The idea of “the one” or a “soul-mate” is quite common in popular culture today. The Twilight series based 4 rather lengthy books on this concept (I am not sure how, but its an impressive feat nonetheless). I will never forget Serendipity, whose plot is based on two people who met briefly in the past who later in life attempt to reconnect because each simply feels that the other is “the one.” Even some of the most popular romantic comedies play off this idea on some level–Sleepless in Seatle, You’ve Got Mail, and Hitch come to mind. Rarely in these movies are the consequences of “the one” mentality played out in any sort of realistic way. Rarely do these movies take an honest look at what effect looking for “the one” has on the people closest to us. In fact, in most the movies I have mentioned, there are perfectly nice and likable people who are left alone simply because they are not “the one.” Their stories are rarely told and their scars are most often overlooked.
The typical romance movie rarely tells the tales of the effects of the separations and family breakups caused by faith in “the one.” In the rare instance that they do tell such a story, it is unrealistically portrayed as acceptable and hurt-free. I can’t interpret this in any other way than an elevation of personal human freedom and happiness over commitment, sacrifice, and faithfulness. Such Hollywood love, excuses far-reaching relational sins and makes joy in relationships purely circumstantial.
Many Christians have picked up this idea of “the one” and treated it almost as if it were biblical dogma. Matt Chandler has called this “the one idolatry.” He points out that Christians sometimes look so fervently for the perfect mate that they begin to worship the idea of a perfect woman or man that in fact does not exist. I have personally witnessed young Christians pass up on relationships with very godly people based solely on feelings or break off relationships with a potential godly spouse because, “I just don’t think he/she is the one.”
Let it be known that I fully believe that God is sovereign over all things (Eph. 1:11). I fully believe that He knows who you will marry as He knows all things. However, I think that such knowledge is too wonderful for us (Psalm 139:6). In addition, I often tell the single folks in my church, “don’t follow your heart!” Why? Because your heat is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9). And in general, Scripture discourages making big decisions based on signs in the sky.
Three reasons why the search for “the one” is unhealthy:
1. The heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21). So listening to your heart, quite frankly, can be very dangerous. Certainly Christians have the Holy Spirit living in them and receive guidance from the HS, but this side of eternity we will always be fighting our sin nature and bottom line, your feelings cannot always be trusted. God’s Word, on the other hand is trustworthy in all things.
2. “The One” mentality undermines the Bible’s teaching on the enduring nature of marriage. People get divorces left and right today simply because they are not happy. I don’t think that is a legitimate ground for a divorce. “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6). God intends for Christian marriages to last so long as both spouses live. We could talk about exceptions to that rule, but certainly I think we would all agree that that is God’s design for marriage. The idea of “the one” elevates immediate, individual human happiness over the lasting joy that is found in Christ-like enduring loyalty.
3. Scripture just doesn’t give us any indication that believers are to look for signs and wonders as they search for a spouse (Matt. 4:7). One might argue that Isaac was told to look for signs, but that is a pretty unique instance and I don’t think that is normative for all believers. What Scripture does give us plenty of is commands for husbands and wives. So what I encourage singles who want to be married to do, is look for those attributes in their spouse. And in all honesty, there is only one clear requirement for Christians in terms of marriage–“do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:4). Look for someone who loves the Lord, everything else is secondary. I would also encourage single to marry someone they are attracted to, though even this can be taken way too far. Bottom line is that you probably won’t marry someone you are not attracted to, but true attraction is far deeper than physical. Compatibility is probably important, but it is often taken too far in my opinion. Further, compatibility is something that can grow over time as you learn to appreciate and understand your spouse. The idea of “the one” does not encourage such growth but rather encourages despair when a certain level of compatibility is absent in a relationship.
So what should single Christians look for in a potential spouse. Its pretty simple. Someone who loves the Lord (more than just on the surface–which probably involves some thoughtful investigation rather than just accepting their testimony) and someone you are attracted to (and I do not mean mere physical attraction, don’t forget God intends for marriage to be a enduring union).
Finally let me say to all of you who are married, please don’t go home tonight and tell your spouse, “you are NOT the one.” Instead I would say with Matt Chandler, “I know you are the one because I married you and as long as we both live, you are THE one and I love you and I will sacrifice in order to grow to love you more.” To my wife and I that is far more romantic anyway.