As I mentioned in earlier postings, you shouldn’t expect to find someone who is a perfect compliment for you, someone who is perfectly mature. Why? Because both you are a work in progress. Neither of you will be fully formed and “perfect”. So it’s pointless to look at a person as they are now, and expect that’s who they will be in the future. Just getting married is likely to change them. Rather, you need to be able to see who they are becoming.
Anyone who knows me will realize that I think that our relationship with God is core, central to life, so this perspective has a strong influence of the rest of this post. My understanding of the Bible is that God wants all people to have a right relationship with Him based on His love and justice, and that in response to God’s initiation toward us that we grow in maturity, in love, to become more like Jesus in our everyday lives. I believe that the Bible promises that this will be accomplished in an ultimate sense, that we will see the final result of this when God forms a new heaven and new earth. We are active participants, we can decided to respond to God’s loving initiation and grow in this life, or we can hold on to our old, selfish ways, and see very little growth or love. The open question is how much of a transformation you and your beloved might experience in this lifetime. My desire, and I hope yours, is to experience as much of this life giving change as I can in this life. If this is your desire, that I would encourage you to seek someone who is going this same direction, someone who has a strong desire, and a commitment to grow in love and understanding so you can be companions, encouraging one another, and helping one another as the years go by and as life changes.
Since people aren’t static, since people are changing, what’s most important is not who they are right now, but who they are becoming. So if following God, growing in love, are important to you, then this is something to be looking for. I would encourage you not to look at just externals, like “Do they go to church”… yes, the absence of church is telling, but the presents doesn’t provide much information. A much more important question is when God puts a challenge before them, when their world is shaken up, do they gratefully and quickly take the correction and respond to what God is showing them, or do they dig in their heels and want to keep where they are? Are they quick to choose to serve, or do the prize their personal comfort and peace. Seek someone who is seeking God first, and who wants to learn and grow with you. A shared life toward God.
It’s very important for a married couple to share a core world view. Otherwise they will be pulling at each other. If core values and beliefs are vary too much, either there will be irreconcilable difference which will affect everything, or one will be forced to compromise which typically doesn’t go well. This means that someone who is strongly committed to a religion or world view should stay within that system. Bible believing Christians, with Christians, Koran believing Muslims with Muslims, militant atheists with atheists, etc. There are many people who are more nominal in their beliefs and can be happy crossing religious boundaries, for example I know numerous nominal Catholics and Jews who are very happy together because while religious practices are a bit different, their world views and values are quite similar.
For someone who takes a biblical Christian faith seriously, a shared spiritual life can take many forms. Praying together, serving together, going to church and other spiritual activities. It can be as simple as talking on a walk in the evening and sharing what God has been teaching you that day, or asking for input about an issue or person you are struggling with. The key is that both of you realize that God is involved in your lives, you look for how God is directing you, and you share your insight and listen to your partner. Some people think this means doing Bible studies and morning devotionals together. While this can be a good thing, in my opinion it is not a necessity. Yes, you want a dynamic interaction, to be learning and growing together, encouraging one another and benefitting from what the other is learning. This sort of interaction doesn’t have to be in the context of a formal study, it can happen in daily life provided you leave space for it to occur and initiate with each other. I would suggest that if the only time you talk about such things is in a formal study, something is deeply wrong.
Some people reading this post might already be married. Maybe you came to faith after you were married, maybe you felt the person you married was so special that somehow your difference in faith could be overcome. My encouragement, the Bible’s encouragement is to stick with your commitment to your spouse. To love them, and to be a positive influence in their life. Paul talks about how a Christian wife or husband can be a blessing, a force for good in their partner’s life. This will not be easy. I have seen strong and successful marriages where one partner was a high committed Christian and the other was not a Christian. These couples have figure out how to agree to disagree. They have learned to support the other person’s passions and activities without compromising their own integrity. For example, I know a couple where the wife is passionate about world missions, and the husband doesn’t believe in Jesus. Yet, because he recognizes how important missions is to his wife, He is able to value the work she does. He encourages her to take trips, helps with logistics planning, will got to meetings that promote the acts of service. He loves his wife, he sees that this work brings her joy, so he supports her. Likewise, she is deeply invested in his life and the things that are close to his heart. And yet, I know that both partners feel a tension, and areas of life they would like to share with the other, but can’t. Much more common are relationships where these difference tear people apart. Where beliefs and practices are belittled, where commitments to activities are viewed as stealing from the family, etc. This is much, much more common… so if your aren’t yet married, I would strongly encourage you not to marry unless you find your faith aligned.
I have periodically heard people say “Yes, I know I shouldn’t marry a non Christian, but dating would be ok. The Bible doesn’t say I have to date Christians.” I wonder if the reason there is no passage that said “don’t date non Christians” is because dating didn’t exist when the Bible was written. Rather than asking the question “Is it permitted?” a better question is “Is it profitable, loving?” The problem I see with dating non Christians is what happens if the relationship goes well. All too often I have seen a couple enjoy each other, grow closer together and then the question comes up, “Where do we go from here?” A Bible following Christian is in a difficult place. On the one hand, they see real value in their relationship, they would like it to continue. On the other hand, the Bible is pretty clear that we shouldn’t enter into a marriage with a non Christian. They have three options. One option is to keep up barriers so the relationship only progresses so far, e.g. short of marriage unless the partner decides to walk with Jesus. This can be quite awkward. There is no telling how long this will take, or if it will ever happen. There is also a risk that the relationship will actually be an obstacle to the beloved coming to see God clearly. The second option is to break the relationship off which typically delivers the strangest message. That the relationship is ending because it’s too good. “What?” is the common response, followed by their partner feeling judged. Rather than the beloved person hearing the gospel that we all sin, need forgiveness and reconciliation which is offered by God, they hear that somehow they aren’t good enough to marry, that they need to “do” something. Often they will feel led on, taken advantage of. The final option is for the Christian to go against something that is clearly in the Scripture. In nearly all cases, I have seen this have very bad consequences… often great relational pain and often struggles if not walking away from a faith which had previously been life giving.
As I look back at my relationship with Libby, one of the defining characteristics, and one of the biggest blessing for me, was that Libby valued her relationship with the Lord more than with me, and that she was concerned for where I stood in relation to God. In 1980 I saw something wonderful in Libby (I now know it was the Lord’s Spirit changing her life). I wanted it, I wanted Libby. She was very attracted to me as well but she resisted her attraction because I wasn’t a Christian. As I pursued her, Libby was very careful to give no indication that she was attracted to me. Because she knew of our mutual interest, and didn’t want to lead me on, she made sure that we were never alone together. She would invite me to do things with a group, not just her. She never said “Believe in God and you get me.” In fact, I think she counted the cost, let go of me completely, choose to live as if we would never date. She was a friend and was careful to make sure I knew that was all there was. Eventually I figured out my deep hunger was for God Himself. Yes, I still wanted Libby, but I could see the Lord is what I was deeply hungering for. I came to faith.
After I became a Christian I saw Libby a couple times a week at church related events. As I saw more of Libby my interest in her grew. I pursued Libby with even more purpose. Libby knew how much I needed to grow. She sat me down and said “You want to be dating. That’s not happening. If we started to date right now, I think it would distract both of us from some really good things that are happening in each of our lives”. She wasn’t judgmental, she was encouraging. She didn’t make any promises, but she didn’t close the door either. Over a number of months I learned more about my new faith. I learned to study the Bible, and began to teach my friends what I was learning. I developed relationships with a number of the men in the church. I started to find ways I could serve. I was still attracted to Libby. After a number of months I started to pursue Libby again. I have to tell you that it was quite difficult to convince Libby that dating (and later getting married) was ok. She was afraid she wanted me more than the Lord. She eventually came to the conclusion that with prayer, she could keep the Lord first, but also love and cherish me. I am so glad she had this priority, and also that she decided that it was ok to cherish me as well. Libby’s example has continued to challenge and encourage me. Even before we started dating, she put my needs (to know God) before her desires. She continued to do that through out our marriage. I believe I learned to do the same for her.
Not compromising your beliefs, your faith is a good starting point. Going to church, being involved in a community and serving others is also important, but there is much more. Ultimately, the question is what’s in our heart. What directs our lives? Who do we live for? I have seen men and women who built their lives around their spouse. I know people who would say “Wow, I would love someone who is that devoted to me”. You might think it would be good to have your spouse that devoted to you, but it doesn’t work out so well in most cases. The problem with this is that God is the only one who is worthy of such devotion, such worship. People are just false idols, fallible, imitations of who we should worship. What happens? Eventually the spouse that is being worshipped, who is at the center of the relationship falls. They demonstrate that that aren’t worthy. It could be something big or small. However this works out, it shatters the person who put their spouse at the center of their life. They now have to figure out how to go forward, how to rebuild. It’s very hard. Much better for God to be at the center of the relationship, and based on that to be devoted to one another.
I understand the desire to have someone who cherishes you, who loves you. There may be someone in your life right now who cares deeply about you, and you care for them as well, that is great. Or maybe you don’t have someone today, but you have hopes for the future. My one request is to make sure you are picking someone who is going in the same direction as you, with the same commitments and passions. If you don’t do this, the relationship will fall far short of what God desires for you. Some people struggle with the question “If not this person, who?” I can’t answer that, though I appreciate the longing. I deeply miss sharing life with Libby now that she is home with the Lord… but I have to say that as good as it is to be loved and cherished, it pails in comparison to what the Lord has planned out for us. We won’t see all of His plans in this life, it’s too wondrous for this world. In the mean time, our God is good, good all the time. He will provide what is needed to move our story forward until all is set right again. We can trust that He knows what He is doing, and that if He left us instructions, that there was a good reason, it wasn’t capricious or out of cruelty, but out of love.
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
I John 4:15-21