The young woman calling the radio program admitted that the man she was dating was a jerk. “I know I can’t trust him,” she confessed, “I know he doesn’t treat me very well, I know he’s not going anywhere, but … I think he may be the one.” *
She realized that marrying him would likely be a disaster because, frankly, dating him had been a disaster. But if you believe there’s only one right person for you, and that person just happens to be a selfish loser, what else are you supposed to do?
Our culture has widely embraced the notion that there is just one person who can, in the words immortalized by Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, “complete us.” This is a perilous mind-set with which to approach a lifelong marital decision, even though it seems to be the majority opinion.
The language of the Bible doesn’t suggest there is one right choice for marriage. Rather, all the teaching passages seem to suggest that there are wise and unwise choices. We are encouraged to use wisdom, not destiny, as our guide when choosing a marital partner.
Proverbs takes a supremely pragmatic approach: “A wife of noble character who can find?” (31:10). This verse assumes that we are involved in a serious pursuit, actively engaging our minds to make a wise choice.
And the top thing a young man should consider is this: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” (Prov. 31:30).
The Bible tells young men to search for a woman of character; it reminds these men that while looks won’t last, godly character improves with age. It says nothing — absolutely nothing — about “feelings.” It even warns against putting too much emphasis on physical attraction or social grace. Instead, this verse makes a woman’s faith the defining characteristic of her suitability to be an excellent wife.
I can speak from experience: nothing compares to being married to a godly woman — nothing! Kindness, generosity, spiritual companionship — these all grow deeper and truer and more pleasant over time. But I know from counseling far too many troubled marriages that there is also nothing more tedious and exhausting than being married to a stunningly beautiful but narcissistic woman.
You can take this too far; I’m not suggesting you marry someone in whom you have no sexual interest at all. But the first priority, according to Scripture, is to find a spiritually compatible person, and then, under that umbrella, find a sexually compatible person. If you reverse those two categories, you can expect to find short-term satisfaction at the risk of long-term frustration.
When we jump forward to the New Testament, there is no hint at all about finding “the one person” that God created “just for you.” It’s far more a pragmatic choice: do you think you’ll sin sexually if you don’t get married (1 Cor. 7:2)?
Are you acting improperly toward a woman you could marry (1 Cor. 7:36)? If so, go ahead and get married — it’s your choice, and God gives you that freedom. But notice this: the choice is made on the basis of seeking righteousness. “Do you think you might keep sinning if you stay single? Then get married.”
In helping people wrestle with the decision to marry, the apostle Paul admitted that there are benefits to singleness and benefits to being married. If you’re unable to handle sexual temptation as a single, Paul said, then by all means get married. This is blatantly an admonition to base a marital decision on the desire to live a more righteous life.
Notice 1 Corinthians 7:8-9. Paul also leaves the decision whether to get married up to us: “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry…”
The crowning piece of our argument that there isn’t just one right choice, however, is Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 7:39: “She is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.” Did you catch that? She is free to marry anyone she wishes as long as the man she “wishes” belongs to the Lord. Could Scripture be any clearer?
Scripture thus tells us that it is our choice whether we want to get married and who we want to marry. In other words, you get to choose. This isn’t a denial of God’s providence, nor does it preclude God leading two people together in certain cases.
The reality is that I believe most of us could be happily married to hundreds of different potential spouses, provided we’re getting married for the right reasons and basing our decisions on faith and character. Set free from thinking we have to find “the one” — which is impossible to determine, anyway — we can begin the hard work of evaluating someone’s character, faith and lifestyle.
*This article was originally written/published by the author under the title, “Is there Only One ‘One’?”
Gary Thomas is author of The Sacred Search: What If It’s Not About Who You Marry, but Why?You can follow his blog at www.garythomas.com/blog, or contact him via Twitter (@garyLthomas) or Facebook: www.facebook.com/authorgarythomas.