A Question in Need of An Answer

Let’s shake things up a little today with a question. I received this question via direct message this morning and decided that instead of just sharing my ONE opinion, I’d throw it out there for all of you guys to give a little input. The person that asked the question thought that was a dandy idea and will be checking in randomly to see the answers. Incidentally, I’m going to reserve the right to share my opinion last. So, let’s hear what y’all have to say in answer to this question:

Can a successful relationship be had between a believer and a non-believer?

Ready? Set? Let the commenting commence!

About Sarah Salter

Comments

  1. Romantic? Marriage? Friendship? I assume one of the first two. Also of importance is whether they are married or not already. Assuming they aren’t married yet… I do believe there are clear Biblical guidelines, but even setting those aside for a moment, this would be rough-going. Some who professes Jesus as Lord has committed to live that reality. Getting involved in a romantic relationship with someone who has no regard or love for Jesus is binding yourself in a different way. Your worldviews are incompatible and very possibly combustible. It’s a difficult road. Be friends and pray for them, share with them.

    If they’re married, of course that’s different. There’s a whole lot of prayer and counseling that could go into this so I would say to talk to their pastor or mentor. Maybe I should have just said that at the beginning. :)

  2. Sarah Salter says:

    Thanks for your input, Jason!

  3. I’m going to go against everything they taught me to say in counseling classes, and just be honest. Yes, you can have a “successful” marriage being “un-equally yoked. But, what does successful mean? Longevity? The kids make it through college? You have the big house and yard?

    I would offer this: “Success” in marriage is not enough, and is actually sets a very low expectation – even if half of all marriages “fail.”

    “Success” in marriage is just making it to some measure that you’ve established.

    Why not shoot for a thriving marriage instead? If this is your measure, then from experience with couples of all ages and lengths of marriages, I will say no – you cannot have a thriving marriage without being on the same spiritual wavelength.

    Men want loyalty. They want a woman to be there. They want to know they don’t have to worry about losing them. They want to know that their spouse will stand by them. They want to know that they have someone on their side. As a man, I would find it hard to have confidence in these things if I were not assured that the person has solid ethical and moral safety mechanisms in place.

    Women want more than loyalty – they want a deepening spiritual connection. How can you hope to achieve a deeper spiritual connection when you aren’t even in the same ball park? You can try – maybe you’ll lead the other person to Christ. Don’t count on, the odds are against you.

    Bottom line, yes you can be “successful” and even somewhat “happy” – but you’ll be missing out what God intended a marriage to be, and will miss out on a thriving relationship that goes beyond emotion and physical needs, to our innermost person, the spiritual beings that we are.

  4. Can a successful relationship be had between a believer and a non-believer? Like Jason I’m assuming a romantic/marriage liaison is the focus of the question. Successful, possibly…depending on the person’s definition of success but it’s not our definition that define marriage…it’s God’s.

    I do believe that the Bible teaches against believers marrying non-Christians, (2 Corinthians 6:14-15). So I would pose some questions in return. Do they believe God knows them completely and knows how to bring true fulfillment into their life? Do they believe He has their best interest at heart? Will they trust Him with their love life instead of trying to force God to bless something they want?

    Like Jason said, if they are already married I do believe that is a different story. God is committed to marriage and I believe with strong Biblical help it can become a successful marriage.

    Being married is awesome (28 years for me so far!) and is the best adventure to go on. Still, it’s hard work and needs the commitment of two people willing to be molded into one, that I believe, can only happen in Christ.

    Hope this helps…I pray for wisdom for the person asking this question, I admire your courage in asking! Bless you!

    Jay

  5. wow, pardon the typos.

  6. Sarah Salter says:

    Jay & Herb- Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and experience here!

  7. Ok, Sarah. You wanted me to chime in here to get my perspective, so I will.
    I will say quickly: Yes. I don’t think the Holy Spirit would have inspired Paul to tell us in 1 Corinthians 7 that if a Christ-follower was married to someone who had not yet chosen to follow Christ to stay in that relationship unless there is hope that relationship could not just be healthy but, as one commentator on your blog said, thriving.
    (This sort of arrangement seems to also be the context for Malachi’s statement that “God hates divorce”… individuals who had married and were using their spouse’s lack of faith in Christ as an excuse to not make the marriage work, especially when their wives began to not look as young as they used to.).
    I don’t think God calls us to anything that is destructive to us so ultimately a thriving relationship can occur between a Christ-following person and another person who is not following Christ, even someone of another religion.
    How do we look at the issue of being unequally yoked then? Well, we have to look at the image there itself. What is a yoke? It was an apparatus that you would place on oxen that a few oxen would together pull a cart with. If it was equally yoked, both oxen would carry an equal amount of weight. Also both oxen could be guide in the same direction. If it was unequally yoked, all the weight of the cart would lean on one ox and it would end up doing all the work.
    What does this have to do with relationships? It is not God’s will that in our closest relationships only one person do all the heavy lifting. If you are dating someone and you are doing all the work in the relationship, you know what? You might want to think twice about marrying them. If people are telling you that you are their “best friend” and all they do is come to you with their problems, you might ask yourself the question are they really friends at all, or just people you minister to? Our relationships can be one-sided and at that point, we are unequally yoked.
    Now where other faiths comes into play in my estimation is that you don’t want to be the only person doing the “heavy lifting” spiritually. This is not God’s best for you. So if you are the only spiritually minded person in your relationship, you might think twice.
    Also if that person’s spirituality gets expressed in a way where the two of you are in constant conflict, again, you may be unequally yoked.
    For instance if I am dating a woman who is so anti-Christian that she tears down my faith, and I am a Spirit-filled believer sharing my faith, what is that but a recipe for disaster? Similarly if the way I understand Jesus’ word “Go into all the world, make disciples of all people” means that I am going to fill the need to spend every waking moment trying to convert someone from their Judaism, Islam, Wicca, agnosticism, or even their brand of Christianity, be it Catholic, Baptist, conservative, or (as in my case) a Bible-based socially progressive brand of Christianity, well friend I am in trouble if I try to commit to them whether as best friend or spouse; and they are nuts to try and do the same with me in that situation.
    I have seen people, whether couples, or friends, make it work when they were in different faith though, but it took heavy lifting on both sides to make it work. It took respecting each other’s beliefs, and a word people bound more to religiosity than a vibrant relationship with Jesus hate — compromises. But it worked when they did the work.
    That heavy lifting on both sides that makes any relationship work is what the imagery of being equally yoked is about, even if it is mentioned in reference to Jesus and Baal. MORE heavy lifting is sometimes needed if both come from different faith perspectives.
    When we see that the heavy lifting that makes marriage and other relationships work is the meaning of being equally or unequally yoked we realize that simply confessing Christ is not all that being equally yoked is about.
    If two people are Christians, read the Bible daily, and pray yet one is abusing another and refuses to go to counseling about this with their spouse, are the two equally yoked?
    If two people are friends and love the Lord, one person takes great time to be there for the other, and the other only asks for help, are the two equally yoked?
    If a man is so bent on the idea of a man being “head” of the house that he insists on his way without listening to his wife’s feelings, taking time to express care for her needs, and yet that woman is caring, compassionate, and there for him, though both confess Christ, are they unequally yoked?
    If two are Christian, and let’s say the wife feels a call to preach the Word in the pulpit, yet the husband tries to put down his wife for that day in and out — or vice versa — even though they both are Christians, are they equally yoked?
    To all these questions, I say “of course not!” Why? All the work is coming from one side.
    Too often, I think, we as Christians lose sight of the forest for the trees. We have an uncanny knack for missing the point and turning a faith that was so liberating the religious leaders of the day saw no alternative but to kill Jesus to wipe it out into the same system of legalism, dogmatism, and judgmentalism that got Jesus killed. That is our original sin at work, if anywhere.
    Anyway, that is my perspective, but like I said I come from a more “open” perspective, where my focus is on Jesus’ statement “I demand mercy, not sacrifice” where God’s focus is our relationship with Him and others, not religiosity, rules, and humanly shaped dogma.
    Good question!
    Pastor Micah

  8. Wow, I don’t think I have anything to add to the pastors’ and counselor’s input. You all put it very well.

    Herb’s description of a thriving marriage is really dead-on. Most people consider marriage to be a relationship that’s designed to connect at the soul level (hence, “soulmate”). If your souls are in entirely different camps, connecting at that level seems impossible to me.

  9. Sarah Salter says:

    Wow, Micah! I asked you to comment, having no idea what you were going to share, but wow! When ye ask, ye receive! Thanks for taking the time to come by and share your heart!

  10. Sarah Salter says:

    Steph, thanks for coming by and for giving your thought on the matter. You rock, Sister!

  11. I’ll go ahead and chip in my two cents and my story.

    I was raised in a Roman Catholic home. My father was originally Lutheran and converted when I was about nine years old. We used to pray the rosary together once a week. He would sit quietly with us but not participate until he was confirmed in the Catholic tradition. It was a great joy in our home to have the family all able to receive sacraments together and to fully share in the same faith.

    My husband, with whom I am celebrating our wedding anniversary on Sunday, wasn’t baptized as a child. He grew up in a household where they never went to church except rarely for Christmas or Easter and then only with his grandmother. His mother expected him to choose his own path when it came to matters of faith. He was familiar with some of the stories of the Bible and remarkably unfamiliar with others. It was hit or miss. He studied world religions voraciously in an attempt to find the Truth on his own. He came to two conclusions: God was in the heart and He asks us to love one another. He never felt the need to have any ceremony to make his beliefs official or to validate what he felt. This was his view when I met him. We started dating after we graduated from high school. Some of the best times were spent debating topics in politics and religion.
    I knew he would be a wonderful spouse and father. He was gentle, kind, and concerned. He wanted to make a difference in the world and so did I.
    Over the years, I continued to pray that I would not be the only one to lead our future children to God. Each passing year saw victories of the Holy Spirit moving him closer to Christ. He proposed to me and we had a very long engagement. (7 years! *gasp* – patience is a virtue) His father has been married 5 times and he was so afraid to make that mistake, believing that marriage is a lifetime commitment and more than a contractual agreement with the State. When he finally said he felt moved to go through with it, I set up all the arrangements and we started seeing a local priest for preparation. After the first couple meetings, he said he finally understood the Holy Spirit and could feel Him working. He decided to be baptized just a few weeks prior to our marriage – an act he did solely for himself and which gives me great joy. As the years go by, our spiritual paths grow closer. We continue to build up and challenge each other intellectually and spiritually in a way I am not sure most “cradle” believers do.

    So to answer the question, “can a successful relationship be had between a believer and a non-believer?” Yes, I think so. You cannot assume you can change the other person but can only hope to lead by example. If they can accept you wholy and truely as you are and do not instead try to tear down your belief, it can only make the relationship and your faith stronger.

  12. Sarah Salter says:

    Sarah Bee, thank you for sharing your story! I pray that you and Dante will continue to grow closer and closer to each other and to Christ. And also that Little One and Baby Bee will always know and experience His love.

  13. Yes, if the unbelieving spouse is willing to live with the believing spouse. Of course, the believer should love the unbelieving spouse unconditionally, with the end in view of bringing her or him to Christ. But this requires a lot of prayers on the part of the believing spouse. After all, God can make miracles through our prayers. And “they may not want to hear our message, but they are defenseless against our prayers”.

  14. Kris Brewer says:

    I have enjoyed reading the comments above. The only thing that comes to my mind is – it may be God’s plan for your life to marry a non-believer and bring them to Christ. Yes, in the beginning, the marriage may be unequally yoked, but your faith in God that “all things are possible” will give you the strength and comfort to know your spouse will become a believer. God bless!

  15. Sarah Salter says:

    Kris, it’s been ages since we’ve talked! Thank you for coming by and sharing your thoughts. Hope you’re doing well!

  16. Sarah Salter says:

    JoJo, thank you!

  17. Hi. I wanted to stop by. I also wanted to thank all of you. You see, I posed this question to Sarah for two reasons. First, I was genuinely curious what the general perspective would be and Secondly, I just began seeing someone who is very active in their church and with their spirituality. Now, to call myself a “non-believer” would not be wholly accurate. I do believe in a higher power, though, I’m not reconciled with who/what/where that really looks like. The last time I was in a church(save weddings, funerals etc) was probably in 8th grade. I don’t know where my faith lies and truthfully, I’m not motivated to seek out those answers at this time, so the thought that the divide on that subject could be a show-stopper was a little concerning to me.

    At any rate, you’ve all given me some serious food for thought and I really appreciate your openness and honesty in giving your opinions. They’ve really touched me. Thanks again!

  18. I clicked over here to comment, but I see you already have good solid answers. I’ll offer my “AMEN” to the difference between successful and thriving. One definition of success is reaching your goal. The Christian should have a bigger goal than avoiding divorce, which is certainly a possibility between a believer and an unbeliver.

    As for what type of relationship … other than the romance that allows two people to determine if marriage is or isn’t on the horizon, I see dating as a minefield where one shouldn’t spend too much time before marriage anyway, whatever the spiritual condition. I’d offer that the single most important ingredient to a thriving marriage is a commitment to God so strong that His stamp of approval on the relationship is far and away the most important consideration. The heart looking for romance too readily sees “good enough” as “Mr[s]. Right.” The heart looking for God’s will will more likely find a match made in Heaven.

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