As a young and single person, I am frequently caught up in conversations about singleness, dating, and the opposite sex. In fact I frequently initiate these types of conversations myself. Young and single people love to talk about relationships, and particularly about the possibilities of being young and not so single. Paradoxically, while our culture is delaying marriage to ever-older ages, the zeal of so many young singles to find a spouse (or at least a significant other) seems unabated. Indeed, any person granted a week to listen to the conversations of some young single people might be forgiven if they conclude that this demographic suffers from relationship idolatry.
Single people can even form entire friendships around jointly lamenting the woes of singleness. While you might not have a lot in common with another person, anytime a conversation wanes it is a surefire panacea to simply bring up the topic of relationships. Everyone is interested in talking about that and everyone has something to say about it.
I bring this up because lately I have been reflecting on singleness, the church, and how being in the church should transform our experience of singleness. The way I currently see it, the struggle singles often feel is the tension between two different biblical threads. On the one hand singles may read this biblical statement and feel a sting:
Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. (1 Cor 7:27)
On the other hand they read this and can be just about waving their hands in the air in agreement.
It is not good that man should be alone. (Gen 2:18)
The single Christian’s reaction to the first statement is likely enough to be a dour look, their reaction to the second often more closely resembles that of fans of the winning team in the closing seconds of the Super Bowl.
On the one hand the Bible tells us it is good to be single (in light of the fact that we are living in the last days), on the other hand it also tells us that even before the fall men and women were meant to live life together. Indeed, the Genesis passage even tells us that it is not good for male and female to not have each other. This leads to a seeming conundrum, which Tim Keller puts well:
How can we claim that long-term singleness is a good condition in light of the [the previous argument] that males and females are in some ways incomplete without the other? The answer is the same. It has to do, again, with our hope in Christ and our experience of Christian community. Just as Christian singles find their “heirs” and family within the church, so do brothers find their sisters and sisters find their brothers. (The Meaning of Marriage, 199)
When I read this quote from Keller I was intrigued. Christian community, the church in other words, should provide singles with an analogous level of “completeness” that the marriage relationship between a man and a woman brings. That is, Christian singles can rightly experience a sort of fulfillment of the verse “it is not good that man should be alone” in the church. Keller then goes on to say:
Of course it is less intense than in marriage. And yet the more corporate experience is not a poor second to marriage, since in marriage you are put together with just one member of the opposite sex. Marriage does and should somewhat limit the extent of friendships you have with others of the opposite sex. In Christian community, however, singles can have a greater range of friendships among both sexes. (201)
So Christian community for singles provides a kind of more widely dispersed form of what marriage brings in a focused intensity. I suspect that this actually resonates with the experience of many single Christians. That is to say, aside from a few rare people, it seems to me that most singles don’t love to hang out exclusively with members of the same sex. Sure, that is where they are and perhaps should be spending most of their time, but if they were to never talk to a girl (for guys) or a guy (for girls) that would seem like a bit of an impoverished existence.
After all, who hasn’t experienced how a good friend of the opposite sex can often provide a helpfully different perspective on an issue or even (dare I say) make a social situation feel more “complete.” This is (hopefully) not because they are being used as a surrogate boyfriend/girlfriend to fulfill an unfulfilled romantic longing, but rather because God has divinely created each sex to in some sense find completion in the other.
While this is all still a bit of a gray area to me, all I am suggesting is this: the church rarely adequately teaches singles that it is in fact healthy to have cross-gender relationships. The church thus fails to do at least part of what it is uniquely capable of doing; providing a place where people find spiritual siblings in the household of God to live life with together.
What I am not suggesting is that cross-gender friendships will ever be the same as or a replacement for same-gender friendships. Indeed, I think Genesis 2:18 would not bear this out. Neither am I suggesting that cross-gender friendships should be conducted in exactly the same way as same-gender friendships. That would be neither wise nor respecting of the differences that God has made males and females with. I am simply intrigued by the idea that the church can be the place where “it is not good that man should be alone” finds its fulfillment for those who are single.