What’s dating got to do with your unborn grandchildren?
Much more than you’d think.
It’s become a standard piece of Christian advice when dating someone to ask yourself: “is this someone I’m seriously considering marrying?”. That’s a fair enough question. After all, if that someone isn’t “marriage material”, it cuts out a lot of heart-ache/time-wasting. It automatically rules out dating an unbeliever. It means that dating during secondary school is (generally-speaking) a bad idea; there aren’t many Christians in the West encouraging their children to marry before they’re 18. If you’re dating someone whom there’s no realistic prospect of marrying, then stop it!
But I think that question is increasingly inadequate for Christians. It’s inadequate, because it leaves the content of “marriage” far too vague and vulnerable to “Disney-fication”. If my view of marriage is Disney-fied, then my criteria for the right candidate is going to be Disney-fied too. I’ll be looking for Cinderella or Prince Charming, rather than the wise woman of Proverbs 31 or the godly man of Ruth 2. So, there’s another question I’d like to suggest you ask: “Is this someone who’s going to give me grandchildren who love Jesus?”.
Now, I don’t mean that question to be asked presumptuously. Of course, no spouse can guarantee you godly grandchildren. No spouse can guarantee you children, let alone godly children. After all, we know that “children are a heritage from the LORD” (Psalm 126:3) and “salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9). But the point of the question is to reframe the way you think about marriage.
First, and most obviously, it puts children straight into the equation. I suspect the average Christian youth-group talk on marriage features little discussion of procreation. It’s as if Genesis 1:28 has disappeared from our Bibles. Some Christians enter marriage without a thought of the creation mandate, lots might have it somewhere in their minds, but few at the forefront. But, biblically, one of the main reasons to get married is to bear children (1 Tim 2:15; 4:10, 14; Titus 2:4). Sensible Christians understand from Genesis 2 that work is a good thing, and that marriage is divinely instituted, and that the New Testament, far from undermining those things, actually reinforces their goodness. But when it comes to procreation and the goodness of children, I’ve seen it get spiritualised away. Contraception has muddled our thinking; it’s cut the connection between sex and nappies. Of course, there’s the deep disappointment of infertility. Yes, there might be exceptional medical circumstances that lead a married couple to refrain from opening their lives to children, but it will be done with great regret. The grace of Jesus doesn’t cancel nature, but restores nature. To factor in grandchildren when dating will arm us against a secular vision of marriage; it can shift our attitude towards children from little luxuries to be indulged in to divine image-bearers that we’re called to populate the world with.
Secondly, asking “are you going to give me grandchildren who love Jesus?” places my marriage in a healthier time-scale. Rather than my instant gratification, or measuring my marriage on the basis of a 5 or 10-year period, it looks beyond just the happiness of my immediate nuclear family. We often restrict family to that thing you’re part of until you’re 18, which you then move out of and try to replicate. But the Bible encourages us to have a different mindset. For example, Psalm 128:6 says: “May you see your children’s children!”. The Book of Ruth doesn’t close with Ruth and Boaz heading off on honeymoon, but with the community celebrating Ruth’s provision of a grandson to Naomi (Ruth 4:17). Thinking about future grandchildren instead of children will help you think about parenting beyond just: “will he/she be fun with the kids?” to “what really does he/she believe about Jesus?”, “what really matters to him/her in the long-term for our children?”.
According to the Bible, marriage is a house-building project. The point of a house is that it’s something much bigger than any one individual. Your house will outlive and outlast your death. Prov 14:1 says “the wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down”. There’s nothing automatic about this house-building. It’s not as simple as finding a Christian girl or guy you click with, marrying, and having kids. It takes wisdom. Prov 24:3-4 says: “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches”. Building this kind of solid, beautiful structure requires wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, which we only find in Christ. Prov 23:3-4 is actually echoing how God created the world in Prov 3:19, so we’re meant to see something god-like about the marriage/house-building project. The family is meant to be a miniature creation (microcosm) that reflects the wider creation (macrocosm). The marriage project is, therefore, something much bigger than you and your personal happiness. It’s about building the mighty house of Abraham, which Jesus Christ has now expanded to include Gentiles like us (Eph 2:12-13). And Jesus wants you to weave your family into that household of faith, which was here long before you, and will carry on when you’re long gone.
So, I realise that when you meet someone and your heart flutters, it will feel weird to ask yourself: “is this someone who’s going to give me grandchildren who love Jesus?”. It’s a very alien question, which Hollywood does not teach you to ask. But that’s exactly why asking it in a dating context is so helpful. Thinking about your “children yet unborn” telling their children to set their hope in God (Psalm 78:6-7) is exactly the kind of thought process God’s word encourages us in. It’s a question that moves the goalposts on marriage. It stops us asking trivial questions, like: “do we get on?”, “do we connect?”, “will this person make me happy?”. And it offers a much bigger vision of Christian marriage. There’s lots we won’t know about the future. There’s lots we can’t see in a prospective spouse. But what the Bible really wants you to look for in a spouse isn’t someone who simply has “a relationship with Jesus”, and who’ll agree to send the children to Sunday School, but someone who with deep conviction and sincerity says: “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh 24:15) in the “household of God” (Eph 2:19).
Dating has got lots to do with your unborn grandchildren.