Today I am going to talk about a subject that deeply angers me personally, and I am going to try to talk about it in as even-handed and rational manner as possible. I did, however, wish to provide the reader with fair warning that this is a subject which strikes a very deep chord with me personally and is a trial and a burden that I have borne unhappily for many years, though hopefully not many more. What I wish today is to discuss the biblical antidote to the well-meaning but unbiblical (in fact, Gnostic) advice that many Christian singles (such as myself) receive from people who have not walked even a few feet, much less years and miles, in our shoes, by examining the biblical praise of the longing for love and intimacy that godly and unmarried Christian men and women have. This biblical praise for such longing is in stark contrast to the ridicule and abuse heaped upon godly people by those who engage in “pre-celibacy” counseling that attack such longings as being selfish (even though the people calling it selfish themselves enjoy the fruits of those longings in their own marriage and family life).
I would like to begin by giving some comment about what this entry will not be about: this entry will not be about the sin of dating or marrying people outside of one’s faith (though I happen to believe that it is unwise, possibly even sinful, to do so). Others have written at length about that subject recently (see this entry, for example, from the Gladius Spiritus blog ). What this entry will also not be is an attack on the supposed “selfishness” of the longing of godly singles for a suitable and compatible mate.
It Is Not Good That Man Should Be Alone
Let us examine that God created mankind with certain longings for intimacy. Rather than attacking these longings as “selfish” or telling others that they need to be content while being alone (when the people telling others to be content are married, obviously not being content to be alone themselves), let us examine what God himself said about these longings from the beginning of human history.
To start, let us go to the Garden of Eden, to Genesis 2:18-25: “And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. And the Lord God created a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept, and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”
Let us examine the situation here. It is God, we should note, that first said that it was not good for man to be alone. God did not create us to be lonely–He created mankind for His family and wishes for His sons and daughters to enjoy that love of family for themselves. We must first, before giving any advice to a single, grant that the longing for intimacy with others is itself godly and proper, that the question is simply a matter of how to fulfill those longings in a proper and godly fashion. If we are singles who are not content (like me for example) or we know others who are, our God-given and proper longings are not to be attacked nor are we to be accused of selfishness for desiring what God desires for us, love and intimacy–just as He did for Adam.
Second, we should notice that after God stated that it is not good for man to be alone he sought to give the man a task to fulfill that would prompt his own longings. He named the animals, probably in two by two, noticing the male and female cattle and birds, who were possibly engaging in their own courtship rituals, but Adam saw no one of his own kind. God therefore sought to prompt Adam to feel the longing and desire for an equal partner whom he could relate to and cherish.
Once that longing was prompted, God put Adam under anesthesia so that he could create a woman from his rib. The creation of Eve from Adam’s rib has prompted a great deal of comments. One of my favorite among the extensive commentary on this passage is the following anonymous quote: “Woman was created from the rib of man, She was not made from his head — to top him; Nor of his feet, to be trampled upon; But pit of his side, to be equal to him; Under his arm, to be protected; And near his heart, to be loved.” Indeed, God was the first matchmaker, creating the suitable partner himself for the first man who was ever on the earth, performing the first marriage ceremony after the operation, with the solemn vow that a man and a woman should leave their parents’ house and become one flesh–to start a family of their own. Adam’s words of blessing, naming her woman because she came out of man, showed his appreciation of God’s work and his godly attraction to the wife God made for him. All of those who find a suitable spouse ought to similarly be grateful to God.
God’s Blessing To Boaz
Let us continue our examination of the proper longing for intimacy and affection by going to one of my favorite books of the Bible, the short book of Ruth. Let us in particular examine the character of Boaz. (It should be noted that I am focusing on the single men–Adam and Boaz–in these examples because I am a single man myself). Let us note that Boaz was, for whatever reason, single at the time that Ruth came to Bethlehem. I would like to focus on a few verses of this book to examine the obviousness and propriety of Boaz’s interest in Ruth (obvious to everyone except perhaps ourselves).
First, in looking at Ruth 2:5, we see that Boaz was immediately struck by Ruth: “Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?”” After being told, in verse eight, he talked to Ruth directly: “Then Boaz said to Ruth, “You will listen, my daughter, will you not? Do not go to glean in another field, no go from here, but stay close by my young women. Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Have I not commanded the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.”” By the time that Boaz specifically ordered his reapers to intentionally drop food for her (Ruth 2:15-16), everyone in Boaz’s household was aware that he had his eye on the lovely young Moabite widow, and even Naomi was aware of it (Ruth 2:19). Let us first note the situation–Boaz was a wealthy landowner and a decent man, who had both familial obligations as well as a personal interest in Ruth. And why not? She was an attractive, virtuous woman of good character, and he was a man of honor but nonetheless of proper longings.
The fact that Boaz was both a man of honor and a person with longings for intimacy is expressed in his response to Ruth’s proposal of marriage in Ruth 3:10-13: “Then he said, “Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman. Now it is true that I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. Stay this night; and in the morning it shall be that if he will perform the duty of a close relative for you–good; let him do it. But if he does not want to perform the duty for you, then I will perform the duty for you as the Lord lives! Lie down until morning.”
These were not idle words. First, let us note that Boaz was probably substantially older than Ruth by his calling her “my daughter.” Then let us examine that he does not take advantage of her and shows himself very eager to take the vow, but also a man of honor in that he will not usurp someone else’s place, despite his own vow to God (as the Lord lives!) that he wishes to marry her if the closer relative will not. Certainly such a godly man who is not pushy but who is both generous and loving ought to be highly sought after–his seriousness of intent was well recognized by his relative Naomi, who seems an astute judge of his character, who told the nervous Ruth later that morning to comfort her to sit still because Boaz would not rest until he had taken care of the matter (Ruth 3:18). The fact that God managed to bless Boaz with a lovely wife, bless the widow with with a godly husband, and bless them both with a child who became part of the family line of Jesus Christ himself (by His design) was a tremendous sign of grace, a sign of grace that demonstrated that the longings of Boaz that he had, perhaps for many years, were themselves proper and righteous and were blessed by God with a worthy and virtuous wife.
Lessons From the Song of Solomon
Let us conclude our antidote to pre-celibacy counseling by examining some lessons from the Song of Solomon. Let us examine this romantic poem in the context of the proper nature of longing. Let us first note at the outset that this book clearly (and often) speaks against fornication (“Do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases”–namely, do not engage in sex outside of or prior to marriage, as in Song of Solomon 3:5). The fact that this sensual and romantic poem has often been read as a symbolic reference to the longing of God for Israel and of Jesus Christ for the marriage supper with the Church is only to underscore that the romantic longings and yearnings (within righteous limits) are themselves proper. God created such longings for intimacy in us because the same longings (of a less sexual nature, but still for intimacy and love) are present in Him. Therefore, to insult or mock those longings is to insult the Creator who put them inside of us–we only seek to direct them in proper and righteous ways for godly purposes according to His law.
Song of Solomon 4:1-5 is the speech of the bridegroom for his bride in language that is romantic even in translation : “Behold, you are fair, my love! Behold, you are fair! You have dove’s eyes behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats, going down from Mount Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of shorn sheep which have come up from the washing, every one of which bears twins, and none is barren among them. Your lips are like a strand of scarlet, and your mouth is lovely. Your temples behind your veil are like a piece of pomegranate. Your neck is like the tower of David, built for an armory, on which hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men. Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of gazelle, which feed among the lilies.”
Let us stop a moment to consider this poem. For one, the poet is using very romantic language to describe a beautiful young woman who has sparkling eyes, probably curly hair, a bright smile, red lips, a strong neck, and beautiful breasts. These very real qualities, no doubt, are part of what inspired his interest in her, and so his poetic ode to her beauty strikes the reader as realistic, as anyone who has ever felt love and been inspired to write love poetry in response might recognize in the poet a kindred spirit to his own. Here the longings of a man are rewarded in the gift of marriage.
Let us note as well that the woman’s longings are not neglected either, in Song of Solomon 3:1-4: “By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought him, but I did not find him. “I will rise now,” I said, “and go about the city; in the streets and in the squares I will seek the one I love.” I sought him, but I did not find him. The watchmen who go about the city found me; I said, “Have you seen the one I love?” Scarcely had I passed by them, when I found the one I love. I held him and would not let him go, until I had brought him to the house of my mother, into the chamber of her who conceived me.” Clearly the romantic longings of the woman for her love, for sex and marriage and starting a family of her own, are not neglected in scripture. The longing of both men and women for love and intimacy, within the bounds of marriage, is celebrated in this book.
Let us close by noting the moral view of the Bible concerning the proper boundaries of this longing and in the responsibilities of protecting the virtue of a young woman, in Song of Solomon 8:8-10: “We have a little sister, and she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister in the day when she is spoken for? If she is a wall, we will build upon her a battlement of silver, and if she is a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar.” To this the Shulamite replies, “I am a wall, and my breasts like towers; then I became in his eyes as one who found peace.” The brothers, while their sister was young, determined to give her honor if she kept herself virtuous against sin (as a wall) but also promised to protect her from herself if she was promiscuous and lacked self-control (i.e. she was a door which guys entered and left, one after another). Fortunately, she was virtuous and found “peace” in her husband. And that is what godly men and women long for–the peace of a loving and intimate marriage with someone of like heart, mind, and spirit. Why mock such God-given longings? Why not try to help them along as best as we are able?
Let us therefore examine the conclusion of the matter. God’s longing for a family is mirrored in our own longing for love and intimacy. Such longings are proper even if the way in which they are handled is regulated by God’s law to put it into godly and proper ways towards honorable monogamous marriage rather than promiscuous fornication. Single men and women are called to remain virtuous “walls” even while their longing for love and intimacy is praised–especially when that longing is fulfilled by the blessing of God, and through His divine providence in providing suitable partners for a loving marriage. What godly single men and women of all ages deserve and desire is not to be insulted for their longings, not to be told that their desire for a godly mate is selfish, but rather to be steered in the right direction both as to what suitable marriage partners are around as well as what godly character traits need to be developed in the meantime while one awaits the God-given opportunity for love and marriage. Let us all be busy waiting, preparing our vineyard for our beloved, in the hope and expectation that God will answer our prayers and give us the good gift (if hard work) of marriage that we desire in a godly fashion.
Let us remember that God prompted Adam to feel the longing for a spouse, for marriage, by having him see in all of creation suitable pairs for the animals he named but without a suitable partner for himself among the animals–something which only God could provide by giving him a woman as an equal partner to love and cherish. Let us remember that God Himself brought a “single in the middle” named Boaz and a beautiful and godly widow from Moab named Ruth to start a loving family that became part of Jesus Christ’s own family tree. Let us also remember that the Song of Solomon praises, even raptures about the longing for love and intimacy even while placing it within the boundaries of marriage. The desire of a godly single man or woman to marry is entirely proper–we merely seek the right and proper opportunity to find that bliss and peace within our own lives. And God willing, we shall.
 http://gladiuspiritus.wordpress.com/2010/12/13/dating-marrying-outside-the-church/ This blog entry stands as a textbook example of unhelpful and even ungodly attacks on the character of singles, heaping burdens instead of helping and serving them as ought to be done. It should be noted, though, that I agree with the stand of the author of the entry that it is improper to date or marry outside the faith, but to say so at length without any positive suggestions or alternatives is worse than useless.
 I doubt that the majority of young men would be successful writing love poetry like this for their beloveds, speaking from extensive personal experience, but the language is refreshingly romantic and a healthy antidote to gnostic heresies about the unworthiness of human beings for sublime love poetry that is frankly honest about physical attraction with a response that is within godly bounds of propriety.