Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee –Proverbs 2:11
The other night, I met a family member’s fiancé, although I didn’t know it at the time. She’s a few years younger than me, in her early 20s, and this was her first boyfriend.
I was very interested in getting to know him, because years ago, I had her pegged as a prime candidate for an abusive relationship. She fit the profile: youngest child, lousy father, compliant personality who tended to give the answer she thought people wanted, even if the question at hand was incredibly trivial.
It was a pleasant relief to talk to this guy, then, and have a really great conversation. He told me a bit about his childhood and family.
I was a little surprised to find out that he had only met my relation three months ago; I had thought that was when they’d started dating, not when they’d first met. But apparently he was impressed enough with her that he was moving nearer to her, a commitment I thought was very admirable.
The next day, at lunch, they announced that he wasn’t just moving closer to her. They instead revealed that they had, in fact, been engaged for the past month or so. Her mother blinked in surprise and asked if they had set a date.
Next spring, was the answer….but, they said, they were actually having a pastor officiate next Friday, so that they could live together as a married couple, rather than living in sin. The logistics worked out better this way, they explained.
A lease was running out, and while they regretted not getting to know each others’ respective families better, the timing, for them, was right.
There was no anger, but her nuclear family all expressed great concern and reticence about this decision. “It’s God’s will,” was their reply. “If you don’t have our faith, you can’t possibly understand.”
I really liked her fiancé. He seems very nice, and I don’t doubt his sincerity. But he destroyed much of the respect I was prepared to give him by handling the situation as he has. I’m not sure either one of them took that into account.
I understand, in some part, their reasons for the decision. It’s relatively wretched to be an unmarried Christian in your twenties, resigned to not engage in sexual activities until marriage–especially when, as in the fiancé’s case, both your older brothers were married by the time they were twenty-one and have multiple children already.
But the course they decided to follow has concerned both families, and while I cannot speak for his mother, I know hers is hurt deeply by the fact that she can’t be at the wedding, and that her daughter doesn’t seem to understand why that should matter. This hurt seems to be entirely unnecessary.
What had been a supported relationship is now tinged with doubt, not because of any objections about either of them as individuals, but because of both the speed and the complete disregard for anyone’s thoughts on the matter. Despite being surrounded by Christian family, they have decided that God has revealed His will to them alone, and that belief is unassailable.
As I have been pondering the situation and my reaction to it, I realized that the way these choices affect the Christian witness of these two people disturbed me the most. The decisions we make, even when they are purely personal in nature, profoundly affect how others view us.
Both of the couple in question work for a ministry, which up until now I haven’t looked into all that much, and sort of tacitly endorsed, since she was family. But now I’m more concerned, as it seems that what authority there is in the ministry was very much interested in marrying her off, and no pastor that they have contact with has seemed concerned about how they are handling the situation.
So ultimately, through this, the witness of the ministry has been hurt. And I venture to say that both of their individual witnesses have been hurt. They’ve not only shown a remarkable indifference to the emotions and thoughts of both families, but are making decisions that seem very unwise.
This is a couple that likely could have had the wholehearted support of both families if they had waited a few months. Instead, from the outset, there is worry, concern, and pain. While enduring a hard situation with grace and attributing that to God does serve as a witness, excusing unproven, unwise decisions by attributing them to God does the opposite.
The older sister of this relation, who is not a Christian and fairly hostile to religion in general, has explicitly said she sees their unwise decision and its stated justification to be further evidence that Christianity is worthy of her derision.
Even as a Christian, I no longer trust the phrase “It’s God’s will;” not because I don’t think God has a will or is active in our lives, but because it seems to coincide so rarely with what is right, and therefore what God wants us to do.
It is amazing how often the justification of God’s will happens to coincide with our own feelings and desires. This is quite unlike the examples of Moses, Elijah, and Christ, whose personal desires and wants did not coincide with God’s will.
They adhered to God’s revealed will (as God directly spoke to all of them), but from the text it is clear that they would have much preferred it if God’s will had been something else. Rather than acknowledging that following God’s will lead us away from worldly things we want, we use it as an unassailable wild card when rationality or good council pushes us away from our selfish desires.
In the end, I can’t say if it’s God’s will for these two to married or not, or to be married next Friday as opposed to next Spring. I do know that over and over again scripture encourages discretion (Proverbs 1:4, 3:21, 8:12) and wisdom (Psalm 37:39, Proverbs 2:10, Matt 10:16).
While Paul talks about being fools for Christ (1 Cor 4:10), this doesn’t reflect their being fools for Christ, but for each other: their youth, passion, and impatience. It shows their love (in a sense) for one another, but not for the others in their lives, who they are very clearly hurting.
I knew that how we chose to live our lives every day was our witness to Christ: what we say, what we wear, how we act. I had never really thought about how the mechanisms behind those decisions would also play a part in our representation of Christ and His church; how our off-the-cuff Christian phrases would sour in the mouth when used to justify unwise decisions.
But they do. More than I could have ever anticipated, they do.