Dating is hard in general, but bad theology makes it harder. Let me explain. Dating takes time and it takes a certain level of vulnerability. When you put yourself out there, you run the risk of rejection, hurt, pain, etc. When the risk does not work out, we wonder what we did wrong, and how we can make sure that what happened the last time never happens again. Sometimes, those questions lead us to conclude that we need a vacation from dating to heal, refocus, and catch our breaths. In instances like that, I would encourage you to be honest with yourself and know that sometimes we need good friends more than we need a romantic partner. However, I am not addressing a time of healing or even those who prefer to pursue the calling of singleness. Right now, I am speaking to those of us who have become so disillusioned with the idea of dating, that we declare to ourselves and others, “I’m done dating. I’m going to just let God choose for me.” I am also speaking to those of us who have heard or even given others the advice that single people simply need to let go and let God. You know, when you stop looking, that is when God will bring you someone. My question today is a simple one; is “let go and let God” a theologically valid approach to dating?
Let’s look at a few things:
First: What do we mean by “let go and let God”? Is this phrase just an encouragement to trust God and seek his direction? The answer is no because trust is active. The Bible describes trust as the ability to move forward towards a goal, all the while, clinging to the faith that God is in control (2 Cor. 5:7). That, however, is not what let go and let God is encouraging. For example, how would you respond if you were looking for a job, and like many of us, faced multiple rejections during the interview process? Or, how about this, a dear friend just received the news that she has a recurrence of her cancer. Would it be appropriate to tell either one to just let go and let God, because God will provide a job or better health once they stop trying to do it themselves? Most of us intuitively know that someone can find a job without looking and that someone can be healed of a fatal disease without seeing a doctor. Still, we also know that it is no less faithful on the part of the job seeker or the patient to actively pursue employment and good health. In fact, it is prudent in both cases to do all they can to improve their prospects, and they still must walk by faith, trusting that God will do whatever is best.
So, if the logic of let go and let God does not hold up outside of the world of Luke Skywalker, Ricky Bobby, and Carrie Underwood, why is the idea of it appealing for so many with regards to dating? Now you must be thinking, how could anyone actually want to let go and let God? Aren’t we as humans naturally controlling? I thought my problem was that I was not letting God have enough control over my life. In truth, our real problem is that our hearts do not love God as we should (Deut. 30:6, Deut. 16-17, Ez. 11:19-20, Ez. 36:26-27, Matt. 22:37). When we do not love God as we should, we act in ways that are sinful, and we do not trust God’s sovereignty. The reality is that God is in control whether we acknowledge it or not. He is the author and creator of all things (1 Cor. 8:6), he is sovereign (Rev. 22:13), and even though we plan our steps, it is God who directs our paths (Pro. 16:9). Therefore, how can we give God control, if he already has it (Rom. 1135-36)? The answer is that we can’t. In fact, it is incredibly arrogant to think that we can give control over our own lives to a sovereign God. So then, why is this philosophy on dating appealing? It is appealing in part, because it feeds our pride, allowing us to feel like we actually have more control than we really do. But more so, It also makes us feel like we are absolved of any future responsibility we have over our pursuit of a spouse. As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of inherent risk in dating. Deep down we think that giving up control and not looking for a spouse will help negate some of that risk and save us from the shame of a relationship not working out. We do not want the responsibility anymore. This is not unique to us. It is a pretty universal desire to give up control and responsibility of our biggest life decisions to another because the fear of failure is too much. This is why authoritarian rulers and dictators tend to rise up on a well-spring of popular support. It is also why Buddhism and its own teachings of giving up all control and attachments have permeated popular culture globally. In a world of risk and brokenness, letting go and letting God makes us feel like we are safe from the risks and responsibilities of dating.
Second: Doesn’t my inability to let Go and let God in dating prove that I have made dating an idol? No, it doesn’t. In Genesis 2, we see that it is not good for man to be alone. Even in the garden of Eden, where everything was perfect and sinless, Adam’s solitude and loneliness weren’t good. Proverbs 18:22 tells us that, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.” Your desire for a spouse is not sinful, but Biblical. You were designed and built for close relationship. This does not mean that everyone must have a spouse to experience close, fulfilling Biblical relationship. On the contrary, Paul says that it is better for us to remain single. However, a deep longing for the close relationship of marriage is not proof that you have created an idol for yourself, it is just proof that God designed you for close relationship. Dating becomes an idol when we look to a relationship or spouse to complete, fix, or heal us. This is a desire that I spent most of my 20’s battling. Dating was an idol because I was looking for another person to give me the type of peace and joy that only God can give. When I finally found that lasting, supernatural peace, it was not because I gave up dating. My fundamental problem was that I did not believe that God truly loved me and cared about me, and as a result, I was unable to trust him. I lacked any sort of contentment with the things that I had, because what I was convinced that I needed was in a far-off mystery woman, and I didn’t have the slightest clue on where to look for her. Getting out of that place took prayer, community, and encouragement from others. It took God’s people to help me escape my hopelessness. People and close relationship weren’t a distraction from understanding and feeling God’s love, but they were a means by which I could feel, believe, and rest in it.
Third: Doesn’t God want me to let go and give him all control with my decision on my future spouse? No, he doesn’t. This type of give God all control theology is one that must ignore Genesis 1 and 2. It cannot be ignored that it is right and good to ceaselessly consult with God on the various questions of our lives through prayer (Eph. 6:18), fasting (Acts 13:3-4), and the counsel of the body (Prov. 15:22). However, as you seek God’s direction, do not forget that we have also been created for action. When God created you, he created you with something called agency. In layman’s terms, this means that he created you with the ability to make decisions, big decisions, the kinds of decisions that require a God-given authority that enables us to rule the world under, and on behalf of, God himself. We were created in God’s image to exercise this dominion in imitation of God, but we also have the authority, and the mandate, to make choices. When Adam named the animals in the garden, his words gave identity to creation. He did not need to surrender control to God for the name of each animal because he had already been given authority over the animals, as shown by his naming them. When someone tells you to give God all control over the pursuit of a spouse, that is a statement that denies the unique way in which God made you in his image, with agency. You were created to help shape and form creation into a dwelling place for both God and humanity. You have a say in what that dwelling place looks like, and that includes in your relationships.
Fourth: So, what does God want? God desires to be in close relationship with you. That’s part of the reason why he made us, so that we could know him and to enjoy him forever. Letting go and letting God is not a sacrifice that proves anything, and those sacrifices are not what God desires. What God wants most is for you to love him, and he wants you to trust and obey him (1 Sam. 15:22, Ho. 6:6, Mk 12:33). When God calls you to obey him, that means that he calls us to follow his commandments, to turn from sin and to imitate Christ by loving our neighbors as ourselves. In dating, that means to not selfishly use people by leading them on, making promises or declarations of love that we cannot keep, or engaging in physical intimacy that violates God’s holiness. When God calls us to trust him, that means that in life’s big decisions, we walk by faith knowing that our father in heaven loves us and that he is faithful to us no matter what happens. I need to make this clear, giving up all control in dating does not prove that you are trusting God any more than someone who gives up all control to their health, and thus refuses to see a doctor. That is the action of a cultist, not a follower of Jesus. We demonstrate that we trust God in dating the same way we trust God with medicine; by clinging to the hope that he knows and cares for our best interests, and that he is sovereign, working out all things for our good even when things do not work out as planned. In dating, this means that when a relationship does not work out, we can move forward knowing that God was in control, no matter how messy the relationship was and that he has our best interests at heart.
So how should I move forward, knowing full well that dating has risks? If you are emotionally healthy enough to date, you should move forward trusting that God loves you and that he cares for you. That God is omnipresent, and that he is sovereign. Even now he is working in your past, present, and future, ensuring that everything works out for your good and his loving purposes. You should move forward knowing that your pursuit of the close intimacy that is found in a spouse is a good desire and that the success of your pursuit does not depend all on you. Go ahead seek after close relationship, but trust that God directs your steps. Go forth as God intended you to, knowing that he is with you and that he, through Jesus, is the only true source of the lasting peace and contentment that we all long for.