Love Rivalry and Relationships: Dating Non-Christians and the Doctrine of God

Remember Juliet? We met her at the coffee shop where she was looking longingly into the eyes of Romeo, her work colleague. In conversation, it comes out that

–          Romeo is not a Christian – though he has promised Juliet he might come to church with her sometime and he did attend some Alpha sessions once.

–          They have started to date.

When you talk with Juliet, she defends her relationship as follows. By the way, I’m not suggesting that she presents the following points in a neat, structured, logical case. Rather, at various points, these thoughts and arguments are expressed. So, don’t be surprised if some of the responses appear to contradict or cancel each other out. In fact, you will find this is true in many counselling situations and could happen with any of our scenarios.

–          She is falling in love with Romeo and he loves her back. He is gentle, kind and caring. In fact he is much nicer and more attentive to her than some of the Christian guys she knows. How often have we been told at church that God is love? Well then how can we go against love?

–          She has spoken to others for advice and they’ve said that it’s okay. One person she asked know of someone who led their boyfriend to Christ. Maybe that could happen with Romeo?

–          You are being a kill joy with your rules and regulations, she just wants to enjoy herself, experience intimacy, have fun. It’s not really that serious yet and she’ll call it off well before then.[1]

–          It must have been fate that brought them together. Haven’t we learnt in church that God predestines everything?

So, what do you want to say to Juliet?  Here are a few suggestions based on what we’ve learnt about God. Well, we already noted first time around that Juliet is making the mistake of creating her own definition for love and applying that to God so that “God is love” becomes “Love is God” and very specifically her definition of love.

Well, we can now push that a little further. We saw that God is simple. This means that when we talk about God’s love, this is not a primary attribute that trumps his other characteristics. Rather, love provides a vital perspective in on who God is but so too does God’s holiness, justice, wisdom, power etc. We saw that when we say that God is “love.” Our understanding of this attribute is illuminated and qualified by those other characteristics.

This has three vital implications.

First of all, it means that when we say that God loves, we are saying that he takes delight and pleasure in people in things. We are saying that he gives his seal of approval to them. God’s love is characterised by his holiness, justice and his wisdom.  God loves what is pure and right. So God’s love does not require him to give his approval and permission to whatever we want or desire. A father who thinks he must give in to his child’s every whim out love is a weak and wicked parent who spoils the child. God is a good father.

Secondly, it means that if you as someone with pastoral responsibility for Juliet love her then you have a responsibility to speak the truth to her. She may accuse you of being judgemental but true love must make judgements.  That’s what God’s love does.

Thirdly it means that Juliet’s love needs to be characterised by holiness too. As we saw earlier, holiness means that we are set apart for God. We belong to him as his chosen people. Holiness reinforces the point that God can have no rivals for His affection. Choosing to date and potentially marry someone who does not love God means that he is a rival for God’s affections. One of the primary reasons for relationships and marriage is to enable two people to help each other to better love, serve and worship God.

Now this point about holiness leads us on to another of Juliet’s objections.  Juliet has objected that we are killjoys. However, as we saw earlier, true holiness does not kill joy or restrict happiness. We were made for God and so we can only find true happiness when we are at the centre of his will.  True holiness means learning to delight in what God delights in.  By the way, I think that this means we can’t just leave things at giving Juliet advice. We need to encourage and help her to find opportunities for friendship, fellowship and outreach where she will learn to delight herself in the Lord.

Then we come to the final objection. God has predestined her relationship. I want to link this in to her suggestion that God might use her relationship to lead Romeo to Christ just as happened with other couples.

First of all, notice how she is redefining Predestination just as she has redefined love. She is thinking more in terms of fate which as we saw is an impersonal force quite different from the personal God who is intimately involved in the day to day ordering of our lives for our good and his glory. Fatalism also loses sight of human responsibility. We become passive and wait for things to happen to us. Predestination does not take away from human responsibility. God works through our actions and decisions.

Secondly, let’s come to the question about whether or not she might lead him to Christ. We will find it helpful here to think about God’s decrees and precepts.  It may well be that God has willed Romeo to become a Christian and maybe God will work through Juliet’s unwise and even rebellious decisions but that no more excuses Juliet than it excused Joseph’s brothers for throwing him in a pit and selling him to Midianites or Judas for betraying Jesus or the people who stoned Stephen and persecuted the early church leading to the dispersion of believers around the Mediterranean and the planting of new churches. Our responsibility is not to second guess God’s secret will but to obey his precepts to do what he commands and decrees and to value what he values as good.

So, for Juliet, this means that she must end the relationship with Romeo. I suspect that in her heart she knows this but does not want to admit it. Ending the relationship will be painful. There is a cost to putting God first. However, she will learn that God grants us the desires of our hearts when we learn to delight in him and not the other way around.