Today is the day of Pascha, more commonly known in English as Easter. (At least in the Western tradition — the Eastern tradition will celebrate it one week later this year). It is, bar none, the most important celebration of the year for Christians, more important even than Christmas. Christmas is when we celebrate Christ’s birth, but Pascha is when we celebrate His resurrection! Christ’s birth was the beginning of His time on Earth, but His death and resurrection were culminating point of His ministry, the whole purpose of His coming.
This makes Christianity a very interesting thing indeed, because it’s a faith that could be utterly destroyed if one specific event was proven to have never taken place. If someone could prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus was not raised from the dead, if archaeologists found a two-thousand-year-old body in a tomb near Jerusalem that could somehow be proven to be Jesus’ body, then the foundation on which the entire edifice of Christian doctrine rests would be destroyed. Because if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead as He promised He would, then He cannot truly be God, and thus cannot save anyone from their sins. Even the Bible even says so — look at 1 Corinthians 15:12-19.
But Jesus Christ did rise from the dead, and therefore we do have a hope that does not deceive us (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). We do not simply follow the teachings of a great religious leader, passed on after his death. Rather, we worship the Lord Jesus, who is alive today and forever! He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us, and that He will be with us always, even to the end of time. (Matthew 28:18-20).
Halleluyah! He is risen!
Some of my best blog posts seem to start as comments on someone else’s blog. This one was a comment I posted over at The Happy Husband, in his post titled Courtship is now in session. Here’s what I said:
Josh Harris certainly started a whirlwind of discussion with his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, didn’t he? I think
you’re [The Happy Husband is] perfectly right that much of the heated argument is coming from mutual confusion over definitions, especially about the word dating.
I think to Harris, and many other people, dating means “what the secular world calls dating”; in other words, a euphemism for shallow relationships built around premarital sex. No wonder they’re against it — we all should be! It’s not surprising, then, that they swing around to the other extreme and say, “Christians just plain shouldn’t date; they should find other methods of courting potential spouses”.
There’s also the fact that when people write books on dating, the first audience they think of to address (it seems to me) is high school and junior high students, who are either just going through puberty or only a few short years past it, and still in the middle of an onslaught of hormones. They’re noticing for the first time in their lives that the opposite sex looks really, REALLY good, and trying to figure out what to do about it. But most of them are years away from having the emotional, spiritual, or social maturity for marriage. For that audience, a book that says, “Don’t date, there are better ways of relating to the opposite sex” may be very good advice.
But I think there’s another segment of the Christian population middle ground that these authors are missing: adult Christians. People with the social, emotional, and spiritual maturity necessary to make a good marriage work. And that, I think, is the group of people who are probably saying to Harris and other “Christians shouldn’t date” proponents, “What are you talking about? You’re just plain wrong.” And again, it probably boils down to different definitions.
When I think of dating, I think of spending some time alone with a Christian woman I’m interested in getting to know better. We’d go out to dinner, or on a walk, or ice-skating, or some other activity that allows for plenty of time to talk. And we’d ask questions, find out about each other’s families, each other’s relationship with God, and each other’s interests, dreams, and passions. All the while, the question would be at the back of my mind, “Could she make a good wife for me?” And she’d be thinking the same thing: “Could he make a good husband for me?” If the first date was enough for a clear “No” for either one of us, the right thing to do would be to share that, politely of course, at the end of the date. “Thanks for a fun evening. I probably won’t ask you out again, but I’ll see you around at church.” Or, when I drop her off and say, “Let’s get together again sometime,” she might say, “Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll pass. I appreciate the compliment, but I just don’t think it would work.”
(Incidentally, it’s a lot kinder to let someone down, gently but firmly, sooner rather than later. If you’re wanting to avoid hurting their feelings, consider this: they’ll be hurt, at least a little, no matter when you tell them, “Thanks, but no thanks” — but if you tell them as soon as you’re sure, you’re sparing them the pain of having the “What if…?” drag on, and on, and on.)
Christian dating, as I see it, should be all about evaluating the other person as a potential marriage partner. It should only be undertaken by those who are themselves ready for marriage, and it should be undertaken with the greatest of respect for the other person as a fellow child of God. That means, among other things, back off on the physical. Don’t kiss on the first date, or even on the second. Only kiss when you mean something by it, when there’s already some level of emotional commitment and you both know you’re getting serious about each other. Exactly what level of commitment is something you’ll have to decide for yourself, but you should at least have known each other for a while and know what you’re getting into. For myself, I’ve decided that I only want to kiss a woman after I’ve asked her to marry me. I’m not saying that everyone should follow that rule, but you should at least know that you plan to date only this woman for a while. In other words, you should be “going steady” before you kiss. (Now there’s a useful phrase that should be brought back into the language!)
I’ve come to this opinion gradually, though reading books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot, Boundaries in Dating by Cloud & Townsend, and A Return to Modesty by Wendy Shalit. I’ve also had long conversations with other Christian guys, some married and some not, about their dating relationships, mistakes they’d made in the past, and pain they’d suffered. One thing I was surprised to learn is just how much of an emotional bond is established just by kissing. But when I thought about it, I realized that I shouldn’t have been so surprised. The process of becoming one flesh isn’t just about sex and physical intimacy, it’s also about emotional, mental, and spiritual intimacy. They’re all connected. One married friend of mine (male) put it this way: “Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual intimacy in a relationship are like four sliders tied together with a rubber band. If one of them gets too far ahead of the others, the rubber band is stretched. And if it’s stretched too far, it’s in danger of breaking. The thing is, the other sliders have to be pushed, but the physical-intimacy one has a motor driving it forward.”
There are many ways of dealing with that motor that tries to drive physical intimacy forward. Some of them involve putting very careful limits — chaperones and the like — on opportunities for any physical involvement at all. Others involve setting limits for yourself, and then getting good friends to check up on you every once in a while: “How are you doing with your boundaries?” Ultimately, though, the goal is that once you get married, you know your soon-to-be-spouse well enough on all levels — mental, emotional, spiritual, and yes, physical too. The physical should be held back some, but I think it would be a mistake to hold it back all the way down to “No physical intimacy whatsoever,” the way I’ve seen some people suggest. Shalit, in A Return to Modesty, mentions people who don’t even kiss until their wedding day — the kiss at the altar is their first kiss. Shalit makes that sound like an ideal to live up to, but another married friend of mine (actually, the wife of the person I mentioned in the previous paragraph) said, “That sounds like a supremely bad idea to me. Unless you want to wait a few weeks before you have sex, that is.” Expanding on her husband’s analogy of the sliders and rubber band, she explained that holding the physical back so much is going to put a lot of tension on your relationship, and pushing it forward all the way from “no kissing” to “sex is OK” in one day is also far too much change at once, and would put its own kind of stress on the relationship.
So that’s what I think of courtship and dating. Basically, understand that physical intimacy will pretty much drive itself forward, and concentrate on pushing the other three — mental, emotional, and spiritual intimacy — forward in your time together. And figure out how you’re going to hold physical intimacy back to a proper pace: slow, but not completely stalled. Talk about your physical boundaries with each other, agree to respect each other and hold each other accountable for them, and then (because you’re both going to be strongly tempted at much the same time, so just holding each other accountable won’t always work) find a few good friends who can help. And then spend lots of time together, and talk a lot. And the last thing, which I haven’t mentioned yet although I really should have said so from the beginning, bathe the whole process in lots of prayer. If you do that, you probably won’t go too far wrong.
My friend Andrew writes about the desire to be great — to leave one’s mark on the world, so that one will be remembered, that one’s name will not be forgotten. I know exactly what he’s talking about, although for me it’s slightly different.
When I was in high school, I was on my school’s Science Bowl team. One evening, as we were driving back from the regional competition, my teammates were joking around about what each of us would be famous for later in life: Lars would discover a new element, Eric would find a cure for cancer, and so on. Then someone mentioned me, and said something I’ve never forgotten: “Robin? Robin won’t be famous.” (pause). “But everybody will know him.”
It says something profound about me that that statement made such a mark on my memory. It articulated so well one of my fundamental desires: to be known. Not to be famous — there’s a difference. Famous people get tabloid articles written about them everytime they so much as sneeze. I’ll pass on that one, thanks. But what my Science Bowl teammate said about me sounded like the best of both worlds — if that were true, then I’d avoid all the downsides of being famous, while still getting what I consider to be the only real advantage: to be known. To be recognized. Not to be a nameless face in the crowd. To have others greet you by name and be glad to see you when you visit them, when you go to church, when you meet them by chance in the grocery store.
That desire interacts in some very interesting ways with the other great desire of my heart, to serve. To serve God, and to serve His servants. That’s why I’m heading off to Africa — to put my computer skills to good use in His service, by making my skills available to the other missionaries there. But as I mentioned, one of the things I love to receive is recognition from others. And I certainly get that when I help fix someone’s computer — they remember me years later. I’ve been out of college for over four years now, yet I keep on running into people who remember me rescuing their term paper off a dying floppy disk or some such thing. And I have to admit that it gives me a bit of pleasure to find out that I’ve been remembered for being helpful. As far as ego-boosts go, that’s a pretty healthy one, but nevertheless, am I helping people just so that they’ll remember me? Is that the reward I’m working for? Jesus had a few things to say about that sort of thing, after all.
Fortunately, I don’t think I’m really doing all this just for the praise of others. When I take the time to examine my motives, I find that I really am just wanting to help. It’s nice that people remember me kindly for helping them, but I’d still help them even if they wouldn’t remember me at all. That’s a relief.
But there’s something else, something to which I fall victim much more often. And again, my friend Andrew has it nailed. (Thanks, Andrew!) In the second half of his post, he goes on to talk about how the desire to be great can twist even our desire to serve God into something perverted, a kind of “servanthood contest” where one is trying, not to serve God to the best of one’s ability, but to somehow be a “better” servant than everyone else. Once you actually look at that desire, of course it’s ridiculous. But it got me thinking — the other great desire of my heart, as I mentioned, is service. And I’m heading off — to Africa, no less! — as a missionary. It would be far too easy to get sucked into the “more spiritual than thou” game. Have I ever been tempted to play it?
And suddenly as I phrased the question, I had my answer. Yes, from time to time, I certainly have been. I get tempted to look down on those whose calling is not to the mission field, but to a “comfortable” life in the United States — forgetting, of course, that God has called them to service, too. In fact, some of those very same people, that I’m tempted to look down on, are people whose shoelaces I’m not even worthy to tie. True prayer warriors, whose daily prayers for hundreds and hundreds of missionaries are only known to God — for now. In heaven, though, we’ll find out. We’ll see a saint, covered in the glory so bright it almost hurts our eyes — and when we peer into their face, we’ll recognize that small, unassuming elderly woman who always showed up at the prayer meetings, or the man we only knew as the church janitor. And then we’ll hear about the thousands upon thousands of lives their prayers touched, and we’ll be amazed.
No, there’s nothing inherently special or spiritual about being a missionary. It’s just another way to serve God.
One of my favorite hymns:
Here is love, vast as the ocean, Lovingkindness as the flood, When the Prince of life, our ransom, Interposed His precious blood. Who His love will not remember? Who can cease to sing His praise? He will never be forgotten Throughout heaven's eternal days. On the mount of crucifixion, Fountains opened, deep and wide. Through the floodgates of God's mercy Poured a vast and gracious tide. Peace and love, like mighty rivers, Flowed incessant from above. Heaven's peace and perfect justice Kissed a guilty world in love.