Whether you are for or against the sport of hunting, I’m confident you’d agree that there are certain dangers attached to the activity, especially when there are other hunters afoot. And it’s safe to assume that the risk of those dangers would be increased when visibility is diminished. It is obviously safer (for the humans) to hunt in daylight than in the fog.
Honorable hunters adhere to a code: they don’t use laser scopes, for example, as this can cause the animal to freeze in a proverbial “deer-in-the-headlights” fashion, which is frowned upon as unsporting—as if binocular vision, opposable thumbs, and access to a firearm doesn’t make fairness a moot point anyway.
As fundamental as visibility is to hunting, in Texas (of course) even the blind are permitted to use guns. Visually impaired hunters, however, are only permitted to pull the trigger when accompanied by a surrogate sighted guide who peers over their shoulder and gives the all clear.
A hunting blind is a structure used to mask the scent and visibility of the hunter from his prey. But blind hunting inverts the logic of that effort, rendering the prey impossible to spot while the hunter is exposed. It wouldn’t be illegal to hunt wearing a blindfold; it would just be obtuse.
And yet in a similarly obtuse way, Christians who seek for a spouse online are willingly impairing their ability to discern.
From time to time a millennial congregant will ask—on behalf of a friend, of course—if it is biblically permissible for Christians to subscribe to online dating sites. I explain that although the concordance at the back of a study Bible doesn’t have the words “online” or “eHarmony” listed, the word of God is still as relevant today as it was for forlorn singles in the Ancient Near East, such as Adam, Isaac, and the 200 Benjamite bachelors of Judges 21.
One possible misstep when scouring the Bible for advice on spouse-seeking, is to view narrative descriptions as patterns to emulate. I hope it’s incontestable that neither waiting for God to supernaturally create a bride from your rib as Adam did, nor the kidnapping plot of the Benjamites, are intended to be normative for Christian singles.
The truth is that God’s word deliberately leaves great liberty in the area of match-making. But just because a method may be permissible does not mean it is wise. “All things are lawful but not all things are profitable.”
So, in honor of Cyber Monday, here are some essential factors in romantic matches that online dating robs you of:
1. Community. People who know and love you need to get to know the person you’ve met, in real life (IRL), so they can peer over your shoulder and give the all clear. We all need help to see blind spots in our discernment. Two pairs of skeptical eyes are better than the one that may naturally be obscured by emotion and excitement. The quirky Yiddish matchmakers with their meddlesome charm have a distinct advantage over match(dot)com: they have an interest in seeing both eligible people happily married, and they employ their proven discernment when forging introductions.
Parents are also an integral part of your community. Nothing keeps a suitor’s behavior in check better than dad sharpening his knives in the next room. Whether you’ve kissed dating goodbye in favor of a more closely marshaled courtship model or not, and whether you’ve kicked courtship to the curbside in favor of a celebration of independence or not, we all know God’s word calls children to honor their parents, not only because it is right but because it is safe (Eph 6:1-2). Before asking your pastor if online dating is permissible, you need to ask your parents.
2.Transparency. You need to show the person you are interested in what you are really like, not the persona you are able to construct behind a keyboard and portray on a screen. Working alongside one another in local church ministry projects, or enduring the unpredictability and discomfort of a hiking expedition will bring out the real you far more effectively than a survey you take, no matter how honestly you answer the questions.
Like a masquerade ball, the façade that is part of the virtual world may make you seem bold and quick-witted online, while your friends may describe you as reserved and conservative. You might think “But this is the real me” and yet, if you end up marrying this person they will almost only ever see the IRL part of you. Is it fair on them? And remember that this type of unintentional false advertising goes both ways…
3. Authenticity. You can never be sure that the person you are connecting with is who they say they are. They might think of themselves as patient, but the rubber meets the road when someone cuts them off in traffic or they are forced to wait in the California dry heat of Thunder Mountain’s interminable line. He might think he’s generous, but the proof is in the pudding that he’s willing to pay for on your fifth date without a begrudging sigh.
And it’s not just their character flaws that are obscured by the medium of cyberspace; they might be a completely different person online…on purpose.
4. Safety. It’s time to mention the elephant in the room, which is that they are not in the room with you. The vulnerable, sensitive, pretty 26 year old lady your soul is becoming entwined with through daily, intimate conversations, might in reality be a predatory, perverted 40 year old man or a sadistic 14 year old girl who is messing with the emotional lives of her victims for entertainment. The internet is an uncharted jungle of unlimited danger and deception.
It’s not a sin for a Christian to subscribe to an online dating site. And there are success stories of Christians who have met online and married and lived happily ever after. I’m sure there are also stories of hunters bagging a bear in the mist. But when given the choice, wise hunters always opt for visibility.
Selecting a spouse is the most important decision you will make in your life. I can’t see why a person would willingly impair their discernment at the exact time they need it most and deliberately handicap themselves when tackling something that is so difficult at the best of times. It behooves us to use the most discernment available to us, to do the best we can do, when it comes to the most significant decisions in life.
I’m not saying that popular methods of real-life dating or courtship or any other models of match-making are immune to danger or disappointment. But in a land of blind men the one-eyed man is king. At least with regular dating you can make mistakes with your eyes wide open instead of hunting blind.