Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Darkness and Light

Let’s face it, Christianity has never been a major attraction for the cool kids. These days, some churches have no kids attending at all. Young people from Christian homes who continue to accompany their parents to church throughout their teens and early twenties often find themselves with a very short list of prospective candidates for dating or marriage. It is increasingly common for these young people to head off to college and come back for Christmas or Thanksgiving with an unbelieving boyfriend or girlfriend. Absent a successful intervention from fellow believers, we all know where that path ends.

Why does this happen so often? Surely not because the scriptures are unclear.

Choking on Yoking

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?”

That’s not hard to understand, is it? Not at all. Christians should not enter into partnerships with the unsaved, period. What is pretty much the biggest and most life-affecting partnership of all? Marriage. In case we miss it, the point is spelled out five different ways. That doesn’t require a concordance or a seminary educated pastor to interpret. A grade six student could parse it and get it right.

No, the problem with this famous passage from 2 Corinthians 6 is not that what it says about relationships is difficult for the intellect to comprehend. It’s that it has to be taken on faith, because most of us can’t really see the truth of it for ourselves when we compare the nicer unsaved people we know (who don’t strike us as epitomizing darkness even on their worst days) with the nastier or more immature professing Christians we know (who definitely don’t seem to embody light). Our view of both is limited, of course, and our ability to judge them severely impaired by lack of hard data. We can only observe the outward appearance, not the heart.

Appearances are deceiving. Even the best-behaved teen believers do not act like Christians 24/7. Consistency is tough at that age, and temptation is constant. Moreover, our neighbors, fellow students and co-workers do not always behave particularly badly. Sure, schools have no shortage of bad boys, tramps, substance abusers, out-and-prouds and gender-confused tweeners, but there are still a few apparently decent unsaved teens and twenty-somethings around. These pleasant individuals are certainly way more numerous in school or at work than the tiny (or nonexistent) pool of accceptable candidates for dating in church. Unless Christian teens are unusually discerning, there may seem little difference between their school and church peers. In fact, some of their schoolmates may seem much more naturally compatible with them than the believers they know.

At first.

Viva la Différence

As I get older, I am increasingly aware of the distinction between darkness and light in the human soul, between the long-term effects of unbelief and belief. You can’t ignore it. The real condition of the heart always comes out in time. What may not be apparent at eighteen or twenty-two is much more noticeable at forty-five and screamingly obvious at sixty, as the fear of death makes unbelieving men increasingly stoic, bitter or resigned, and unbelieving women crazy as loons as they see their options in life narrowing, their opportunities for happiness getting fewer and far between.

That’s when the difference between darkness and light becomes absolutely undeniable, and the truth of what Paul wrote sits like a lead weight in the heart of the worldly Christian living in an unequal yoke.

Paul contrasts believers with unbelievers by asking five rhetorical questions. We would do well to give them some attention, as they aptly describe for us the real differences between saved and unsaved that will inevitably become apparent with time.

1/ Boundaries

“What partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?” Righteousness keeps to a fixed standard of behavior established by God in his word. Lawlessness is the absence of boundaries.

Of course, that doesn’t mean unbelievers are without any moral standards at all. Naturally, all unbelievers have some behavioral rules to which they generally adhere. A few have more “rules for life” than we do. It’s just that their standards will not be your standards, and their reasons for keeping them will not be love of Christ but some inferior motivation: duty, habit, instinct, fear, a load of guilt passed on from a parent, personal preference … whatever. Boundaries kept for such reasons can look exactly like righteousness at first glance, but they are not. They are actually much more elastic. When such flimsy boundaries conflict with intense desires, ersatz righteousness loses every time.

Believers in unequal yokes with unbelievers usually start the relationship under the mistaken impression they have similar standards of desire-management, when in fact they do not. There will be plenty of surprises coming in time.

2/ Understanding

“What fellowship has light with darkness?” In scripture, light and darkness frequently refer to spiritual perception or the lack thereof.

The Christian sees clearly in areas in which the unbeliever is as blind as a bat. This is not always obvious at first, but quickly becomes evident when decisions must be made about what standards should be inculcated in their children, what TV shows are appropriate viewing, where one is to gain understanding about what is going on in the world, and who in their orbit can be trusted. The Christian instinctively recoils from allowing certain kinds of outside input, knowing from the scriptures where bad influences inevitably lead. The unbeliever is comparatively naïve. So long as outside influences cannot be demonstrated to have an obviously negative effect in the immediate present, he or she will happily tolerate the long-term damage they do both to the unbeliever’s soul and to his or her children’s. When problems finally surface, the unbeliever will reliably fail to make the obvious connection between chicken and egg.

“Why is my daughter a lesbian?” Gee, do you think it might have anything to do with the fact that she has been getting brainwashed by the LGBTQ agenda in public school since kindergarten? Do you think it might have anything to do with the shows you watch on TV that brazenly promote same sex relations as edgy and cool? Do you think it might have anything to do with her peers on social media who simultaneously applaud her “bravery” and their own tolerance?

Believers in unequal yokes with unbelievers will recognize danger when they see it. To their perpetual frustration, they will find themselves completely unable to communicate this to their unbelieving partner, or to get their partner to work with them to keep their children safe from predatory or morally corrosive influences. The unbeliever is spiritually unequipped to see what they see.

3/ Truth

“What accord has Christ with Belial?” Belial is a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew expression denoting worthlessness that eventually became a euphemism for Satan himself. Satan is a liar and the father of lies, and the OT “sons of Belial” were the sort of worthless men who lied under oath.

Christians will occasionally shade the truth or allow a false impression to stand uncontested, but we don’t feel good about it when we do, and confession is frequently forthcoming. No such standards apply to the unbeliever. Even unbelievers of apparently decent character are much more comfortable with blatant dishonesty than most Christians, provided fudging the truth can be justified as kind, prudent or necessary to avoid conflict.

As a result, believers in unequal yokes with unbelievers never know with certainty what their partner really thinks because for their partner telling the truth is not a non-negotiable. The result, provided the believer is the least bit attentive, is perpetual insecurity. Once they catch their partner in a lie, they never know what else they have been told is also a convenient fabrication.

4/ Purpose

“What portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” Good question. New couples usually enter marriage sleeping in the same bed, sharing their meals together, taking the same vacations, aspiring to similar goals with respect to standard of living, careers and their relative roles in life, and more or less equally enthusiastic about their marriage.

As time passes, one of two things will occur. Either the believer will become more and more like the unbeliever, taking on their patterns of behavior, adopting their goals and following their lead (and becoming correspondingly more miserable as they become more worldly), or else the two will begin to go different directions. When that happens, the unbeliever will shortly discover he or she has much more in common with co-workers, friends and neighbors than with their own partner, and will begin to spend more time outside the home or online. The marriage will become increasingly unimportant to the unbeliever as time together lengthens and infatuation fades.

Believers in unequal yokes with unbelievers cannot expect their partner to understand that love is not just a rush of desirable emotion but a life-long commitment to the good of one’s partner even when strong feelings are absent. When the unbeliever “falls out of love”, there is no guarantee they will want to continue sharing a bed, vacations together, previously agreed-upon goals in life or anything else. I have seen them pick up and change their lives completely in the time it takes to snap your fingers.

5/ Spiritual Values

“What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” Even Christians who are away from the Lord retain some affection for Christ and attraction to his person. If they do not, they are not saved.

If the believer tries to share their spiritual thoughts and values with the unbeliever, the unbeliever will not recognize their importance. Pearls before swine. After all, they reason, who enters into a marriage partnership with somebody when they have life-and-death differences in beliefs, goals, desires and methodology? To the unbeliever, the obvious answer is that those differences — like their partner’s nominal belief in heaven and hell — are not fundamental but trivial. In time, they will often find manifestations of genuine spiritual interest from their partner annoying or embarrassing and will come to despise their partner for the emotional “weakness” that made them embrace religious belief.

Believers in unequal yokes with unbelievers will also find that human beings are creatures of worship. If we do not worship Christ, we will worship something less … usually ourselves. Self-worship is at its ugliest in old age. The only thing uglier is the persistent thought that you may have wasted your lifetime enabling it.

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