Jimmy’s Table PodcastCuriously evangelical. Politically homeless. A dreamer of small things. On this podcast, I am having conversations about the intersection of faith, life, and culture.

Better Than A Soulmate (The Gift Of Marriage) – Episode #149

The Notebook

Do you believe in soulmates? Is there just one person out there that you are meant to be with? Has the universe or God predestined you to be with just one special person? Is your spouse your soulmate?

Before you answer these questions, look around the room and decide if it’s safe for you to answer these questions out loud. Your soulmate may be listening!

When I was in my 20’s, on two separate occasions, I briefly dated a woman that I had a strong infatuation with. Which of course, is why I dated her for more than one period of time. I really, really liked her, and decided after she dumped me the first time, that she was worth a second shot. Then a few weeks into the second go around, I dumped her.

Which all came as a shock each time. I remember the first time I met this woman that I thought I’d marry her one day. And, as I would later learn, she claimed that God gave her a literal vision in which she saw us getting married.

Shockingly, we didn’t get married. Each of us would get married to separate people. So much for that idea! Of course, I’m no longer married, so who knows what the future holds! (Kidding)

I bring up this story today to talk about the concept of soulmates. Because there’s a lot of people that believe in the idea. And even if we don’t overtly believe in the concept as a matter of doctrine, it’s a romantic ideal that still flows through our blood.

Where did the idea of a soulmate originate?

According to my research, interestingly enough, the word “soulmate” is a rather recent one. In 1822 the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the term, stating: “To be happy in Married Life … you must have a Soul-mate.” For Coleridge, a successful marriage needed to be about more than economic or social compatibility. It required a spiritual connection.

And while soulmate might be a relatively recent word, the concept is an old one. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato talked about the idea, citing a Greek poet who taught that soulmates were individuals who were once united with their other half in a pre-existent state of being. But then Zeus, jealous of this union, split them apart out of fear and jealousy. But, unable to stay apart, they find their other half:

“And when one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself … the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment.”

That’s some romantic Nicholas Sparks type stuff right there. Not bad Plato, not bad.

In Christianity, while Platonic thought has often found its way into our theology at some level, the idea of soulmates as defined by Plato isn’t a subject the Scriptures directly speak to, and I’m unaware of any serious theologian that would hold to the idea.

But, while the concept isn’t found in Scripture, some well meaning people might still loosely infer the idea that God has made a soulmate out there just for us.

The story of creation in Genesis could almost infer such, and almost sounds sorta Platonic. When God created the world, He created Adam and placed him in a garden. Adam felt lonely, so God caused Adam to undergo a deep sleep, and then fashioned a woman from one of Adam’s ribs. From this rib God made Eve, and brought them together. To which Adam said, “This is none of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”

From this story, numerous people have inferred that we all have an Adam and Eve like story out there. And the force of such a passage, even if it doesn’t overtly and directly teach such, definitely plays with our romantic imaginations.

The Scriptures also have a couple other similar love stories out there. Jacob and his love for Rachel. Solomon and his love for his Shulamite woman. Ruth and Boaz’s relationship, and its providential significance for the nation of Israel. And of course, God’s expressed love for Israel and the Church, which is often deeply symbolized by the imagery of marriage.

And, depending on your exact theological understanding of predestination, you might also believe that God is specifically writing your love story, and has one special person out there just for you.

“What God has joined together, let no man separate!” (Matthew 19:6)

This seems to be the whole crux of the matter. Doesn’t it?

But if there’s just one person out there just for you, and God has destined you for a soulmate like Adam and Eve, then it begs the question, how did Jacob get tricked into marrying someone else first, why did Solomon have 700 wives and 300 concubines, and why was Ruth married to someone before Boaz? And how is it that if God has predestined you to be with just one person, that man is capable of separating that union to begin with?

While these romantic stories in the Bible might cause a fluttering in our hearts, I think we need to be careful to read into them Platonic ideas of a soulmate. At best, we can infer from these passages of Scripture that some relationships have a little more chemistry than others, and we are capable of forming some deeply romantic attachments that really hit us differently than others.

For all the extra special relationship that Adam and Eve had in their forming, the Scriptures make clear that not all was well in paradise. Their marriage ended up ultimately being very toxic, not only for themselves, but the rest of humanity. You and I continue to suffer today because of the troubles that were introduced to this world through our first parents.

So, if I might ask a very practical question, even if you believe in the idea of a soulmate, exactly what are the implications of that? What are you hoping that will grant you once you find that special someone? An extra super special connection that makes your relationship unlike anything else in the universe? A guaranteed happily ever after?

As much as that idea pulls on our heart strings, I’m here to tell you that the closest thing to a soulmate that we read about in the Bible was plagued with serious problems.

I think we like the idea of a soulmate because, like Adam, we don’t like feeling alone. Something in us just aches, and longs for another. But we don’t just want any old person, we want someone that’s got some extra special sauce mixed in them.

In pop culture I think we see this idea play out in Nicholas Spark’s “The Notebook.” Noah and Allie had an undeniable connection. But their relationship was ultimately a very toxic one with a heavy sense of codependency. Allie’s mother, who didn’t approve of their relationship, ultimately interfered, and kept the two apart. Allie and Noah moved on. Allie eventually fell in love with another man and was engaged to be married. But then a chance encounter drove Noah and Allie back together, they had a romantic encounter, and Allie ultimately realized that as much as she loved her fiancée, Noah was ultimately her soulmate. So, she left her fiancée, and she ended up living happily ever after with Noah. Their souls were so connected that they even died in old age together.

Doesn’t that sound absolutely romantic?

Well, it does unless you are the fiancée that Allie cheated on. And speaking as someone who has been in on the losing side of a love triangle, there’s nothing actually romantic about such a story. Nicholas Sparks ultimately wrote a story line fit for the Jerry Springer show, but we think it’s romantic because it involves pretty people who have nice teeth, and appeals to romantic ideas we have about soulmates.

I find the entire idea of a soulmate, while appealing to something in my sappy Western saturated soul, a shallow view of romantic love. It’s an illusion that tries to see our romantic entanglements as something larger than the life of the two people that find themselves together. The focus then becomes, not on our actual partner, but some false meta narrative that gives our relationship a larger sense of purpose than the actual relationship itself.

Instead I think God offers is something better than a soulmate. That is, God offers us the wonderful gift of marriage. A gift that offers us the possibility of sharing in something amazingly beautiful, or something that has within it the possibility of something amazingly destructive.

The outcome of which will depend, not on some cosmic force that brings us together through some sense of fate. But rather, the outcome will be determined by what the degree that both partners freely give of themselves lovingly to the other in everything that they are, and receiving of what that other person has to offer.

The gift of marriage is what God offers us, and is far superior to any soulmate type mythology that we cling to. What our marriage becomes will depend on how we steward and cultivate our marriages. And the closeness we have with another soul will depend, not on fate, but ultimately by the commitment we make to each other in a mutual Christ like love through the gift of marriage.

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