~ The Sanctification of Dating ~
Although not necessary, it would be very helpful to you to review the Weekly Reflection, The Sanctification of Marriage, that provides some background on the Christian view pertinent to dating and marital engagement. You'll find it under the Sanctification category of the Weekly Reflections Index.
One might both smile and feel disturbed on hearing the relatively recent rhetoric equating abstinence from sexual relations with "purity," as in "I'm keeping myself pure for marriage." Jesus taught that hatred is akin to murder and lust in the heart and mind is on par with physical adultery. He also said the pure of heart will see God and are thus highly blessed. (If virgins are "pure" and live in the beatific vision of God, there would be fewer marriages! Also, let's not forget to include males when we think of virgins.)
So sexual purity isn't abstinence but a state of being and cannot be separated from the purity of one's total personhood. It certainly isn't engaging in all the drama and excitement of a passionate romance, stopping short of intercourse. So let's stop profaning sacred states like purity and guide our youth and ourselves in the truth Jesus taught.
Dating, as generally practiced in the West, is a fairly new cultural phenomenon that was reshaped in the late 1960s. So we have one entire generation that knows of only one way to date, and another generation that has been starting it earlier, generally around the sixth grade of school.
The importance of cross-gender relationships is not a matter of dispute. Boys and girls need to experience good friendships for emotional, social and spiritual maturity. In the youth culture, however, a male may have several good male friends, but superficial friendships with females, except one, his girlfriend, and vice versa with the girls. Many males cannot have a close friendship with a girl, unless the girl becomes a committed girlfriend. "I'm going out with…" is one of the names for such a commitment. Now they are "dating."
In ancient cultures (and a small number of present ones), a boy and girl may be married by age 13 or 14. A commitment to each other was the prelude or engagement to marriage. But what is this commitment about today? It is not financially, socially or legally feasible for two fifteen year old kids to leave home as a married couple. Yet they will often give that commitment the status of an adult marital engagement.
Thus the drama of the dating becomes infused with all the trashy elements of a cheap romance novel or TV soap opera series. The boy claims "rights" to the girl's time, attention, energy, priorities and body, and vice versa, though to a lesser degree. Another boy takes interest in "his" girl, and so is ready to do battle (which the girl often finds flattering and will even use it in her own power plays). There may be domination and emotional and/or physical abuse from either side. Often there is the pressure to "deepen the intimacy" with sexual relations, with a proclaimed "ownership" of the other's soul, or at least part of it. The famous manipulative line disguised as truth, "If you really love me, you would…" is pronounced and the sacredness of love is profaned, or, at the least, never learned.
Such a passionate dating relationship exists out of any context and for its own sake. If it is not meant to lead to a covenant of marriage, it can only lead to a dead end, an often painful, injurious one, the stuff upon which many classical tragedy plays, literature and lyrics are based. Or it becomes a consuming game where boy dumps girl or girl dumps boy and the dumper skips off to another "commitment." Sometimes, the two reduce their dating relationship to "just" friendship. Free of the drama of romantic trappings, the two may learn the redeeming simplicities of unconditional love and its freedoms.
In a sanctifying dating relationship the question turns away from, "How far can I take this relationship and still remain 'pure'" to "How close can I take this into God's heart and clothe it with His purity." In sanctifying dating one learns the difference between love and narcissism, between other-centered love and self-centered infatuation. Rather than a protection over only the body, it carries the wisdom of "Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it" (Proverbs 4:23, GW).
Sanctifying dating looks to the future and is placed in the context of one's whole life. Later one can look back at it with gratitude and no regrets or guilt. Intercourse during dating is adultery against one's future spouse. How wonderful it is for a husband to be able to approach his wife's past boyfriends in friendship and say, "Thank you for treating my wife with care and respect."
"Now then, brothers and sisters, because of the Lord Jesus we ask and encourage you to excel in living a God-pleasing life even more then you already do…Each of you should know that finding a husband or wife for yourself is to be done in a holy and honorable way, not in the passionate, lustful way of people who don't know God. No one should take advantage or exploit other believers that way" (Thessalonians 4:1a, 4-5a, GW) As with all of our relationships, dating can be sanctifying for single people of all ages. It is yet another way to grow spiritually, for we are called to sanctification and holiness in all things.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © May 11, 2002
"God's Word" is a copyrighted work of God's Word to the Nations Bible Society. Quotations are used by permission.
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