Thursday, November 18, 2010

Relational Paradox

The Bible tells us that being married is better than being single.  And the Bible tells us that being single is better than being married.

It is not that being single is worse than being married.  It is not that being married is worse than being single.  It is not even that each status is equally good.  Each is better than the other.  And it is not simply that being married is better than being single in certain circumstances or for certain people, and vice versa.  That is an attempt, from an earthly perspective, to justify an apparent paradox.  But the Bible is full of paradox – true paradoxes, not apparent paradoxes - because a heavenly perspective is a paradoxical one: and paradoxes must be allowed to stand, not be resolved.

This means that whatever your status, it is better than the alternative.

This truth comes under ferocious attack.  Sometimes all-out frontal attack; sometimes subversive undermining: the accuser will try whatever it takes to trick us into agreeing that we would be in a better position to be ourselves and to do the thing that God has charged us with if we were no longer married, or no longer single.  And ultimately to agree that if God really cared, if he could really be trusted, then he would make it possible: that he would provide a way out of our marriage or our singleness.

Because if we will agree, we are taken out of the game: gotcha!  A trick as old as Eden (the serpent really is a one-trick pony).

The starting-point advantage that the accuser has is that being married and being single are both incredibly hard things to be.  They just are – and if you think otherwise, you probably haven’t been married or single, whichever you are, for very long.

Incredibly hard, yes.  But the starting-point advantage we have is that from a heavenly perspective our status is the best status we could have.

Yes, there are certain pressures and challenges that are particular to our status, whatever that may be.  For a single person, coming home to an empty house; for a married person, coming home to a house that isn’t empty!  But there are also certain joys and opportunities that are particular to our status, whatever that may be.

The heavenly perspective actively looks to break-in to our lives (it does so at ‘kairos’ moments).  If we will embrace our status, receive it as best not second best – and if we will affirm the status of others as best, not second best – then we, and they, will experience greater freedom to be more fully all we were made to be.

The world has a default position, that being married is normative.  We fill out forms that ask for our ‘marital status: single / married / divorced / widowed’ which, by considering ‘single,’ ‘divorced,’ and ‘widowed’ to be ‘marital’ statuses measures them negatively against ‘married.’

Biblically, we might want to question the assumption that marriage is normative.  Undoubtedly God is proved right in observing that it is not good for the human being to exist in ongoing isolation: but, it is possible to be single and experience life-affirming connection to others, and just as possible to be married and experience life-destroying isolation.

Biblically, we might want to say that marriage is illustrative, rather than normative: that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Jesus and the Church.  And in seeing marriage as illustrative, we must also recognise singleness as illustrative of the relationship between God and humanity, at least because God (the Father) describes himself as having gone through divorce, and perhaps because God (the Son) was and is, for now at least, single.

The Church must find a way to affirm that being married is better than being single while insisting upon the paradoxical affirmation that being single is better than being married.


  1. I was reading this this morning and having a how the heck does that work out wonder... Can you move on to covered/uncovered head & glory next?! ;)

  2. I think re how it can be simultaneously true that being married is better than being single and that being single is better than being married, we just need to accept it as something beyond our understanding - like accepting that Jesus is simultaneously both fully God and fully human.

    In terms of what does this mean for us in practice, I think at least these three things:

    we need to actively affirm both marriage and singleness;

    we need to challenge the belief that either one of these conditions is easier than the other;

    and, we need to work hard to ensure that single people are not treated as second-class citizens in the church.