Monday, November 07, 2022

Anonymous Asks (222)

“Is premarital sex okay if you know you are going to be married?”

I have written a fair bit here about the barnacles that encrust the institution of marriage today: how matrimony as God originally designed it required the approval of neither church nor state; how rings, dresses and ceremonies are extra-biblical window dressing; how even vows are a bit extraneous.

From a heavenly perspective, little of what we do today in preparation for binding two lives together is actually essential. Frankly, even romantic love is optional.

With all that in view, longer-term readers may anticipate today’s answer might be a tentative thumbs-up. You think?

Er, no.

The Obvious

Let’s not rehash the obvious. My marriage post from 2014 goes into detail about the Christian’s testimony- and authority-based obligations to government, to his own local church leaders, to fellow believers and to the unsaved world. You can find those reasons for going through the normal marital legalities there if they interest you. But testimony and authority are also valid reasons for waiting for your wedding day to come together as man and wife. Our testimony in and outside the church is a reflection on our Savior, and our own God-given authority in relationships stands or falls on our obedience to the authorities God has put over us.

But that’s the obvious. No, what interests me about this question is this little word “know”, as in “you know you are going to be married”. That word carries a ton of biblical baggage.

Out of Control

We do not control any aspect of our lives, and we do not “know” a thing about what the future holds. That’s a lesson we need to learn quickly and comprehensively if we are to be useful servants of Christ in this world. Young men and women think they know all kinds of things about which they haven’t the slightest clue, and even those of us who have lived long enough to learn how little we actually know often forget it when push comes to shove.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded his followers how little about their lives was really under their control:

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.”

We don’t do a lot of vow-taking today, but the basic principle behind the Lord’s commands here applies to any statement we make with misplaced confidence, such as “I know I’m going to be married” to so-and‑so. Note that even the smallest details of our lives are not really under our control after all.

What Tomorrow Will Bring

James would later restate the problem of our total absence of knowledge about the future even more bluntly and offer some excellent advice:

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance.”

He is probably basing his inspired teaching here on the lesson of a parable the Lord Jesus told his disciples years before:

“The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ ”

The Will of Man

But death in only one of the many things that may pre-empt an engagement and change our plans completely. Human will is another thing we can’t control: either our own or that of others. Paul talks about the problem of other people’s wills in relation to marriage to an unsaved partner:

“For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?”

What the people we love will do about the most important decision they will ever make — to bow the knee before Christ — is completely out of our control and beyond our knowledge. But so too is what they will do about other things, including their relationship with us.

I know a Christian woman who has planned three weddings in her lifetime. The first two never came off. Thankfully, the final union took, and has been a great blessing to many. But the first two relationships failed in ways she couldn’t see coming until her intended took her aside and said, in effect, “Sorry, I’ve changed my mind.” In the second case, she had to confront her fiancĂ© about sporting a glaringly obvious pair of cold feet with less than a month to go before the big date and preparations almost complete. I guarantee she is very happy she had not gotten sexually involved with either of these gentlemen who didn’t make it to the altar as planned. (And, while it was probably very difficult at the time, I am also confident she is thrilled they pulled the plug rather than go forward with a marriage about which at least one party was ambivalent or worse.)

Pretending to See the Future

I should add that our own emotional continence is often suspect. The Bible warns of this too. The story of Amnon and Tamar should be required reading for people who think they know their own minds and fail to understand how drastically sex can change how we feel about someone (“the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her”). The young men in my anecdote who bailed at the last minute were not terrible human beings; they were just a bit immature, double-minded and consequently unstable. We may think today that we really, really want to be married to this person or that. Tomorrow we may find ourselves in another place entirely while still legally (and morally) free to acknowledge the mistake and move on. Why burden yourself with the guilty baggage of having already sampled the wares when deciding whether to go forward with marriage?

So then, what do we know about the future? We know nothing. We might hope we are going to be married to this person or that person, but until it actually happens, we have no right to assume it will. God owes us nothing. We are deeply grateful for all his goodness to us, but we cannot predict the form that goodness will take. It may take the form of someone else entirely, or nobody at all.

Moral of the story: Wait until the deal is sealed, for everyone’s sake. You’ll be very glad you did.

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