A frequently misinterpreted verse in the Bible is Genesis 2:18, where God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (ESV). From the immediate context, where God creates Eve as a helper for Adam, many people understand the state of being single to be “not good” and marriage as the only real solution to loneliness.
Common as this interpretation is, it cannot be squared with the full witness of Scripture. Take Matthew 19, for instance. After Jesus had just finished making an argument from Genesis about divorce, the disciples assert that it is better not to marry. If the common understanding of Genesis 2:18 were correct, Jesus would have immediately brought it up. He didn’t, but instead basically said that it can be better to remain unmarried, just not for everyone. He mentioned three categories of people who would remain celibate, only the third of which would have any explicit choice in the matter. (See Seeds of Celibacy for a reflection on this last fact.)
The only way I can reconcile Genesis 2:18 with Matthew 19 is that “being alone” and being married are not the only choices: there must be a third option. This makes a good deal of sense even in the context of the Genesis passage: after all, Adam was not merely single, he was the only human being on the face of the planet. It was through his relationship with Eve that the world was populated. In the New Testament, the Church plays a significant role as family for all believers. In my current situation and life stage, I find that fellow believers do fulfill this role for me, because I do have meaningful companionship and support from my Christian brothers and sisters.
On the other hand, it seems that particularly in our culture, many single people end up alone in a very real sense. As Americans, we have enough trouble giving our biological families priority over work and busy schedules. We thus often fail to fulfill our role as Christians in the lives of our single brothers and sisters – a failure I understand to be sinful, though I don’t always get it right. Many single people struggle deeply with loneliness. In addition, I’ve paid a lot of attention to the stories of other LGBT people. I’ve seen far more cases than I can count of people who were suffering from crushing loneliness—sometimes to the point of seriously contemplating suicide—before they found companionship and human connection through a gay relationship.
I’ve concluded that a lot of the time, these people are indeed facing the kind of “being alone” that God has called “not good.” However, in a lot of cases, marriage is not a viable option even for those who struggle with and do not feel a particular call towards celibacy. Rather than simply calling this a tragedy, I think we as Christians are called to figure out how to make sure our brothers and sisters have another real alternative to “being alone.” I’m not sure exactly what this looks like, but I’m excited to see some good thinking places like here on Spiritual Friendship.
Jeremy Erickson is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He previously studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Taylor University in Upland, IN.