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February 7, 2024 / by Pastor Scott Boerckel

It is easy for our views about singleness and marriage to suffer from faulty presuppositions. In this brief article, I hope to identify some of those faulty presuppositions and to offer a biblical alternative.

This will not be easy, since there are significant emotions attached to such personal matters. However, whether single or married, we need to understand God’s design for our thriving so that we can avoid the idols of our own hearts.

The first faulty presupposition is that God wants me to be happy in my life. Children growing up in America develop a faulty view of God. Because we are so successful at controlling our environments and have the freedom to pursue almost any endeavor, we can falsely presume that God wants to make all our dreams come true. Christian Smith has described it as “Moral Therapeutic Deism.”

This faulty view can be stated in five beliefs:

  • There is a God who created earth and watches over it.
  • God wants people to be nice, fair and good, as is taught in the Bible and most other religions.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself.
  • God doesn’t need to be involved in your life except when there’s a problem that needs celestial performance enhancement.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.

What this means is that we develop very early on in life a view that life is all about one’s happiness. Things that do not produce immediate happiness are disparaged. Things that promote immediate happiness are valued.

But here’s a surprise: God is not concerned about a person’s individual happiness as much as He is concerned about His own glory and the individual’s growth in glorifying God. That is why the Bible is filled with all sorts of statements and events which contradict the “God wants me happy” view. Jesus’ statements in particular about self-denial, about suffering, and about giving away everything are designed to challenge this false presupposition that life is all about me and that I am supposed to be happy all the time. God can and does reprioritize our lives so that we can be filled with joy. But to say that God exists to make me happy is heresy. It is only as our view of happiness conforms to the glory and character of God can we say that God is concerned about our happiness.

If people are rejecting even the idea of God, might it be because this view that God exists to bring all humans happiness runs so counter to reality? Our lives are not happy when Mom and Dad get divorced. Our lives are not happy when we flunk a test. Our lives are not happy when we get sick. Our lives are not happy when . . . you get the idea. So, it is just a short and logical step, given the faulty presupposition, to conclude the following:

  1. If an all-powerful God exists, He exists to make me happy.
  2. I am not happy.
  3. Therefore, an all-powerful God does not exist.

Christians all too often come into that breach of “unhappiness” with mindless platitudes that God will bring the happiness. If by “happiness,” we mean the alleviation of all pain and problem and the coming of success that we dream of, the real God who is really there will not bring it . . . at least not how we expect it. When those expectations are dashed, that is a good thing. So the Christian who rushes to give “Jeremiah 29:11” to the unhappy person so that he will believe in God and so become “happy” is only pushing an idol.

A second faulty presupposition: marriage makes people happy. Despite all evidence to the contrary, lots of people continue to believe that marriage itself is happiness producing. Then, we are shocked to discover that when two selfish people, each interested in their own happiness, marry one another, the result is dismal. Marriage itself is not happiness producing. One can have a happy marriage; one can be happily married; BUT the happiness is not because of the marriage alone. Such things as self-sacrifice, unflagging commitment, loyalty and fidelity must also be present.

Let’s put these two false presuppositions together and see what happens.

1) God wants me happy.
2) Marriage makes people happy.

Do you see why it is so easy to conclude a third wrong?

3) God wants me to be married.

Now, it may be true that God wants you to be married. But if your presuppositions for reaching that conclusion are wrong, you might be wrong about that too.
So, when we see texts of scripture which tell us that marriage is good, we falsely believe that marriage being good means that I will be happy. Further, when we confront texts of scripture which tell us that it is good for some not to marry, we falsely believe that these scriptures are irrelevant, inapplicable, or somehow countermanded by a higher goal.

A third faulty presupposition: singleness makes people happy. Increasingly, marriage is being avoided in our culture and around the world. Since 1960, the percentage of never married American adults has doubled from 15% to 31%. People are marrying later in life, and many are avoiding marriage altogether. In many cases, this is because it is taking longer to identify a spouse. In other cases, people are marrying later and later out of fear that marriage will lead to unhappiness. Still others would love to marry, but finding a marriage partner has proven to be very difficult. The case that I want to address here, however, is the person who is avoiding marriage because they think that marriage will make them unhappy. Many young men seem to be avoiding marriage because they fear the responsibility of marriage will diminish their happiness and freedom. Although the reasons are more complex, it appears that women likewise increasingly are avoiding marriage because it would diminish their happiness. For the single person who is actually seeking marriage, these growing numbers of young adults who are avoiding marriage present an even more complicated social landscape to navigate.

Practically, how does the smashing of these three false presuppositions affect how a Christian ought to live? I can think of three ways:

  1. For the person who is married—Happiness may be a blessing of marriage, but it may not be. Do not assume that God does not want you to stay married if you are not happy. If you are married, God wants you to do everything in your power to preserve that marriage, for reasons that go far beyond your present happiness. If you think that God exists to make you happy and that marriage is supposed to be happiness producing, it will be so easy to find reasons for dissolving your marriage. Seek your joy in your Creator.
  2. For the never married person—Happiness is not dependent upon your marital status. Neither marriage nor singleness in themselves bring happiness. Plus, your own view of what constitutes happiness likely needs conforming to the image of Jesus Christ. Do not rush to marriage thinking it will make you happy. If you do that, you are guaranteed disappointment. But, do not hold back from marriage out of fear that unhappiness might come. Most people are designed to marry. Do not fear it; God will indeed use marriage to shake out your selfishness. For those who desire marriage and have not found a spouse, it is okay to experience sadness and disappointment, but entrust yourself to your faithful Creator. His plan is for your ultimate good.
  3. For the person who is divorced—Many people object to the view that God forbids a divorced person from marrying another partner on the basis of the two false presuppositions. Here are the questions that get asked, “How can you forbid a person happiness?” “God does not want us to be doomed to an unhappy life, does He?” As gently as I can, I want to remind us that God is bigger than our present happiness, that He exists for Himself, not for our happiness, that marrying someone else is no ticket to happiness, that if indeed the scriptures teach that a divorced person should not marry another, then that likely is ultimately the place of greatest happiness. There is no true happiness which is not aligned with the will of God. All other happiness is simply selfish ambition disguised very cleverly. So, let us not begin the divorce/remarriage debate with the false presuppositions that God wants everyone happy and that marriage is what brings happiness. Rather, let us seek earnestly what the texts of scripture say on the difficult topic, recognizing that God seeks to align our will with His, so happiness, singleness, and marriage are not ends in themselves but are means for us to know Him who is eternal life itself.

Without the new birth, it is impossible to get false presuppositions out of our thinking. The unbelieving world simply cannot live God’s way. With the new birth, however, God empowers us not only to believe right things but to live the right way too. Happiness is never denied us, no matter our marital status, but in no case is happiness, as we may personally define it, promised. In all cases, the opportunities for glorifying God are just as real for you as for all other people. When we understand that, we will discover the joy of true happiness that is aligned with the will of God.

The focus of life must be God-centered. There is no true happiness apart from it. The LORD spoke to Jeremiah over 2500 years ago about finding our ground of true happiness in knowing God, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.’” Jeremiah 9:23-24

Scott loves being a pastor and teaching God’s Word. Before he was a pastor, he worked as a ceramic engineer (and bonus points for anyone who actually knows what that is). He sometimes uses the training that he received at the University of Illinois (Go Illini!), Grace Theological Seminary, and Jerusalem University College. Scott’s wife, Carol, is an awesome watercolor artist who really knows how to think Christianly about the arts. Scott likes cycling with friends, enjoying his ever growing family, and learning from the community of God’s people at East White Oak.

Return to February Oak Leaf

February OakLeaf Articles:

Singleness and Marriage by Pastor Scott Boerckel
Blessed and Single by Sandy Way
Thriving as a Single Christian by Whitney Huettemann
Undivided Devotion by Bryon Phinney
A Picture of a Godly Marriage by Beth Ann Deal
Navigating Marital Conflict by Keith Studnicki
What if your marriage isn’t what you expected? by Susie Warren
Small Groups Strengthen Marriages by Pastor Justin Waples