Is singleness really a “gift”?
Debbie Maken begins her Boundless article “Rethinking the Gift of Singleness” with this thought-provoking question. Today’s singles have had their marital status spiritualized, but Maken, an attorney-turned-homemaker, doesn’t pull any punches as she debunks some cultural misconceptions about this supposed “gift”. In one passage, she writes:
Why are Christians today so apt to validate a lifestyle that in the past would have been considered wayward and askew? To borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis, our own “chronological snobbery” may make us believe that somehow we know more today than those who preceded us. However, our contemporary belief that Scripture validates singleness en masse is a modern invention that has sprouted only in this generation.
The ease of flattery and our alliance with pop culture has produced a language of holy doublespeak where adult singleness is thought of as acceptable, even biblical. Instead of placing this modern phenomenon of protracted singleness under Scripture for scrutiny, we have done the exact opposite — we have made Scripture the handmaiden to the phenomenon. 1 Corinthians 7, anyone? Instead of viewing Scripture as a whole and acknowledging that out of the thousands of characters, only a handful were single, we like to take parts out of context and argue that it gives us cover.
Past Christians also read 1 Corinthians 7, and they understood that Paul was writing at a time of “great distress,” referring to the famine in the Greek countryside and the percolating persecutions taking place at the time. Because of these threatening circumstances, Paul advised that marriage could temporarily be placed on the back-burner. They understood that letter to convey expediency, nothing more.
Paul never held marriage and singleness to be on equal planes, and neither did past Christians. Paul acknowledged celibacy (i.e., the supernatural removal of sexual desire) as a God-given gift. He acknowledged that the celibate could be single, but that the single could not necessarily be celibate and therefore prescribed marriage.
Contemporary Christian teaching on this subject blurs the line between celibacy and singleness and leaves singles mistakenly believing that the two are the same. God is often painted as capriciously willing singleness for some and not others. Consequently and sadly, many Christian singles resign themselves to this less-than-ideal state. A more thoughtful and critical examination reveals that today’s singleness is not some sort of divinely ordained, interminable state for a quarter of the population, but the result of a string of systematic impediments to marriage.
Maken’s entire article is very worth reading.
What do you think of Maken’s take on singleness? How can we counter the current Christian culture’s condoning of delayed marriage?
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