He loves me. He’s a wonderful person—attentive and caring, generous and kind. He respects my faith, and even comes to church with me occasionally. Actually, he’s everything I could want in a partner . . . save for the fact he’s not a Christian.
But the thought of giving up a perfectly good relationship for this sole reason is heart-breaking. And the longer we’re together, the more it’s breaking me.
Many Christians who have ever been in love with someone who doesn’t share their faith can relate to this deep, gut-wrenching struggle. A principle as simple as “don’t be unequally yoked,” or “bound together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14, NASB) gets a lot more difficult to stomach when it’s pitted against someone we care for so deeply—when our greatest longing would lead us to cross this seemingly harsh line.
Years ago, I was there. Our relationship bloomed from what started out as a harmless friendship. I didn’t expect it to turn romantic, but eventually, it did.
Despite the good times we had together, the connection we shared, and how much I longed for a future with him, I knew that when it came down to it, even though I was dating a non-Christian, I wouldn’t—I couldn’t—bear to marry someone who didn’t share my faith. At the time, I was convinced it would be a sin to marry a non-Christian.
When I moved away for university, our relationship was swept to an inevitable end. And in the years since then, I’ve realized I should’ve been less concerned about whether it was a sin to marry a non-Christian, or what I might be able to get away with. Instead, I should have been more invested in making decisions (especially such important ones!) out of my identity as God’s beloved daughter. I’ve come to regret not that my relationship with this non-Christian ended, but how I rationalized its end—both to myself, and to him. In my mind, there was a “Christian” box, and any potential spouse had to have it checked. But finding a good partner isn’t about finding someone with the right “label.”
When Paul asks the rhetorical question, “What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” in 2 Corinthians, he’s pointing out the incompatibility between someone who has chosen to set their life and decisions in God’s hands, and someone who is still gripping them tightly for their own control. If a Christian is to enter a union as intimate as marriage, it is only fitting that both people agree on who has the right to lead their lives and marriage.
But had I tried to preserve the relationship, I could have married a non-Christian. There is no guarantee that our marriage would have self-destructed—maybe we would have persevered in the tension of an unequal pairing, and stayed married. But it certainly would’ve been difficult, and as the years unfolded and challenges surfaced, I would’ve grown to see more clearly the wisdom in Paul’s warning.
This boyfriend would have only been able to love me by his own strength, and the difficulties of life would certainly have tested that resolve. He wouldn’t have looked to our good, loving Father to learn how to love me when he was too weak or too frustrated to do it on his own. As we would have debated job offers, when to start a family, how to spend our money, or when to give it away to those in need, we’d turn different directions for guidance. He’d rely only on the best wisdom he’s gleaned in this world, which would at times conflict with the radical, peace-loving, submissive, impartial wisdom I would hope to lean on from above (James 3:17).
Overtime, as my resilience wore down, and the exhaustion of disagreement and conflict set in, it would have become a daily battle to prioritize my own faith. If my relationship with God grew fainter and I drifted further from His guiding wisdom, it’d probably start to make more sense to give up my faith altogether, in hopes that it’d result in a tangibly happy marriage. However, that fleeting reward would have come at the cost of the most important relationship I could ever have—to know and love the God who created me and to find joy in my relationship with Him.
On the other side of this heartbreak, I’ve grown to cherish the warning in 2 Corinthians 6:14 for what it is: God’s undeserved, kind, and protective grace. He graciously provides this wisdom for you and for me about who to “bind ourselves together with” because He wants what’s best for us. And what’s best is what spurs us towards knowing Him and loving Him more.
To the boyfriend who didn’t check the “Christian” box, I’m so sorry. I wish I could’ve done a better job of explaining the compassionate, gracious, and abounding love of my Heavenly Father, and how deep down, I wanted my life (and any potential marriage) to be totally His for molding, shaping, and directing.
To the Christian who finds themselves already married to an unbeliever, God offers wisdom for that too, and I hope that you find strength to honor God by loving and praying faithfully with a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:1-6). I hope that you keep praying for God to win your spouse over.
And to the Christian who, like me, is torn between what feels like an impossible choice, know that I feel your pain, and that this isn’t easy. I hope that as you seek the Lord’s guidance, you feel close to Him, and are reminded of the perfect, sufficient love He has for you. I hope that as God leads you in wisdom, you experience His peace. I hope He gives you the words to be a testimony of faithfulness to everyone around you as you offer up everything that you are—your occupation, your skills, your thoughts, your fears, and certainly, your relationships—to the hands of the Great Potter (Isaiah 64:8), and trust Him to shape it all into something wonderful.