18 July 2018

On God's Will and Spousal Disagreement

Consider, if you will, a popular bit of Christian advice often given to married couples:

"God won't call you to anything your spouse isn't on board with. Until you and your spouse are on the same page about something, it isn't the right decision for you and your family."

This sounds reasonable enough on the face of it. Certainly, we need mutuality in our decision-making. But this statement is sneaking in several dubious assumptions that many people never pick up on.

For one thing, it assumes that the spouse who disagrees has some kind of insight into God's will that the first spouse doesn't have. It also assumes that disagreement is a sign that God isn't calling. Further, it implies that mutual agreement is not only a necessary, but a sufficient condition for moving ahead with something. (Let's not ask Ananias and Sapphira how that last one worked out for them.)

There is, of course, a grain of truth. God doesn't want us to push forward with something in disregard of our spouse's feelings about it. That isn't loving the way He loves, and it evidences a failure to consider the other person's interests above our own. A spouse's hesitation about something is most certainly an indication that we have to do some more thinking and praying and working through things before we move ahead.

However. Spousal disagreement is not the final word on whether a conviction is from God or not.

Consider this scenario: Mr. and Mrs. Joe and Mary Schmoe live in Tampa, Florida. Joe Schmoe wants to move to New York for a ministry opportunity at a new church. His wife, Mary, wants to stay in their current location because the kids are doing well in school there.

Of course, it's entirely possible that Mary will be told to just go along with her husband's idea despite her misgivings, and that God will bless her for her submission. This happens all the time in the church, and it's a travesty.

However, it's equally likely that well-meaning friends will tell Joe, "God wouldn't call you to move to do ministry unless your wife was in full agreement. And she's not at peace about moving, so God isn't calling you to move."

Here's the problem. Mary disagrees with moving. Joe disagrees with not moving. If God wouldn't call someone to something his or her spouse isn't on board with, and both spouses want opposite things, how do we know which "side" God is on?

Imagine the statement above directed at Mary instead of Joe: "God wouldn't call you to stay where you are unless your husband was in full agreement. And he's not at peace about staying, so God isn't calling you to stay."

Well, now what are we supposed to think? "God's will" changes depending on whomever the statement is addressed to! So what can it tell us about which course of action God wants us to take? Absolutely nothing. It also paralyzes us: If either partner has to assume that the other's reluctance automatically means an idea is outside of God's will, then they are (and will remain) at an impasse.

But in this case, Joe and Mary have to do something. "You do your thing and I'll do mine" won't work here -- they have to either stay or move, and the kids will have to come with them. Either choice involves the whole family and will have a huge impact on them all. So, what should they do?

A good start would be for both of them to dig deeper -- first with themselves, and then with each other -- about their respective reasons for wanting to go or stay. (Just learning how to do this step well will probably take a lot of time and patience.) They should, of course, be praying. It could be that God is speaking to both of them, and one or both aren't hearing Him clearly. They might stay, and get involved with ministry opportunities locally in Tampa. Or they might go, and find a good school for the kids in New York. They could wait until the kids have graduated from school, and then move. Or they might go somewhere else altogether. Any of these options might be something God would bless, but neither Joe nor Mary will ever get that from simply assuming that "lack of agreement = lack of calling."

The big takeaway from all this, I think, is that where claims about God's will are concerned, tread carefully. There's almost always more than meets the eye.

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