This post carries on from the last one: God is not our “everything.” God made us, in fact, with lots of needs that must be filled in lots of ways.
So what about those who long for a spouse…and don’t have one? Are they supposed to act and believe and feel as if God is “their everything” and they are just fine without a mate?
What about couples who long for a child…and don’t have one? Are they supposed to act and believe and feel as if God is “their everything” and they are just fine without children?
What about people grieving lost loved ones? Or lonely without significant friends?
God is not only not “their everything,” but God doesn’t nicely fill in those gaps, either.
Yes, we Christians have not always validated singleness or childlessness as we ought, and we have instead frequently marginalized and just plain insulted single people and childless couples as somehow deficient, even delinquent.
(We even pay them the twisted compliments of fear—”Watch out for her! She’s got eyes for your man!”—or envy—”They must have so much fun on the weekends without a bunch of kids to drive everywhere!”)
To be sure, some singles remain single and some couples refuse conception out of immature selfishness. But there’s more than a little evidence that married couples with kids present signs of immature selfishness from time to time as well (!)—not least when they are “focusing on the family” to the neglect of church membership, neighbourliness, or friendship.
Yet many, perhaps most, singles ache for a spouse, and couples pine for a child. And God does not somehow fill in that missing space with something else so that those pains disappear.
Consider Genesis 2 (as one commentator reminds us after the previous post): God is Adam’s friend and Adam has all the rest of creation to enjoy as well, and God recognizes that it is still “not good for the man to be alone” (2:18). Alone! Adam is certainly not “alone” in the sense of “bereft of company.” Yet God knows: we need other humans. We need companions “suitable” for us, so God makes Adam one. (At that point in reading the narrative, I always want to say, “Good decision, God!”)
So we simply have to acknowledge that there will always be an empty place marked “spouse” until someone fills it. The same with “child.” The same with “parent” and “friend” and “mentor.” It is not faithlessness or ingratitude that causes us to feel those gaps, but sheer realism. Special relationships are special: other relationships with other people, no matter how rich, cannot substitute for them.
To be sure, if we were more sensible and serious about church life, about friendship, and about neighbourliness, a lot of our loneliness would dissipate into rich relationship. God doesn’t tell us that friends can stand in for spouses or parents or siblings, or other people’s kids for our own…but good times with friends and friendly families can fill hours with loving, joyful company that would otherwise be starkly solitary.
Prayer, too, can fill some of those hours, as the Comforter/Advocate/Companion walks and talks with us, bringing the wisdom and warmth of Jesus home to our hearts.
All I’m saying is that it is untrue to Scripture and to psychology to tell people with empty relational “niches” in their lives that God will fill them, or even that other people can fill them, without deficit. There is a deficit if you’re missing a lost child, if you’re wanting a husband, if you’re wishing for a friend who really likes you. And to tell people to “just have faith” and “trust the Lord” and “let God be your everything” is to blame the victim for a problem he or she perhaps desperately wants solved in the only way it can be: with the right sort of person in the right sort of relationship.
Still: God does help us cope with absence. With grief-full loss. With agonized longing. With day-to-day-to-day emptiness. And he does so in the way he typically does things: with the gift of his own presence, and with the help of other creatures…until that Great Day when all tears are wiped from our eyes, all promises as “yes and amen” in Jesus, and we lack for nothing and no one in that huge and splendid Family of Forever.
Until then, let’s be kind to each other, shall we? Looking out for the lonely, or the longing, or the lost…as God in Christ has looked out for us.