I used to watch a popular television show in which the main character went through several difficult romances. At the climax of one episode, she exclaimed, “You can’t help it! You can’t choose who you love!” She continued from there to describe how falling in love was completely outside of any person’s control.
She was right—and at the same time, she was completely wrong!
Emotions are powerful and we can develop strong feelings for a person without planning or intending to do so. However, we certainly can control how we spend our time and with whom. If you stay away from a person, you are not likely to fall in love with him or her—but, if you hang out a lot, you might just find yourself head over heels before you know it.
Today many people not only believe that “falling in love” happens by accident, but that it should always be that way. The truth is, those people are mistaken. You have more control than you think. You can choose when you are ready to make your affections available, and, to some degree, you can choose to which people you make them available. I say, “to some degree,” because you surely cannot control how other people feel! As much as you might wish you could—you just can’t make someone fall in love with you. Believe me, I’ve tried.
Why am I talking about all this?
Teens and young adults striving to live God’s way, within God’s Church, often have tough questions to answer: “should I date outside of my church?” “Should I marry outside of my religion?” The general answer to both questions is, no—but that answer raises a number of other questions. “Why not?” “Is it true in every case?” “What happens if I’m already in love with a non-believer, or if I marry that person?”
Answering all these questions thoroughly would require a lengthy book; and even then, the answers would seem unsatisfactory to a few people. Still, it is worth considering an overview of the topic. The Bible does not say anything about dating—outside the Church or otherwise. Dating is actually a fairly modern invention. However, Scripture does give some clear guidelines about marriage.
The basic New Testament teaching on this comes from the apostle Paul. He advised that a Christian can marry whom he or she wants, “only in the Lord,” which means to marry only a person called by God into His Church (1 Corinthians 7:39). Paul also directed Christians, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). This metaphor tells us to avoid permanent attachments with someone of a different religion. The reason is that a marriage is the closest bond two people can have. Marrying someone with a different view of God than yours, even if they have good morals, creates a barrier between you and them. It creates tension in the most important aspect of your life—your relationship with God and Jesus Christ.
In several Old Testament scriptures, God forbade Israelite men from marrying “pagan wives.” That was an archaic way of saying not to marry anyone that worshiped a different god, and it makes sense that today we should not marry a person with different beliefs or a different religion.
A modern day example from someone who learned the hard way
Rather than elaborate more on Scripture, let me share my personal experience. When I was 18 years old, I began dating a girl I met at the fast-food restaurant where I worked. She attended a mainstream, Sunday-keeping church and I was part of the Church of God. As noted above, I wasn’t doing anything the Bible said not to do; however, I came to regret my decision. She was a very nice person, with good morals, and the natural thing happened: we fell in love. I even asked her to marry me.
I knew what the Bible teaches about marrying a non-believer, but I reasoned that she did believe much of what I believed. God wanted me to be happy, didn’t He? Yes, of course; God wants everyone to be happy! That is the purpose of His wonderful plan of salvation that the annual Holy Days represent. It was during one of those Festivals, the Feast of Tabernacles, that I came to a stark and difficult realization. I knew that I believed what the Church of God teaches from the Bible—and I knew that I knew. I realized that my relationship with God and my future in His family was the most important thing in my life.
My girlfriend did not believe those things the same way. During that Feast, I came to realize that life would be very unhappy if I could not share the most important thing in my life (my relationship with God) with the most important person in my life (my wife)! That’s when I knew what I needed to do. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever done. I broke off our engagement and I was sad and miserable for quite a while after that.
But, you know what? I have never regretted that decision. In a couple of years my ex-girlfriend fell in love with and married a young man who shared all of her religious beliefs. In freeing her to do that, I helped her have a much happier marriage than she would have had with me. It was several years later before I married, but it was well worth the wait. My wife and I share the same beliefs and values. We sit together at services each Sabbath and Holy Day. We serve God’s Church together. That is how marriage should be.
Now, I would be remiss if I did not admit that there have been a few cases of happy marriages with non-believers. A person might marry outside God’s Church and have it go well—but I know of many more examples that led to frustration and misery.
A few things to ponder
As for dating, while I can’t tell you that the Bible forbids you to date outside the Church, I hope you’ll consider my story. I made a choice that brought me pain and sadness, but I hope my advice will help spare you from that.
As you build relationships and even prepare to build a family, please consider carefully the following:
Whom do you spend your time with? This is a good question to ask whether you’re thinking of dating or not. Do the people you spend your time with share the same fundamental values as you? Have their thoughts ever led you in a direction that was unhealthy?
What happens if you fall in love with someone? If you do happen to fall in love, where might it lead? Could it lead to a lifelong relationship united by the same core values and goals, or could it turn into a relationship that is constantly growing apart because of different beliefs? What happens when children enter the picture?
Understand the power of emotions. Emotions are a wonderful, God-given human attribute. They are a necessary and vital part of life. But be careful that temporary feelings don’t lead you to a choice that’s contrary to your life’s goals.
Where does your relationship with God stand? You probably believe in God, attend church and pray. But how committed are you to Him? If you’ve not given the commitment of baptism and the receiving of the gift of God’s Holy Spirit serious consideration, then maybe it’s time to hit “pause” on pursuing serious romantic relationships. Remember, God’s Spirit is available to guide us through life’s choices! (John 14:26, 16:13; Romans 8:26).
Making good choices about whom you share your time with and whom you date should lead to choosing a good partner for your life. Do not leave it to chance. Wise decisions today will lead to a happy life later on!