Why does God withhold good things from us, his children? It’s a perennial question older than Psalm 73. And it comes in today from an anonymous woman who lives in Brooklyn. “Pastor John, hello! I’m a 26-year-old Christian woman, I’ve been saved for 9 years, and I’m single. I know the Bible says that no good thing does God withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11). But I feel like God is withholding marriage from me. How do I fight for joy and keep my desire for marriage in proper perspective as I wait?”
Well, since I wrote a whole book on how to fight for joy, even by that title, let me focus on the second part of this question, which I really think is the main thing. How do I keep my desire for marriage, as a single person who would like to be married, in proper perspective? Because that will then turn around and answer the other part.
The desire for marriage is in proper perspective when it is a desire for marriage for Christ’s sake.
St. Augustine prayed, “He loves thee too little, O God, who loves anything together with thee which he loves not for thy sake.” He knew from the Bible that it is not wrong to desire food, or drink, or clothes, or friends, or knowledge, or health, or safety, or marriage. It’s not wrong to desire that. And he wrestled with the question, When do these legitimate desires become sin? And his answer was that they become sin when they’re not for Christ’s sake.
“The desire for marriage is in proper perspective when it is a desire for marriage for Christ’s sake.”
I know there is a kind of person who would say, “That sounds ridiculously hyper-spiritual to me. Right, I want pizza for Christ’s sake. I want a glass of water for Christ’s sake. I want sex for Christ’s sake. I want a friend for Christ’s sake. Blah, blah, blah, all you hyper-spiritual people.” If you think Augustine sounds hyper-spiritual because you’re supposed to do everything for God’s sake, you’re not criticizing me or Augustine. You’re criticizing God and the Bible.
It was the inspired apostle, not Augustine, who said, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). Desire pizza in the name of the Lord Jesus. Desire a glass of water in the name of the Lord Jesus. Desire sex in the name of the Lord Jesus. Desire marriage in the name of the Lord Jesus. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
So my first answer is that the desire for marriage is in proper perspective when it is a desire for marriage for Christ’s sake.
The desire for marriage is in proper perspective when it is a desire of faith — a desire carried and shaped and sustained by faith.
The Bible says we’re to walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7), live by faith (Galatians 2:20), obey by faith (Hebrews 11:8). I take that to include all the acts of the heart and the body. Let it all be by faith. Because not to is to sin: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
“Not only is marriage not heaven on earth — it’s not heaven in heaven.”
So desiring marriage by faith would mean letting the desire be embedded in the confidence that God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for you and will, according to the rock-solid logic of Romans 8:32, give you all things with him. All things means all things that you need to glorify him and to do his will, which is implied in the context. Because you might get killed in doing it (Romans 8:36).
That’s what I think Romans 8:28 and Matthew 6:33 and Psalm 84:11 mean. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). Faith lays hold of God’s promises and believes them, which keeps all of our desires in proper perspective.
The desire for marriage is in proper perspective when the sorrow of not having it does not sour into cynicism and bitterness.
I think sorrow at the loss of innocent desires is not sin, not unless the sorrow overwhelms godly joy and sours into cynicism and bitterness and drags a single person into isolation and sin rather than friendship and service. Paul spoke of his many sorrows (Romans 9:2; 2 Corinthians 6:10). It’s not wrong to have sorrow. But it is wrong not to rejoice and to live for others, and to become absorbed in cynicism and bitterness and self-pity.
The desire for marriage is in proper perspective when it does not diminish zeal to glorify God with the freedom of singleness.
“Marriage is a temporary covenant, just as full of sorrows as singleness is.”
Paul was just as vulnerable to loneliness as anyone. He said in 1 Thessalonians 3:1–2, “When we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy.” You can hear in that that he hated to be alone. He loved partnership, he loved friendship, he loved people. He needed people. But he wished everyone could have the freedom of singleness for ministry that he had (1 Corinthians 7:7). He knew that wasn’t God’s will for everybody. But he does reveal the possibilities of singleness that he loved.
The desire for marriage is in proper perspective when it is not intensified by unrealistic notions that marriage is the key to happiness.
In other words, it’s not wrong to dream about the kinds of happiness a person may have in marriage. But don’t let your desire intensify because you idealize marriage as heaven on earth. Not only is marriage not heaven on earth — it’s not heaven in heaven. It won’t be there: “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30).
Let your desire for marriage be tempered and kept in proper perspective by this. Marriage is a temporary covenant, just as full of sorrows as singleness is, and pointing to a heavenly covenant, that single and married we enjoy.
Lastly, the desire for marriage is in proper perspective best when you’re part of a loving, Bible-preaching church. That is a family that will last forever.