A common challenge within marriages and committed relationships arises when one is a “believer,” a church-goer, and the other wants to hold back. It was very frequent in Paul’s communities when becoming a believer meant a radical new way of life outside accepted social norms, and it may be equally radical today in our post-Christian, secular era. How does such a relationship remain grounded without coercion of one another?
Paul’s first counsel is not to separate: “For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband.” The English word “bless” means to make holy, and so, we could say the unbelieving one is blessed by the believing one. The older etymological root, however, is actually “blood,” as in the Old Testament sense of making the altar holy by the sprinkling of blood. Blood, in biblical usage, is a symbol of life force, which takes us into the nitty-gritty of how one’s life force becomes a blessing to another.
Through Baptism, Christ’s death and resurrection become the pattern of our life. Through it, we place our trust in never being separated from the love and grace of God that redeems whatever life may bring us. From it, we receive Christ’s power of transformation for our lives. It is out of this experience of God’s mercy, grace and love that we can then offer those closest to us the gift of acceptance, love, and nurture, trusting God to bind us in mutual holiness.