Before I say what I want to say about dating relationships and marriage, let me say this. I didn't expect to continue blogging very much, if at all, while at Bible College. The obvious reason would be because of the amount of studying to be done, along with time spent in fellowship with other students and faculty. Yet another reason, and perhaps the main reason, that I didn't want to blog here is because I felt like it could come off as arrogant. Meaning, if I write a blog, and write frequently, it could appear that I think I know more, and am holier, than the other students. And I didn't want that. I want to be in a student mentality, not in an instructive/teaching mentality. If I blog about my beliefs and write to try and persuade and edify others, I feel that that may come off in such a way that I am unteachable, or that I have it all figured out.
I don't believe that at all. I don't have it figured out. What's more, I do not claim to practice what I preach perfectly either. I have much growing up to do, much learning to do, and I am purposing to learn here, not just from the professors, but from my fellow classmates as well. Because I know you guys have very, very much to teach me.
Having said that, I usually only write about things I have strong convictions on, and things I feel pretty confident publishing publicly. I do that because I do not want to teach, or proclaim, or even publicly post, something that is unbiblical, something that is wrong. If you look at my blogs, they are often very similar, centered on the gospel. I don't want to try and pretend that I even know it like I should, much less all of life which builds upon the gospel foundation.
The reason I have decided to blog, however, is because of the encouragement of you guys, my fellow classmates. I have had so many people telling me how much they appreciate my blog, and how much they have been blessed and edified by it, that I think it would be wrong for me to stop writing. I have been encouraged to continue writing. Then, Sproul Jr. in class even said it would be good to continue writing a blog if you have a blog to continue to hone your writing skills. With all of this advice to keep writing when in my mind I had purposed not to, I have concluded that God is trying to tell me that I should keep writing.
Of course, writing at 2:30 in the morning when I have an 8 AM class may not have been exactly what God had in mind. Or maybe it was... I do have a reason for why I am writing now, but to explain that would take up a blog in itself. Now, let me turn my attention to what is really on my heart right now, and what I believe could be very life changing if we saw it as truly biblical and set out to live by it.
Dating/courting is something I have talked about a lot recently. Before I hardly ever talked about it. That is because I didn't have a very developed view on things pertaining to dating/relationships myself. I have done much more reading, prayer, and meditation on this important issue lately, in the last six months or so, and I have come to a pretty strong conviction which, sadly, I do not see shared by very many in the Church at large today, even those who are reformed.
To cut to the chase, let me say this. A lot of people my age, Christian, both reformed and not, seem to view engaging in a dating/courting (for now I am using the terms interchangeably) relationship as something very complex, in the sense that they are looking to find someone who has much in common with them. By in common I mean more than just reformed theology, but common interests. Common personalities. Common passions. Common tastes in music, food, art, culture, humor, dress style, weather, etc. The more in common, the better, so goes the thinking of most people.
I think not. I think that is very, very wrongheaded, ungodly, unbiblical, and dangerous. I believe that mindset is sure to bring sadness and sorrow, not joy and glory to God. I think that this wrongheaded mindset may just be one of the main reasons why Christians are getting divorced just as frequently (if not more so) than the pagans who surround us.
Caught your attention now? Angered you yet? I hope not, and yet I hope I have. I hope you see that I am raising the stakes on this issue. For the rest of this blog, I am going to try to persuade you that not only looking for common interests in someone as a determining factor (after the Christian faith and reformed theology, that's a given) in a person you will date and potentially marry is not desirable, not only that it is not biblical, but that it is above and beyond that not a tertiary or secondary issue. Indeed, I want to persuade you, by the end of this writing, that this very question goes to the heart of the very purpose of marriage ordained by God.
To understand where I am coming from, you must understand that I am seeking to let God, His Word, and particularly the gospel and relationship I have with Jesus Christ determine what a marriage relationship between a man and a woman will look like. I think we can all agree, can we not, that seeking to make marriage fit God's Word, rather than God's Word fit our own personal ideas of marriage, is what we should do, correct? If not, then you really shouldn't bother reading the rest of this, because you aren't going to like a word I have to say.
In struggling to bring all areas of life under the righteousness and uprightness of God, I have come to see that marriage is to reflect the relationship Christ has with His elect, and the elect have with Christ. This is obvious since Scripture explicitly states this. However, it seems that many believe this when you are having a theological discussion, but then jettison that belief and make the determining factor of who you will and will not date things like "common interests" or simply a "warm gushy feeling" you get when you are around that person. May I submit to you that that is sin, subjectivism, and not grounded whatsoever in the relationship between Christ and His bride?
Firstly, Christ had virtually nothing in common with His bride before He married her. His bride was dirty, ugly, had an awful personality, didn't like the things Christ liked, didn't want the things Christ wanted. Christ had to persuade His bride not to marry Him so much as to transform His bride's mindset to like the things that He liked. In other words, when we were saved, we weren't merely united to Christ, but we were transformed inwardly, so that our desires now became His desires, or rather, our desires now became to strive to desire what He desired.
Isn't that the opposite of looking for "common interests?" Jesus wasn't looking for people who thought just like Him, he was looking for people to mold into Him. He was essentially saying, "Hey, bride, look at what I desire, look at what I am and represent, it is superior to your desires. Follow Me, love Me."
Here is what we have forgotten: The purpose of marriage between a man and a woman, the purpose of the two flesh becoming one, isn't that they look and act much like each other before marriage, and go on to increase looking like and acting like each other after they are married, but rather that they look less like each other, progressively less like themselves, as they grow in their marriage, and instead more like God, more like Jesus Christ.
It's not about common interests, unless by that you mean the common interest of looking more like Jesus Christ in the marriage relationship and less like yourself. If that is your common interest, then whether or not you have much in common apart from this one true Common Interest isn't an issue. It's more of a non-issue really. But when elevated to the determining factor of whether or not you will date, and potentially marry someone, it becomes a sin. It becomes a sin because common interest outside of growing into the image of God has become the very reason you marry someone, instead of the very purpose of marriage, which is to grow into the image of God, to look more like Him, and less like you.
I understand that no Christian wants to replace, or is consciously trying to replace the common interest they perceive in their potential spouse with the ultimate purpose of marriage, which is to glorify God and through the very sanction of marriage grow in holiness and joy in God. But my question is, even though you may say you aren't trying to make common interest, having much in common, the ultimate purpose of marriage, why do you make it the ultimate determining factor of who you will marry?
The answer to that question is very important. Ultimately, I think it is because of bad theology, sin, or both. Bad theology, because some may think that God wants us to marry those who are most like us apart from our faith in Christ. Sin, because we are selfish and want to marry someone who thinks, talks, acts, and behaves just like we do, and we do not want to have to change or be molded more into the image of God.
You may object and say, "How does one person enjoying hiking, and me hating it, involve being more molded into the image of God?" That's the important question. I believe that God is the God of beauty. Not just what is good and true, but also beautiful, enjoyable, aesthetic, etc. Because of that, I believe that God can be glorified, enjoyed, and pursued not only in the things that I am most passionate about, my common interests, but also in the common interests of others. Why would I want to limit what God has for me to enjoy, and why would I want to limit the nuanced ways in which God can, and should, be glorified?
When we decide to purse only those who have similar interests to us, and when we decide that the girl/guy who has most in common with us is the one God wants us to date and possibly marry, we are essentially saying several things. First, that what we like is somehow superior in enjoyment and in the glory it brings to God compared to the things we don't like or enjoy and are not interested in. Second, that we cannot, or will not, accomodate the things which others, particularly our spouse, likes and enjoys and finds interesting. It's as if people think that we can be molded spiritually, but what we enjoy apart from that is... well, somehow apart from that! Doesn't my enjoyment of chocolate flavored ice cream, of hiking, of writing books, of playing ping pong, of having fellowship at Waffle House, have anything to do with glorifying God and enjoying Him forever, or is it disconnected, "apart from that"? Yes it does, whatsoever we eat or drink or do, it should all be done to the glory of God, so it is connected. That's Scripture. Therefore, I conclude that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, glorifying God and enjoying God in sky diving, yes even sky diving, something that terrifies the daylights out of me, can be done.
What's my point? My point is that God has created diversity for a reason. I believe that the differences a husband and wife have in personality, personal taste, humor, music, art, food, etc., are something that the husband and wife should embrace and passionately pursue in one another. I am serious. I think that this is part of the two flesh becoming one in marriage, and part of growing in holiness and closer relationship to God and Jesus Christ. Let me try and explain.
We are justified at the moment of conversion, at the moment of faith and regeneration. We are united with Christ at this time. Our desires have now been changed so that we now desire to seek Christ out, our spouse if you will, to know Him more rightly, so that we can see what makes Him more beautiful, more lovely, more glorious, and then to embrace and enjoy and love what He is like, so that we can then, with the right heart and desire, live in light of His very nature, His very goodness. But that is a process, the process of sanctification. So we don't look like Christ very much right now, even though we do look more like Christ and know more about Him and love Him more today than the day we were justified.
So it is in marriage, except marriage between a man and a woman points back to Christ and is in a very special way connected to Christ, and is part of the very sanctification process of becoming more like Christ, of knowing and loving Him more. If this is so, what could we find in one another, what could the husband find in the wife, and the wife find in the husband, that would cause them to grow more in Christ, in their knowledge and love and passion for Him, that they could not find in themselves? I can tell you one thing, the answer is NOT what they have in common. Wouldn't the answer lie in their differences, what they do not have in common, rather than what they do have in common, at least primarily?
In marriage, the man represents Christ, but He is not Christ. The man is not to mold his wife into his image, but into His image, the image of God. We don't do that, men, by picking out women that have the same exact interests that we do. We do that by teaching our wives, if they don't understand already, that the purpose of marriage is not to merely have much in common outside of theology, but to have a common theology that looks to make the two flesh become one, which is especially done by getting to know the differences in one another and not only embracing and pursuing and enjoying the similarities and commonalities.
If my wife has a different perspective and different interests, I can learn at her feet. I can ask the question, "Why do you love this, what is it about this that you find particularly enjoyable and God glorifying?" The wife can ask and learn the same in regards to how I differ from her as well. And as we do this, not only do we come to embrace the differences we once had, but we also impart more of our God given personalities on our spouses. Thus, the two flesh become one, not by subtraction or commonality, but by growth, outward and upward. Upward in what we already have in common. Outward in what we did not once have in common, but now do because we are seeking to see God's glory and how He can be enjoyed in our differences. Thus, our differences become something we both love and embrace, which mean we do become more like each other, husband and wife, while at the same time becoming more like our Savior Jesus Christ.
People who are different from me fascinate me probably more than people who are very similar to me. The reason I think that seeking out "common interests" as the determining factor of who we will or will not date and thus who we will or will not marry, apart from being unbiblical, is because as a marriage relationship grows, you will discover how little you have in common. Think about it, simple logic tells us that the more we get to know one another, the more we will discover how we are different. Surely we are not so deluded as to think that if we have much in common initially, that somehow means that the more we get to know one another the more that trend will continue and we will uncover virtually nothing where we have a different taste or preference? I hope we are not that foolish. And why be sad about differences? They fascinate me. Which is not to say that I don't like people who like the things I do, of course I like them as well!
The point is this- everyone "settles." Meaning, everyone marries someone who isn't going to meet their perfect "standards." The only person who doesn't settle, is the person who realizes that marriage is an upward process where the two become one flesh by becoming less like self and more like Christ, and the differences between the man and wife actually help facilitate and are a very means by which they become less like self and more like Christ, rather than a hindrance to that desired end. Just stop and think about that sentence for a few seconds, and I think you will come to see how true it is.
Isn't this the perfect, and biblical, theology? I mean, my wife is different from me, so what? She doesn't like everything I do, and likes some things that I currently do not. That is an opportunity for me to show her how I see God's glory and thus my enjoyment in the things she does not yet enjoy and like, and for her to show me how God can be glorified and thus enjoyed in the things that I do not currently like! It's the perfect tool for sanctification and fulfilling the very purpose of marriage, which is growing closer to your spouse by growing in relationship with Christ!
But when your mindset is that you want someone who is just like you, has the same interests you do, then your attitude will almost certainly be hostile towards the personality differences and different personal preferences the person you are dating, and the person you end up marrying, has. If not hostile, at the very least something of a burden, something where you see it as having to give up a part of yourself and embrace something you don't really want to embrace. That will of course lead to friction in the home life, and division between the man and wife.
Isn't it always the petty things that lead to divorce, or at least strife in the marriage relationship? The man isn't as clean or neat as the woman would like. The woman watches too many soaps. The man enjoys football too much. The man can't understand why his wife likes musicals. The wife can't understand why her husband likes movies with big explosions in it. One wants to eat Chinese food for dinner, the other Italian. One wants to vacation at the beach, the other the mountains. The man wants to fold the clothes this way, but the wife wants to fold them another way, and both swear that they are doing it the right and holy way and the other way is an abomination! Stuff like that is what tears marriages apart. The devil is in the details. But why? Because for some reason everyone seems to think, or even demand, that their spouse do things just like they do, think just like they think, like the exact things they like. And if they don't, if they have to be persuaded of something, then something is deficient in them.
If you took my stance on things, which I think is the biblical one, then you would be eager to seek out the differences in the person you are married to, and you would be eager to share your differences with your spouse, since they would be eager to learn about them and to embrace them as well. And the very reason they can be embraced and loved and no longer be differences but BECOME common interests, is because of Jesus Christ. Because of God. The purpose is to find God, His glory, and thus, enjoyment in discovering and embracing His glory, in the things we currently do not see them in. The smaller things of life. The other personalities, the other vacations, the other sports, poetry as well as novels, warm weather as well as cold weather, roughing it in a camping environment as well as living it up in a ritzy resort. And as we do that, the two flesh of man and woman become one, and the sinful human becomes more one with Christ. There is no schism. As you grow in one flesh with your spouse, you grow into Christ as well.
Now, a few things to build some fences around my belief, to make sure that I am not misunderstood. Just as we need to be dissimilar, we DO need some similarity as well! If I am nothing like my wife, if I am, to use the biblical term, wholly other, with no point of contact, no point of reference, like two ships passing in the night, then God has probably not called me to marry that person. If I just don't "get" that person whatsoever, and after trying to "get" them I have concluded that I just cannot understand them, then it is probably quite foolish to marry that particular person. So I am not saying that we marry someone who is completely the opposite of us either. I am simply saying that we need a healthy balance between similarity and dissimilarity in the person we marry, if we are wanting to marry to glorify God and not just suit ourselves. Nor am I saying that that healthy balance is necessarily 50/50, as if they must be equally similar and dissimilar to us. There may be some variance for sure. A person could have 80 percent in common with the person they are about to marry, and so long as they didn't make their commonality the determining factor in why they married that person over all the other good reformed single folk, I am perfectly fine with that. They could even have 80 percent not in common with one another, and as long as they didn't make their dissimilarity the reason they married each other,I am okay with that as well!
So one last thing I want to state before I close. The question undoubtedly becomes, "Well then Thomas, are you just saying the first person who is a female Calvinist who comes up to you and is willing to date, you will date?" Not exactly. I am saying the person who most closely shares my theology on the purpose of marriage is the one I will be most excited about dating. And my theology on the purpose of marriage is everything I have articulated thus far in this blog, and then some. In other words, if a girl says something to me like, "I like you, because you have so much in common with me," I am not going to go for that, even though that would be tempting. That is a demerit in my book. Or if the girl says "I like you, but I don't really know why, it's just that every time I am around you I get the warm fuzzies in my heart and I think it's the Holy Spirit speaking to me," I will probably run the other way. I don't think that is the Holy Spirit, and what happens when those warm fuzzies suddenly disappear?
You see, I am not making the reason I would pursue a relationship with someone to potentially marry them anything about them in and of themselves (and if you are truly a Calvinist you should know why). That is to say, their looks, ethnicity, personality, common interests, and even in one sense their degree of sanctification is not the determining factor for me, and I don't think it should be for anyone. The determining factor should be if they desire to be married so that the marriage itself can not only grow the man and wife into one flesh, but the man and Christ and wife and Christ closer together. And that is done by rejoicing in similarities, yes, but also by embracing differences. Exploring the differences of one another and finding God's glory, and thus ever increasing joy, there. And if that is truly a girl's purpose, she will not be making our similarity, our common interests, the reason she is interested in dating me.
Nor am I saying it is merely our differences that will cause them to be interested in me. I am not falling into the wrong boat on the other side either. I am saying that both the similarities and differences should, and must, be embraced and viewed as something God has ordained and has implemented as a means to sanctification both in the marriage relationship and our relationship to Christ, rather than a roadblock.
So that's my determining factor. How willing is the girl to embrace all of me, my similarities and differences, so that they can be utilized for increasing glorification of God and growing closer to God, and increasing joy in God as we grow closer to Him. Likewise, I must be willing, and she must be willing to let me, embrace and explore and uncover her differences and similarities for the very same reason.
Does this mean that dating and marriage between Christians would become easier if they just embraced what I am saying here? Yes and no :D Yes, because they wouldn't be making it about the person, but about God, in regards to why they are choosing to date a particular person. No, because once you choose to embrace someone's differences and choose to labor to articulate the glory of God in the areas that you love yet the person you are going to date and potentially marry currently does not love or even enjoy, you are undertaking a very great task indeed. But it is the true task of marriage I think. It leads to the two flesh, man and wife, truly being remade, poured into one another, and while they are being poured into one another, the one flesh emerges as holier, godlier, happier, closer in relationship to Jesus as well. It's the best of both worlds, which is why I believe it is biblical.