Today, I am touching on a subject that I tend to avoid, and I think I have good reasons for doing so. Romance has never been one of my strongest suits, and I'm sure that my take on the subject will be affected by that. More importantly, I'm pretty certain that, beyond certain general guidelines about functioning as a godly husband or wife, the Bible is pretty silent regarding courtship and dating rituals.
I recently made a short comment that drew a lot of attention: The Lord is my Shepherd - He is not my Cosmic Matchmaker. I got reactions from a couple of my female friends, but my male friends did not take the bait. One said something that I found particularly interesting, that I will share later. This particular friend has been told by God, audibly if I understand her correctly, that certain men were her husbands, subject to their willingness to pursue her properly. I have heard, in the past, of women making claims on men based on the claim that God had told them so. On occasion, female friends have told me that men have approached them with this statement as well.
I must admit that I have dated a few women in my many years, and have been married more than once. I would have loved to have gotten a timely warning, an encouraging nudge, something - anything - that could have made the dating scene more comfortable, and less of a crap shoot. I am an avid reader of Scripture, and try to apply what I have read, because I believe that the Word of God is "a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Ps 119:105). Somehow, I have not found, within those sacred pages, any directions regarding which of the myriad women in the world I should propose to. Of course, I also seem to be unable to get God to whisper advice in my ear on this, and many other topics either. I usually have to plan my menus, select my wardrobe, and schedule my day's activities, without any direct input from above.
I also believe in prayer. Jesus prayed, sometimes all night long, and particularly before making a major decision, like choosing the 12 (Luke 6:12-17), or before a major event, like His arrest (Luke 22:41-45). Sometimes, like in the garden before His arrest, angels appeared and comforted Him, while other times, God spoke from heaven audibly, although some who stood by only heard the rumble of thunder. In my own experience, I have prayed, and had passages of Scripture come to mind, or felt a direction come to my mind that wasn't there before. I cannot say that I have ever heard a voice in my ear, or had a visitation from on high.
I do not think, contrary to what you might expect, that my experiences are the standard by which I judge the testimonies of others. After all, there may be perfectly valid reasons why God speaks to one person and not another, up to and including sin. I am still learning how to swim on water, and can only walk on it if there are rocks just beneath the surface. Maybe my lack of conversations with my Father stems from my lack of expectations of such.
A good friend of mine, Quiana Liggins, allowed me to pick her brain about this. She said that "God does advise us regarding our romantic interests, because He loves us, but we don't always listen." When I asked her if God had spoken audibly in the past, and she told me of a situation where she was dating a guy and found out later that he was already married. While on a date with him, she suddenly heard a voice saying, "adultery!" Other times God had told her to go home in order to get away from a situation that would have led to her stumbling. Now, Quiana believes in reading her Bible, and she was clear that God speaks via the Scriptures. She also believes that he will reveal His will through others. Thus, in her mind, God has multiple options for communication with us.
On the other hand, Greg Koukle, head of Stand to Reason, a Christian apologetics organization, argues in his article, "Hearing God's Voice," that while possible, hearing God's voice audibly would be akin to asking the teacher to stand beside you, whispering answers to the final exam in your ear. Writes Koukle, "Here is my view. Does the Bible teach that we must learn to discern the voice of the Lord individually for ourselves to live optimal Christian lives? Does the Bible teach we must learn to discern the voice of the Lord individually for ourselves in order to live optimally as Christians? The answer is no it does not teach that. So when someone teaches that you hear the voice of the Lord individually for yourself for optimal Christian living as a Christian discipline, this is not a Biblical discipline, ladies and gentlemen. It is not in there. Are there incidents of God speaking? Yes, but that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the discipline of learning to discern the voice of the Lord for myself to live optimally as a Christian. It's not there."
I respect both of these individuals. I have spoken with both of them on a number of topics, and I think that they are both devoted Christians, living for the Lord with all of their hearts. There does appear to be a difference between them regarding how far God will go in terms of communications with His children. I suppose I could split hairs and find a middle ground, but I don't know if such a place exists. I do believe that we may, by our expectations, limit what we can receive from God. When Jesus, as recorded by Matthew and Mark, returned to His hometown of Nazareth, He was "unable to do many works there, because of their unbelief" (Matt 13:58; Mark 6:1-6). Does God love us enough to warn us against bad decisions, and direct us towards good ones? Why not simply screen us away from bad decisions altogether? It would certainly simplify my life if God had, early in my life, given me instructions regarding who my wife for life was supposed to be, and then ensured that I was not allowed near any other woman. Think of the attorney's fees I could have saved, not to mention the heartache, dating expenses, and wasted time (no, I'm not joking here).
I really do not have a firm answer right now, although I thought that I did when I posted that comment on my Facebook wall. For every person who tells me that God is not operating as his romance coordinator, another will tell me that He did exactly that for her. Perhaps this is one of those things that really is an individual thing, part of each of us living out the command to "work out your own salvation...". After all, some people receive words of prophecy, while others are unfamiliar with the practice, due to their theological environment. Some dance during worship, while others applaud. Within the context of Scripture, either is possible, but some things are more prevalent than others. God did speak to people, occasionally, in the Bible, but it did seem to be more frequent when the Scriptures did not exist.
Back to my initial question; I think that God has planted, within me, certain principles. I have studied His Word, and, as a result, I know that I should not seek a wife from among unbelievers, and that I should focus my efforts with people with whom I share common interests. That still leaves a large margin for error, and I don't have much room, at my age, for an unhappy marriage. Even if you are much younger, I'm sure that you only want to be married once, for a lifetime, and happily. Is there anything that we can do to increase the likelihood that God will order our steps, in accordance with His Word, so that we will not slip? Can we make our way plain, our paths straight, by making ourselves tuned to hear God's voice above the din of our hopes, fears, friends' opinions, and parents' well-meaning comments? I know that I want to do what is best, and I believe that is true of most of us. So, in closing, I leave these words of blessing, hoping that they will, at least, give each of us the courage to trust that our hearts will be protected as we step into Spring, hoping for new opportunities, new joys, and even, to find the love of our dreams: "The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace"(Num 6:24-26), and "Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (Heb 13:20-21).
Now go enjoy those Spring flowers!