We sat across from one another outside a Starbucks on a sunny Spring day. She held a hand over her eyebrows, like a make-shift visor, blocking out the sun that was shining in her eyes. It was a gorgeous day, but I was sweating, and not because it was too hot. I was trying to explain to my good friend, why we should date. I stuttered and stammered, grasping for words, trying desperately to not sound like an idiot. Rather than the cool, concise, articulate explanation I was planning on, what came out was a twenty minute long word-vomit of clutter and ramblings. Somewhere, in the ocean of “uhhs” and “umms” I told Hillary that I liked her, more than a friend, and thought we should date. I held my breath, almost wishing I could take it all back. Because she was shading her eyes from the sun, it made it really difficult to tell what she was thinking. Years seemed to span the gap between my words and her response; novels could have been written, wars fought, and nations rising and falling in that silence. My mind exploded, I ruined it. I sounded like a crazy person. I ruined our friendship now. We are going to never speak to each other again. She is probably just thinking how to get out of this as non-awkwardly as possible. Before I knew it, she was speaking.
“Oh, of course, Marc, I like you too, I thought that was obvious.” she laughed, with a warm smile.
Romance is a funny thing. It makes you do terrifying, uncomfortable things, things that we scare us – and yet, we are drawn to it. The question I am hoping to look at tonight is what is God’s design for romance? Why did He give it to us, and how are we to use it? For many of you this question plays out in your lives in the sphere of dating, flirting, and sex. But before we look into those specifics, we need to look at God’s original design for Romance.
In the Beginning…
In the beginning God creates everything, and he calls everything good, everything except Adam being alone. God says that it is “not good” for Adam to be alone, and then creates Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. Upon seeing Eve, Adam bursts into a Hebrew love-poem, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen. 2:23). Notice the “at last” in that poem. Adam feels a wave of relief upon seeing the beauty of his bride. This is important: this is before sin has entered into the world, so we know that Adam’s “at last” was a product of his perfection, not imperfection. There is a holy, normal, God-given desire put inside all of us to exist and thrive in relationship and community with one another, and especially in an exclusive, life-long romantic relationship. Adam is not looking to Eve in the way that says, “I need you, or I am incomplete”, but rather, “Because I am complete, I want you. I want you to the degree that to see you is like sweet relief.” That is hard for us to understand, because so often we use love and romance to fill a need, you know, “You complete me” kind of stuff.
If you could, imagine I am holding a big rock, and if I cannot hold it any longer, I need someone to come by and help me carry it. I will definitely be grateful that they came and helped me, but in a way it doesn’t really matter who came and helped me, the point was I needed help. Now imagine that I am holding a small, pebble-sized rock, and I am having no problem carrying the weight, but I call a certain person over to help me hold the rock. Why would I do that? I don’t need them; I want them – I am overjoyed at being able to simply have them, for who they are, not what they can give me. That is what is hiding in Adam’s “at last”. He doesn’t need Eve to complete him – he wants her. And that is far better.
Upon receiving his bride, God then conducts the first marriage ceremony ever and proclaims, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Gen. 2:24-25). God here is setting up the blueprints of what marriage is to entail:
1) A man will leave his parents care, move out from under their roof, therefore requiring that he become self-sufficient. He can take care of and provide for his Bride not by relying on his parents, but because he works.
2) Again, because it describes men being the ones who leave their parents, it is implying that he will go out and find a woman, implying that the man is to be the pursuer and instigator in the relationship. He doesn’t wait around for a girl to walk up to him and ask him to change her last name. He isn’t passive, but actively seeking a godly woman.
3) He “holds fast” to his wife and the two become one flesh. Just like God taking Eve from Adam’s rib, He is now pronouncing that within this sacred union, where there was two there shall now be one. Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh! The two enter into an intimate relationship that they have never experienced with anyone else before. So united and close, that it is like they are one.
4) And to top it all of God declares that they both are naked and not ashamed. This means much more than they were not wearing clothes. In Genesis 3, as soon as Adam and Eve sin, the first thing they do is try and fashion clothes out of fig leaves in an attempt to hide their shame. The author of Genesis, who obviously knows what is about to happen in Genesis 3, is making a statement about the nature of their marriage before God: there was nothing to be ashamed of, no self-consciousness, no hidden fears, no blaming, suspicion or lies. When we fail today, it is so tempting for us to do the same thing: we lie, or compensate for our failures with successes, or deny the failure entirely – we are doing the exact same thing Adam and Eve did, grabbing fist-fulls of figs leave, trying to cover our shame. Adam and Eve, in the perfect union have nothing to hide from one another, and fully give themselves over to one another, emotionally, spiritually and physically.
This is God’s design for romance: marriage. That kind of union, love, and giving to one another only happens within the confines of marriage. But that isn’t the whole story. God did not give us romantic longings, solely so that we would get married. God has given us love and marriage for a deeper reality.
There are many ways that God describes His relationship to us throughout the Bible. He is depicted as a King, and we are his subjects, or as a Father and we are His children, and even as a Builder and we are His building. God’s favorite metaphor, however, is the metaphor of marriage; He is the husband, we are His wife. This is all throughout the Bible, over and over God describes Himself as the groom, and us the expectant Bride. Here is what Isaiah says,
“You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” – Isaiah 62:4-5
That is unbelievable. God is described here as a young man, who is completely head-over-heels in punch-drunk love with his bride. He is filled to the brim with delight and joy in his bride. Can we think about this for a minute? I’ve been to a number of different weddings, and regardless of how pretty the girl may, or may not be, there has never been an ugly bride. Every bride, as she walks down the aisle looks stunningly beautiful. The rest of the room seems to lose its color, as the center of everyone’s attention approaches the altar. I remember my wedding day, watching my bride turn the corner and walk down the aisle. It was unreal. It seemed natural that everyone stood from their seated positions – something that looks that wonderful just awakens that kind of response. They stood, in a reverent silence, smiling, wiping tears away as they saw the love beaming in her face. I felt like I was going to melt into a puddle I was so overwhelmed with her. I have never felt anything more strongly, than what I felt on that day: something profound, something weighty, a joy that brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face.
Now, Scripture is telling us is that is how God sees us. That is unbelievable, and here is why: Although Hillary and I knew each other fairly well on our wedding day, there were many things about one another that we were unaware of. As Hillary and I have grown together, we have learned more and more each day of the depths of each other’s sinfulness. On our wedding day, we knew only the top layer of each other’s sin. But think about this: God doesn’t have those blinders when he is looking at us walking down the aisle. He sees us, all of us, down to the very bottom of who we are – the things that we don’t want anyone to ever see, He sees. And rather than being repulsed and rejecting us, He looks on us with eyes full of love and delight. God sees the ugliest parts of us and says, “I’m crazy about you, I can’t wait to be with you, I want you!” Isn’t that what we all want in a relationship? To be fully known and fully loved at the same time.
This is the true romance, the true love, the true marriage. This is what all other love points to. Adam’s song of love given to Eve, is a reflection of God’s love towards Adam. When Adam looks at Eve and says “I don’t need you, but I want you” that is because that is exactly how God loved Adam, and the way Adam loves Eve is a picture of that love. God’s purpose in all romance is this: to reveal the nature and depth of His love for us. That is God’s design for all romance.
So, all of that being said, what does that have to do with a group of teenagers and their questions of dating? God has designed that there are essentially two kinds of relationships that we are to have with the opposite gender: marriage, or a family. Paul exhorts Timothy to treat all younger women as “sisters, in all purity” and all older women as “mothers” (1 Tim. 5:2). There is no other category of: “prospective dates” or “person I am flirting with” or “boyfriend or girlfriend.” However, I do not think that means that we need to revert to assigned marriages, and cut out dating – I think this means we need to have purpose behind our dating. When I feel a romantic longing inside of me (which is a God-given desire, it is a good thing) I need to:
- Ask myself why. Why do I want to have a significant other? Is it because I am full? Or do I feel empty and lonely and want someone to do what only God can do for me?
- Remember God’s design. God has given us romantic longings so that we would be led to marriage. This means I am looking at the prospective candidate with the thought: “Is this someone I would want to marry?” Now, that is hard because nearly none of you are at a point in your life where that is even on the remote horizon. And this is why dating while you are so young is dangerous. I know you hate to hear that, but if you just continue the date/break-up cycle while you are young, you are just practicing for divorce when you’re older.
- Listen to wise counsel. Before you begin anything speak with your parents, speak with your friends, speak with godly mentors in your life. Ask them if this is a wise idea, ask them if they think you are ready, and ask them what they think about the character of the other person. This requires patience and at times having to say no when our emotions are screaming yes, but promise me, it is well worth it.
When I was in high school I was in a long-term relationship with a great girl. We both volunteered in our church, we didn’t partake in any kind of sexual sin, we didn’t kiss each other, and there was no real obvious markers that told me we should break up. We dated for close to a year and a half, but after speaking with my youth pastor about the matter, he flat out asked if I could see myself marrying her, to which I looked at him like he was a crazy person. I hadn’t even thought of the matter – I was a junior in high school for goodness sake. He then asked me why I was even in the relationship then, to which I articulately replied, “Gosh, I don’t know…we have fun hanging out, and I like being with her…”
“Marc,” he gently replied, “do you think it might be a little selfish for you to be continuing this relationship if you know that you don’t want to marry her?”
“Well, I don’t…I don’t know…”
I had never thought of that before. And the truth was that I was being entirely selfish with the entire relationship. It was fun to have a girlfriend, and it made you look cooler in social circles, and it made me feel better about myself to have someone adoring me. It didn’t look toxic or bad in any way from the outside, but remember God’s design for romance? God designed that out of the overflow of our fullness in Him; we would reach out and give love to another out of a desire for the person themselves, not for what they can give us. I was using love, rather than giving love. And once I realized that, I saw the sinfulness that was lurking in my heart and ended the relationship.
If you are dating someone, and you are certain that this relationship is not headed towards marriage, then why are you dating? Are you giving, or taking love? Are you using, or serving this person? Do you feel empty, and this person fills you up? Or do you feel full, and enjoy sharing your fullness with this person?
Jefferson Bethke wisely says, “dating without the intention of marriage is like going to the grocery store with no money. You either leave unhappy or take something that isn’t yours.”
“I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” (Song of Sol. 8:4).