My wife and I just celebrated our 9th year anniversary (12/15). In celebration of my wife and in honor of my grandmother, I decided to share some thoughts on marriage. I’m aware that this is a hot button issue, so just keep in mind that these are my personal thoughts on something I think is central to living out the Gospel of Jesus.
FYI: This was sparked by an older article from Christianity Today Magazine. You can read the article here.
We are all familiar with the great debate over marriage, divorce, and remarriage. I would like to focus my comments particularly on where divorce fits into God’s plan. My understanding is that it doesn’t.
The Epidemic of Divorce
The Christian pollster George Barna has said, “There no longer seems to be much of a stigma attached to divorce; it is now seen as an unavoidable rite of passage.” It is now old news that, according to the most reliable statistical figures, there is virtually no difference between believers and non-believers when it comes to the divorce rate.
How can this be? How is it that Christ-followers have given up on such a central teaching of Jesus?—Reconciliation (Matt. 5-7).
I know believers that have claimed emotional abuse as their reason for divorce. Honestly, what spouse could not claim emotional abuse in marriage? All of us who are married could claim this at some point.
It must be said if there were any legitimate reasons for divorce, this would not be one of them—no matter how many well-intentioned authors and radio talk show hosts say so.
And if there is real physical abuse, there are plenty of creative ways the church can help a believer respond (and protect them) without encouraging a severing of the relationship. The church’s uncreative response to this reminds me of how she has too often shirked her responsibility to address other evils in a manner that is reflective of Christ (e.g. abortion, poverty, war, etc.).
If my grandmother, Emma, who was physically abused and cheated on numerous times, had left my grandfather, who eventually became a believer, I would not be here today. In fact, my siblings and many of my cousins would not be here either. There would no doubt be fewer folks in the kingdom of God. I’m thankful for the strength, the spiritual depth, and the persistence of this dear lady. She believed God and it paid off.
In all of the (Christian) discussions about marriage and divorce, it is rarely mentioned how destructive divorce is, for any reason. It’s an epidemic in the church today. It destroys families and the lives of people around us. It certainly doesn’t reflect Christ who reconciles and loves us without limit.
It doesn’t reflect new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
The Bible & Divorce
Is God looking for a way out of his relationship with us because we have abused him? I am thankful for the bond of Christ, and the promise of God’s power to reconcile all things to himself (Col. 1:19-20). And I am thankful that he still “hates” divorce (Malachi 2:16).
I believe, as the CT article suggests, Jesus and Paul were both dealing with specific questions about marriage. The biblical text is not giving us answers to all of the many scenarios about marriage and divorce that we seek today.
We certainly don’t want to start constructing arguments based off silence either, lest we think Jesus somehow believed in war and that homosexuality is consistent with the created order. Jesus didn’t directly address many things, but the core of his teachings gives us a portrait of God’s divine image and his good purposes for his creation. The Scripture is plain enough (Mark 10:1-10; Lk 16:18).
This much is true. We can debate all day long about the “exception” clause (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). However, it doesn’t take a biblical scholar to see that the biblical text is very clear that divorce is destructive and should be avoided at all costs (1 Cor. 7:10-16).
Divorce may happen, but it isn’t “allowed” any more than other radical evils. Like everything else, Jesus has revealed a better way—a higher spiritual law.
Unfortunately, I see the church easing the conscience of Christians so they can follow their flesh and turn to worldly law courts to kill their covenant vows made with God and spouse—hoping that the next marriage will stick. Christians determined to escape their unpleasant situation, will not have to go very far to find a friend or pastor willing to assist them with “biblical” and psychological reasons for terminating their marriage.
Believers should keep this clear in their mind, that whatever they believe the exceptions or allowances may be (if any), the biblical text recognizes that divorce is antithetical to the kingdom of God–plain and simple (e.g. 1 Cor. 13; 2 Cor. 5:11-21; Col. 3:12-14; 1 Peter. 3:-1-7; etc.) You can’t simply give up on marriage and carry on with the Lord as if nothing happened.
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 Jn. 3:14).
What else would the Scripture need to say for us to get it?
Marriage as Faithfulness to Christ
I think we should make this as biblically plain as possible and do all that we can to salvage marriages–instead of spending time helping people divorce with a good conscience and God’s approval; which is unfortunately how the conversation is geared today.
There must be a way to believe in grace and still profess a thing called holiness. Many Christians have forsaken it for a hipster faith. We need to find the balance in Christ. God thinks holiness is hip. You can’t read the Old Testament and miss that one. The New Testament writers knew this well: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Pet. 1:15).
There is mercy and grace at the cross, but it must be understood, if we give up on marriage, we are giving up on Christ.
In an age where things get hard and it’s easy to leave churches that make us mad, marriages that didn’t turn out the way we hoped, and other difficult situations that hurt our self-esteem, it is critical that we show the world a different way to live. If we don’t, nobody will.
It calls for denying ourselves and showing the world that there is real power in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Lk. 9:23).
Until the church can largely affirm that, I see she has no place in telling pagans what marriage ought to be in the halls of worldly law. She has lost that right. In fact, she loses the right to say anything about the value of relationships. This issue alone may be, I suspect, why the church is losing her influence in the culture.
It may also have much to do with why Christians are leaving the church—no lasting marriages, no healthy families, so no real commitment to anything in life. We have given up on marriage as a life commitment, and we have therefore no reason to believe in a real otherworldly community of the Triune God on the earth.
Ministers of Reconciliation
I want to believe that the Lord is beginning to stir in the hearts of his people to stop this foolishness and believe that Jesus has the power to redeem what is lost and mend what is broken. Marriage doesn’t stand a chance when there is not a life covenant made that lasts as long as Christ loves the church.
Just think how different things could be if young people entered into marriage believing “this thing is forever” no if-and-buts about it. How much harder we would all work at maintaining the most important relationship of all if we understood that the Gospel itself even hinges upon the depth and the sincerity of this one relationship?
We are called to be ministers of reconciliation in every area of life. As Christians, we have not been afforded the right to select certain people who we wish to extend his mercy and forgiveness. It’s a free gift to all who will receive it. It’s a command that is central to the Gospel of Jesus (Jn. 13:34-35).
We are peacemakers, not home-wreckers.
Jesus cancelled our debts, if we want to continue receiving his forgiveness, we must forgive the debts of others (Matt. 18:21-35). It’s the only way are able to pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt. 6:12).
For those who have blown it in the past, I believe forgiveness and restoration is in no short supply. Begin again with the Lord today. Turn from making destructive choices and believe in the power of the Gospel of Jesus. Align yourself with the Lord’s kingdom purposes and he will intercede. Seek reconciliation, dear saints.
Our decisions have lasting consequences. May we all be reminded of the difference our choices make in God’s battle for heaven and earth. I pray that we would get our hearts right about what is most important to the Lord and press on as ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:11-21).
And may our marriages reflect the beauty of the one that exists between Jesus and his bride, the church.
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sinfor us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21