My friend and I got in a spirited debate the other day and thought you may be the person to help break the tie. We were debating the question: “Can someone marry the wrong person?” I think you can, he says you can’t. Who wins?
I can just picture it: You and your buddy are walking down the street, tossing stats and Scriptures out, passionately trying to sway the conversation towards your vantage point, when all of a sudden—people start to take notice.
A circle of onlookers forms around you, and some guy who’s in the back, jumping up and down to get glimpse, yells, “It’s an almost-impossible-to-answer-question DEBATE-OFF!!!” [That song from 8 Mile starts playing]
Jeremy: “Of course you can marry the wrong person! If you don’t trust in the sovereignty of God, then you’re just randomly pairing up with somebody—maybe even the wrong person!”[A smattering of claps from the crowd]
Jeremy’s friend: “Oh really, so you’re saying that just because someone doesn’t trust God with the decision, that means God’s not working anyhow? Ever read Ephesians 1:11, SON?”[The crowd erupts, shouting “Daaaaaaaaaaaaaang!”]
Both Jeremy and Jeremy’s friend drop their mics, thinking they’ve won. They haven’t. It’s a tie.[The crowd dissipates, Jeremy and Jeremy’s friend change topics to “Can God create a rock that’s too big for Him to lift?” Another crowd forms.]
All right Jeremy, you see what I’m saying here, don’t you? “Can someone marry the wrong person?” is just one of those questions that’s important to think through (thanks for sending it, by the way!) but it can also lead to an unproductive and unhelpful wormhole. Having said that, I’d like to go down that wormhole a bit with you. However, I’d like to also offer an alternative question.
First, the wormhole.
In any thinking Christ-follower, there is always an internal debate. That is, the debate between what we know (hope, think) to be true in Scripture, and how we reconcile that conviction when faced with it in real life. For example, someone may have strong feelings on what the Bible says about homosexuality. But, when that same person is sitting across the table from a 19-year-old who is desperately trying to make sense of his attractions AND love for Jesus, suddenly those beliefs, which may have been airtight, are a little more malleable (or at least graceful). Such is the case with your question, Jeremy.
If both of the people in a relationship earnestly pray for and seek God’s wisdom on this marriage (and interpret some measure of confirmation) is it possible they’ve married the wrong person? Well no, not in theory. Because that would be making the assumption that God is wrong, which in itself is wrong.
However, I’ve sat with countless individuals who’ve prayed like crazy, felt some measure of assurance, got married, shouldered down for 15 years, and are now living in marriage hell with someone who is not the same person they were when they stood on the altar. In that case, did they marry the wrong person? Well no … and yes. And we’re falling down the wormhole…
But there’s more:
If one person is a believer and the other isn’t, does that mean they’re marrying the wrong person? Well, the pastor in me wants to say, “Don’t go down that road.”
But then, I know countless couples who have God-honoring, inspiring, marriages and have been walking this tightrope for years. Additionally, I know even more couples where God used the relationship to bring the unbeliever into a deeper understanding of who Jesus is. Is it advisable? Probably not. Is it possible those people were ordained to be married? The evidence would point to yes.
And there’s even more.
Many Christians may assume that non-believers are more likely to marry the wrong person because they lack God’s guidance in finding their one true love. But not so fast.
To discount this union as simply two people blindly stumbling to the altar, without God as a part of the equation, negates God’s loving work in all human life. Might God be working in the lives of two unbelievers, even before they realize it? Thankfully, yes. Can two unbelievers marry the wrong person? Perhaps, but certainly not necessarily. Wormhole engaged.
Here’s the thing Jeremy, there’s just too much mystery to how God works to be able to definitively answer the question, “Can someone marry the wrong person?” Because for every situation that points to “Absolutely yes, you can marry the wrong person,” there is an equal, opposite, and convicting example of “Absolutely not, that’s God’s choice for you.” There’s just no rule.
So maybe the question you and your friend should start debating isn’t “Can someone marry the wrong person?” but rather “How can someone marry the right person?” God isn’t silent on that. (Quick summary: pray like crazy, get to know each other intentionally, ask for tons of advice, community, community, community, pray some more, repeat)
Additionally, if someone is married and asking this question (which may be you, Jeremy, I’m not sure) I would say that entertaining this conversation gives more credence to regret and living in the past—which is not helpful. What is helpful, however, is resolve and taking steps to fix what is broken.
In any event, I think you and your buddy are asking great questions and having important conversations. I’m glad I could make things more confusing and not give you any clarity on who won the epic debate-off. You’re welcome![Drops the mic]
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Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.