Genesis 2:18. Then the Lord God said, It is “not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (ESV)
People through the ages have debated the meaning of this passage. Many have said that a woman, essentially a wife, actually “completes” the man (as some texts translate), and that the celibate or single man is incomplete because his aloneness is “not good.” It follows then that “helper” means a whole lot more than “helper,” but becomes “completer.”
However, Paul teaches in I Corinthians 7 that the anxieties of marriage actually distract a man from the spiritual life, because now he has responsibility – or “trouble.” He implies that singleness is a legitimate and reasonable permanent state, for the purpose of pursuing a life work that would be best accomplished without a woman. He wishes that all men were like him, having no wife.
Some think this passage refers to a compensatory “gift” or ability to be complete without a wife, and that this “gifting” may be lifted at some point, freeing him to marry when a task or ministry changes. Interestingly, we must assume Paul did have a wife earlier in his life, for he was a Pharisee, and Pharisees were required to be married.
So how do we reconcile these two perspectives of scripture? In one perspective, marriage equals completeness; in the other, marriage equals trouble. Can both be right at the same time?
Well, since we are discussing God’s Holy Word, they must both be right. To say the single man, as incomplete, lives a frustrated existence until his “completer” comes along, says much of one’s belief about God. We might even justify this man’s engaging in brief, unfulfilling sexual exploits while he waits. But this flies in the face of God’s express laws regarding purity of heart, mind, and body. Would God either require or sanction such a sad temporary state, much less a perpetual one? We must assume that a celibate person can be psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually complete.
The irony in all this is that single people think all their problems will be solved if they find a great mate, while married folk often look longingly at the freedoms of the single person!
We are told that God, in Christ, provides everything we need to be happy and fulfilled whether married or not. (“And my God shall supply all your needs…”) Not only does God bring a mate for His glory and the procreation of the world, but also for the molding of our character through suffering. Marriage then is neither a right, nor a distraction, but a dynamic role we play in a covenant earthly relationship patterned after Christ and His Bride, the Church. Paul warns us to enter it seriously, knowing it will demand more of us than we thought it would.
It is essentially a sacrificial relationship which God Himself can fill and make beautiful.
Marriage then is a desire awakened (our Genesis passage), kept on the altar of love to Christ until it is fulfilled; over a lifetime it is God’s furnace of refinement (our Corinthian passage). So, whether going through a difficult time in marriage, or wrestling with unmet needs as a single person, the arduous (practically impossible) work of the believer is to trust Him to give us just what we need each day.
This is our trouble and our completion: To know Him. For only in Him are we complete.