You want to know one reason why so many Christian marriages end up in divorce?
Ronald Reagan once quipped that the trouble with his political opponents, “is not that they are ignorant. It’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”
Well, I’ve had a bee in my bonnet for years over something that far too many of my fellow Christians believe in that just isn’t so. I speak, gentle listener, of the whole “soul mate” nonsense, especially when it comes to finding a husband or wife.
Let me be perfectly clear: No matter how many ads for Christian dating services you hear or trendy books you read, we simply don’t have “soul mates,” at least as our confused culture understands that term. Does this surprise you? It shouldn’t. Look for that concept, by the way, in the Bible, and the only thing you can find remotely close to it is the fierce friendship of David and Jonathan. “Jonathan made a covenant with David,” Scripture says, “because he loved him as his own soul.”
Now those are soul mates, friends. But the Bible knows nothing of romantic “soul mates.” This concept is more New Age than Christian. The Huffington Post gives nine signs that you’ve found your soul mate, the first one being: “You communicate without speaking.” Okay. One New Age website, however, gives three signs you’ve “definitely” found your soul mate: “You just connect without trying,” “Your level of communication is unmatched,” and “You create your own world together.”
That’s cute, it’s nice, maybe it’s even romantic . . . but it’s certainly not biblical.
Now all of this confusion might be kind of funny if it weren’t so harmful to naïve Christians and others who’ve fallen for this idea. Because this idea implies that somewhere out there is that “perfect person” for you, and if your marriage is not exploding with intense communication, romance, and a great sex life, well then maybe it’s because your spouse is not your “soul mate.”
Men who are a little bored with their wives, or vice versa, might be tempted by a co-worker who “understands me so well and is my soul mate, or could be my soul mate.” But frankly, this is a recipe for adultery and divorce, and families end up getting dropped for “soul mates.”
Once I wrote a tribute to C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters” called “Screwtape Proposes a Divorce,” in which Wasphead, my invented senior devil, says the following to Gallstone, the junior devil: “That [soul mates] do not exist is to be kept TOP SECRET. … Let’s be blunt: these humans are scouring the globe for someone with whom a relationship will require absolutely no work or compromise. … Many adult humans who have long ago dismissed Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny as myths somehow persist in believing this person to exist.”
The “soul mate” concept is unworkable and completely unfair to the real other person in your life. It puts enormous pressure on him or her to perform, to meet our impossible expectations. As Jerry Root and Stan Guthrie point out in “The Sacrament of Evangelism,” putting others in God’s place—expecting them to give us what only He can—is a naked form of idolatry and will only lead to deep disappointment.
Here’s another thing. The “soul mate” idea suggests that marriage is all about me, that I need to find someone who understands me perfectly, who makes me happy. Marriage should be about finding someone you can make happy. In the great teaching on marriage in Ephesians, for example, husbands are told to lay down their lives for their wives, as Christ did for the church.
As J. R. R. Tolkien once wrote to his son, “No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial.”
So folks, let’s drop the whole “soul mate” talk, shall we? Marriage can be wonderfully satisfying, but that’s the result of God’s grace, hard work, and self-sacrificial love. And that is the truth.
(This commentary originally aired on September 28, 2015.)
Soul Mates?: Bad Theology, False Expectations, & Deep Disappointment
As Eric points out, the idea of a soul mate is a cultural trend and not a view found anywhere in scripture. Making a marriage successful, Tolkien proposed, is a choice of the will and an invitation to self-sacrifice—a concept that has much more depth than the “soul mate” craze. Click on the links below to read more of Tolkien’s and Lewis’s thoughts on marriage.
Screwtape Proposes a Divorce
Letters to Michael Tolkien
J. R. R. Tolkien | 1941
9 Signs You’ve Found Your Soulmate (If You Believe In That Sort Of Thing)
Kelsey Borresen | The Huffington Post | June 26, 2014
The Four Loves
C. S. Lewis | Harvest Books | June 1971
The Sacrament of Evangelism
Jerry Root, Stan Guthrie | Moody Publishers | April 2011