This email plea just came in – verbatim: I am thinking of going back to church and to God. My husband and I do not share the feelings of going to church. My question is: can I have a healthy relationship with my spouse, even though we don’t agree about church, and sometimes matters of God?
That’s a hard question, and the Bible is disarmingly frank about it! On the one hand, the Word of God acknowledges the stark difficulty of the challenge. At the same time, the people who find themselves in this dilemma are commanded to keep giving the relationship their very best efforts.
It’s difficult to forge a successful partnership whenever two people disagree about important life issues. In 2008, Republican presidential candidate John McCain came within a whisker (or hanging chad) of selecting former Democrat Joe Lieberman as his running mate – but despite their personal chemistry, there were simply too many issues on which the two opinionated public servants disagreed.
It can be hard when one half of a marriage team abruptly decides to “return to God,” or to resurrect a former relationship with a local church. Not only does that one hour of worship get hijacked, but the suddenly devout spouse may wish to contribute financially to the church, observe a weekly day of rest, and adopt a strict and puritan lifestyle. He or she may want to empty out the liquor cabinet and trade in former party friends for a weekly Bible study group.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that Paul advises: Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (II Cor. 6:14).
Now, “Nancy,” the writer of our letter is already well settled in a marriage. Paul is clearly writing to the person still contemplating a marriage proposal, or considering a major business alliance, or choosing important lifelong friends. Also, our correspondent’s spouse might well be a generous and amiable person who simply has no interest in religious things . . . but can hardly be characterized by Pauline words like wickedness and darkness. Still, the dilemma is very real.
The Bible, always a practical guidebook, tells us that God is to be our first love and highest priority. Having said that, the Christian is not to abandon his or her marriage in order to pursue a heavenly kingdom. Paul again: If you are a woman with a husband who is not a believer but he wants to live with you, hold on to him. The unbelieving husband shares to an extent in the holiness of his wife. . . . You never know, wife: The way you handle this might bring your husband not only back to you but to God (I Cor. 7:13-16, Message).
Consider the life of Jesus himself. For three years he purposely and graciously entered into a myriad of human relationships with flawed people who weren’t committed to God’s kingdom as he was. He unflinchingly mingled with twelve selfish men who employed the earthy vocabulary of fishermen; he cheerfully and uncritically attended their parties; he socialized and shared truth without a spirit of condemnation. Secular people actually sought him out because of his winsome kindness.
We can hope that the dubious spouse will soon discover that the Christian faith has made their believing partner a better prize than ever.