We Christians like to blindly jump to 2 Corinthians 6:14 as the go-to verse that those of us who are in Christ are not to marry outside of the faith. However, many of us are ill equipped to respond when further probed to explain why God has commanded us not to wed those who do not acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior. The temptation to ignore or water down this very serious command has become an increasing trend amongst Christians of marriageable age.
Maureen Gei was not a Christian when she and her husband got married, and did not come to know the Lord until she was in her forties. She then lived through fifteen long years of heartache, struggling with the horrible thoughts that her family may not join her in eternity with God.
Today, her husband and son have come to love the Lord as fervently as she does and she rejoices continually in their salvation. Based on personal experience, however, she has one thing to say to anyone considering marriage to an unbeliever: Don’t do it. Just don’t.
Maureen’s whole family was agnostic. They had no interest in God and did not have much of an opinion of Him. Life was good. Maureen had always been someone who knew exactly what she wanted and was very much in control of her own life.
It was while she was living in Shanghai that she was touched by the sincere friendship and fellowship of some Christian women from Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong within the expatriate community. A Christian neighbor also persistently invited her to church.
“She was song leading one Sunday and begged me to go,” Maureen said. “I didn’t want to go to church, but I wanted to do something nice for her.” So she went, as a favor to her neighbor, in hopes that she would then leave her alone about going to church.
That Sunday, they sang Amazing Grace and Maureen’s tears started falling. She didn’t know why, and she was upset about it. About a year later, Maureen started reading a Bible that same neighbor had given her. Being a person who loves knowledge and books, she read through the entire Bible from the first page to the last.
However, she did not need to get very far to be convinced of God’s greatness. By the time she arrived at Abraham’s story in Genesis, she already believed. “God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, and then stopped him while providing a substitute. But God sent His own Son as a sacrifice and did not stop Him from dying. The story impacted me so much because I was so amazed that God asked more of Himself than He did of Abraham.”
And so, Maureen became a Christian. Her initial intentions, however, had little to do with actually loving God. “I became a Christian so I could avoid hell,” she stated very frankly. “If hell was a one time thing when I die— I’m buried, and burn in hell into nothingness, I think that would not have disturbed me very much. But the idea of burning in hell forever and ever disturbed me. So I was not in love with Jesus. I was amazed at what God did. But it was more of a fear thing than a love thing.”
Convicted that Jesus really is the only way to escape hell, she shared the Gospel with her family the only way she knew how—by telling them that they were going to hell. Obviously, that did not sit well with them, and so she eventually learned to be silent about her faith.
As she read more of the Bible and got deeper into the Word, she became convicted of her own depravity. “It was very difficult for me because I was already over forty and it felt like I had done everything wrong my whole life. The Bible was convicting me that I had wasted my time. It was terrible!”
Being in China, Maureen had no supplementary Bible study materials. All she had was a plain Bible with no study notes, and her encyclopedia. So whenever she read the Bible, she would check the historical facts in her encyclopedia, and was surprised at how much of it was actually real. “As I got more and more impacted by the Bible, my perspective of life began to change.”
She no longer wanted to hang out much in clubs, go dancing, or drinking. “I did not stop myself, I just wasn’t very interested anymore.” This sometimes disappointed her husband, as dancing was one of their favorite pass times that they did together.
Maureen and her husband then moved to Germany where she finally settled into a church after about half a year of searching. It was around that time that the pain began to set in. “Every time a preacher gleefully talked about the burning fires of hell, all I saw was my family suffer.”
Maureen saw her son, her daughter, and her husband burning. Whenever people would pray for Jesus to come soon, she would say, “No! Not yet.” Her husband travelled a lot, and she would always worry for his safety, anxious that he would die before he accepted Christ.
“It started to be such a painful thing to think about the joys of eternal life. I caught myself, three to four times throughout the day while I was cooking or doing something, just praying that God would do something to get my husband on board.” But nothing happened.
It wasn’t even that her husband disapproved of her faith. In fact he encouraged her and defended her when other people attacked her for believing in God. He would even clear the driveway when it snowed, warm up the car, make her some hot tea, and drive her to church! He was very supportive of her walk with God.
He said she was a “nicer person” whenever she came back from church, and liked the idea that she was a Christian. The Holy Spirit and God’s Word had made her a more submissive and easier wife, and that pleased him. But he just wanted nothing to do with God.
“As I started to fall in love with God more and more, my reason for wanting to go to heaven was to be with God. It wasn’t about escaping hell anymore. But as my love for God and faith in Him grew, my sorrow in his rejection of Jesus also grew.” It was no longer just about her husband going to hell, but about how much he was missing out on.
“There were so many important and beautiful things happening in my life, and I couldn’t share it with him. I felt like I was living a double life. I went to church on Sunday, a prayer meeting, and a Bible study. The rest of the time, I was like a submarine Christian, not wanting to annoy people or step on anybody’s toes.”
While other families would go to church together, go for lunch together, go for outings and church camps together, Maureen never got to do those things, because she chose to go home to her family. Although it hurt, she made it a point not to put her Christian community before her husband, as neglecting him would have been wrong. So she was intentional about spending time with her family, but also had to battle with feelings of resentment and envy of the people around her.
“I felt so jealous when a husband put his arm around his wife during the worship or something. The nice things that Christian families had, hurt me. When a family sat together at a table, I was the odd one out. Everybody was absolutely pleasant to me. When I came back to Malaysia, it was the same thing. Families would go for lunch together. And then there was me, going home to cook, or buying something back. Because my husband was at home. I couldn’t enjoy the community.
“If I could divide the spirit from the physical and emotional self, I could kind of handle that he was not a believer. But when it hit me, then it became a physical pain, an emotional pain, and a spiritual pain. And it broke me. It took me a long time to get over.
“In the present day, it was the feeling of being broken, lamed, and separated. And then when I thought of the next life, it was just devastating. I struggled with God, and with my faith. If I did not love God already, I might have thought, ‘I’ll just go to hell with them. This is just too painful.’ But I loved God, and the Holy Spirit kept me in Him.
“Sometimes I felt trapped. And sometimes I was so angry with God. I kept telling God, ‘It’s not my fault! I didn’t ask for this. Can’t you get them on board so that we can all be happy?’
“I could never understand anybody who would choose to have such a life. I suffered in my marriage because I love God and I love my husband, and my husband didn’t want to know God. And the most painful thing of all was the first and second commandment: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. That was a dichotomy I couldn’t get over. The more I loved God, the harder it for me to accept that my husband didn’t. As my love for God grew, the pain for my husband’s lostness also grew.
“My prayer for the salvation of my family was erratic. There were times when I was praying several times a day, crying and pleading, and there were times when I just stopped praying. Not that I gave up, but it was tiring. To pray every day— One year, two years, three years, four years… The first couple of years it was every day. And then it grew less. And then I was praying for everything else except that.”
It was when she was in Melaka that Maureen started praying fervently with a friend who also had a non-believing husband. Together, they would pray, cry, and plead for their husbands. “I had a prayer partner,” Maureen said.
Today, both men have come to know the Lord. “I remember my husband coming down the stairs one day saying, ‘I think God spoke to me yesterday.’” God had asked her husband, “How much longer must I wait for you?” He then started attending church and seeker Bible study group. It still took some time after that, but he eventually believed and was baptized. Then, their son also became a Christian.
“Suddenly, my whole world changed. Now it is so amazing because I can go to a church camp! Now, my God-family is at home too. The things I never dreamt I would have, I now have. It’s so amazing. I couldn’t even fathom the wonder of it. We’re serving in church together. We come home, we discuss about the sermon. Now I felt like a whole Christian.
“Reading the Bible together, praying together, going to church together, going for lunch with another family after church… I’m just full of anticipation for what more beauty He is going to show me. It’s so different. Now, I can say now that my cup overflows. It’s just overflowing all the time. Life is full of joy!”
When it comes to the matter of being unequally yoked, there is so much more to God’s will for His children than that one Bible verse. God does not give us instructions for no reason. More often than not, it is to protect us from the pain and suffering that we are unable to foresee.
Thematically, throughout the Bible, God’s plan and purpose for marriage is to glorify Him and emulate His relationship with the church. Such a sacred union is not possible when one person does not confess Him as Lord.
Of course, redemption is always possible, and God can certainly turn things around for His glory as He did in Maureen’s family. For individuals who are already married to non-believers, God’s grace abounds and there is always hope. Be faithful in prayer for your spouse, and take ownership of that mission field.
However, that does not change the fact that intentionally binding oneself to someone who does not share a common love for Christ remains disobedience, and sets oneself up for many years of emotional and spiritual turmoil. Therefore, those who are not yet married have no business getting themselves into such relationships. Missionary dating is not a thing.
“Don’t even start dating,” Maureen said. “Be friends. Evangelize. But don’t date, because the whole reason for dating is to get married. You are not responsible for his or her soul. I couldn’t take my husband with me to heaven, and I was already married. You are responsible for your life with God. And God loves that person more than you ever could anyway. So don’t play God.”
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