So this letter is going to be a discussion that combines your two favorite subjects—Calvinism and girls. Let me start by saying something you might think is problematic, and then see what I can do to work my way out of it.
If I were speaking to a group of young men, and I used the metaphor of a “sexual marketplace,” the chances are pretty good that I would have a bunch of young men tracking along with me, and probably taking notes. “Man, I didn’t know half this stuff!” If I were fool enough to do the same thing with a group of young women, the chances are outstanding that the indignation levels would rival a roomful of wet cats. Men are far more transactional on the subject, and women are far more relational.
To illustrate, suppose a young man moved into the area and joined your church, and he was of a marriageable age, and he proceeded to ask three girls out in the first month. The first two said no, thanks, the third went out with him once, and then said no, thanks. Word of his activities gets around. Suppose further that he asked a fourth girl out in the second month he was there, and they were engaged by the end of that month. The chances are pretty good that this young man will be tagged as someone simply on the hunt for “any willing female,” and the levels of indignation, again, will be high. More on this in a minute.
(Now to clarify, men are far more transactional when it comes to sexual attractiveness. When it comes to long-term life together, their positions usually reverse. In that realm, women are far more practical and pragmatic, and the men are the romantics. But I will perhaps pursue that in another letter.)
In our generation, men generally have to hide how transactional they are with regard to looks, and this is because the feminine paradigm has become the orthodoxy for all. This is the result of the “victories” of feminism. Feminism has not altered the fact that men still rule, and still basically make the decisions. That is largely unaltered, and has even been expanding. After all, men are even taking over women’s sports now, right? Men can still take charge over stuff, but it has to be in the name of the lie of empowering women. Feminism is in charge of the lie, but can’t be in charge of reality. This is because reality is not optional, while lies about reality are optional, so long as they are believed.
So feminism has been successful in establishing the nature of the lies we must tell ourselves. The approved lies right now are the feminist lies. And one of the narratives that women like is a narrative that has taken deep root in our culture, and has even persuaded a bunch of the men. This is the doctrine of “the One,” and it is the underlying theme for any number of chick flicks. It is why that young man who knew he needed to get married, and who conducted himself accordingly, caused such indignation. If a guy asks four girls out in the space of a couple of months, and marries the fourth, there is no way that he was in pursuit of “the One.”
Now I am not saying that this fellow is wise. He might not be paying close enough attention to issues of godly character. He might not be doing his due diligence. He might actually be in pursuit of “any willing female.” He might be rhetorically inept. There are all kinds of reasons why pastoral counsel for him might be necessary. But the reason he caused indignation among the ladies is that his theology of “the One” was clearly out of kilter. If he had swept into town, and the first girl he asked out had responded positively, that would have made all the girls go awwww, because that would have fit in with the doctrine of “the One.” This is why the difference between “sweet” and “creepy” is often an underlying doctrinal one.
So do you want to get married? Well, the received wisdom says, somewhere out there must be “the One,” and you just have to make sure to find that person. The hunt for that person then becomes semi-mystical, because we are trying to extract more information from our circumstances than we are meant to have. When you meet her, you will “just know.” Well, no.
This lie has traction with Christians, in the form of initial plausibility, because we do believe in the sovereignty of God. We know that God has ordained all things for His glory and our good. We know that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand for us to do (Eph. 2:10). If God prepared good works in advance for us to do, then surely those good works would have to include the one you are to marry, the number of your kids, their respective sexes, the color of their hair, and so on. Your good works, prepared in advance for you to do, would have to include marrying this woman, not that one, and bringing up two daughters, not three sons, and so on. This is the Calvinism part. God does work all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11). In this sense, God does know the name of “the one” for you. But that is God’s department, not ours.
But that is not how the false doctrine of “the One” works as men and women pursue “that special relationship” in their romantic attachments. This doctrine is a counterfeit, and therefore obtains whatever plausibility it has from the reality that it is surreptitiously copying. The problem is that it arrogates to ourselves the prerogatives of the Almighty.
Now God does have a decretive will, and nothing happens outside of it, or against it, or contrary to it. This includes the good works that He has prepared for His people to do (Eph. 2:10), but it also includes the treachery of Judas (Acts 4:27-28). All this is to say that God has a purpose and plan for all things, one that encompasses and includes His sons and His slaves both, His beloved children and His tools and instruments equally. But we know that with regard to His children, His purposes and plans for us are for good and not ill.
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Jeremiah 29:11 (NKJV)
Now many Christians have concluded from all of this that they are supposed to figure out what God’s will is for them beforehand, and then to go and do it. They call this “getting the will of God,” as though we were supposed to find out the will of God by carefully reading His published agenda for “the meeting” beforehand. And then we think we are supposed to follow that agenda to the letter, thereby staying in the will of God.
The only problem with this is that God doesn’t publish His agenda beforehand. You are not going to find that Gabriel, that august messenger of God, has thrown a brick through your window with a note tied to it, saying “Introduce yourself to Suzy Q Lordschoice at church next week. She is the one. After a week of chatting her up, ask her out . . .” Nothing like that is going to happen, or, if it does, you need to check yourself into a hospital, the kind where they strap you into your chair.
So no. It is your task to live out the will of God for your life. You are to live it out, not figure it out. You are to do the will of God, and this is not the same thing as figuring out the will of God beforehand. Trying to figure out the will of God beforehand is only going to paralyze you, and prevent you from doing the will of God. You don’t pray to get the will of God before ordering off the menu, even though food poisoning is a possibility, depending on the entrée. You don’t pray about changing lanes on the freeway, even though death and mayhem for all your passengers rides on it. This is why we trust the Lord, and commit our ways to Him. Prying into His business is not the way to trust Him.
“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
Proverbs 3:6 (KJV)
We acknowledge, He directs. We have a tendency to want to reverse this. We want to direct, and we want God to acknowledge it somehow beforehand. But it doesn’t work like that.
“O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”
Jeremiah 10:23 (KJV)
The epistle of James rebukes the arrogance of those who think they have the future laid out in the palm of their hand.
“Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.”
James 4:13–15 (KJV)
Our lives are a mist, a vapor. Our lives are like a little bit of fog, a yard long, that comes off the creek in the early morning hours, and when your car blows by it, it’s gone. What we ought to say is “if the Lord will,” we will do this or that. But we don’t know. And we do not deal with the arrogance problem by claiming even more knowledge—“because we have decided it is the Lord’s will, we will go into such a city, and make a pile of money.”
I don’t know if it is the Lord’s will for me to be married tomorrow, and that is because I might die tonight. My wife might die tomorrow. Our lives are a mist.
“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
Deuteronomy 29:29 (KJV)
So here is the bottom line. The secret things belong to God. The revealed things belong to us. If we have a clean desire to live in the will of God, we will demonstrate that through our eagerness to live according to what the Scriptures require of all Christians. If you want to live in the will of God, this means you must love your enemies (Matt. 5:44), forgive those who wrong you (Col. 3:13), read your Bible (Luke 4:4), stay away from porn (1 Thess. 4:3), and so on. These are the things revealed. Pursue these with a whole heart, and God will direct your steps. As far as we are concerned, the will of God is a moral issue, and who you marry is a wisdom issue. Your best path to the latter is an industrious pursuit of the former.
This means, not to put too fine a point on it, that you must marry a Christian (2 Cor. 6:14), a Christian who would not be disobeying God by marrying you (Luke 16:18), a Christian of sterling character (Prov. 31:30), a Christian whose personality gels well with yours (Amos 3:3), and a Christian whom you find sexually attractive (Prov. 5:19). These are all things revealed. The secret things are frankly none of our business.
Notice how the apostle Paul talks about a particular woman who is free to remarry after her husband has died. She must marry a Christian, he says, but after that, what? She is at liberty to marry whoever she wants.
“The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 7:39 (KJV)
Imagine a devout Christian standing in the kitchen, trying to decide whether to have chocolate or vanilla ice cream, or the moose tracks. “Oh, Lord, thou knowest all things. Wouldst thou have me eat the chocolate or the vanilla? Or perhaps the moose tracks?” You are unlikely to get a reply, and if you did get a reply, it would be an impatient Gabriel telling you that you’re the one that has to eat it.
We sometimes make the mistake of believing that we need access to the secret things of God to make a good decision, when the actual reason for our poor decisions is that we just skim over the things revealed, merely glancing at what God’s Word actually requires of us.
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”
Romans 12:3 (KJV)
If I ask a young man if his pick-up truck can pull her trailer, the natural inclination of masculine pride is to say yes. But is that judicious wisdom talking, or something else? I once was visiting with a young man about a particular young lady, and he laid out for me all the reasons why he thought she would be a real blessing to him. She was a lovely girl, and he was not wrong. But when I asked him for the reasons why he thought that he would be a blessing for her, you could tell that the thought struck him as a complete novelty. That is not a good place to be. Quite apart from the decrees of God, that is not the demeanor that God requires of us.
But put all of this together, and you will discover that this is why Augustine could say “love God and do as you please.”
“Delight thyself also in the Lord; And he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”
Psalm 37:4 (KJV)
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Matthew 6:33 (KJV)