January 7th, 2012
02:00 AM ET
By Thom Patterson, CNN
(CNN) - Has God taken an interest in the computer dating business? Does he (or she) have a username and password?
You might think so, if you’ve seen TV ads for the subscription-based dating website christianmingle.com.
The announcer says confidently: “Find God’s match for you.”
Really? Is God going to hook you up online? Cue the blogospheric debate.
"That's awfully bold to presume they already know who God wants you to marry," tweeted @Jessie_luvJesus recently.
"... SMH [shaking my head] these folks should be ashamed," wrote @EWebb424.
The tagline has been creating a “misconception” that God works exclusively through Christian Mingle, says spokeswoman Ashley Reccord.
Launched in 2001, Christian Mingle now boasts more than 5 million members, 40% of whom joined within the past year, according to the site (Full disclosure: Christian Mingle advertises on CNN.)
Members can register free and are asked to answer several questions based on religious background and personal preferences. Based on those answers, the website offers profiles of potential matches.
A search on the site for “soul mate” among women age 18-80 came up with 1,000 profiles, including one from Florida.
“I’m in search of the man God has for me,” writes the 35-year-old woman. “I’m looking for my best friend, my soul mate, and someone to share life’s greatest moments with.”
A 39-year-old woman in Colorado Springs, Colorado, wrote, “I still believe in true love … a soul mate. I am reasonable. I understand that there is not a perfect man out there … but one who is perfect for me.”
Says Reccord, the Christian Mingle spokeswoman: "God can orchestrate and use the medium of Christian Mingle to allow people to find their match for one another on the site. He may or may not use that means, but he can use that means."
So does that mean the cliché is true, that some matches really are “made in heaven?" Does God, if you believe there is one, pre-select us to pair up as life partners, as "soul mates?"
The Bible has little if anything to say about the matter, according to many religious writers and leaders. But several high-profile religious commentators have strong opinions about the idea:
–Soul mates do exist, according to some religious voices who cite the Jewish Talmud.
–Many Christians believe God helps people create their own kind of soul mates.
–Some say the Bible's "language of sexuality" supports the concept.
–Islam rejects the notion of soul mates, according to Muslim leaders.
–Many say belief in soul mates has negative consequences and can even be harmful.
Some of those warning about the dangers of the soul mate idea are Christians.
"If I get to heaven and I hear God say he had someone picked out for me, I'll believe him," says Lisa Anderson, host of "The Boundless Show," the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family's podcast for young adults.
"But it seems that this soul mate idea is really breaking up a lot of marriages and it's keeping a lot of young adults single."
Anderson says that believing in soul mates sets up two possible worst-case scenarios: a revolving door of marriages or a lifetime of being single.
Many young adults, she says, make this mistake: They think if they marry their “soul mate” then the marriage will be easy and wonderful. Then if the marriage turns rocky, game over; they suddenly decide they've picked the wrong mate. The marriage ends and they return to square one, searching for someone else to fill the soul mate role.
On the other hand, searching for a soul mate can be tragically intimidating, to the point of indecision.
"We're seeing young adults – X-ers and millennials - absolutely paralyzed and unable to get to marriage because they want to do it right," says Anderson. "They don't want to be their parents' generation ... the largest divorce generation in history."
Yada yada yada
But other evangelical Christian opinion-makers back Christian Mingle’s idea of an divinely ordained match.
"I would be scared to jump off a theological cliff and say we’re intended for one specific person," says Christian author Dannah Gresh. But based on the Bible’s “sexual language,” she doesn't dismiss the possibility.
The Old Testament’s original Hebrew text uses the word "yada" to imply the act of sex, says Gresh.
However, yada doesn't necessarily mean having sex in a literal sense, says Gresh. It means "to know," "to be known" or "to be respected."
She says yada biblically links the concepts of sex and the soul. "Sex is about a soul connection in its truest form," says Gresh, giving credence to a possible connection between God and the soul mate concept.
Not quite, says Bible scholar O. Wesley Allen of Lexington Theological Seminary. "The intimate knowing implied in [yada] is created through the act of sex, not as something that leads to union," Allen says.
A biblical companion to yada is the Greek word "ginosko," says Gresh, which is found in the New Testament. The Bible's original text uses ginosko to describe an "intimate soul connection between a husband and wife in the act of marriage," she says.
But she says the Bible also uses ginosko to describe a deep, intimate connection with God.
Gresh is giving too much weight to these words, Allen says. The fact that these words are used in dual contexts does not imply - or even suggest - the possibility of divinely ordained matches, according to Allen.
Gresh stresses that she does not believe God has intended matches for us. "However, I think there can be a really good theological argument made for exclusivity - once you have found someone you choose to love," she says.
A soul mate and a spare
Judaism, meanwhile, specifically includes the concept of soul mates in the Talmud, a collection of writings that constitute Jewish civil and religious laws.
According to the Talmud, before a soul comes into the world it is paired with a bashert, or first match, which is the first soul that you’re supposed to end up with, says Rabbi DovBer Pinson, of the New York-based IYYUN Center for Jewish Spirituality.
“If everything works out you’ll end up with that person,” says Pinson. Jewish tradition also includes a “second match” for every soul, which also could end up as a soul-mate relationship.
The names of everyone’s first and second matches are written down, “We just don’t have access to that information, because they’re written down in the spiritual plane” – or heaven, Pinson says.
The Kabbalistic tradition, rooted in Jewish mysticism, spells out clues to recognize whether your partner is your soul mate. If a partner is helping you overcome your negative traits and negative challenges while helping you pursue your positive traits, that person is your soul mate, says Pinson.
“It means these two souls originate from the same soul root and they’re meant to be connected to each other,” he says.
The Islamic faith, meanwhile, rejects the soul mate concept. "The words 'soul mate,' that you are meant to be with this person forever, there is no concept like this in Islam,” says Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America.
Infinite knowledge allows God to know which partners end up together, but it’s up to people to sustain their marriages and stay together, Magid says, because “the concept of a soul mate in Islam would put the fault of divorce on God."
Are you telling me to 'settle?'
Shaunti Feldhahn and her husband, Jeff, have created their own industry with their popular books, required reading for Christian premarital counselors at thousands of churches.
But she says their marriage, which has produced the million-sellers "For Women Only" and "For Men Only,” was not necessarily preordained.
"If I'd gone to a different graduate school I may have never ended up marrying my husband," she acknowledges. Feldhahn says there probably isn't “one perfect soul mate” for each person. For her, the bottom line is that "whoever you end up with ... God knows what the eventual outcome of your life is going to be."
The flip side of that is God has also given people free will.
“We have every right to screw it up if we want to - and sometimes we do,” Feldhahn says.
However, if couples follow God’s general principles about relationships, it’s possible they can enjoy the same benefits as so-called “soul mates,” she says.
Don’t focus too much on the search for your perfect mate, according to Feldhahn, focus on leading a Christian lifestyle and things will work out fine.
As for Christian Mingle’s “God’s-match-for-you” tagline, Feldhahn says it could mean “Meet the person who’s going to end up being your perfect match - because that's what you're going to make it."
Is Feldhahn telling single folks to stop searching and to “settle” for the best person available?
“No,” she says. “That implies that the person cannot be the person you need. If you both live by God's principles, you will both become the people you need to be.”
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.