This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Hi Dr. Craig,
I'd like to probe you more on your views of divine providence and marriage in particular. I believe you've said that God has a specific marriage partner intended for each person (unless perhaps that person is somehow called to celibacy).
This seems on the surface implausible, as from personal experience from many people there are many apparently suitable partners that one could marry. On your view then, would things somehow not be as good if one marries some other seemingly suitable partner? How could anyone know if the person they married is the 'right' one and that they didn't miss meeting someone better?
Does your view also mean that some people who are single haven't met or won't meet the right person because the partners they were meant to marry married someone else (perhaps because these partners were disobedient to God's direction, or made a mistake etc)?
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
It’s important to note that my claim that God does have in mind a specific person for you to marry, Joe, is an inference from the general doctrine of divine providence (QoW #486). On the view of divine providence which I find most biblical and philosophically coherent (namely, a view based on divine middle knowledge), God exercises what has been called meticulous providence, namely, a control of things, which, while compatible with libertarian freedom of the will, extends to the tiniest detail of our lives. So, of course, His plan for your life will include the monumentally important choice of whom you shall marry. Moreover, God has promised to guide us through life, so that as we walk in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, we shall not wander from the plan He has for us.
Now you say such a doctrine is prima facie “implausible.” Why? Because based on experience there seem to be “many apparently suitable partners that one could marry.” This objection evinces a drastic misunderstanding of what I affirmed. I have no doubt that there are many people you might marry who would be wonderful partners, resulting in a fulfilling and God-honoring marriage. But that fact is in no way inconsistent with the claim that God has in mind one specific person He wants you to marry.
What underlies your objection is, I think, the assumption that God’s only grounds for preferring one person rather than another is suitability. That seems obviously false. Think, for example, of the children you will beget and their progeny and theirs, on and on into the future. Your descendants are utterly unique. The course of world history shifts based on the person you marry in ways that are beyond our discernment.
Moreover, —and here I raise a radical thought—suppose God wants you to marry someone who is not well-suited to you. As I ‘ve emphasized in discussing the problem of evil and suffering, we have a natural tendency to think that God’s purpose for human life is to make us happy. But on the Christian view that is not true. The Bible says, “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (I Thessalonians 4.3). You may be brought more into conformity to the character of Christ by suffering in a marriage that is not what you dreamed it would be. God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1.2)! We’re all broken people psychologically, and God may work in you or your spouse’s life through each other’s shortcomings, as you both learn to forbear and forgive. God has much wider things to achieve in this world than our happiness, and the partner He picks for you will be the person with whom you can best advance the interests of His kingdom.
So on my view, would things not be as “good” if you were to disobey God’s will and marry the wrong person? That depends on what you mean by “good.” I suspect you mean that if you disobeyed God, would your marriage be less happy and fulfilling? Based on what I’ve just said, the answer is obviously, not necessarily! But the overall goodness of the world or the interests of God’s kingdom may well be impaired by such a disobedient choice.
“How could anyone know if the person they married is the 'right' one and that they didn't miss meeting someone better?” We have the confidence that as we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, God will guide our steps. So we need to focus on being the right person ourselves rather than on finding the right person. Certainty is never possible, but there’s no need to worry: just focus on being an obedient, Sprit-filled Christian and trust Him to lead you.
With respect to your last question, “Does your view also mean that some people who are single haven't met or won't meet the right person because the partners they were meant to marry married someone else (perhaps because these partners were disobedient to God's direction, or made a mistake etc)?”, keep in mind that God via His middle knowledge knew of that person’s disobedience in advance and so has a plan for your life that takes that into account. You might have similarly asked, “What if the person God intended for me to marry was never born because her parents were disobedient and failed to conceive her?” We needn’t rack our brains about such dizzying scenarios because God knew that such a person would not be born and so would not be His intended will for you. Similarly, a person who, had she been obedient, would have been God’s intended for you is not in fact God’s intended precisely because she was disobedient.
The bottom line is: don’t focus on finding the right person; focus on becoming the right person.
 See QoW search index entries “Middle Knowledge” and “Molinism.”
Learn more about Dr. Craig’s book, A Reasonable Response, by clicking here.