Modern dating is a mess.
We live in a sinful world filled with people who act out of self-interest towards one another. People have pasts they are ashamed of, and others have sins hidden beneath their appearances that they have yet to uncover. We live as people who are learning to deal with reality, and reality is crashing down upon us: financial pressures, debts, obligations, educational commitments, family tensions, sinful passions, church factions, and stresses from inside and outside of us.
If you can’t tell, I wasn’t really talking about dating. What I am talking about is that we live in a messy world- messy, not because we are good people who do bad things, but because we were upright people who have chased various schemes and sinful pleasures (Ecc. 7) and are ruled by sin (Rom. 6). In this world we have people made in the image of God (Gen. 1:20ff; 9) prostituting their dignity with perversion, distortion, and every kind of impurity that dampens what remains of us before the Fall entered the picture (Rom. 1:18-31). Apart from Christ, there is no redeeming value in us- it isn’t until we are in Christ that we become fully alive (Eph. 2:4-10); that we finally become who we were made to be. We become whole when part of us was always alone; we become complete even when we were destroying ourselves (Rom. 5:9; Col. 2:10); He restored us. Christ is more than our hope in a future life, He is the hope of our life right now.
In the midst of weaving our way through these rough roads and progress towards the horizon of heaven, our culture has set up a process towards marriage that is not sufficient to support God’s design for romantic love-we’ve awakened love too early (Songs 8); the world has crafted a way of heading towards marriage that cannot support Biblical marriage. Now, some of you may be thinking: “hold on, that doesn’t sound right. People can have a healthy marriage out of a dating relationship.” This is true, but can you tell me that you honestly haven’t seen the pain a relationship can cause when it doesn’t end well? Have you not seen people hurt out of failed relationships? Another person might ask, “but what is the Biblical marriage that you mentioned earlier?” We’ll get to that. But, first, let me clarify: I am talking about modern dating. Yet, modern or not, the problems are the same.
Dating was not mandated to Adam and Eve when God told them to “be fruitful and multiply. (Gen. 1:27-28)” Then again, none of us started out life meeting our spouses and getting to name every living thing in a perfect garden. Point being, we should not expect dating to be something we could study theologically; you can’t pull out a lexicon and do a word study on the Hebrew word for “date” or “friend-zone.” These are cultural ideas, and instead of trying to find these ideas in the Bible, we should let the Bible expand our thinking beyond the confines of dating and inform the way we construct what dating means under the Lordship of Christ. Dating is a system we unfortunately find ourselves under…but why exactly do I have such an issue with it?
Well, here are a few of my thoughts as a 24 year old who has struggled in this regard. These are really the negative sides to dating, but you may find yourself relating more than you might care to admit:
- Modern dating reduces men and women into a list of options for one another. With a swipe you can say yes or no to an individual made in the image of God; all based on appearances or a tagline. You don’t have to think about the individual’s life, what they treasure most, or who they know best- you just have to consider if they’re entertaining enough for you. If they bore you, you ignore them and find someone else who isn’t. You only want that person if he or she can serve a purpose for you. You fill out a profile, list your wants and preferences, and choose the boxes you want for your “ideal” match. You don’t get to know people. You don’t see them and look for signs of Christian maturity. It gets even worse if you carry this mentality into your local church and view brothers and sisters in the same way. Are your brothers just options for you? Are your sisters only valuable if they could contribute to your needs and to a household? Think about it. What is the motivation?
- Modern dating centers a view of others on what the self wants. It is about you. Who do you like? Who could you see yourself with? Who interests you? Are they able to deal with you in all your gladness and sadness?
- It strips away what it means to be a “one-woman man” or a one-man woman- the kind that should exemplify every Christian marriage (1 TIm. 3). With so many options, you get to reflect more on what you want and what you feel. You are not teaching your affections to be expressed to just one person. You can date multiple people. You can friend-zone ineligible believers, and casually spend isolated time with someone you have a physical or emotional connection with. It makes it far too easy to hurt others and to tempt yourself. You can undermine the value of others emotions because you’re busy playing with the emotions of others.
- Modern dating creates an environment where the feelings and the bonds of marriage can occur without the commitment and security marriage provides. You hold hands and talk about your futures. You cultivate environments that spawn emotional depth which eventually connects to physical desire. You isolate yourself from community in hopes of finding some inner confirmation that he or she is “the one.” Sounds like an episode of the Bachelor, but where do you think they got it from?
- Modern dating prolongs the consummation of a marriage by hindering and delaying the process to marriage. Now, this one might be especially controversial…I’m not a fan of prolonged engagements. In fact, in the Bible there was betrothal and there was marriage. There wasn’t really a process to getting there that involved doing all the same things married people do. When you delay the wedding for the sake of planning, you risk falling into sexual sin and tempting yourselves for the sake of a cultural engagement. True love waits, but also waits wisely.
In other words, I have felt that dating basically uses people, and so we end up being used and using each other for our own purposes. Then again, this really isn’t a negative view of dating- this is really saying that we go into dating with the intention of magnifying ourselves; the weaknesses of dating becoming a tool for the self and the savory, self-destructive pleasures of the flesh. Yet, this tool can be repurposed. But first, it must stop being aimed, pulled, and tugged by our heartstrings, and instead guided and loved and shaped by the gospel of Christ. If we do not know God and do not desire God, then we do not have love, do not want good for others, and do not know what marriage is (Eph. 5; 1 John 4:8).
What this is showing us is the painful reality of the sin that dwells within us (Romans 7). We were slaves to sin and lived in regret and with the pain of our choices (Romans 6)- but by the grace of God, in Christ, we are no longer identified by those things and no longer carry a sentence of death (Romans 8:1ff). The baggage you carry, the memories you can’t erase, the mistakes you have made, have all been cast behind God’s back, never to be seen again (Isa. 38:17).
Marriage is temporary; marriage cannot satisfy, because it was not given the power to satisfy you or your deepest longings. But, it can be a comfort to not be alone (Gen. 2); it can be a joy to build a family (Psalm 127), and you can want and desire these things because they are gifts of God to enjoy (1 Cor. 7). You can give others a picture of Christ in your marriage as well, the kind of example that is unique and beautiful. But, if dating shows us anything, it’s that our hearts are deceitful still (Jer. 17:9, Prov. 3:5-6); even as believers, it can be hard to tell if we are listening to our old selves or being renewed according to who we truly are in Christ (Rom. 12:1-2). We need discernment (Heb. 5:8-9). I suppose this post doesn’t have a point other than to say- don’t live in regret, don’t use people, don’t be selfish, trust Christ, pursue holiness, and don’t give up on wrestling well with your sins and finding victory in Jesus.
Until next time,