Brothers and sisters, not husbands and wives Part I

Religious people should act differently than non-religious people.  Among the reasons people engage in the religious cultus is the effect is has on living.  Seems logical, right?  Active participation in a set of practices motivated by unique beliefs should mark people A as different than people B.  Clearly, Christians should be marked by a specific set of behaviors and those behaviors should set them apart from others.

Alas, one look at a survey or article in any major newspaper will reveal that in the area of relationships (marriage preeminently) there is little to no difference between professing Christians and non-Christians.  The challenges in accurately defining “Christian,” notwithstanding, we who make claims to follow Christ don’t demonstrate our faith skillfully in relationships.  Here are excerpts from data from such a survey found at

Religion % have been divorced
Jews 30%
Born-again Christians 27%
Other Christians 24%
Atheists, Agnostics 21%

More specifically:

Denomination (in order of decreasing divorce rate)

% who have been divorced

Non-denominational ** 34%
Baptists 29%
Mainline Protestants 25%
Mormons 24%
Catholics 21%
Lutherans 21%

And what about region?

Area % are or have been divorced
South 27%
Midwest 27%
West 26%
Northeast 19%

So much for the “Bible Belt” having any effect….Divorce, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, hostility, coldness, late-marriage divorces, etc. mark Christian Marriage.  This is pathetic, sad and hypocritical.

Why is it that way?  What are the reasons for these startling statistics?

Of course, the diagnosis is complicated.  But, as a student of young professing-Christians adults I tend to believe part of the problem is a poorly-managed pre-married relational life. By this I mean the period of time we spent dating, pre-engaged and then engaged.

This K-I-S-S-I-N-G or PDA blog thread has been aimed at this issue.  And this particular post strikes close to the heart of the relational problems.  The character of our pre-married relational life is most often marred by the fact that we don’t view each other as brothers and sisters but rather trial-husbands and trial-wives.

As a result, this relational time is marked by “dating divorces.”  How do you know if you have had a “dating divorce” or if what you’re watching in your close friend is a dating divorce?  By how it has or will end.    In other words, you can gauge the biblical character of a relationship by how it ends.  If a “break-up” is like a quasi-divorce in many ways, then the man and the woman treated each other like spouses during the relationship rather than like siblings.

A quasi-divorce would include things like great anger at each other, follow on depression, arguing over material things, indulgent addictive behavior, rushed follow-on relationships, no communication, or splintering among friend groups along “party” lines.

Many (most) Christian dating relationships-in-progress look like marriages with minor modifications:

  • Unrestrained physical touch save (usually) only sexual intercourse
  • Vigorous exclusion of other people and relationships
  • Baring of all secrets, thoughts, and desires
  • Intense dependence
  • Presence of jealousy
  • Practice of marriage roles: heads and helpers

Many operate on the “test drive the car before you buy” theory.  On Chicago public educator who, with her fiance, waited until their wedding day to kiss (gasp!), replied, “You can’t take the car out of the parking lot until you pay for it.”  Nice.

If many of our marriage problems find their roots in our pre-married relational life, then we should be more concerned about doing that part of our life right.  Right.  What makes a relationship between a non-married man and non-married woman “right?”  Let’s consider three things: authority, audience and approach.

Authority.  The appropriate constellation of questions to ask regards the regulation of such relationships: what standards are they using?

  • What is the relational playbook being used?
  • What is informing the conduct of such relationships?
  • Where are the rules written down for them?

We don’t do anything without rules, folks.  Whether they’re explicit or not we follow some set of rules.  It could be what you grew up seeing in your parents.  Maybe you’ve had “satisfying” relationships in the past and you’re just trying to do current ones that way.  Some search through the myriad of self-help relational books you can find at any Christian bookstore.  Oprah, Dr. Phil, Judge Judy, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen…the list of celebrity “experts” is limitless.  Peers also provide rules – whatever my group is doing, I do.

We do all of this – Christians, now – because in some sense we believe the Bible doesn’t provide any relevant guide (save “No Sex”) for us.  Or worse, we won’t follow what the Bible does say.

Since this is part I of this particular topic, why don’t you take a minute and write down what you think the Bible says regarding non-married, heterosexual relationships.  What instructions does the Bible give to you?  How do you understand verses like 2 Timothy 3:16-17 relative to relationships?

Protecting (and running from) the Past

Seems like ancient history (almost) since I first blogged on K-I-S-S-I-N-G.  Well, a couple of recent conversations with friends have provoked me yet again (aren’t you glad).  In that first post, I gave as some reasons to stray from PDA (premarital displays of affection) the following:

If you have any sexual history, it will become alive again; you will be battling old temptations and practices

Your significant other’s sexual history may become alive again

Each time you meet, you would be fighting not to be consumed with each other physically; it will dominate your thoughts

Let’s talk through these.  Maybe an analogy could help with this.  The other night, we ate dinner meal at our church.  As usual, I surveyed the tables for dessert and there they were: red velvet cookies with cream cheese frosting.  I was transfixed on that large plate of cookies.  (Actually, I was thinking about how I could sneakily put other food back so I could make more room for those little fat pills.)  I didn’t notice until several minutes later that there were actually two other (wonderful) desserts.  I didn’t notice because I LOVE red velvet cake, cookies, brownies, etcetera with cream cheese icing.  I’ve had it and I love it.  I’ve had it and I notice it when it is around.  I’ve had it and I look forward to having it again.

OK.  It’s obvious right?  But it is as true as it is obvious. What is at work in this situation as a representation of PDA is the human tendency towards memory-based attachments (read: worship and slavery).  We were made to worship – there are no cultures in the world of any kind of development that lack worship structures.  That’s not a product of evolution or expediency; it’s a result of how we are created.  Yet, in our current condition, our tendency is rather than to worship the one true God, we divert our affections and attention to other things; especially those things we’ve enjoyed before.  We give those things power over us.  They become our masters by our own choosing and we, their slaves.

Our bodies are preeminently involved in this.  Feed the body (in any way) and the body becomes the + side of a magnet and the feed the and what do you have?  Attraction that borders on inescapability.  (We see this in any number of addictions to food, fun, sex, drugs, etc.  This is why the body experiences “withdrawal.”) It is inescapable outside of a controlling and vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ.  There is explicit slavery involved when the lusts / passions are excited.  The lusts of the flesh – about which we are all too familiar – have no competing conscience.  What is there to stop my hunger, thirst and pursuit of these things but situational limitations (fear of getting “found out” or of being scorned, etc.)?  Reading Romans 6:12, we see, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to obey its passions.” This is the experience of a non-Christian.

As Christians, these passions / lusts / excitations are NOT inescapable.  We saw that in the verse I cited above.  Far from being an explicit, deterministic slavery it becomes an implicit slavery.  There is a war on, now, and each day we wage it on one side or the other.  Wave a red velvet cookie in front of my nose and watch me and you’ll see who’s winning the war. In speaking of physical hunger, the implications of tasting once are obvious.  Tasting again is as inevitable as it is planned, “I WILL ask T.C. to make those cup cakes again!  Oh Man!”  We were made to eat and so this is normal.  This is the means that God uses to incline us to eat.  (Maybe more healthy than red velvet, though.)

Physical hunger is symbolic to other types.  Ask anyone one of us who are married about other types of hunger and you’ll eventually hear “It is so enjoyable, I look forward to it again.”  That’s perfectly normal.  We’re made that way.  We see that in physical hunger as in any other type.  So, having kissed, you’ll want to kiss again.  Having held hands, and you’ll look for reasons to grasp hands.  Having had sex and the hunger for it will resurface with a vengeance.

The last reason cited above, the “preoccupation of purity” is a significant issue.  If you are in a serious relationship with another, there is so much to know.  Intimacy presupposes revelation – one goes as the other goes. Growing intimacy presupposes growing revelation; it is required.  The inverse is also true: problems come in relationships because of ignorance.

If physical touch is a part of the relationship, then, because we are human and built for physical relations with the opposite sex, that becomes a dominating part of the relationship.  Growing physical intimacy leads to diminished revelational intimacy; less knowledge.  Why?  The risks become too high.  The more someone finds out about another, the greater chance they will like the other less.  That will lead to less physical intimacy and that’s risky (if that is a key component of the relationship).  On the other hand, the more someone finds out about another, and the more they like what they find, the less likely it is they’ll keep from more physical intimacy and that’s risky.  Holiness is out the window, then.

Consider an example: two young people are physically touching each other as a part of their relationship.  At some point, they have a conflict.  Now there is a fear that because of the conflict, physical touching will end.  Physical touching is really good so that becomes a major motive for resolving the conflict.  Is resolving conflict for the sake of unimpeded physical touch a good thing?  Whatever happened to resolving conflict for the glory of Christ?  Or, for the good of the unity of the church?  Or for the witness of sound church-family relations to the watching world?

Seems to me that if you excite the past you’ll likely wreck the present.

We do what we were designed to do

Now that our cultural seizure is over, I want to return to considering relationships.  I know: can’t wait, huh?  No need to wait any longer….

When I’ve considered and taught relationships, I started with our design.  If we want to have any fruitful discussion of how we are to act, it begins with how we are made.  Here is a blog post I submitted for the blog of a friend:

What makes design popular?  It could be that it is necessary in the logical sense: essential.  Design is ubiquitous.  It is even in our speech; where would we be without those sticky language fundamentals?  Still, I am attracted to design discussions because they concern sacramental issues.  In other words, design represents something.  One can look at the fruit of design and be satisfied to stop or one can follow them to their intended ends – they are signs and seals of other things.  There is always more ultimate meaning to the sign than the sign itself.  A simple example: “stop” signs.  They tell us to stop, but you’d never tell a child that’s all they mean would you?  We would be remiss if in our discussion of stop signs we never mentioned the benefits of stopping or the consequences of failing to stop.  Stop signs can represent life and death.  Since I believe design is sacramental, I wonder if there is one destination to which all design discussions should finally lead.  Is there a meta-design whose character lays over all the others?

This discussion is relevant to me in my work is with people.  I am not an artist but a church pastor.  Design and its aim are very relevant in relationships.  In that realm, words are design’s fruit.  Therefore my role as a pastor is as a meaning assistant.  My work is to help people understand their design: personal design (“how am I made?”), corporate design (“what is my part in all of this?”), and teleological design (“what is the end of all of this?”).

This particular post is about personal design.  I presuppose intentionality in humanity.  That is, whether we are discussing our physical being or our moral one, there are ends to our experience.  We are not the product of randomness colliding with explosions.  As we think through personal design, I want to suggest that it is capture in three ideas: personalness, plurality and purposefulness.  I take my cues from the Bible’s first book, Genesis.

First, we are designed personally.  This has two implications.  On the one hand, we are designed by God who is Personal.  Personal (versus impersonal and detached) creation means that we were made directly by God.  In Genesis we see Him use two refrains, “let Us” and “let there be” (1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, etc.).  Both indicate direct involvement, however, “let Us” indicates a hands-on element.  All creation was personally made by Him but the narrative draws a distinction between man and all else that was made; He seemed more directly involved in our making.  To say we are personally formed by God paints a the picture of a potter with dirty hands, “But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand” (Isaiah 64:8; see also 29:16, 45:9; Jeremiah 18:4, 18:6 and Rom. 9:21).

And, on the other, we are designed for personalness.  We will specifically under-develop this point but the Bible clearly gives us the responsibility for direct involvement in each other’s lives.  When the first murder was revealed – Cain having killed his brother, Abel – God’s question provoked Cain to answer, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Cain discerned rightly that the issue was his care for his brother.  We are designed for such relations.

Second, we are designed as a plurality.  That is, we are meant to be together with others.  Originally that meant as husbands and wives as soon as age allowed such a union.  But, after man’s fall from the sublime, that means as humans sharing life.  This reflect our Maker who in Himself is plural.  In the first instructional narrative, He tells the watching heavenly host, “let Us make man in Our image.”  And by that He meant to craft us to reflect His plurality (among other attributes).  Interestingly, His creation resulted not in two of the same sex but two of the different: “male and female He created them.”

Lastly, we are designed purposefully.  There were specific reasons for our creation.  There are specific ends that will be achieved by the way we were made.  The first narrative clearly gave us a double-purpose: to be and to do.  The ways in which the texts are written are exciting.  Seven times (the Bible’s “perfect” number) in alternating rhythm we are shown our purpose:  To be: 1:26a, to do: 1:26b, to be: 1:27, to do: 1:28, to be: 2:7, to do: 2:8, 15 and to be: 2:22-23.

In our being, it is to show forth the Trinity (2:22, 24) in character, that is, in personalness and plurality.  In our doing, it is to show forth the Trinity’s work (1:2, 3; also in Colossians. 1:16) that is being fruitful, multiplying, filling the earth, subduing it and having dominion over it and according to God’s character, His being.  Together, these verbs of being and doing imply our creation was two-fold: “to represent” and “to rule.”  Our purposefulness might be the toughest to swallow.  These verbs are active ones and many today believe that humans have been a little too active in the world.  Maybe.  It stands to reason, however, that if we pursued our created nature in the ways our Creator envisioned, we would find the balance that both uses and protects the creation.

These three elements of personalness, plurality and purposefulness represent our personal design.  Upon that blueprint stands corporate and teleological design.  Clearly in considering how we are made, we see that we are stamps of God Himself.