Thanks to the smartphone, online dating is now the most common way couples meet — not through friends, not at school, not in church. The vast majority of couples now meet online through apps. Finding a new date has never been easier: just swipe to the right. And that ease is posing a new problem for serial daters, like the young woman who writes in today.
“Pastor John, hello! I struggle with an issue, and I have for a while. I now call it an addiction. I’m a serial dater. I get high on the chemicals in my brain from dating new men. Often it seems like I cannot help but flirt. I know the Bible disapproves of, and even condemns, this vain behavior. I desperately want to direct my attention to Jesus and find a comparable kind of joy or ‘high’ in him. I’ve been reading the Bible and praying faithfully but can’t get the same feelings. How does Christian Hedonism offer guidance on such a situation as mine? How can I gain victory over the sinful euphoria?”
Serial dating like this, if it’s not conquered, is probably a prelude to serial marriage. It’s plain that this young woman is conflicted about this behavior and is not finding this “sinful euphoria,” as she calls it, to be lastingly satisfying — she’s not. This prelude to serial marriage, with all of its temporary euphoria, is setting off merciful alarm bells for her, and she’s hearing them. The message is that this is not satisfying, not even in the short run, and this is leading to nowhere good. She senses that and feels trapped, and I certainly am glad she feels that right now before it’s too late.
The Bible doesn’t speak directly to the issue of serial dating, or any dating for that matter, because in the first century, that wasn’t the way marriages happened. But interestingly, the Bible does address the issue of serial marriage.
In chapter 4 of John’s Gospel, Jesus goes out of his way to have a crucial encounter with a woman who desperately needs what he has. He offers her what he has at the well, but she has absolutely no categories in her mind or her heart that can make any sense of what he’s saying. He says to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). “You would have never thirsted again” (see John 4:14).
“Turn away from the fleeting pleasures of Egypt, the euphoria of serial dating, and take hold of Jesus in faith.”
Now, she knows what ordinary H₂O is and what it feels like, what it tastes like. She knows that. She knows the pleasure of water when she’s physically thirsty. In fact, it would be fair to say, I think, that if she had gone without physical water for two or three days, she would have given anything for the physical feel of a cup of water on her tongue. The pleasure of slaking our thirst is a God-given impulse of pleasure to keep us alive, a physical pleasure that serves life — just as sexual pleasure serves procreation of life. God is very generous with his pleasures.
But such natural appetites and pleasures also create a problem for sinful people like us. They tend to be so powerful in the absence of other kinds of pleasures that they make us feel, “I don’t think there is any other kind of pleasure.” They make it impossible for us — except that God steps in with a miracle, which is what we’re praying toward — to taste any other kind of pleasure than physical pleasure, than natural pleasure. They make it impossible for us sometimes to even believe that there is another kind of pleasure besides the one we’re getting, which she calls a “sinful euphoria.”
Well, that was certainly the case with this woman at the well. Her response to Jesus when he offered her another kind — living water — so that she’d never thirst again, was, “But you don’t have a bucket” (see John 4:11). That’s just like Nicodemus when Jesus said, “You need to be born again,” and he said, “What, enter into my mother’s womb?” (see John 3:3–4). Nicodemus had no category for the reality of the new birth, and this woman has no experiential head or heart category for living water that could come from Jesus in a relationship that would be deeper and better and longer in its pleasure than the physical water could ever give. She doesn’t know what he’s talking about. She can’t taste it.
Cravings That Destroy
So, what will Jesus do to help her? Well, out of the blue he introduces serial marriage. He says, “Go, call your husband, and come here” (John 4:16). The look on her face must have been like, “I thought we were talking about living water, water that you drink, and it will satisfy you forever. Whoever drinks of this water will never be thirsty again.” She doesn’t have a clue where Jesus is about to go. She says, “I have no husband” (John 4:17). And Jesus says, “Right,” and then he drops this bomb, mercifully designed as a bomb to blow up the limits of this woman’s capacities for pleasure. That’s what the bomb is designed for: to blow out the walls of her limited pleasure. I’m praying for that bomb to drop in this APJ.
He says, “That’s right. You don’t have a husband; you’ve had five. And now you’re living with the sixth, and he’s not even your husband” (see John 4:17–18). Now, number six is the tip-off here, the tip-off of the problem. She hasn’t been widowed five times. There’s always been a need for number two, then number three, then number four, then number five. Now we’re on to number six and, “Marriage be damned. Who needs it? What I need is a man. What I thirst for is number six, and then maybe numbers seven and eight.”
Jesus hasn’t changed the subject. The issue is still the same. She has cravings that are destroying her life with serial marriages, and she has no capacities, as far as she can see, to get this kind of satisfaction anywhere else. And there’s the problem: What Jesus offers her in a relationship with himself is deeper and better and longer. It’s not the same kind of pleasure. And Jesus touches the brokenness of her life with a view to awakening her capacity to taste a deeper, better, longer kind of satisfaction.
What the Bible Never Promised
This woman who wrote to us says that this sinful euphoria keeps her flirting with man number one, man number two, man number three, man number four, man number five, man number six, and then she says, “I desperately want to direct my attention to Jesus and find a comparable kind of joy or ‘high’ in Jesus. I’ve been reading the Bible and praying faithfully [for that] but can’t get the same feelings.” Neither Christian Hedonism nor the Bible ever promised anybody in sin the same feelings. They didn’t promise the euphoria that we get from sinful behaviors.
What the Bible and what Christian Hedonism offer is deeper, better, longer pleasures than the fleeting euphoria of sin. In Hebrews 11, Moses turns away from the fleeting pleasures of sin in Egypt in favor of a difficult life because, it says, “he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26). The Christians in Hebrews 10:34 “joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] property, since [they] knew [they] had a better possession and an abiding one” — a lasting one, better, deeper, lasting.
“Christ offers deeper, better, longer pleasures than the fleeting euphoria of sin.”
This is why faith is so important. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for” — namely, the reward Moses was looking to and the better, lasting possession that the Christians were looking for. They believed. They believed. They had faith in Christ. They embraced him as their greatest treasure. And in that faith they tasted the substance — the deeper, better, lasting pleasure — that Christ offers, that Christ is. And sustained by that taste, they waited for the full reward.
Fleeting Pleasure, Fullness of Joy
So, my plea to this young woman is to turn away from the fleeting pleasures of Egypt, the euphoria of serial dating, and take hold of Jesus in faith. And when he says, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14), believe him. Trust him. Embrace that.
By faith, you will taste and see that the sole satisfaction Jesus gives is better and deeper and longer. It’s not the same. No, it’s not the same. It’s better, deeper, longer.
Take whatever measure of spiritual pleasure he gives you in this life, and trust him for the rest of it in due time. I don’t know how much he will give you in this life, but I do know that serial dating is a dead-end street, and in God’s presence is “fullness of joy” — fullness. And at his right hand are “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).