21 October 2014

Jesus Teaches Against Divorce

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

"'Til death do we part." - A part of traditional wedding vows made before God, family and friends. 

Five years ago, I worked for a Christian organisation advocating for family values in the public square. We asserted to our government representatives that if our society were to remain strong then our laws, taxes and funding should prioritise preserving the most basic societal relationship, the family.

Our committee consisted of five men, one single and four married. Now, one is single, two are married and two are divorced. On top of that, another well-respected man whose job and reputation was built on a traditional family platform, left his long-time wife to marry another woman and seems to have no remorse about it whatsoever. Apparently, it is easier to talk to others about family than it is to maintain one.
What's scary is these aren't the traditional faces of divorce. These aren't young couples who had the seven-year itch or even married less than five realising they had made some horrible mistake. These are spouses who had been married from their twenties into their forties and seemed to just decide they are better off apart than together.

As much as I would like to shake my head and proclaim that I simply don't understand how Christians would disregard their weddings vows, I do. I'm 43 and my wife is soon to be 41. We've been married for 20 years in December. Two of our children are now fully in command of their own destinies and the other two aren't far behind.

As much as I would like to tell you that we've had a trouble-free marriage, we haven't. We've argued. I've yelled. I've cursed. I've resented. I've blamed. There's been concessions made through gritted teeth. If you've had a smooth marriage, you are truly blessed. But, based on seeing "solid" marriages "suddenly" end, I know I'm not alone. It seems difficult for a male and a female to become one.

We Christians are very good at doing things through gritted teeth. Even when we start things under the best intentions, the long struggle for faithfulness morphs our desire into duty. We no longer want to. We just know we have to. It becomes a strain to hold onto the rope. And so, as our strength gives and as we see so many around us let go, we no longer think about if but when. We come up with a strategy to minimise the damage.

We stay married for the children. After all, isn't that what we were taught? God gave marriage that we might have godly offspring. For our culture, for over fifty years, as sexuality became detached from its moorings, we all knew the rise of absentee fathers and unwed parents. We saw firsthand the devastating effect on those children and mothers. A new class of orphan and widow in the Western context was being created.

But as those orphans grew up, they heard the Christian call of the goodness of the family and looked on with legitimate skepticism. The family? Good? What good did a family do for them? Their dad told their mom all kinds of things and took off. He decided that they weren't good enough for his happiness. They see Christians bemoan the rise of homosexuality while calling for the return of the traditional family but have no idea what Christians are going on about since they have never personally known a traditional family.

So, socially conscience Christians vowed that we would correct that course. We would stay married in order to produce godly offspring. But, when that becomes the motivation for remaining married, it's doomed. Husbands either abuse or ignore their wives. Wives either privately and/or publicly belittle their husbands. We either stay in an unhappy marriage or we break the marriage when that godly offspring no longer needs us.

The problem is our Father did not primarily create marriage in order for godly offspring to be created. This is one wonderful consequence. But, it is not the primary purpose for marriage. The triune God made man in his image, male and female he created them. Before the fall of humans, the one thing that was not good was for man to be alone. And so, the two similar yet different humans were created to be united; for the two to become one flesh. Marriage is a unique relationship ordained by God that is a reflection of his triune nature, a flesh and bone example of mutual submission, or sacrificial love.

As a sinner saved by grace, Christian, please hear this in the spirit intended: Homosexual sex is not the primary sexual sin; adultery is. Isn't this one of the ten commandments? Do not commit adultery. Why is it the primary sexual sin? Because it is the private separation of what God has joined together (Jesus will teach about this later). It is the one reason why divorce was allowed by Moses for the Jews. Because, frankly, once private separation has occurred, public separation is almost inevitable. Once our hearts grow apart, the rest will follow.

But, make no mistake, Christian, God hates divorce. Why? Because once again it shows contempt for what God has graciously given. It demonstrates a distain for the image He has bestowed on us. Instead of learning how to love and to stay faithful, we become convinced there is a better way. God has made it too hard. God is holding out on us. It is not natural to stay with one person for a lifetime. Who are we fooling? But, through the teachings of the law, the prophets and Jesus, we hear consistently, that God hates divorce.

This is a hard teaching. So hard, that many of today's Christian teachers and preachers ignore it. We allow divorcees to have positions of authority in many churches and Christian organisations. And, mostly, these aren't people who were divorced before they followed Christ. These are people who divorced while they walked after Christ.  

Why? Well, we know so many divorced people. Sometimes people we have held in high esteem divorce. And, it's hard for us to fathom that even well respected people can commit such evil. So, we excuse. We equivicate. We ignore. We see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil and pretend that things will continue the way things did before. Then, we vocally blame the decay of the family on the faceless homosexual lobby instead of our leaders, family and friends who broke apart their own families through adultery and divorce.

What further complicates matters is that sometimes divorce is a one way street. Not all divorcees have sinned by divorcing. Far from it. Divorce was allowed by Moses, not for the adulterer, but for the one scarred by the adultery.

 There was a well respected friend. He was the hub of an earnest, God-seeking group of young people. He led our small group. He prayed for us. He had a budding, young family with a beautiful, young, dignified wife. A few of us guys went to eat out together and saw him openly flirting with our waitress. A couple of us glanced at each other with a look of slight alarm, but didn't say anything. A few months later, his marriage was in crisis. His affair was uncovered.

Our reaction? We rallied around him. We prayed and spoke to him about salvaging his marriage. I can still vividly remember how the extroverted, adulterous husband was surrounded by so many friends urging him to be better and the introverted, jilted wife and young mother was quietly approached to listen to his pleas for forgiveness and continue the marriage.

He repented. She forgave. They stayed married. A short time later. He was still committing adultery. She had enough. And a family of five was split in two. I moved away at the time, but I so wanted to apologise for being one of those imploring her to forgive and continue. Here's the problem. Here's why Moses allowed divorce in times of adultery. Because, adultery already ends the marriage. Unfaithfulness cannot exist with faithfulness. Can spouses have a good marriage after adultery? Yes. I know several. But, it takes profound, patient, long-term work to rebuild that marriage. 

Should the divorced wife not be allowed to remarry? Even when the divorce was not her decision? These are hard questions. But, it is definitely clear, who we decide to become one with; who we decide to emulate the Trinity's example of mutual submission matters. It matters for five years. It matters for ten years. It matters for twenty years. It matters for fifty years. It matters until death we do part. 

Choosing day by day to love or hate, to respect or disrespect, to insult or compliment, to humiliate or encourage, to ignore or to be attentive, to neglect or to care for, to yell or to listen, to be wise or foolish, to blame or to accept responsibility, to resent or to forgive, to be quick tempered or to be patient, to be kind or to be cruel, to be jealous or to be proud of, to be selfless or to be selfish, to tarnish or to present as radiant, to be faithful or not to be faithful has profound consequences for ourselves, for our faith, for our children, for our families, for our culture, for each and every one of us.

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