Each of these uncomfortable topics in this brief series of articles are uncomfortable because they carry a sense of embarrassment or even shame. But this particular topic also carries a good deal of pain associated with it – in addition to any feelings of embarrassment or shame. This pain may involve a sense of failure, betrayal, rejection, and humiliation. Divorce rarely effects just the two people involved in ending a marriage. Divorce can scar people like little else can. It can scar socially, financially, emotionally, relationally, and even a person’s physical health – and sometimes do so permanently. Today, it seems to me that too few Christian ministers dare to help their congregations to see marriage the way our Maker and Designer intended it to be understood and applied. In discussing the painful and related issue of divorce that most Christians can’t talk about, I hope to inform, inspire, irritate, and incite holy fear and love. As a result it will be my sincere hope that I can ignite a grander, greater, and more gorgeous vision of GOD and His purpose for marriage as a means for human flourishing. And in the process I will hope that I can instil in those who read this to develop a righteous biblical perspective of divorce.
¶ And Pharisees came up to Him and tested Him by asking,
“Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”
THE PROBLEM WITH A BROKEN UNDERSTANDING OF MARRIAGE
Before we discuss divorce, I need to establish what marriage is. Over the past five decades the concept of marriage has been radically altered in the public’s understanding. I think it is fair to say that there have been few (if any) periods of human history when the true purpose of marriage has ever been satisfactorily understood. It wasn’t that long ago when marriage was seen by European royal families as a means for establishing strategic allegiances between nations. At other times and places, and for more mundane non-royal motives, marriage was seen as the means of siring as many children as possible to ensure that there would be a sufficient number of sons to help share the load of all the work that had to be done on the family farm. This would have also resulted in a marriage to be more likely between a husband and his much younger wife. Even in some cultures today, marriage involves a husband with many wives (polygamy), and often in those same cultures there is this rather odd practice of ‘mutah marriage’ where a man could enter into a marriage contract for an hour or two!
But none of these practices reflected the true purpose of marriage or of what it was designed for. Throughout history some women who became wives were treated as chattels (as a ‘possession’) and faced the continual threat of shameful divorce from their husband if they did not please him. These have been historic misrepresentations of what GOD intended marriage to be. Yet in our current era rather than correcting our collective understanding of what marriage actually is, there has been a dramatic distortion of what marriage is and its purpose! In the 1970s Australia (and coincidentally – or perhaps, suspiciously) and most other western democracies, changed their divorce laws.
Up until the 1960s, divorce required a reason such as infidelity (‘adultery’). But in the early 1970s when the divorce laws were changed, it no longer required a reason. This became known as no-fault divorce. The result of this change to divorce laws was a largely unforeseen set of outcomes.
1. It produced in the mind of the Australian public (and the western world) that the purpose of marriage was about individual happiness. “People get married to be happy…to live happily ever after.”
2. A husband could leave his wife because he had found another woman who now made him “truly happy” as his new wife.
3. In the mind of the Australian public a marriage was no longer considered a lifelong covenant (despite vowing ‘till death do us part’ and ‘for long as you both shall live’), it was now to be viewed as a contract that came with conditions.
4. Marriage became viewed as a means for legitimate pleasure disconnected from the children conceived as a result of that pleasure.
This seismic aberration of what marriage was intended to be would inevitably lead to a previously inconceivable sacrilege. And as divinely heart-breaking this must have been, it was compounded when those who had entered into holy orders as sacred ministers of GOD’s Spirit-breathed WORD sided with the forces of evil and slandered the One who had gifted marriage and the act-of-marriage to His image bearers and denounced His Word as no longer relevant or applicable.
MARRIAGE AS THE CREATOR OF IT INTENDED
The opening chapters of the Bible introduce the major themes of the Bible (and coincidentally the explanation for why the world is the way it is). And it does all this in just over twenty one hundred words. These themes include:
(1) God is the Eternal One and the Uncaused First-Cause (Gen. 1:1).
(2) God is the Designer of the universe (Gen. 1:1).
(3) God created earth as a special planet in a special location in the universe where just the right conditions would be present for: (a) water to exist in three states (liquid, gas, solid); (b) it to be at just the right distance from our nearest star to ensure that our planet would not be too radiated but would receive sufficient amount of sunlight and the chemicals necessary for photosynthesis of vegetation; (c) an equatorial belt with snow capped mountains that would store and deliver fresh water seasonally; (d) oceanic volcanoes that would provide a continual source of essential minerals that would form the basis of the food chain for all life on earth to be able to exist; (e) small and large sea life essential to the survival of human life; (f) small and large land-based animals also essential to the survival of human life; (g) a gaseous atmosphere largely comprised of nitrogen that would compound with other gases such as oxygen and carbon-dioxide to form what we now call “air”; (h) a layered stratosphere over this gaseous atmosphere that would protect the inhabitants of earth from gamma-radiation and meteor bombardment; and, (i) the capacity for beings from the eternal dimension (‘heaven’) to move back and forth from into and out of this dimension.
But most importantly it introduces the following themes: (4) GOD created human beings as either male or female –
¶ Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea
and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth
and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
¶ So God created man in His own image,
in the image of God [imago Dei] He created him;
male and female He created them.
(5) He ordained for them to fruitful and multiply as a married couple through their marriage together and GOD’s gift to them of sexual intimacy. Their marriage would thus serve three – but ultimately four – purposes: (i) sealing their covenant of marriage union (“becoming one”); (ii) experiencing a unique divine gift to brings great physical pleasure and comfort to those who are married; and, (iii) the pro-creation of children as their offspring. In the New Testament we discover that GOD also had another majestic purpose of marriage which is why the Lord Jesus Christ upheld this original vision of marriage when He told the Pharisees –
He answered, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said,
‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?
So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
(6) The first man and woman, the progenitors of the human race, disobeyed their Maker and fell from innocence into sin, guilt and shame. This produced a bias (as lawn bowlers refer to it) for all of their descendants to most naturally turn away from their Maker as their God to anything other than Him – especially themselves. What was created by the Maker to be good, beautiful, and a reflection of what was true (the instructions in His Word), now became a world where what was originally created for good was now being misused to become something evil (evil occurs when a good thing is misused for a contrary purpose for which it was not intended).
And it was in the apostolic era that it was revealed that GOD had an even more wonderful purpose for the marriage covenant between a husband and wife –
¶ Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body,
and is Hhimself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ,
so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. ¶ Husbands, love your wives,
as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her,
having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it,
just as Christ does the church, because we are members of His body.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound,
and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
– marriage was always intended to be a holy union which served as a sacred picture of the union of the believer to Christ. Thus, the closing book of the Bible reveals the believer’s final destiny to be a holy wedding with Christ. Therefore, sexual intimacy within marriage was also designed as a shadow and foretaste, of the exhilaration, the ecstasy, and the ultimate satisfaction that every believer will enjoy for eternity in knowing and loving Christ.
THE PROBLEM WITH DIVORCE
Once we understand God’s intention for marriage it should become apparent why God then “hates” divorce.
“For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”
Malachi 2:16 (NLT)
Yet God understands what it’s like to experience divorce better than most!
They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”
He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,
but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife,
except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
¶ The disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife,
it is better not to marry.” But He said to them,
“Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.
THE DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE OF GOD
Before the revelation of marriage as a foreshadowing of the relationship between Christ and His Church was received by the apostles, GOD spoke of His relationship with Israel as being His marriage to them. But when Israel went into civil war and secession into the Northern and Southern kingdoms, from which time GOD spoke of His marriage to Israel as being between Him and two sisters. When the northern kingdom of Ephraim abandoned their covenant with GOD and went after the worship of idols instead, the prophet Jeremiah described them to the Southern Kingdom (“Judah”) as ‘adulterers’ whom GOD had sent away ‘divorced’
She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel,
I had sent her away with a decree of divorce.
Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore.
Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree.
This breakdown of the LORD’s marriage to Israel was dramatically played out by the prophet Hosea who, would be a “living prophecy” to Israel (both kingdoms) of their unfaithful adultery and their divorce from God. But Hosea revealed that the LORD would re-marry, and this time He would take a wife who would be true and faithful to Him. This was a prophecy about the coming of the Christ who would take a people not identified by nationality, but by their devotion to, and worship of, Christ (Rom. 9:25-26).
RECOVERING FROM DIVORCE
“Because of the hardness of your hearts” Jesus told the pharisees, “God allowed divorce, but…” (Matt. 19:8). In other words, because of the original Fall from innocence relationships with others, especially those we are closest to, are subject sinful actions and attitudes. Divorce should never be a troubled married couple’s immediate reaction. Marriage vows should not be taken and broken lightly. The same apostle who extolled marriage also said that when a non-believing spouse abandons their believing spouse, divorce may result (1 Cor. 7:12, 15). My pastoral counsel is that a divorce should never be entered into so that a spouse may marry another person. That is the case even if there is no other person waiting for a divorce to take place. The wish to divorce so as to fulfil the hope to one day re-marry should never be the motive for a divorce. In fact, this motive may well be seen as the sin of concupiscence.
For those who are, or have, divorced your recovery begins with forgiveness and perhaps also repentance. It is furthered by applying the teaching of Christ in Matthew 6:33. It is hindered if you seek revenge for the hurt your former spouse has inflicted. I want to be very clear though, divorce is not the unforgivable sin – rejection of God’s forgiveness through Christ is. As a church we want to welcome the divorced into our church family. And we especially want everyone to understand why marriage is so sacred and should not be entered into quickly or flippantly. This is why anyone about to get married needs to understand the importance of pastoral preparation before getting married as one of the best ways to avoid their marriage ending in divorce.
THE BEST WAY FOR A COUPLE TO AVOID DIVORCE
Whenever I prepare a couple for their marriage, after we have dispensed with the formal paperwork, the first thing we discuss is what they think are the most common reasons for any couple to divorce? Their answers are usually correct and include financial pressures, drifting apart, unresolved conflict, infidelity (marital unfaithfulness), and parental pressures. I then explain to them that as we prepare for their upcoming wedding, their wedding will not be my focus. Instead, I tell them, their marriage will be my focus. And to do this we will need just one thing: how to argue. Often times a couple will laugh at this news. (Not so surprising really because I am actually an exceptionally funny guy.) But then I inform that in my opinion they have probably never had an argument in their lives – despite them just a few seconds ago assuring me that they argue “all the time!” I then respond to them that what they have been doing all this time is fighting which is not arguing.
Arguing involves learning how to communicate. Learning how to communicate involves doing two things that do not come naturally to us (especially men). I then point out that all of the reasons that they had just given me earlier (about why couple divorce) were all just symptomatic of a failure to communicate well. Even if you have been married a long time, and you never had any pastoral preparation for your marriage, it’s never too late to seek it.
By sharing these few thoughts I hope that more of us will be prepared to talk about this often uncomfortable topic, and for us as a church to create a safe place for people to do so.
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
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