Recently I met up with an old friend of mine, who confided in me that he was in a new long-distance relationship with a girl he'd met online. As he talked about the relationship, he expressed that his major preoccupation was whether this relationship was “God's will” or not. He wanted to know definitively before proceeding, because he didn't want to hurt her or to make a mistake.
I said I didn't think normally God reveals his will like that in the context of dating relationships. Usually, the only way to find out if we should be with a person is to go through the process of getting to know them, their likes and dislikes, their spirituality, how they react in different situations, their relationships with other people, how they treat us, how well we get along and how much we have in common. “But that could take a long time!” he said.
It could. But I don't think there's a shortcut to that process.
As human beings, one of the things we dislike the most is uncertainty. We can't stand being in a situation of ambiguity, where we don't know the outcome from the beginning. This is especially true when the stakes are so high, such as whom to marry. We wish we could know right from the outset so we could spare ourselves, and the other person, the sometimes long and difficult process of figuring it out. We want to protect ourselves from the heartbreak that results from a broken relationship if it turns out we aren't right for each other.
It would be much easier if an outside authority could just tell us beforehand whether it will work out. It would relieve us of the responsibility of deciding. Fear of making the wrong choice, I believe, is behind much of this desire to “hear from God”. My friend asked me, “Do you think it's possible to marry the wrong person?”
It's a legitimate fear. But I don't think it's solved by a word from God before we even begin the process.
The Bible doesn't talk about how to figure out whom to marry. The most it says on the subject of choosing a mate is this:
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:39)
So, the only two criteria are that the person be a Christian (“in the Lord”) and that we want to marry them.
To figure this out, we need to see whether their faith is genuine, worked out in their life, and whether we’re compatible. That's done by taking time to get to know them, praying for God's guidance and wisdom, asking counsel from wise friends, and having our eyes wide open to red flags. It's a process of cooperation with God, that involves our own judgement and decision-making, rather than a divine intervention that absolves us of the need to take risks. As we do this, the answer becomes clearer.
Now, of course God CAN and probably does sometimes speak to people about the person they're going to marry, or warn them not to get involved with someone. I would never say he doesn't, as I'm sure someone could prove me wrong. In addition, there are some people we can know right away we should not date (such as non-Christians). But when it's not so clear-cut, there's no shortcut to getting to know the person and making the decision with God's help.
A quote I found incredibly illuminating is this:
James T. Draper wrote, “Doubt never means yes and always means no or wait a while: God does not lead through doubt. If you can’t get peace, that is an answer.” When God opens the door for marriage in your life, you will know that you know you are with the right person. If you aren’t 100 percent certain that things should progress, you’d better take a time-out from the relationship and pray for God to clearly confirm His will! I know. I know. You don’t think it’s that simple. I know because I’ve been there. If you choose to ignore the unrest in your spirit and continue on with this person you just don’t think you can live without, I’ll tell you what comes next -- excuses! Don’t go so far as justifying staying in a relationship you’ll wish you had abandoned later. Here’s why: in the dating world, thoughts like, “I can’t break up because…,” mean that doubt has given the keys to fear which will drive you down a rough road containing potholes of confusion and bumps of anxiety. If that’s not enough, your joy tank will eventually read empty. If travels down doubt path have you pondering whether or not to proceed in your current dating relationship, allow me to throw out a sign for you which reads, “faith and peace mean go; doubt and fear mean NO!” ("Five Red Flags for Christians Blinded by Romance")
Of course, doubt and fear could come from our own past hurts, something we need to be careful to resolve. But if they’re coming from our concerns about the person, that’s a good sign to stop, wait, seek counsel, and think and pray very carefully before proceeding.
I believe that if we are truly submitted to God, seeking his will, submitted to wise spiritual leaders, giving the relationship time to develop, and not blinding ourselves to red flags, that God will not “allow” us to marry the “wrong person”. That doesn't mean we'll never run into difficulties, but if we've used the resources we have available, I think we will make the right choice. This also means that we must be willing to make the hard, painful decision to end the relationship, if it becomes clear that this person is not suitable. If we really want to end up with the right person, that means we’ll be willing to say goodbye to the wrong one, even if it’s difficult.