I recently got this message from someone: “I’m trying really hard right now to embrace singleness as a gift, as you mentioned in your post “Theology of Singleness.” I think it would help ease my mind to know more about the things I will experience in my relationship with God that I would not experience elsewhere, as well as the things that maybe a romantic relationship has that a relationship with God doesn’t (for example, sexual intimacy) and why these things are relatively unimportant or unnecessary when compared to knowing God.”
This reader expresses what many single people feel (or really any person who is longing for a good thing that God continues to say no to): I desperately want to believe God is enough for me, but I am still not convinced that knowing Him is better than marriage.
Why is this? How is it possible to believe that you don’t need marriage or children to be complete, that knowing God is really enough, that in His presence is the fullness of joy, and yet still feel so horrifyingly empty and unsatisfied?
After mulling over this question for a while, I’ve come to one likely conclusion: a low view of sin and therefore a low view of salvation.
My joy in God is directly correlated to how I view my sin. The smaller my sin seems, the less joyful. The greater my sin, the greater my joy.
Jesus told a parable to explain this phenomenon in Luke 7:36-50:
One of the Pharisees asked [Jesus] to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him,”Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Did you catch that? She who is forgiven much, loves much. She who is forgiven little, loves little. No one is actually forgiven little, by the way. There are only those who think they need to be forgiven little. When we have too small a view of our own sin, the forgiveness God offers doesn’t seem that impressive.
The truth is, our sin is so vile, so wicked, so wretched, so full of anti-God-self-love, that God’s forgiveness of us at the expense of His One and Only Beloved Son should put us into a state of utter shock and disbelief. But if you don’t think your sin is that bad, then God’s grace toward you won’t be that good. And I think this is where other good things (like marriage) creep in and start to look a little more appealing than a right relationship with God.
If you are not shocked that God has offered you a right relationship with Him, then you likely don’t think you’re a very bad sinner. Does the above description of sin sound extreme to you? Then you likely have too low a view of your sin. Or you have excused your sin because of circumstances or by comparing yourself to others. And so long as knowing God is not that impressive to you, you’ll always be looking to something else for deep and abiding joy.
So how do you have a proper view of your sin, and therefore a proper view of your salvation? Ironically, I don’t think it is by focusing on your sin more. A deeper view of sin comes by seeing God more clearly.
You see this happen to Isaiah in famous “I saw the Lord seated on the throne” passage (chapter 6). He sees God with more clarity than few people on this earth. And his immediate response: “Woe is me!” Seeing God clearly will ALWAYS have the side effect of revealing how shockingly wicked our inward bent toward self-centeredness is.
Isaiah isn’t the only one who responded to God this way. Most of the people who had extraordinary intimacy with God share his experience. Two men specifically I’ve been studying lately are Daniel and Josiah. Remember, these men are the “good guys.” They weren’t actively disobeying God or avoiding the good they ought to do. In fact, they were some of the only people in their day who were actively seeking God. Yet, in both instances, as God is revealed to them, they are found repenting, not of others’ sin, but their own. Weeping with deep brokenness over the evil they saw in their own hearts.
If you will seek God, not to get something from Him, but just to get to know Him… it will shock you how different He is than us. We live in a world of self-centered people, so we can be easily desensitized and convinced that a little selfishness is normal and not that bad. But when we get a good, long look at God this is what we see:
- A God who from the beginning joyfully purposed to crush His most precious possession on behalf of people who didn’t even care to know Him.
- A God who willingly set aside the glory He so rightly deserved to be betrayed by the very people He came to save.
- A God who endured, without a word, the spitting, beating, and scoffing of men who deserved to be spit on, beat, and scoffed at by Him.
- A God who surrendered His rights for people who day after day after day demand from Him things they have no right to demand.
To see God with clarity exposes the wretchedness of my heart. When I feel slightly inconvenienced by my children, I can become easily angered as I fight with all my being to protect my right to an easy life. Me, who deserves nothing but a hell-sentence, fighting to protect a right I don’t actually deserve. When I serve a God who chose to give up the right to His glory, His reputation, His comfort, His preference, His very life without one, single complaint. Out of love for me: the self-centered, self-righteous, ease-demanding, glory-seeking sinner. Who is this God?!
Oh, to sing these words today was rapturous for my soul:
Where there was sin, Your love rushed in
Where sin runs deep, Your grace runs deeper!
For all enslaved, the ransom paid
Light of the world, Yours is the power!
The more clearly I see God, the more hopeless I feel to defeat that indwelling self-centeredness. And in that very moment of utter hopelessness, I feel the comfort of His Spirit in me saying: Blessed, daughter, blessed are you who are poor in spirit, blessed are you who mourn your sin, blessed are you who are sin-starved and desperately hungry and thirsty for righteousness. You will be comforted, you will be satisfied, you will see Me and My Kingdom is for you! (Matt 5:1-11)
Oh the joy that fills my soul in these moments puts any pleasure found in my marriage or my kids to shame. Those earthly joys (though far sweeter than most things in life), cannot hold a candle to the internal satisfaction and weighty joy that I find in having the undeserved privilege of knowing God!
So in returning to the original issue of the disconnect between believing God is enough yet still looking to other things for joy, I propose this as a reason: an unimpressive view of salvation fueled by a small view of sin. She who thinks she is forgiven little, loves little. She who knows she is forgiven much, loves much.
My prayer for you today is that you would find within your heart an unrelenting determination to know God and see Him for who He is, not for what He can give you. And in that very pursuit, that your sin would appall you, but that God’s grace toward you in the midst of your sin would astound you even more. May you be deeply satisfied, you who hunger and thirst for righteousness.