to prove this, so I won't make this any longer now, though.

    Sorry for the long comment. This is obviously something I've been thinking about too. That's another one of those things for which single folks have time. :)