Although I didn’t meet my wife virtually, I am a big fan of online dating sites. We have several friends and relatives, now married, who met their spouses in this way. The compatibility search was done for them through the matching process, their dating experience wasn’t the least bit wonky, and their marriages are committed and solid.
There’s something to be said for a resource that emphasizes relationship compatibility in the areas of life that matter most to us — our most deeply held beliefs, personality type, hopes for children and family, career goals and more. Many happy, healthy marriages have started because of an online virtual connection, and according to recent studies showing an uptick in online dating since the start of COVID-19, quarantining and social distancing, there seems to be potential for more relationships to emerge on the other side of this pandemic.
Now as always, those seeking love and romance who are also Christians should keep their most important non-negotiable intact. This non-negotiable is what the Apostle Paul called being “equally yoked” or becoming romantically involved (and especially married) “in the Lord.” A man or woman whose life trajectory is set toward Jesus does well to limit the dating pool to others whose end goal is the same.
In the online dating world, one liability in the pursuit of this non-negotiable is that the very first thing a user sees in another person’s profile is their photograph. Based on a picture alone, many will instantly eliminate scores of potential mates because of looks and body type alone.
We’ve all heard it before, and we’ve also said it to ourselves: “He isn’t the best looking guy in the world, but at least he has a warm personality,” or, “She isn’t exactly ‘hot,’ but at least she’s really nice.”
In spite of knowing that Scripture teaches, “charm is deceitful and beauty is fleeting” and though “man looks at outward appearance, God looks at the heart” (Proverbs 31:25–31; 1 Samuel 16:7), in practice, many Christians take dating tips from the world and easily exchange substance for cosmetics, internal holiness for external “hotness,” godliness for eye candy, the heart for outward appearance.
But this is all backward.
In consideration of love and marriage, there are just two questions wise people will ask as they consider who their mate and closest friends in life will be:
First, does being with this person motivate me to move toward Jesus?
Second, is this person looking for me to motivate her or him in the same way?
Even more than a pretty face or a chiseled body, these are the main things we should be seeking from our deepest, most enduring relationships: a humble and honest heart, and a well-worn Bible.
In a sexually charged, consumer-and-image-driven culture, these essentials are easily forgotten.
Another critical part of long-term relationships is the ability to feel safe when our fragility, incompleteness, sin, high maintenance habits, and not-having-arrived-yet nature are discovered by the other. We all need to feel confident that when we are at our worst, we won’t be abandoned.
In the Bible, when David and Jonathan made a friendship covenant together, they committed to each other for life. Likewise, when Scripture says that a husband and wife are “united” and “cleave” to each other, it means they have become willingly and permanently glued together as one. For better and for worse, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, when they are at their best and when they are at their worst, when they are low-maintenance and when they are high-maintenance, when they are easy to live with and when they are difficult to live with, they are bonded together as long as they both shall live.
There are two reasons why, as a pastor, I have always encouraged engaged couples to use traditional vows instead of writing their own. There’s a reason why traditional vows have stood the test of time. Traditional vows don’t focus on how the parties feel about each other at that moment. Instead, they focus on what the parties promise to be for each other during seasons when the feelings, which come and go, weaken or fade.
As C.S. Lewis once said in “Mere Christianity,” true love is revealed when you stay committed to the other person during those seasons when you fall “out of like” with them. He wrote:
“People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on “being in love” forever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change — not realizing that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one.”
An inspiring real-life example of this kind of covenant faithfulness is portrayed through the film “A Beautiful Mind,” which chronicles part of the life of John Nash, the Princeton mathematician and Nobel laureate who was also a paranoid schizophrenic. As the mental illness gets hold of him, Nash becomes increasingly troubled and more challenging to live with.
During one scene, a friend asks Nash’s wife how she can stay in a marriage that is so difficult, and in which the give/take dynamic is so one-sided. She answers that in the darkest moments, she forces herself to remember the man she first married. Her memory of the man John had once been gave her the energy to continue loving him in his current state.
But it’s hard to find the strength to love when the only good memories available are from the past. Thankfully, inside marriages and friendships between Christians, we can draw not only on past memories but future ones as well. Because in addition to previous history, Jesus also gives us a vision for what the person in front of us will one day be.
Falling in love biblically means seeing the person in front of us as an incomplete work in progress who will one day be made complete; a flawed sinner who will one day be made a perfect saint; a weak, wounded, sick and sore creature who will one day be made happy, healthy and whole. It means looking at a person in the good moments and the bad, when she is easy on the eyes and when he is hard to look at, when he evokes warmth and when he evokes anger, knowing that Jesus, who began a good work in this person, will eventually complete that work. And the work will be glorious (Philippians 1:6; 1 John 3:2).
Don’t just fall in love with who they are now, God says to us.
With eyes of faith, fall in love with their future, fully redeemed, fearfully and wonderfully re-made self. Jesus invites us — especially when marriages and friendships get difficult — to see ourselves and each other as he sees us. Jesus sees us and knows us with an everlasting love, with a love that has saved us from our past and present selves and that is smitten with our future selves. In our present condition, Jesus sees us as the acorns that will become oak trees, the apple seeds that will become orchards, the caterpillars that will become butterflies, the random cacophonies of words and notes that will become musical masterpieces.
Scott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee and author of several books, his latest book A Gentle Answer: Our “Secret Weapon” in An Age of Us Against Them, releases June 2.