“I’m going through the ‘Big D’ and don’t mean Dallas; I can’t believe what the judge had to tell us: I got the jeep, she got the palace…” This was the refrain of a country song back in the 90’s, but sadly, there is a shockingly casual attitude toward the “Big D” gripping our culture. Most disturbing is how many Christians adopt those same views, with the division of property and child visitation schedule being little more than an inconvenience. It is touchy topic at best and a cruel battleground at worst, but believers are called to show compassion and mercy to those who have been through a divorce, while standing firm against it within our churches and communities. Visit a battered women’s shelter and you will find volunteers and workers who speak boldly on the horror of rape and abuse, and their tenderness toward the victims increases proportionately with their abhorrence of the crime. We cannot truly care for those wounded by divorce without a righteous anger toward the beast itself. Unlike rape and abuse, however, divorce is not only legal but since post-modern America specializes in lukewarmth and tolerance, it has been recharacterized as a regrettable fact of life with no harms, fouls or stigmas associated with it. If a shelter volunteer used such disinterested adjectives to describe the atrocities of abuse and their vicious effect upon families, we would be skeptical of either her courage, her sympathy or her sanity. Strangely, the exact opposite is true when dealing with divorce – society expects us to be kind and consoling to the parties involved while saying nothing negative about the cause of all the pain! For non-Christians, this is frustrating but expected; for Christians, it’s completely unbiblical (i.e., sinful, wrong, etc.) Here’s why.
Christians must acknowledge that our worldviews are under attack daily. Pulpits are hesitant to preach sound doctrine on unpopular subjects or so-called “gray” areas, and the sanctity of marriage erodes swiftly as churches shrink back to avoid controversy. (Note: if your pastor refuses to denounce abominations like abortion, adultery and divorce, find a new church!!) The devil tempts us to grow indifferent to issues which society condones but the Bible condemns, and since the divorce rate even among Christians is around 50%, it’s hard to maintain a passionate opposition to it. If you’ve ever been to a church wedding, you’ve probably heard the classic ceremony language based on certain scriptures dealing with God’s creation, purpose and defense of marriage. This language (“not good for man to be alone,” “two become one flesh,” etc.) can easily become cliché, but few believers take time to closely examine the magnitude of God’s instructions on holy matrimony. This ignorance – amplified by a dominant po-mo culture – has resulted in the reluctance of Christians to stand against the gradual shift from divorce as “detestable and out of the question” to “unfortunate but unavoidable.” This is a serious subject that has been trivialized to the point of being on level with declining a party invitation, and many don’t realize they’ve come to feel this way! Believers who pray “thy Kingdom come” yet rationalize divorce are being counter-productive as God’s servants.
Think back to Genesis when God created woman. He had already made Adam out of dirt, but instead of fashioning a wife for him in the same method, God slipped Adam a mickey and used one of his ribs to form Eve. Why not just make Eve out of dirt, too? God was obviously making the point of creating her as a part of her husband. Adam remarked that “this is now flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone” – let’s see someone work up a pre-nup for that! Scripture says that a man will leave his parents and permanently attach himself to his wife, thus becoming “one flesh.” Christians don’t often take this literally, since spouses do not become Siamese twins once married. However, God’s word usage is always key. Adam and Eve weren’t just sharing a life goal or a bank account; “flesh” describes a real, physical joining of husband and wife that should not be interpreted figuratively. As the apostle Paul later comments, this bond is mysterious and will not be fully understood until we enter into glory, but ‘it is what it is’ for a reason and we must strive to comprehend and apply it. Without knowing exactly what the Bible says about marriage, we are in grave danger of allowing Satan to manipulate our stance on divorce.
Leave and cleave is a fascinating concept; if you’ve never thought about it in depth, you should. Society is made up of individual family “cells” – one husband, one wife and their kiddies. When God unites a man and woman in marriage, he essentially creates a brand new organism. So in biological terms with a family as the “cell,” marriage is mitosis (proper cell division into new cells) to form new families and divorce is apoptosis (death of a cell that is rent apart). Relationship counselors prefer to gloss over this brutal reality with euphemisms like “uncoupling.” Such phrases are admittedly more palatable, but divorce should not be made less painful to swallow. It is offensive in its very nature because it is wrong, and we are supposed to be offended by what is wrong. “One flesh” does not retain a “seam” where the two parts came together and that can be unstitched should the match become undesirable. You can’t divide water into two cups and expect to separate hydrogen from oxygen, and Christians need to comprehend that there is no such thing as “uncoupling.” Divorce is nothing less than the violent, devastating death of a family cell fused together by God himself.
Christ reaffirms this fusion in Matthew 19. The Pharisees were again trying to trick him into uttering heresy by asking whether a man could get out of a marriage without breaking the law. In Deuteronomy, Moses had permitted husbands to send their wives away with a “certificate of divorce” on grounds of “indecency.” In that time, a fierce debate raged between liberals and conservatives over what constituted indecency. One side applied it strictly to sexual promiscuity, while the other extreme opened it up to anything the husband might find displeasing in his wife (bad cooking?). By endorsing either group, Jesus would seemingly alienate himself from the other and so, the Pharisees hoped, lose a great number of followers. Yet while the Pharisees were legalists, Jesus was the “Word” itself and therefore knew not just the law, but also its intent. The Pharisees assumed the divorce certificate was God’s stamp of approval on the procedure, but Christ informs them that Moses allowed those certificates only because the Israelite men were stubborn and determined to reject their wives. Divorce was a product of the fall – not an arrangement instituted by God – and God has never given it his approval. Ironically, the certificates were not issued to exonerate the man but to protect the woman from a lonely ex-husband’s change of heart after she had remarried. Jesus would not be caught in the snare that had been laid for him. He did not take sides or outline the do’s and don’t’s of a proper divorce. He turned the focus from “how to get out of” to “why to stay in” the holy bond of marriage. And why stay in? Well, mainly because we promised, and God is kinda big on keeping promises.
But Jesus wasn’t done yet, though the Pharisees were sorry they had asked. He goes on to explain that anyone who divorces (for reason other than a spouse’s sexual infidelity) and then remarries, himself commits adultery – even with a silly certificate. Did you catch that? By this definition, “no fault” or “irreconcilable differences” divorcees commit adultery by remarrying. Anyone who marries an adulterer also commits adultery, and the corruption continues. Lots of people find this harsh and most churches have all but eliminated this portion of the message from their teaching. In Matthew 19:6, Jesus states that “what therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” This is usually construed as a warning against interference in a marriage by adulterant suitors, nosey friends, pushy mothers-in-law or any other influence which might damage the relationship between husband and wife. While all of that is correct, it is incomplete. In this verse, Christ is also explicitly informing us that God has conferred upon humanity absolutely no authority to perform, permit or sanction divorce. Mankind claims the power to dissolve and even redefine marriage, but because God specifically denied us these powers, he neither acknowledges nor accepts any human attempts to wield them. A divorce may be pronounced “legal” by a county judge, but such declaration has all the effectiveness of my declaring myself to be a unicorn. So if I divorce my spouse because we don’t get along, I cannot remarry without committing adultery? Christ says no. You are still married in the eyes of heaven and no earthly court can render you otherwise. Besides, the divorce rate increases roughly 10% with each subsequent marriage, so if you can’t hack the first one, your chances just get worse. These numbers indicate that success in marriage depends largely on commitment and determination, and failure is proof that one or both of the spouses lack one or both of the above. In other words, you’re either the kind of person who stays married or the kind of person who does not – regardless of what goes on between “I do” and death. Then I must remain single and celibate for the rest of my life? Of course not – you can reunite with the spouse from whom you were never really divorced! But beyond that, you’re stuck. That still may seem unfair to many, but I would suggest taking up the issue with whomever forced you to marry in the first place.
Sinful human beings – even those Christ has redeemed – want “options” and we ask ourselves questions such as “is it technically wrong if I go out boating on the Sabbath?” or “isn’t it ok to get a divorce since my husband had an affair?” God knows we are frail and finite, and the Bible is not a conundrum to play tricks on our senses. We have overcomplicated issues like marriage and divorce with pharisaical red tape, and we hunt for loopholes to clear our consciences while still getting what we want. When we do this, we may be operating within the letter of the law, but we miss the overall intent of the Lawmaker. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. So instead of trying to discover our options, we should consider the following two questions: “what does God love?” and “what does God hate?” If it is truly your life’s goal to glorify him, your dilemmas will always be solved by cutting to the chase, which is the heart of God. If your primary goal is merely personal happiness, you will eventually find a loophole and justification for every worldly desire of your heart. You will not, however, be so fortunate at the gates of Heaven.
“Six short months we went together, decided it should be forever; two paychecks are better than one, a diamond ring – and it was done. Bought her a house like I said I would in a sub-divided neighborhood. The fuse got short and the nights got long; it was over, long gone, before I knew where I was headed to…Things like this are never final; I’m still paying on the vinyl flooring in the laundry room – it’s multi-colored, and waterproof…I’m going through the Big D and don’t mean Dallas.” The lyrics are supposed to be funny, but on second thought, they’re too accurate to be anything except depressing. People rush into superficial marriages capriciously in a culture where they can bail out almost as fast. But things like this are indeed never final, nor are they clean, quick, painless, unavoidable, necessary, for the best, no fault, irreconcilable, or amicable. Moreover, they are never pleasing to God and will always leave broken hearts and families in their wake. Christians must start seeing divorce for what it is: open assault on an estate that God has created, sanctified and loved. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a war I want to wage.