Freida Pinho in "Slumdog Millionaire"

Whatever Happened to “The One?”

The recent Christian retreat from romance is unbiblical and unwise.

I recently read an article on a Christian magazine website that proudly proclaimed that there is “no such thing” as one special person for you to marry. I am astounded at the proliferation of articles like this. Perhaps this is partly because provocative titles like “There is no such thing as…” tends to grab our attention. I am not so much surprised that I am reading such debasement of the beautiful and life-changing romance that our God has created in romantic love. I am surprised that such desecration would come from Christian sources.

In defense of these authors, it seems they are usually trying to address a problem that “the one” view seems to be causing. The article I just read was trying to answer the problem of too many Christian young people afraid to pull the trigger on marriage because they fear they’ll later discover they chose “the wrong one.” Other articles I’ve read are trying to address the complaint of married Christians who take their chronic marital unhappiness as a sign that they didn’t marry “the one” God had for them.

As a Christian psychologist working with marriages for over 20 years (and myself married for over 30) I can certainly sympathize with the frustrations of helping Christians find their way through the difficulties of marriage. I once had a patient who only came to see me about twice a year and he would always follow the same story line. After about 30 minutes of reviewing his misery of being married to a self-righteous and argumentative wife, he would always bring the discussion back to the time when he got engaged to this woman. “But there was this other girl…” he would say and then spin toward the conclusion that turned his unhappiness into real suffering. What if he had married the “wrong one?”

I understand the difficulties in advising people in such painful circumstances. While I respect these authors’ efforts, the cure is worse than the disease.

What’s Wrong With The “Many People” View?

Since Christians hold the marriage vow as sacred, when friends, family, parishioners or patients confide to us that they are considering divorce as a remedy for their marriage troubles, it is natural that we try to give advice that will encourage them to stay true to their vows. In the same way, when young people are too fearful to even enter into marriage, we seek some means of counsel to ease their fears. It is now popular to offer the encouragement to “just relax, there is not just one person with whom you could be truly happy in marriage, there are many.” While the goal of offering this view is usually to attempt to take the pressure off of that “first choice” problem and focus instead on the real work of making a good marriage, there are problems with giving this kind of advice.

The first problem with offering the “many people” remedy for these problems is that it doesn’t work. My experience is that people questioning the “one person” view when fearful of or miserable in marriage, are actually just looking for a way to justify their behavior. As enticing as it may be to enter into a theological discussion, most people, unfortunately, are not heavily swayed by theology when dealing with marriage decisions.

A second and much bigger problem with this view is the effect it has on our understanding of the Christian faith. Pope Francis recently remarked that “The church is a love story, not an institution.” Far too many Christians have completely forgotten the deep and romantic story that has always been at the basis of God’s pursuit of His people. From God’s pursuing His wayward people, Israel through the desert to Jesus’ coming as a bridegroom, the relationship of God to His people has always been described as passionate, intimate, and most of all particular; a loving husband and His beloved bride.

In lowering our view of marriage, we lower our ability to understand God’s love for us. It would make no sense to say that the Church is “one of many” possible brides for Jesus! It is also instructive, though no less mysterious, that God did not reveal himself to all possible people in the Old Testament, but to a particular people, Israel, that was to live and move in perfect relationship with Him (and only through this people could the world know God.) It is ironic that at the same time Christian sources are discouraging such romantic notions as searching for “the one,” secular outlets continue to thrive on romantic images of unseen forces driving people together despite long odds (e.g. Marc Webb’s movie “500 Days of Summer” or Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” pictured above.)

The Origin Of “The One” 

It is odd the way these “many options” authors refer to the origins of what they call the “myth” of just one person for you to marry. Most of the time, Hollywood is seen as the creator of this “romantic ideal” of one special person to look for. One article even stated confidently that the idea of one person who completes us is from Greek mythology and is not suggested at all in the Bible (see Plato’s quote referring to humans originally created with four arms and legs and two faces). But remember that mythology is often just a dramatic illustration of truths that resist being put into words. The secular world, having lost any basis for believing in “The One” now hankers for it again and creates fantasies that play on that eternal desire for particular, transcendent romance. Sadly, we Christians, who can actually offer the world the very romance they fantasize about, are abandoning this heritage in favor of a shallow appeal to what we suppose must be common sense which, on closer inspection, ends up making no theological sense at all.

I have no idea why these writers completely ignore the obvious, Biblical origin of “the one”… Genesis chapter two. In great detail we are told of God’s creation of the one creature made in His image – the human. God makes only one human out of the ground and then announces that it is “not good” that this human is alone. It is extremely important to note that the human did not complain of being lonely. You’d be surprised how many men quote “it is not good for man to be alone” to justify their demands for more sex from their wives or even to qualify extra-marital sexual behavior. It is not possible that the human was lonely. When one walks in unbroken fellowship with the God of the universe, trust me, you’re not lonely!

If you think about it, this prior sufficiency of God is what makes romance possible. If man did not need woman, then it is all the more wondrously extravagant that she was made! Indeed, God did not even need man and did not need to make him! Instead, we exist due to an abundance of his love and glory. In the same way, we reflect these truths in romance. Romance is hopelessly particular because it is not necessary. I did not need to be married to have a full and satisfying relationship with God, but God showed me my wife, gave her to me as a gift so that it was not my desire to be married that defined our love, but my desire for her. To demonstrate this essential feature of romance (and assuming that you are already married), try telling the story of how you came to be married to your spouse to a room full of seated guests at a dinner party. Try doing this without speaking of your spouse as special, the circumstances of your meeting as memorable or remarkable, or your early days together as heady and enchanted by some singular love or attraction. Try telling an enchanting tale of weighing your compatible traits against your differences and deciding that they indicated a high likelihood of success so you went ahead and bet on it. Most of all, try saying that you might have married someone else and see how that goes over. The story would not only be disappointing, (to all parties involved) but untruthful. Your former self, the one from your early dating days, would likely not believe you. This is not the story that God has written for us. In the same way, Christ does not just desire to redeem “humankind” but you.

God’s pronouncement of “not good” had nothing to do with loneliness but is, instead, a revelation of an important attribute of God and, therefore, the creature made in His image. God exists in relationship and humans are created to exist in relationship as well. An isolated, individual human is “not good” because this doesn’t reflect a true image of God. A man’s deep and divine longing, not just for “woman” but for “that woman” goes beyond biological urges and even the the abstract emotional need for relationship (and the same goes for the woman’s side.)

God’s fix for this problem (a “problem” clearly created as a means of revelation not because of poor planning on God’s part) is surprising and significant for understanding ourselves as human beings. To remedy this alone-ness, God put the human to sleep, took a portion of the human’s body and created another human. In Hebrew it can be seen clearly that, essentially, God split the one human [ha ‘adam] into two beings, a male [ish] and female [ishah].

The Genesis account of God’s creation of man and woman does not simply tell an ancient tale. The story explains the experience recreated in all good romance stories. Young lovers have always felt completed by the one they have fallen in love with. It is innately human to feel this way. Passionate love for the one person that seems made for me is part of being created in God’s image.

Marriage Forms A Unique and Particular Union

Emphasizing that there are “many options” a person could be happy with reinforces our already out-of-control perception of ourselves as isolated individuals. We live in an age that has all but forgotten that the essence of human existence is found in relationship. Many people actually believe that it is a bad thing if a relationship requires an individual to change.

Marriage is formed and sustained in union. The joy of marriage is found in the pouring out of the self into union with another. Marriage requires that each individual sacrifice something of themselves for the joy of unity with their spouse. This kind of sacrifice does not result so much in the loss of the individual as the creation of a unique personality that is the marriage itself.

This means that each marriage relationship is unique and is much more than simply two people sharing a household and parenting duties. To talk of my marriage as one of multiple “possible” marriages I’d be happy with is equivalent to a parent answering questions about their child by saying “it doesn’t matter about any particular characteristics of my child, the important thing is that he or she makes me happy.”

But knowing there is one person out there for you does not burden you with the duty of divining, without a shadow of a doubt, the identity of that person, before you commit to him or her. Part of the joy of finding my “one” was the process of discovering that she was “the one.” I fell in love with my wife in college and I fell very hard. I was immediately attracted to her and as I got to know her better, my interest in any other girl quickly faded. I did not think, in those days, about whether she was “the one.” I only knew that I wanted to be with her all the time and that eventually extended into forever. It was only later that I came to see the unique aspects of our relationship that make my wife the “only one” for me. Correct knowledge of “how to find the one” is not necessary to find him or her and really only misses the point. That knowledge belongs to God and it is best not to overthink it.

In fact, much of what I now value most in my wife were characteristics I hadn’t seen clearly before we married. Like most couples, we valued our compatibility and viewed our differences as grounds for conflict, each trying to mold the other into one’s own likeness. Now we’ve come to value where we are different and begin to see that these make us stronger as a couple. Too often, people assume that the “right one” for me is the one I’m most compatible with and jettisoning the idea of “the one” only exacerbates the problem. Entertaining multiple options of possible spouses really only means “I want the one I don’t have to change much for.” We view incompatibilities as signs we’re not with “the right one” and just assume that God is just as unhappy with this state of affairs as we are (Hosea 1:2 notwithstanding.) Entertaining the fantasy that there are “multiple ones” out there encourages the lie that you might have found a better situation–or at least a different one–and that thought alone is enough to distract you from doing the self-effacing work of loving the one that God picked out for you.

As a marriage therapist, I am essentially working for the “person” that is the union of the two individuals sitting in my office. Often the marriage “person” before me is in critical condition – sometimes it is already dead. Marriage difficulties are caused, in one form or another, by the participants’ retreat from the unity back into their individual-ness. People often tell the story of their failed marriage as if they were the only one selflessly giving to their self-serving (ex) spouse. The funny thing is that when you talk to the other party in this now dead unity, you’ll usually hear an equally rational story that paints them as the selfless victim. It is from this dysfunctional situation of isolated individuals retreating from matrimony that the mythology of multiple possible unions arises. It is a paltry compensation for unhappiness, and it is being deployed–often preemptively–on our young people, disguised as a Christian proverb. May it never be that we, the chosen people of God, mistake His wisdom for world-weariness.

Problems With “The One” View?

The real problems that people have with the idea of just one person for each of us stems both from a wrong understanding of who “the one” is and from a wrong view of God.

The first problem stems from a significant shift that has occurred in our understanding of “the one” God has for us. It is a tremendous change that no one seems to have noticed. Everyone now talks as if “the one God has for me” is defined by his or her ability to make me happiest. Since when did the test of God’s perfect will for our lives become whether His apparent plan is fulfilling me or not? There are definitely times that I have felt my wife is “not right” for me. When this occurs, I’m pretty sure it’s because of my sin, not God’s mistake. Marriage is joy but it is also a great crucible that demands that our self-ness crumble in the face of the sanctifying work of union with another.

God’s purpose for putting a particular man and woman together is for His glory, not necessarily each individual’s constant pleasure. The prophet Hosea’s wife, Gomer, was not chosen for Hosea’s pleasure. Gomer was a prostitute and Hosea was commanded to marry her because she was a prostitute. This union was brought about as an important display of Israel’s unfaithful relationship to her God. Should Hosea have complained that God failed by not bringing him “the right” wife that would make Hosea happiest? Your own unhappiness with your marriage is not a sign that something has gone wrong in God’s plan.

The other common problem with “the one” view stems from a poor knowledge of God. There are Christians who actually believe that God would take something as important as our choice of spouse and treat it like a game. They worry that they might choose “the wrong one” and God would respond with a callous “too bad, you made your choice” lack of concern. Others fear that, since they are now divorced, they are relegated to some sort of “plan-B” where they will never receive God’s blessings.

A. W. Tozer reminds us that, “The man who comes to a right belief about God is relieved of ten thousand temporal problems…” Just because you had improper motives or failed to seek God’s council in making your choice of spouse doesn’t mean that the person you are married to isn’t God’s choice for you all along. God did not wake up the morning after your wedding, look at the newspaper, smack His glorious forehead and declare, “Oh no… now my plan is foiled forever!”

Job declared that God “… can do all things, and that no purpose of [His] can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Having forgotten this, too many Christian young people are taught to mistrust their own romantic passion and fear they will “mess up” God’s plan. What they are not taught is that they should have no fear of waking up one day and feeling that their spouse may not be “the right one” for them. They should not fear it because one can almost guarantee it will happen! Fear not, your own heart is not to be trusted. If you have married before God, that is your person. It doesn’t matter if you happen to feel like it that particular day, week, month or year.

The problems people have with the “one person” view isn’t resolved by suggesting “many” potential partners for each of us. In every way, it only makes things worse by enticing us with the notion that things could have worked out differently. These problems are resolved by clarifying the definition of that “one” person and how we can know who that person is. Our God has always been a God of redemption and power, ever ready to bring our messed up actions into perfect harmony with His will through the sufficient work of His Son, Jesus.

While it is disturbing to read these authors’ attempts to tear down the beautiful romance that is the heart of our faith, I don’t have any real fears about it. I rest in the comfort of knowing that, no matter how much people warn, criticize or spread their cynicism, young lovers will continue to meet and their hearts will whisper that they have finally found “the one.” As in so many places, the truth, where it has been divorced from sense, persists in song:

“Slowly counting down the days

Till I finally know your name

The way your hand feels round my waist

The way you laugh, the way your kisses taste

I missed you but I haven’t met you

Oh but I want to

How I do”

From “To Whom It May Concern” by 
The Civil Wars


Dr. Kenneth Wilgus is a marriage and adolescent psychologist practicing in McKinney, Texas.

9 Responses to “Whatever Happened to “The One?””

  1. Jim Poole

    I suspect many of the current articles wrestling with the notion of “the one” have been greatly influenced by Garry Friesen’s Decision Making and the Will of God. They are challenging the (modern-day) traditional views of how God’s will really plays out. Does he have specific, highly orchestrated or merely general plans for us? And where do we draw the line in how determined we are — do we have …one job, one “best” place to live, one “right” shirt to wear?
    Additionally, the modern romantic myths have been predominantly popularized in Western culture historically originating in the medieval times. Biblical cultures would not have understood what we describe as romantic love.
    Lastly, I agree with you that individualism is a rampant issue, and if folks are emphasizing their own happiness as a major decision-making factor, then of course this is self-centered. But has it also infected our reading of the Bible: has God made individual plans for us, or are those plans more predominantly corporately applied?

  2. Tim DeMay

    This is a dangerously wrong-headed piece, and the undertones of determinism that ride through it have the opportunity to cause far more harm, anger, and isolation than aid Christians struggling in relationships.

    But I’ll avoid getting theological — though I think there are a variety of good ways to critique this article on those grounds. (Speaking of which, just as there are a sundry of logical fallacies like “the appeal to nature” and “special pleading,” can Christians all agree to try and avoid using the “appeal to Genesis”?)

    Instead, here is a story. My mother was – and is – a strong Christian woman, and I admire her greatly. As a young adult, she prayed and sought after God’s will, dating carefully, looking for the One who would be her partner, her support, her helper. She married my father, a man who knows the Bible – or at least the words in it – like the back of his hand. His routine involves waking early to read Scripture – the only book he really does read – and he keeps a life of purity around him, avoiding the surrounding culture of violence and sex (we never watched movies with him), listening to Christian music, wholly abstaining from alcohol even.

    I haven’t spoken to him in a few years now and consider myself estranged. This is because shortly after he married my mother, he began a two decade long history of psychological abuse, subjecting her to merciless guilt over things that were not sins, declaring that she was steps from Hell, explaining that the actions she took – like, for example, visiting her family on a trip for that exact reason – were the fruits of demonic possession.

    I never saw all of this, stupid and young. Eventually I opened my eyes to it, and in high school, as the oldest child, threw my father out of the house a few times. By my Junior year at college, he had stepped out sexually a number of times, refusing all the while to get a divorce because it was not Biblical. Back then, when I still talked to him, I would stretch to my limits to converse with a man genius at hiding himself in words just to convey that Love does not take the form of Adultery. This, a conversation about sexual purity with my father, from the position of authority, was difficult.

    Finally, he agreed to the divorce, and now the only time I hear about him is when he is trying to convince my youngest brothers to see his new family, or when he is trying to avoid paying my mother alimony, or when I get the random check in the mail from him with the attached note saying, “Because God wanted me to bless you with this.”

    What are the takeaways here? One is that if you believe God chose my father for my mother, subjecting her to two decades of psychological abuse and relational misadventure, of tragedy and depression and loneliness, then I strongly advise not saying that to her, because the only thing worse than blaming the victim would have to be telling the victim that this is what God the Loving Father and Prince of Peace chose for her.

    Another is that perhaps there is no such thing as the One, because people, even those you have married “before God,” with a heart of faith and obedience, change. They do. It’s an awful condition that seems to thread all the way back to our first parents (appeal to Genesis!). I may have all the faith in the world in God, but the rules of the game seem to involve God promising to keep his hands out of whatever mental or physical operations come together to create our horrifying freedom of choice. Our will. My father willed and wills to wear God as a mask, and the swept room in his heart houses many of unwanted guests because of the actions he took to open the door. But my mother, who wills to desire to will God’s will, who wants to want what God wants, was thrown to the wolves, or the wolf, and the scars of the decades are visible – in her, in me, in my brothers.

    Do not tell people there is the One, and more, that the One they are with is the One they Will Be With, because God chose that One, and you are guaranteed (if your faith is strong enough! Another subtext that had my mother doubting for years her own intimacy with Christ) to be rightly with that One.

    No. Tell people: be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves, because humans here are not worth faith. God is; yet, unfortunately, faith and a relationship with Him will not save you from tragedy and trouble, from heartbreak and ruined promises. Stay with Him and when the One you thought was the One changes stripes, know that He will be the first to help you adapt your plans, as he did my mother, thankfully.

    Tell people: there is no One, but also anyOne can be the One. Because finding the One isn’t about finding the One or waiting for God to choose the One. It is about becoming the One for the Other. Love is about transformation, not expectation. Do that; be hurt; love God.

    • Alex Wilgus


      I treat your objections with utmost respect, not least because they involve a most wrenching personal testimony worthy of much sympathy and prayerful bearing of burdens. I sincerely hope that you and your family are finding such fellowship as that in your church community. Still, I wonder whether your comment does not misrepresent the intent of the author. The article is about the theological conception of “The One” as a reflection of God’s romance with his people. It is not about determinism and will. The author, being intimately familiar with many hundreds of tragic stories like yours, is perfectly aware that a man, in his sin, is capable of acting out of accord with God’s plan, stepping away from true romance and rejecting both His love and the love of his wife, choosing not to repent of sin but to live in it. But your story of a romance ruined by sin do nothing to sully what it might have been, what your mother both believed in and deserved but did not get, a perfect and particular love one to another and a perfect union. This is the “marriage person” that the author describes and yes, sadly, it is a fragile thing. Nowhere does this theology of “The One” suppose that the maintenance of such romance is easily attainable and just works out naturally for everyone. Few achieve it perfectly, (many more do not even get married) and the author even admits freely that it often dies due to neglect and evil. “The One” view does not presuppose that people in marriages inhabit a static state of goodness, but rather gives them an ideal to strive for and a story to act in accordance with. In essence, something to change into. You are right that marriage transforms those in it and that it is a lot of work, but the author believes these things as well, and the idea that your mate is the One whom God has given to you to love is actually a powerful expression of those facts, and an incentive to pursue them.

      Moreover, the author does not suggest that marriages succeed when the faith of one person in it is strong enough, and fails due to that person’s lack of spiritual strength. Abuse is abuse and sin poisons everything it touches. Unless it is overcome by confession, repentance and sanctification, then its destructive power will consume its host and may ruin even the blessings that God gives us in romance. The theology outlined in the article does not blame your mother but rather outlines an ideal for marriage and romance. That this did not happen (or has not happened yet) in your mother’s case is truly tragic and worthy of lament, not blame or judgment for any “weakness” on her part. The contingency of romance–that it may die–does nothing to refute the idea that it exists. Many good things are contingent. Life itself even. Indeed, the idea that the one you have married is Your One whom God has given you is a reason to forsake all others, fight to save your romance as your mother did, but where that notion is abandoned, as it was by your father, then there is no guarantee that a marriage will survive the repeated assaults of sin just as faith does not survive the unforgivable sin of rejecting God.

      In all this, the author certainly does not say that believing that your mate is “the One” for you requires you to take his abuse lying down. Separation and eventual divorce are the unfortunate consequences of the stain of sin and an unrepentant nature–in this case your father’s abuse and infidelity–and a dogmatic dedication to the “unbiblicalness” of divorce whilst maintaining an even more unbiblical lifestyle of active sexual adventurism and withholding love and charity from one’s spouse is just rhetorical power-playing, dishonesty deployed as abuse. Your mother did not end her marriage, she was driven from it. Under the cloud of such emotional devastation as it became, it is tempting to suggest that she should not have had to go through any of it, that she ought to have thought this or that thing that would have led her to not feel so hurt by it. But as many in your mother’s situation know, hurt from sins such as these are very often unavoidable no matter how we think of them. We cannot assume that pain and suffering are easily deflected by shedding our hopes of romance desire for reconciliation or we risk blaming the victim in another way: for not being canny enough to avoid the wounds. Being wise as serpents does not mean being able to expertly dodge suffering any more than being innocent as a dove means lying down before abuse.

      In this sense, your objection really does not take issue with the author’s theological perspective on “the One” but rather is a variation on the Problem of Evil, why bad things often happen to the faithful, and this indeed is a mystery for all faith not just this present case of the theology of romance. Why does God bring children into the world to suffer may be asked just as much as why God brings marriages together that fall apart. Many have sought to answer the objection by somehow limiting God’s power or omniscience, appealing to his ignorance. In the same way, we limit the goodness and scope of romance by disassembling marriage into one pick among “multiple options.” The other idea that God has some divine purpose in suffering is also troubling, but it is ultimately, in my opinion, to be preferred. For what is the more callous, to tell your mother that she just made the wrong choice, that she should have known better to begin with, so all her sufferings were just a grand mishap or ruse, or to suppose that those two decades of suffering did serve some as-yet undisclosed purpose, that God was with her in her suffering then as he is with her in her respite now, or even that she was chosen, if even in small, fleeting and effervescent moments, to look on such a sinner as your father in love, to see him as God sees him, and what might have been had he not capitulated to sin, but instead acted according to the truth that your mother is His One whom God has given him to love.

      • Tim DeMay

        Alex —

        You offer a very generous reading of the post, but your reading does not, in the end, really explain sentences like:

        “Just because you had improper motives or failed to seek God’s council in making your choice of spouse doesn’t mean that the person you are married to isn’t God’s choice for you all along. God did not wake up the morning after your wedding, look at the newspaper, smack His glorious forehead and declare, “Oh no… now my plan is foiled forever!” ”

        Your explanation itself bears out a subtle confusion of the terms here. Is, in your/the author’s view, God’s One the right One? If yes, if God “chose” the person whether or not our motives were perfect or pure or whatever, then we must simply deal with whatever abuse or terror follows. Yes? It is inevitable, determined, and comes from the divine and unquestionable Will of God. (How this is not a free will question is beyond me…). And moreover, the author even notes that this is the “RIGHT” person! He writes:

        “Having forgotten this, too many Christian young people are taught to mistrust their own romantic passion and fear they will “mess up” God’s plan. What they are not taught is that they should have no fear of waking up one day and feeling that their spouse may not be “the right one” for them. They should not fear it because one can almost guarantee it will happen! Fear not, your own heart is not to be trusted. If you have married before God, that is your person.”

        My mother married before God. Was that her person? Psychologically abusive and sexually unfaithful? Bringing her in and out of counseling and therapy for years?

        And no: my mother was not driven from her marriage; she ended it. The active verb in place of the passive one is very important. Rhetoric in this way is just so close and crucial to ethics.

        In the end of your comment, you set up two possibilities: either marriage is choosing one from multiple options, or God chooses for us to suffer. And somehow having the Father hurt his children is what you would “prefer”? This is an unfortunate consequence of the closed determinism that is still very present in both the author’s original argument and your reply.

        No, I choose, rather, for marriage to be about making and creating, about responsibility and ethics. I choose for Kierkegaard’s marriage, for the eternal choice to love, rather than what is a passive, conservative explanation, one that downplays abuse and consequence, that overlooks personal decisions, and says instead, “Just trust that God chose one person for you,” though of course no Scripture has yet been presented to back this up (except the appeal to prelapsarian Genesis…).

        I would not tell my mother she made the wrong choice or that God chose an awful person for her. This is another logical fallacy (“false choice”). I would tell her the truth, which is: the guy you knew changed. That’s terrible, for so many reasons and for so many people. I am sorry you went through that. God was with you, even when it turned darkest. He’s sorry too, but He promises better. Not now, maybe. Maybe not even in this life. But there’s better. Stick with Him, because the center of this life, which is also the center of the Book of Job, is tragedy.

  3. Jim Poole

    Alex – Re: your 4th & 5th sentence – – to make the claim that “the One” view is a theological conception (that God has only one person that is meant for us in marriage) is to clearly enter into the Determinism-Free Will debate.

    • Alex Wilgus

      Only if you think that free will and the “multiple options view” (and conversely, the “One” view and determinism) are the same thing. I don’t think they are. Your choices can certainly alter or sully your relationship with “The One.” God could show you “The One” and you decide against him/her or hurt him/her enough to irreparably ruin the marriage. Believing there’s a “One” out there for you does not make your relationship with that person infallible or guaranteed to succeed. The article tries to bear witness to the Bible’s support of the One view, but does not make any metaphysical claims as to how that works out (nor does the Bible for that matter.) I realize that it gets mysterious here. Why does God bother to initiate particular romance, joining one person to one person if it could end through bad choices? No easy answers there, but like I say in the last comment, that’s a mystery for all faith not just romance.

      The article is mainly trying to resuscitate the Biblical roots of a certain intuition we have when we fall in love. In a way, it does not make sense to proceed as if the one you’re marrying is “someone I happen to like and just a good bet” and it makes less sense to say that people sort of “make” each other “the one” for each other through hard work and determination. All you need to do is see a dating relationship (between two perfectly compatible, interesting Christian people) fall apart despite hard work–visiting any Christian university will provide you with lots of material to work with! Like C.S. Lewis said of poetry: the poem does not exist to illumine the genius of the poet nor does the poem beautiful in itself, rather it bears witness to a truth outside and beyond both poem and poet. Romance is very much the same way. Or, to take a negative example, this underreported (but very common) phenomenon: what does it mean when a man admires the attributes of a woman, recognizes her Godly qualities, is attracted to her form, respects her sharp intellect, but cannot love her? What is missing? Some undetectable element of compatibility? I think not. Two people may be perfectly compatible but be incapable of loving each other just as two woefully incompatible people may find themselves very much in love.

      Really, I don’t think the free will/determinist side of the question can be answered with any certainty. We can’t know whether our actions are determined or not. But if we are going to wade in, I think the tension is best resolved by appealing to providence over determinism or free will, a concept that we’ve lost sight of. God’s timelessness also complicates the free will/determinist dichotomy. We don’t need to think of our lives as either determined or random if God is outside time and our very being is at all moments dependent upon him “vertically” rather than “horizontally.” Both a free will and determinist view places God within the stream of time, acting or refusing to act, ordering or refraining from ordering our steps. Broadening our concept of God goes a long way toward breaking down that false dichotomy.

      • Jim Poole

        I’m baffled by your split in asserting “the One” view does not stir up the determined or free Will of God. So I’ll just quote Stanley Hauerwas now famous remarks on the subject:
        “Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.”

        I would urge you in all sincerity to give Friesen’s excellent, theologically informed book a read thru.
        I also applaud Tim DeMay generous, articulate comments above.

        • Alex Wilgus

          I’m equally baffled about what any of this has to do with free will and determinism. I realize that reflection upon just about every theological mystery can become grounds to bring up that pernicious binary (salvation or suffering for instance) but this does not mean that the issue follows from the arguments. Anyway, as I tried to explain in the last comment, a thoroughgoing determinist view can tack alongside “the many” view just as easily as “the one” view (e.g. “there is a determined number of people out there that I might be happy with. The one I chose was determined also.”) But the quote from Hauerwas you supply has nothing to do with this issue and actually is just a restatement of many points from the article. An ethic of self-fulfillment, it seems to me, can corrupt the “many options” view just as much as “the one” view. Whether you think there is “a one” or not, you are perfectly capable of viewing marriage and family as the ultimate end of all experience superseding God. As it happens, the article fully agrees with the above quote on a number of points. I’ll just quote from your quote and then the article to prove the point.

          Hauerwas: “We never know whom we marry; we just think we do.”
          Wilgus: “What they are not taught is that they should have no fear of waking up one day and feeling that their spouse may not be “the right one” for them. They should not fear it because one can almost guarantee it will happen! Fear not, your own heart is not to be trusted. If you have married before God, that is your person. It doesn’t matter if you happen to feel like it that particular day, week, month or year.”

          Hauerwas: “Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy.”
          Wilgus: “Marriage is formed and sustained in union. The joy of marriage is found in the pouring out of the self into union with another. Marriage requires that each individual sacrifice something of themselves for the joy of unity with their spouse.”

          Hauerwas: “For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it.”
          Wilgus: “As a marriage therapist, I am essentially working for the “person” that is the union of the two individuals sitting in my office.”

          Hauerwas: “The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person.”
          Wilgus: “But knowing there is one person out there for you does not burden you with the duty of divining, without a shadow of a doubt, the identity of that person, before you commit to him or her…It was only later that I came to see the unique aspects of our relationship that make my wife the “only one” for me. Correct knowledge of “how to find the one” is not necessary to find him or her and really only misses the point. That knowledge belongs to God and it is best not to overthink it.”

          The only quibble I have with Hauerwas here is the assumption that marriage is just a long slog of “caring for a stranger.” This is not exactly wrong–as it is admirably trying to communicate to naive lovers that marriage is ethically demanding before God–but here, I’m inclined to think that the author sees a bit farther than Hauerwas in explaining what marriage is (not just what it requires): a reflection of the divine life that we enter into through committed and self-effacing union with another. He’s trying to say that, yes, your partner is in a sense, a stranger to you but you are also a stranger to yourself and the mutual discovery of the one flesh that you are before God together is to discover both your mate and yourself in unity rather than individual isolation. That “oneness” we so hanker after in singleness or youth is not the desire to find the person that will make us instantaneously happy, but to find that one person that God has provided you with whom to walk that journey toward unity together. Discovering this indeed involves the ethical rigor of marriage, (and our marriages suffer when we abdicate from this responsibility) but that’s not as far as it goes. Many have said the same of the walk of faith, that it is a set of ethical demands to adhere to that brings no real joy in this life.

          I’ll take up your offer of reading Friesen’s book if you’ll agree to Gary Thomas’s Sacred Marriage, or perhaps some relevant passages fro JPII’s Theology of the Body, though I’m afraid none of these resolve the free will/determinism question you seem so adamant I answer. Shoot me an email and we can compare notes.

  4. J.E.P

    I found Gary Thomas’ blog (one of the people warning against “The One” ideology) – and posted the following on there as well, but would appreciate your perspective too. (or whoever else.)

    I am feeling burdened by a “mystical” event. Would really appreciate your advice:

    See, I’m not normally the type of person who even remembers dreams let alone take the time to analyze them — and I do not tend to worship in churches that elevate things like speaking in tongues and other intense manifestations of charismatic gifts.

    THAT being said, there have been a few (handful or less) significant moments in my life where I firmly believe God has “communicated” with me via a dream — usually to notify me of something that would come to pass. (Normally they would immediately come to pass: the day of or the following day and it would be things I had no control over.)

    I also believe the Holy Spirit can inform one’s intuition, and that God does send “signs” and often these signs (while secondary to and not contradicting of His revealed will in Scripture) can help inform us to make the best choices… and that we dismiss them to our detriment.

    Anyways, not too long ago, I met a young man who embodied many of the strengths and qualities I am seeking in a potential spouse. He is not a Christian though, and at this very moment, I am content in my season of singleness.

    The last time we were in contact, it was Lent and I was fasting and waking up often in the middle of the night to pray and read Scripture. I felt a particular burden to devote much my Lenten fast and prayer for his salvation (not just for him, but for a few of our mutual friends as well.)

    One morning, after spending much of the prior night in prayer, I received a “vision” from God that seemed to indicate well–dare I say, that we were being wedded. (Or something like it at least!)

    I concluded perhaps that this may be a “sign” about the long term future.

    My worry is that once I am ready to date, I will always have him in the back of my mind as I meet people. Finding it to be the case already… And I ask myself, what if I’m pre-betrothed?!

    Please let me know your thoughts.

    GOD bless.


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