The question of spiritual discernment of marriage partner is an old issue in the body of Christ. Central to this quest is the question of God’s will and avoidance of mistake. Thus emerged the “divination” school of marital choice, with the man or woman praying and the Spirit of God “revealing” whom to marry. Whereupon the man to whom this is “revealed” then approaches the lady with a “Thus saith the Lord” prophetic proposal. The woman thereafter goes to seek the face of the Lord for confirmation, though sometimes she herself might have “received” before the man comes to propose prophetically. A substrate of this religious philosophy of marital choice is the belief that there’s that ONE person for each one of us, what we call the “missing rib” phenomenon. This of course creates an incredible probability ratio of 1:3.7bn. But what happens if that one person dies before he gets to make the choice? Does that mean the counterparty will never marry again?
The stages involved in this system of marital choice have of late assumed the status of technical jargon – “affirmation of the spirit”, “revelation and manifestation of marriage.” There are people earnestly praying for that “revelation”, some vision or picture of future spouse. Some are waiting to hear a voice from Heaven.
Then there are dangerous extensions of the doctrine in which a Man of God “prophetically” determines a marriage partner, sometimes breaking up a relationship bound for the altar, replacing it with another marital equation, even pairing people who’ve never met. Because of the authority of the Man of God this is deemed a mandate from God.
This “revelatory” system of choice of marriage partner has been preached and practiced for decades. The only problem is, it’s not a Biblical prescription. There’s not one instance in the New Testament in which such methodology is prescribed. And Paul never chose a spouse for Timothy his mentee and protégé, though he gave him instructions on how to relate to the young women in church. Even if we generously stretch our data mining into the Old Testament there’s not one instance in the history of that old covenant where God chose a wife for someone, be it by divination, prophetic declaration or commandment. Choice of marital partner is man’s exclusive jurisdiction. Man takes responsibility. You can’t put responsibility on God. It’s why Adam’s miserable attempt to lay the blame on God failed. He had a choice whether to marry Eve or not. He was the one who declared her bone of his bones, marrying her. And even at that he didn’t try the “Thus saith the Lord” gambit. All the heroes of the Old Testament – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Caleb, Joshua, Samson, Samuel, David, Solomon, Daniel…not one did God choose a spouse for. In the over 4,000 years of recorded human history called the Bible, not once did God choose a spouse for someone.
There are attempts to approximate the marriage of Isaac to this practice. But it fits more culturally into the mold of an arranged marriage than marriage by prophetic revelation or declaration. That Eliezer prayed doesn’t make it marriage by prophecy. The oft cited case study is that of Prophet Hosea who was instructed by God to marry a prostitute in prophetic dramatization of the whoring of Israel after strange gods: “Find a whore and marry her. Make this whore the mother of your children. And here’s why: This whole country has become a whorehouse, unfaithful to me, God.” (Hosea 1:2) But even at that the prophet chose which prostitute to marry! “Hosea did it. HE PICKED Gomer daughter of Diblaim.” (Hosea 1:3) There is not another such instance in the Bible. This was an exception to every rule. (Now, unless your name is Prophet Hosea and you live in the 8th century BC, don’t even try to pull the stunt!)
Now, I am aware some Christians contracted their marriage by a “prophetic declaration”, but our practices can neither validate nor invalidate God’s word. Even if all those marriages worked out perfectly, the success rate of our religio-cultural convention is irrespective of the question of Biblical authority. That an error is long-serving does not vitiate the truth of God’s word. Foreknowledge is not the same as causality. That God shows you a vision of who you’ll end up marrying doesn’t mean God mandated the marriage. And that vision of the “future” can actually change. The counterparty can reject that vision, and therefore what we call “future” is not always a fixed quantity. It’s changeable and interchangeable. And anyway a dream about someone doesn’t mean God is telling you to marry the someone. We dream our dominant thoughts. If you think a lot about someone you can dream about the person. The simple answer to questions of Christian faith is, show me in the Bible!
Here are the problems with the idea of marriage by prophetic declaration or divination:
One, it erroneously seeks to remove responsibility for the choice from the man and place it squarely on God, he being the matchmaker. Unfortunately Adam tried this argument at his trial blaming God for Eve but God would have none of it. Marriage is a man’s personal decision, not God’s. You must take responsibility for the natural consequences of your choices and decisions.
Two, marriage by prophetic declaration has the patina of spiritual blackmail. No one wants to be out of the will of God. When someone says God mandates a marriage that is a major burden and blackmail, especially on the woman.
Three, it has an error component embedded. We must assume the man (or woman) heard God right. Many times however it’s our lusts and desires talking, not the Spirit of God. We can also hear what we want to hear and seek to spiritually justify our natural desires.
Four, the methodology makes a horrendous assumption – that a Christian can marry ANYBODY as long as they’re Christian. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There are critical proprietary factors that should inform choice of marriage partner. Man’s choice is highly predicated on his upbringing, experiences, learning, cultural exposure, friendships, parentage, values, social taste etc. We’re more complex than we seem to realize.
Five, marriage by prophecy ignores the importance of the physical dimension in the choice of a marriage partner. We’re not generic. We have different configurations. Everyone has his own taste in man or woman. Some like big women, some like tall men, and there are many combinations in between those two unrelated axes. Then there is proprietary taste in anatomical features, complexion, and even hairstyle. Physical attraction matters in a marriage as it can go to the issue of fidelity. And as prophet Samuel learned, man looks at the outward appearance. (1 Samuel 16:7) There’s a reason God pointed out the beauty of women like Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel. There’s also a reason God pointed out that Leah was not an attractive proposition to Jacob. But the principle of marriage by prophetic divination takes away a man’s right to be attracted to whom he wants. Of course there’s the argument that God knows what is best for us, but that same God gave us freewill. And not just physical attraction, but sexual attraction as well. It’s why the Song of Songs has graphic content. Some choose to spiritualize the book away, but how do you spiritualize, “Your lips are jewel red, your mouth elegant and inviting, your veiled cheeks soft and radiant. The smooth, lithe lines of your neck command notice – all heads turn in awe and admiration! Your breasts are like fawns, twins of a gazelle, grazing among the first spring flowers.” Clearly the vanity of a man who has a beautiful wife is evident in this writing, and clearly physical attraction matters. It’s not unscriptural, or the Song of Songs won’t be in the Bible. Personal physical preferences matter.
Six, marriage by prophetic declaration rules out the question of falling in love with someone. It substitutes it with a “love will develop” ideology. But suppose the love never develops? A marriage without love and affection is a recipe for depression and disaster. We see a pictorial illustration of loveless marriage in the Jacobs. Look at the devastating consequences unleashed because Jacob didn’t love Leah. Longevity of the marriage and six kids could not correct the problem. The Leah/Jacob conundrum tells us the length of a marriage cannot substitute the quality of happiness in a marriage. And it shows the importance of personal choice. Leah was forced on Jacob. He was an accidental polygamist. With the Song of Songs God made a point that romance matters in marriage. And so does erotic love and what we typically call phileo, or love of delight – friendship.
Seven, and perhaps the most dangerous dimension to this methodology of marriage by revelation is that it puts the cart before the horse. Wooing and knowledge discovery begins AFTER commitment to marriage. The marriage starts as a fait accompli. How do you commit to marry someone and then begin to discover what should have informed the choice THEREAFTER?! It does not afford the parties opportunity to get to know each other first, and on the basis of that make a commitment to proceed to marriage. It commits to marriage immediately, and inexorably marches to the altar irrespective of discovery of any traits of incompatibility. And the parties cannot back out if they do find themselves incompatible. That would be disobedience to the “heavenly vision.” And so they force the relationship to the altar, “make it work.” The only problem with this is that it can breed unhappiness and depression. The marriage becomes a vault from which there’s no escape.
It is unfortunate that in the seeking of God’s “perfect will” for our lives we end up complicating basic sociological processes, replacing them with a contrived artificiality that criminalizes normality. And in seeking the spectacular we miss the simplicity and naturalness of the beauty of love. God promised to lead us by his Spirit and he does so in our everyday decisions and ablutions of life. Leading suggests something natural, a simple life progression. It does not suggest the dramatic or spectacular, which many times is what we want. The leading in the New Testament is the image of a shepherd and his sheep, not the image of a pillar of fire by night and thundering and lightning. We don’t seem to want the simple nudges of the Spirit on the inside. We want to hear a loud voice from Heaven! We want a voice resonating from Heaven as God’s insurance, which incidentally is a demonstration of faithlessness: for we have replaced faith with lust for signs and wonders. It is within the parameters of God’s leading to like someone, to fall in love with someone, to want to go on a date with someone, to want to go to the movies… Jesus enjoins us to learn the “unforced rhythms of grace.” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG) Once it is contrived, or being forced to fit into a rigid spiritual mold it’s not grace. Once basic attraction and affection begin to get too technical, and the processes begin to feel like PowerPoint presentation, it’s not grace. Jesus said, “I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG) When a marriage decision becomes a heavy burden on the heart, a compulsion or duty, that’s not God! Go natural. Because God is leading you by his Spirit, he will tug at your heartstrings if you want to turn in a wrong direction. You’ll feel unease, get warnings if it’s not right. Your spirit will be heavy and you’ll feel tired. That is God trying to dissuade you. The leading of God’s Spirit should be so natural to the Christian.
Am I saying, don’t pray in your choice of marriage partner? Of course pray! You’re a child of God, you ought to seek advice from your Father. And it’s the smart thing to do. God is wise. You may for example present your options to him and he’ll give you his personal opinion, which can be very blunt. Depends on the kind of relationship you have. Instead of looking for dramatic revelation, why don’t you simply trust God to guide you in the natural course of life, and to show you the heart of prospects? Simple faith. You’ve got to be careful about hearing voices and laying out fleeces. Satan is a digital master and special effects specialist. As many as are led by the Spirit are the sons of God, not as many as are led by signs and wonders. (Romans 8:14)
Even if we grant that God shares confidential information with you about your future spouse, that foreknowledge cannot be regarded as spiritual commandment. At best it’s information to treat. God cannot force anyone to marry anyone. He’s never done so. It violates freewill!
It’s important you love the person you want to marry. It is good to fall in love, it does not violate the word of God. It is also important you LIKE the person you want to marry. Friendship sustains marriage. Physical attraction as well as cultural fit are equally important. This includes sense of fashion, taste, exposure, learning, education, communication. Don’t ignore these. And values are very important. It’s the underpinning of character. You must also consider the economic viability of the union. It’s very important. The man should have prospects, or lack of money will destroy the marriage. But most important of all, get God’s backing.
If you have any questions you can write me. Just mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be glad to answer your questions.