I was reading through the comments on the Christianity Today piece, which managed to be considerably better than “not terrible.” In fact, they were rather interesting and, in some cases, constructive.
This one, by an “Anne S,” raises a particularly good point:
The cure to the overemphasis on the virtues and benefits of marriage, to the alienation of the unmarried (both those who want to be married, and those content unmarried), is not to go to the other side and overemphasize how awesome it is that the unmarried get to remind the unmarried that “the form of this world is passing away.” It sends the message to the unmarrieds that Jesus views them as a tool of witness and example for the marrieds, rather than humans with good and godly longing and desire of their own. And, it overlooks the true problem: that in fact, something is seriously broken in the church with regard to how we mate and marry, and how we relate to one another as a body (that we ARE all equally loved, used, and cared for by Jesus) — and until someone actually helps articulate THIS, we will continue to have problems, and unmarried people will continue to feel like an unneeded appendage in a body they should feel a part OF.
This is all very well put, and I wholeheartedly agree with most of it. And if I communicated that we ought to simply reduce people to their heuristic functions, I do apologize.
A few minor qualifications, though. First, does–as Anne suggests–speaking of singleness as a witness to our eschatological life cause us to ignore the real problem, which is that “something is seriously broken in the church with regard to how we mate and marry, and how we relate to one another as a body”? I don’t think so.
Let me put it this way: is the marginalization of singles in the church a symptom or a cause of our troubled relational culture? If you guessed “yes,” gold star with a smile. These things have a way of reciprocally enforcing existing norms, and the more singles are marginalized the harder it will be for the problems we have to be corrected. If it’s not at the root, it’s very much near it. But the disease breeds more of itself, which makes a multi-faceted strategy really the only choice. More on that someday, perhaps in a longer format.
At the same time, I understand the danger of reducing folks to only bearing witness to those who are married about the nature of the eschatological life. Or at least, I would understand it if “bearing witness” were itself a reduction of someone’s intrinsic value and dignity. And yet we are all witnesses, none of us whole or complete except when we have found our place within the church. It goes both ways, after all: the married folks remind us of the vindication of the created order. It’s a peculiarly human phenomenon that in living out our lives we point beyond them to something else.
But let’s also specify the nature of the witness: it’s life that’s on offer, and life abundantly. We can emphasize the witness (and I did), or we can emphasize the life that it reveals. I did not, and I wish I had. The trick is not only showing that the form of this world is passing away, but to realize, as much as anyone on this side of it can, the life we might have in the world to come. The thing must be goodness, and if the single life doesn’t look as such, then perhaps it’s not your calling.
But in a community where singleness is rarely, if ever, presented as one possible way into the fullness of joy (especially among those who seek leadership), then those who may be called might never hear it. “How can they hear without a preacher?” is true of more things than salvation.
I speak, in all this, of a singleness that is given, and that is received. Not all who are single, or who have been, fit the category. And I won’t go about minimizing the difficulty of a life lived where the desires of the heart are perpetually frustrated, or the very difficult practical questions of discerning these things.
But there is no escaping the singular fact that regardless of our status, the form of our lives is to point beyond ourselves, to remind each other of the reality of the revelation which we have heard, to be a people among whom the Word of God is living and active. Otherwise, the married and the single risk saying to each other, “Go your way, for I have no need of you.”