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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Sorry, I'm dating Jesus

Chris Williams' excellent blog always sparks discussion, and his latest post is no exception. In that post, Chris mentions his longing for a wife. One commenter wrote to warn Chris of the damage that could be done to his relationship with God because of his desire for a mate.

These days, it's common for us to throw warnings like this around at every young couple. I've done it in the past, and also had them tossed my way.

It's easy to imagine why we'd want people to be so cautious. We live in a society that's become completely unhinged sexually. "Careful!" we say, because we see troubled waters all around us, and we know that just below the surface are rocks -- sharp ones.

But I get the feeling that our cautiousness is not without a few potential wrecks.

When my wife and I started our relationship, I could have been the poster boy for Christian dating done right. I had only dated one other person, never kissed, and took the lead when it came to setting goals for our relationship. "I want us to help one another grow spiritually," I thought. If we weren't growing, I would know the relationship was not "the one," and should end.

We set boundaries, too. No kissing, no time together after midnight... the list goes on. I was driven to make our relationship a holy one headed for marriage, or nothing at all.

Despite all our best efforts, we didn't become a pair of perfect Christians, united in the purest mission. We found ourselves distracted by one another when we should be singing in worship service. We longed for a physical relationship. We found ourselves impatient, selfish, and immature. To our surprise, we also found ourselves in love.

Many people might have told us that our relationship was a bad one, doomed to drag us down and pull as away from God. Ending it would be the best choice we could make for our spiritual well-being.

But looking back from this side of marriage, I can tell you one thing: They would have all been wrong. The fact is that Devona and I are sinners. Sinners in courtship, and sinners in marriage.

This misapplied, pietistic, city-on-a-hill mentality about romantic relationships has got us all looking for the wrong things in a relationship. When we wake up one day and find ourselves more attracted to a member of the opposite sex than our Bible study, we think we've fallen into a quicksand of depravity, when what we've got to learn is patience. When we sin against our boyfriend or girlfriend in anger or passion, we think we've built a doomed relationship on immorality, when what we need is repentance and forgiveness.

The problem is centered on our false understanding of a right relationship with God. "Being a Christian isn't necessarily about sinning less, but about repenting more," writes singer Derek Webb. No relationship is going to make us perfect save the one Christ has with us, and expecting anything otherwise is going to lead us astray.

No matter whether we've been dating two hours, or married twenty years, we will all come face to face with sin. It will look a lot like our spouses, and a lot like ourselves. Because we sin in the context of a romantic relationship, does this mean we've got to put the whole thing to an end? What we need, precisely in our moment of sinfulness, is someone who loves us and knows us to say "You're a sinner," and "I forgive you."

For Devona and I now, rather than spending our time making one another perfect, we're a lot happier when we see our sins for what they are, and give each other the Gospel. Rather than helping one another become more pious, we're a lot stronger in our weakness, much prouder in our humility. There's no other place to truly be married -- or even dating -- than at the foot of the cross.