29 January 2019

Christian Dating: Cast Off Consumerism

by Hohn Cho

he introduction to this occasional series on Christian dating is here.

Part one, "Christlike Character," is here.

The recent news of longtime Christian heartthrob Tim Tebow's engagement to Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, who happened to be the winner of the Miss Universe beauty pageant (formerly owned by now-President Donald Trump, interestingly) in 2017, reminded me that I should return to my occasional Christian dating series, and so here is part two: Cast off Consumerism.

John 15:19 states, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." This is true in all of the obvious ways, such as the persecution we face as believers—relatively mild here in the US, but intense or even fatal in other countries. But there's a more insidious way that the world hates us, and that's by pushing a worldly mindset onto us, sometimes so subtly that we don't even realize it's happening.

If we've been taught faithfully and hold to basic Christian principles, perhaps we might successfully recognize that the world's complete acceptance of pre-marital sex as an assumed given is biblically wrong and sinful. But what about the often unspoken assumptions of self-centered consumerism that pervade just about every area of our American lives? Sure, as well-taught Christians, we might know theologically that the only thing that we truly deserve is hell, and that it's only through Jesus that we can be saved, and anything good in our lives is all a grace gift from God, and we're not entitled to any of it.

So why is it that when it comes to dating, so many of us-and I say "us" because I experienced it keenly as well when I was single-supposedly well-taught Christians suddenly become believers in the prosperity Gospel? "Wow, if I just pray more, if I just serve more, if I just do more for the Lord, He will send me exactly what I want, and I'll suddenly have my best married life now! And then surely I'll find that godly submissive woman who moonlights as a fashion model." (But only in very modest fashion styles, of course.) Or on the flip side, "I'll find that handsome and independently wealthy seminary student who's a bold and decisive leader, but who's also sensitive enough to listen to me, and then do exactly what I think is best." If you prefer, you could even substitute another homeschooled Heisman Trophy winner or Miss Universe, perhaps.

I believe part of this stems from the fact that for American Christians, our consumeristic and worldly society here beats into us from just about the first moments we can remember that it's all about us, that we deserve only the best, that we should have exactly what we want, exactly when we want it. We want our potential spouses just like we want our Burger King Whoppers, tomatoes and pickles are great, but no way do I want any onions or mustard or mayo. I'll take two from column A, none from column B, and let me write in a response for column C. Go ahead and start working on that, I'll just be over here on my state-of-the-art smartphone while I wait.

But the highest focus of Christian dating really shouldn't be self-centered, it shouldn't just be about your own agenda and preferences, or even making sure the person you date checks off all of the right boxes and none of the wrong ones. Again, we don't deserve a spouse, we're not entitled to a spouse, God is not obligated to send us a spouse. If we remember that, if we remember that marriage is less about personal pleasure and far more about serving your spouse selflessly and considering that person as more important than yourself, all for the glory of God, as we see in Philippians 2:3? If we can keep that in mind, I think people would do a lot better in this area of dating, both mentally and spiritually, because then our mindset would be starting to conform to what God's Word calls us to.

If we truly want to get down to some "real talk" as they say... where do you think your standard of beauty comes from? Did it develop all by itself, with no help from anyone or anything? Or might the media that inundates our lives have something to do with it? Every day, we're told that our standard of beauty ought to be a rail-thin made-up airbrushed supermodel, or a tall, dark, and handsome Disney Prince Charming. The problem with that, of course, is that neither of those images is real! They're carefully constructed fantasies designed to move consumers.

And these fantasies aren't just innocent marketing choices that are morally neutral, as some people might like to think their beauty preferences are. The world is actively promoting a non-existent fantasy that encourages self-absorbed consumerism and unrealistically high standards, often served up with a heaping side order of increasingly bitter discontentment. The reality never seems to be good enough, and then many Christians who might already be burning with passion "refuse to settle"-whatever that means-and extend their singleness, resulting in fewer children raised in godly homes, more sexual temptation (and falling to that temptation), and in many cases prolonged adolescence or "adultolescence" as it's sometimes called. None of that is morally neutral! Meanwhile, those who are called to marry and actually move forward boldly with it encounter numerous challenges of their own, of course, but when they persevere, they tend to enjoy some of the greatest earthly blessings in terms of sanctification, friendship and companionship, sexual intimacy approved by God, parenthood, and many others.

On this topic of beauty, consider instead what God says in Proverbs 31:30. God's Word is the ultimate ward against consumerism, and Scripture tells all of us that in seeking a spouse, we should be conforming our priorities to God's, and the course of wisdom is to focus on people of character who fear the Lord, and specifically not on social skills and looks. After all, very few people get better looking with age, people go gray or lose their hair, they gain weight, they get wrinkles. And maybe instead of charming, they're socially awkward, seemingly a mortal sin these days. And yet so many godly married couples I know will tell you that they are more in love with and attracted to their spouse than they ever were at first.

Having said all of that, I know that for so many people, it's still primarily about looks, about that magical spark of chemistry. I know that, and I get it. And to continue with the real talk, I never suggest that anyone consider someone who repulses them or even provokes a negative reaction, because based on ample experience, I've never really seen that work out. The bridge is simply too far to cross. But if there's at least a mildly positive reaction, or perhaps even a neutral one? I actually have seen that work out numerous times, especially when the people involved have given it a genuine good faith effort and are praying earnestly.

On that note, we've seen some evidence even from secular science that it may be possible (on a neurological level, even) to take some level of control over falling into or out of love with someone. If that's something even a secular person could do, how much more should a blood-bought believer with the power of prayer and the indwelling Holy Spirit be able to accomplish?

If you're single and there's some godly man or woman interested in you, and you know in your heart that it could be a good thing, maybe you don't find them ugly but perhaps you also aren't super attracted to that person, you know one thing you could try before just giving up? Literally get down on your knees and pray, really earnestly pray. Not just a "pray about it for five seconds right before bed" kind of prayer, but persistently humble yourself before God and beg Him to change your affections, to let you appreciate the little and big things about that godly person, to allow you to begin seeing him or her the way that God does.

Before you dismiss this suggestion as an obvious one, from a non-scientific poll I've taken over the 13 years or so that I was involved in singles ministry, the percentage of people who actually admitted to trying this kind of deep and sustained prayer constituted a slim minority indeed. And for the significant majority who didn't, out of my love and care for them and desire for their best, I have to wonder whether some of them might have been a bit too caught up in their own preconceived notions about what their future spouse ought to look like, or even what other people might think about the person on their arm.

Anyway, perhaps you still might think that I'm being naïve about this, even while I might think you're not having enough faith about this. As is often the case with things like this, I'm guessing the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. But if I could leave you with one last thought on casting off consumerism, here's an interesting secular study that talks about human dating behavior today. There's a ton to unpack, some of it rather depressing, but the reality is that in the world, almost everyone seems to be focusing on looks, and almost everyone is routinely breaking Romans 12:3 in thinking more highly of themselves than they ought. It's as if the guy from the brilliant classic Christian dating article, "Brother, You're Like a Six" were CTRL-C copied en masse into a Google PageRank algorithm.

If you adopt the world's methods, the world's consumerism, odds are you'll end up with the world's results, which will probably look a lot like the secular dating study and our society's steadily increasing average ages to marriage. Instead, heed 1 John 2:15-17 and cast off worldly influences wherever you can, focus on serving and sacrificing for others per Philippians 2:3, strive for contentment which 1 Timothy 6:6 tells us is a necessary component for spiritual growth, elevate the importance of godly character in others per Proverbs 31:30 rather than regarding others according to the flesh per 2 Corinthians 5:16, and trust and believe in the power of James 5:16's effective prayer. In other words, strongly develop fundamental Christian disciplines and character traits, and then dare to apply them even in the most personal and intimate areas of your own life, such as dating.

If you do that, whether you end up getting married or not, I trust that regardless, you'll have the peace and comfort and joy that comes with knowing that you're walking in obedience to how God calls us to live, which is of eternal value that will far outlast any earthly, temporal marriage, no matter how wonderful and fulfilling.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks Hohn. I like how you think, because your effort to "take every thought captive to obey Christ" is always evident. May God cause you to increase in wisdom and grace as you continue in that effort.