The Singleness Phenomenon

 

We've got to face up to the issue. Well over 50% of all adults in the world are single. (1). But that's not all. Evangelical Christian groups offer research which suggests that the percentage of singles within their churches is much higher than that in the surrounding world. (2).  

Why is singleness such an especial problem in our last days, and why is there little direct Biblical teaching about it? Singleness comes about from being called to the Gospel single, from being divorced or separating after baptism. But there are another group of effectively " single" people within our community: those whose marriages have become so cold  that each partner lives a single life, working out their own relationship with God, just laying their heads down in the same house each night. Far more of this goes on than we realize or care to admit. Israel as a nation were the people of God. There was no real problem in finding partners. The New Testament church was comprised mainly of adults called to the Gospel in a married state. But there is another reason why singleness is a phenomenon of the last two centuries. Until modern times, everyone got married. Young single people were almost unknown. God's definition of marriage in Gen. 2:24 implies the same: a man would leave his parents and cleave to his woman (s.w. wife), and they would become (through the process of married life) " one flesh" . The idea of single people living alone in their lonely flat in suburbia was unheard of. The Hebrew and Greek languages use the same words for " woman" and " married woman" , and for " man" and husband" . A " girl" means both a girl, a virgin and an unmarried woman (hence the confusion over Is. 7:14). The assumption was that all young girls got married; there was no concept of a voluntarily single woman. And throughout the world, people got married from economic and practical necessity rather than from falling in love and then choosing to get married. The first  Biblical marriage was an arranged marriage, and so are most of  the Biblical examples. It seems that this system fits our nature best. It has been observed: " Freewill in courtship was virtually nil...from about 1800 to virtually 2000AD there has been choice by freewill. Putting 200 years over 6000 years...free choice of marriage partners has been but 3.3% of the course of human history" (3). Interestingly, Benazir Bhutto (one time Prime Minister of Pakistan) chose to go through with an arranged marriage despite the opportunity of Western style courtship and freewill marriage. She commented: " ...in love marriages, I imagined, the expectations were so high they were bound to be dashed. There must also be the fear that the love might die, and with it the marriage" (4). The risks of our Western-style freewill marriages are therefore very high. More Christian couples than we might imagine struggle with a disillusion with their marriage. Singleness for people of marriageable age is therefore a recent phenomenon. The majority of converts in New Testament times were adults and therefore married at the time of their baptism.  

The fact is, the Genesis record describes how woman was taken out of man, and yet in marriage man and woman become " one flesh" again. A man will desire to " cleave" to his wife (Gen. 2:24), literally to chase, follow hard after. The desire to chase a woman and marry her is therefore a natural urge that will always play itself out. There is a natural desire within human beings to achieve this rejoining. The lonely world in which we live, with the breakdown of the extended family and local community, makes loneliness all the more poignant. The art of deep conversation is fast disappearing in the world, relationships become utilitarian rather than real. The single believer yearns more and more for a spiritual and physical soul-mate. And yet God, through His moral teaching (e.g. concerning not marrying unbelievers) has made it very difficult for His children in these last days to marry as He intended. The conclusion is clear: the singleness phenomenon is a very common method which God is using to spiritually develop His latter day family.


Notes

(1) Statistics taken from Gary Collins, " Singleness" , in Christian Counselling (Waco, TX: Word Books,  1979) and from the Marriage Research Centre at the Central Middlesex Hospital, UK.

(2) There is another, related phenomenon to the singleness phenomenon: The percentage of single females in many churches is far greater than the percentage of single males. This is certainly reflected in our experience in the 21st  Century. This phenomenon would repay closer investigation, Biblically and otherwise.

(3) S.M. Algar, 'Marriage, Failing Or Failed', The Dawn Ecclesial Magazine, Vol. 56 No. 6 (June, 1995).

(4) Benazir Bhutto, Daughter Of The East (London: Pergamon, 1988). She also makes the point that there is little " love" in arranged marriages. The way the Bible commands married couples to love each other was therefore far more revolutionary than we might imagine.