Friday, December 26, 2008

Christian Dating, Why Does It Matter?

Most of my non-Christian friends should just ignore this, except possibly the last paragraph or two, since this post assumes a Christian perspective and does not defend assumptions inherent in the Christian worldview. The possible exception is those who are dating Christians, if only to understand that I'm not trying to direct any ire in your direction.

Why Does This Even Matter?

So why does this issue even matter? Why do I make a fuss about it at all?

Simply:

  • God cares, and he told us he cares.
  • The issue of what love is is at stake.
  • It addresses a common misconception about dating and our approach to it.
Part of being a Christian is following the standards and concepts in the Bible. The Bible is a record of communication from God to humankind in general. One of the first things we find in the Bible is a definition of the purpose of marriage.

C.S. Lewis had a rather low opinion of the kind of "love" most people consider important. There are a few reasons for this. It's not the kind of love generally discussed or considered important in the Bible. It doesn't last, or at best it cycles between extremes. And we can't consciously control it, so no moral principles can be applied to it.

The issue of dating has a lot of assumptions associated with it which I find extremely misleading. The idea of dating is to try various people for "compatibility" until you find a "compatible" person. Notice the implication that "love" follows from and is an indicator of "compatibility."

The Biblical Approach

Most biblical arguments for marriage between Christians center around 2 Corinthians 6:14 "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?"

I'm not going to argue from this verse, though I might reference it. I think I can do better from a different passage: Genesis 2:19-24:

"Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said, 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called "woman, " for she was taken out of man.'

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."

Here we find the Biblical definition of marriage. Marriage is a partnership, a union, to accomplish a specific goal.

So what is this goal?

There's a couple, actually...

The first can also be found in Genesis, in chapter 1. Genesis 1 is an overview of creation, followed by a more specific account of human creation in Genesis 2. Genesis 1:28:

"God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

First off, an onery side point: I need to do a Christian refutation of basic conservationist philosophy off this verse.

OK, so, we actually found 2 purposes here: Be fruitful and multiply, (reproduce) and fill the earth.

Subdue the earth.

Man is God's "Long arm" to rule the earth. But this is not the whole reason we are to "fill" it. This is a commanded purpose in and of itself, and also contributes to the purpose alluded to next

The second main purpose of man can be found in Ecclesiastes (the Bible's treatise on philosophy), chapter 12, verse 13:

"Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."

Not much to argue there. We exist to fear (or worship) God and to keep his commandments (part of worship).

So we may say that "love" is a "necessary but not sufficient" condition for marriage. (I am using "love" as opposed to love to distinguish the English confusion in terms from from the original English meaning and the Greek 'agape'). Marriage has a purpose, as a partnership for life goals. The life goal for followers of the Bible is to fear God and keep his commandments. So it logically follows that one with this life goal should fine another with this life goal.

(The dangers inherent to the Christian won't be discussed here, they are real, but not a sufficient or relevant argument in this case.)

The role of dating, and the role of "love" and love

I'm going to take my second and third points together, since the misconceptions about both are deeply intertwined. Maybe I can disentangle this mess for someone. I hope so.

Many people, Christian and non-Christian, have a misconception about the Biblical concept of love. The popular idea of "love" is a feeling, a set of warm fuzzies you get when you are in physical, mental, or emotional proximity to another person. The problem here is inherent. It's a feeling, we can't do anything about it. It doesn't have to make us do anything. The statement "I can't control how I feel" is true, though it doesn't excuse or justify the things it's generally used to. However, the biblical idea of love is not a feeling, not warm and fuzzy, but a decision, a conscious choice to respect a person and act a certain way toward them. A decision to put their welfare ahead of your own.

So how does this apply to dating? The usual idea of dating is to experiment until you find the person who gives you most warm fuzzies, (sexual involvement often included), and they must be right.

If we look at dating as the pursuit of an eventual marriage partner (the alternative is selfish, the pursuit of "warm fuzzies"), we should at least be looking for people who meet certain basic criteria. We should at least be looking for people who share our purpose for this partnership. Also, approaching it with "well I know the first or second usually doesn't work out" is just idiotic. Why set yourself up for failure?

I'm done ranting. My point is made. One more needs mentioning. God isn't trying to keep you from a "loving" relationship with a bunch of rules. God has a purpose for your life. God has a purpose for marriage. They are interrelated. God puts rules in place to help us better live our lives and accomplish our purposes.

I hope this helps someone understand why it is so important to find a Christian as a life partner.