My parents got divorced when I was 6. It has shaped my entire life. Everything, and I mean everything, that I’ve done since can somehow be traced backed to that event. I know this because I paid someone in a big chair with a degree to tell me. I also know it because I feel it. Deep in the marrow of my bones I ache for my dad not to have left. I often wonder with great detail what my life “would be like” if my dad never left. Of course, I wish Narnia was real, so Aslan’s words echo loud and long in my soul (please read with your own dramatization), “To know what would have happened…nobody is ever told that.” But of course my life would be different, right? I mean you don’t have to be a time-traveling Dr. Who to get that, it just would be. But would it be better? Would it be worse? I obviously wouldn’t have had the same life, the same experiences, met the same people, or lived in all the same places. But because I can’t know any of that and according to C.S. Lewis’ Narniology, I may never know any of that, I just have to trust that what God has allowed me to go through was entirely and indisputably intentional.
Truthfully, I’ve read too much of the Bible too many times to think that God isn’t in complete control of my life. I say that, not as a pridefully pious spiritual superior, but to communicate the objective reality that if you believe in the God of the Bible, and you actually read the Bible, and you take it for what it is and not what you want it to be, then you have to accept that God is in complete control. Further, whether you accept it or not, it’s true. Let me get this out of the way, “So you’re saying God is in control of my choice to sin?” Yes. Read Genesis. Read Exodus. Read 2 Samuel & 1 Chronicles. Read Isaiah. Read Romans. Read…the Bible? He doesn’t make you sin, he doesn’t like your sin, he doesn’t approve of your sin, he doesn’t want you to sin, and he definitely judges it, but he is nonetheless in control of it. As he is with everything else.
If you are having trouble accepting that, I have one word for you: Sovereign. It means, “a person who has supreme power or authority.” In this case, God is both the supreme power (accomplishing all the he wills, where he wills, when he wills) AND the supreme authority (accomplishing it how he wills, why he wills). So, let me get this out of the way, “What about the ‘free will’ of mankind?” I believe Piper does a sufficient job by explaining God’s sovereignty in relation to its most controversial counterpart here:
Everything that exists — including evil — is ordained by an infinitely holy and all-wise God to make the glory of Christ shine more brightly. The word ordained is peculiar, I know. But I want to be clear what I mean by it. There is no attempt to obscure what I am saying about God’s relation to evil. But there is an attempt to say carefully what the Bible says. By ordain I mean that God either caused something directly or permitted it for wise purposes. This permitting is a kind of indirect causing, since God knows all the factors involved and what effects they will have and he could prevent any outcome. So his permission is a kind of secondary causing, but not a direct causing.
Piper is getting to the heart of the matter, and really, the heart of our uncomfortability with this hard truth. God is in complete, prevailing, supreme, self-guided, unlimited, and majestic rule over…wait for it…everything. Of course, we typically don’t have much trouble with this idea when we talk about lofty doctrines like Jesus’ atonement for sin or his plan for Satan’s demise. But we run into a deep, if secret, disdain for this attribute of God when we talk about our lives, our choices, our hopes, our fears, our families, our money, our happiness, and our plans. It’s easy to thank God for his sovereignty when it comes to his grace extended to us for our sin against him, less so when it comes to our personal life choices – stuff that he should just “mind his own business” about. Calm down, I’m just saying what you’ve thought anyway.
One of the popular articles going around right now is one called “My husband is not my soul mate.” The blog talks about the importance of dismissing the notion that God has one specific person planned for you to marry and be married to for the rest of your life — dubbed a “soul mate.” Well, I disagree. And so does the Bible. The fact is, humankind is perpetually grabbing madly at any handhold that enables us to climb out of the immense canyon of God’s preeminence. We hate the idea that we aren’t in control. We war against it. We do everything we can to maintain any scrap of control, however paltry it may seem, like whether my spouse is my “soul mate” or not.
The author of the article makes some great points that I agree with about her false notions of who her husband would one day be. She does a great job summing up the toxicity of many young women’s (and men’s) over-exaggerated, pop-influenced marriage and relationship hopes. But just because she had wrongful or misguided hopes about the “person of her dreams,” doesn’t change the fact that God still knew exactly who her husband was going to be. And could have done one or more of an innumerable amount of things to stop them from getting married. It doesn’t change the fact that every moment of her life has been carried out under God’s lovingly watchful eye and that every choice she’s made was or could have been influenced, permitted, or caused, directly or indirectly, by God himself. So it’s not the term “soul mate” that I have issue with or even that she rejects the idea of there being only one person that she could possibly be compatible with. It’s the view that God wasn’t in complete control. And even as I type those words, I do so with marked reluctancy because I know it bristles against your every sensibility about how to go about living your life. Shucks.
Some people will argue that the “Non Soul Mate” view is ultimately healthier and that it frees you to live up to the challenge of choosing to love your spouse for a lifetime rather than wrongly feeling that you’ve “picked the wrong person” and then selfishly moving on to someone else when the “love feelings” seem to fade. Others will argue just as vehemently that the view of their spouse as a “Soul Mate” has gotten them through the hardest times of their marriage because they knew that this one person was “The One” for them. And in fact, both sides will make a strong case for the converse — that it’s really not believing in soul-mates that has gotten them through the fires of their relationship or it’s actually embracing the idea of soul-mates that frees you to selflessly love your spouse each day. What a cluster.
Use the term soul mate if you like or not, but it does not have the power to change God’s sovereignty. Nor should we make an argument for our free will based on our inability to rightly predict what kind of person we will eventually marry. Yes, you could have a great, God-honoring marriage with a lot of different people (not all at once). But when you get married, you can rest assured that it is, in fact, THE ONE person God had planned for you to be married to, because he wants you to be faithful. He wants you to love that person until death do you part. And if I may, in the spirit of the book of Hebrews, move beyond the elementary teachings for a moment and say that marriage is to be a picture of Christ and his love for the church — selfless, sacrificial, and most certainly planned, hoped for, and fulfilled. Why would we assume that for the most sacred of all human relationships God would see fit to leave it up to us entirely? Surely, as God knit you together and knew you intimately in your mother’s womb, he equally knew and ordained every moment of your life to come to pass. Let us not be so haughty to think that God is crossing his heavenly fingers hoping you’ll pick someone he approves of. He is the determining factor.
The article presents a dressed up, one-sided, morosely vapid version of love based on one person choosing to love another person by will power that totally lacks any element of mystery. This is what I reject. Yes, I experience days that I have to choose to love Lindsey because we are human and there are things she does that I don’t like primarily because I am selfish, proud, and frankly, an idiot. But there are also days that I feel overtaken by her. That the very sight of her brings me happiness. It’s fantastic, glamorous, romantic, and absurd. It’s something that is wholly out of my control. It’s something that is so beautiful that it’s confusing. It’s this kind of love that I refuse to guard my kids from. If my two daughters are giggling in their room one day about how their future husbands are going to sweep them off their feet and write love letters to them and treat them like princesses, I won’t pop their bubble. I’ll pray for that guy to come. And if, in allowing themselves to expect love in this way, my girls are disappointed, they’ll be nonetheless deserving of such a man. After all, this is the kind of mysterious, dangerous, forever love that we are loved with by God himself, so why not look for a man who tries to love people that way too? C.S. Lewis writes:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.
I view the kind of love presented in “My husband is not my soul mate” as ultimately a safe, predictable brand of love that protects and prevents a person from the dangers of a true love. I know it sounds capricious, but you’ve been lied to if you think you can love without getting your hands dirty. All similar explanations are simply an attempt to excuse or explain things that we don’t like to happen when we risk loving others.
After my dad left, my mom had to go on disability and welfare because we lacked an earthly provider. Later in life, my mom got very sick and because she had no husband to take care of her, her and I had to move in with my grandparents. My brother stayed in the Bay Area and grew his relationship with his future wife, Jaime, which included becoming friends with some of her good friends. I visited my brother one summer and because he wanted to do something special for my trip, he took me to Great America. Jaime invited their good friend, Lindsey. I met Lindsey that day and I fell in love. Yes, fell in love, it’s real. Meaning that I wasn’t expecting it, I hadn’t planned it, I couldn’t control it. Like running through what seems like a small puddle that turns out to be a flooded area, I fell, and how deep that fall was. That very day I told my brother I was going to marry Lindsey. I did. I was not in control of any of the backstory. I did not determine how I would feel about Lindsey after spending eight hours with her that day. But every single day since we’ve been married, through good, bad, ugly, and unbelievable, God has worked to show us that he is in control. That his plan is not our plan. That Lindsey is the person he planned for and wants me to be with. I can only write this because it is undeniably the very thing I’ve experienced. Where some choose to see coincidental circumstance and perhaps even superstition, I choose to believe in a sovereign God.
As I sit in a coffee shop on this beautifully overcast and therefore thought-provoking day, writing an article about life-long love and the pursuit of other humans, I’m watching a married couple in their 60s or 70s sip matching lattes and I wonder to myself, do they think that they’re soul-mates, or have they simply chosen to love each other everyday, the best they could? I have no idea. But when Lindsey and I are in our 70s, sipping coffee on our porch, looking into each others wrinkled, weathered, weary eyes, I know my answer to that same question will be something like this:
I love to love my wife, everyday. And that makes God smile. She is my soul mate, because there’s something magical about two people becoming one, something God makes happen that is out of my control. I can choose to embrace that and pursue her or I can chose to reject it and pursue others, but God is no less at work or in control because of my choice to call her soul mate. He has chosen my soul’s mate.