Man’s Responsibility and Marriage

God, from all eternity, did—by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will—freely and unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass. Yet he ordered all things in such a way that he is not the author of sin, nor does he force his creatures to act against their wills; neither is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. Westminster Confession of Faith 3.1

Last week, I wrote an article on God’s providence and marriage. Several questions were raised that I want to address in this post: What about free will? If God has a plan for who you marry, can you marry the wrong person? Can you use God’s plan for your life as an excuse to divorce? If God’s providence includes marriage, does that mean marriage will be wonderful and without difficulty?

As a starting point, it’s important to remember that the issue God’s providence and man’s responsibility is one that has been debated forever. Much like the doctrine of the Trinity, this issue is hard to understand and difficult to get a handle on. Anyone who says they fully understand it is kidding themselves. I know that I don’t have it all figured out, so what I offer here are simply my thoughts on the matter.

What about free will? I don’t believe, and Scripture doesn’t teach, that God controls us like automatons or puppets. As the quote above from the Confession states, God doesn’t force us to act contrary to our wills. God doesn’t make us choose a particular person to marry. And we certainly can’t say that we have no responsibility for our actions. As the Confession also points out, God is not the author of sin. We are capable of making very bad, very sinful decisions. This can include deciding who to marry.

If God has a plan for who you marry, can you marry the wrong person? Short answer: nope. This is a common misunderstanding/misapplication of Scripture and the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. God does not have a secret, hidden, mystical plan for your life that you must diligently seek to decipher and that you can therefore miss if you fail to decipher it correctly.

It’s true that we are not privy to all the why’s and how’s of God’s providence, but we cannot act in such a way as to thwart God’s will. So, can you marry the “wrong” person? No, but you can make poor choices that you’ll have to live with. Which brings me to my next question.

Can you use God’s plan for your life as an excuse to divorce? Again, the short answer is “no.” Even if you’ve made very bad, very sinful decisions, you have not missed out on God’s plan for your life. There is not someone out there that God meant for you to marry instead. “God didn’t plan for me to marry you” is not a biblical reason for divorce.

Just as a side note, I do believe that there are biblical reasons for divorce. These include adultery, desertion, and abuse (which is a form of desertion). These reasons for divorce are not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about here is the frequently cited “irreconcilable differences” type of divorce. This leads to my last question.

If God’s providence includes marriage, does that mean marriage will be wonderful and without difficulty? And the corollary: If my marriage is hard work, does that mean I married the wrong person and we should get divorced? As I said in the previous answer, there are biblical reasons for divorce, but marriage is hard work is not one of them.

There are several issues at play here. First, I am a sinner (saved by grace, but still prone to sin). Second, I’m married to a sinner (also saved by grace, but still prone to sin). Third, the world we live in is damaged by sin and the effects of the fall. Because of these, in my marriage, I will sin and make my marriage difficult at times. Other times, my husband will sin and make our marriage hard work. And beyond both of us, the circumstances of the world we live in will bring pain and difficulty into our marriage.

Marriage is hard work. Sometimes it’s our fault, sometimes it isn’t. But the difficulties that we encounter are not proof that we’ve somehow missed God’s plan for our lives nor are they an excuse to break our marriage vows.

To summarize, God’s providence for our lives does include who we marry. However, we are still responsible for the choices we make. We may make bad choices, and we may have to live with the results of our choices. Even in our poor decisions, we can’t miss God’s plan for our lives. God’s providence includes even the difficult things in our lives. Our comfort is not in a promise that life will be easy, but that God is sovereign and that nothing happens (even the bad things) outside of His will.

God’s Providence and Marriage

God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things,from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge,and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. Westminster Confession of Faith 5.1

Recently, I read an article, My Husband is Not My Soul Mate, written by a young woman celebrating her first anniversary. On the whole, I appreciated what she had to say. All too often, we (women) tend to elevate our husbands to a level of expectation that no mere man could hope to achieve. In short, we expect them to be what only Christ can be, and that’s neither right nor fair.

Let me tell you a little secret, ladies. Our husbands, those dear sweet men, are just men. And that’s not a slight. Our husbands are men: human, fallible, sinful. We should not expect them to be otherwise. My dad likes to say, “He’s just a guy.” That’s his way of reminding me that I need to readjust my expectations of my husband. (Not that I have much to complain about, I married a truly wonderful man.)

However, I think the author of the article, Hannah, takes her point too far. She says:

There is no biblical basis to indicate that God has one soul mate for you to find and marry. You could have a great marriage with any number of compatible people. There is no ONE PERSON for you. But once you marry someone, that person becomes your one person.

I think she’s absolutely and utterly wrong. What she says here is completely at odds with the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. While it’s true that many have abused passages like Jeremiah 29:11 and Psalm 37:4, there is actually a biblical basis for believing in God’s providence for your life, even in who you marry.

Let’s start with the beginning, when God institutes marriage:

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is 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 his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:18-25, ESV)

God made Eve for Adam, to be a helper fit for him. Adam looked at Eve and recognized that she was “bone of his bone” and “flesh of his flesh.” While it might be pushing the analogy a bit far, God didn’t create a bunch of women that Adam then choose from. And while the creation of Adam and Eve is a very unique event, the Scripture shows that God cared about Adam’s need for a wife and made one suitable for him. So, from the beginning, God provided for man’s needs in marriage.

But what about now? Is there a biblical basis to say that God still works in the details of our lives?

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30, ESV)

These verses are specifically about how God works providentially in the salvation of His people. However, it does illustrate that God is at work in our lives. What about the more mundane aspects of our lives?

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me. …

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:1-5,13-16, ESV)

I love this Psalm! God knows our words before we speak, He hems us in, He formed us in the womb, and in His book all of our days were written before we were even born. That is amazing and wonderful! God cares even about the smallest details of our lives. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way:

What is your only comfort in life and death?
That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him. (Heidelberg Catechism Q1)

“Not a hair can fall from my head” outside of His providence. If that’s the case, how can we say that God’s providence doesn’t include who we marry?

Part of Hannah’s point is that because she alone is responsible for her choice of husband, then she will be more active in upholding her marriage vows. I understand her point, but I disagree. Because I believe that God’s providence includes who I married, I recognize the importance of my marriage vows. There isn’t anyone else that I could just have easily married. And I also realize that I will need God working in me to be able to honor my vows. On my own, I will fail miserably.

In short, my husband is not Christ. He’s not my savior. He’s not perfect. He’s not even what I need to be fulfilled. But he is pretty special. And he is most certainly part of God’s providence for my life.