Posted on May 21, 2014
#55: On Marriage and Divorce
Tammie called me one summer morning. From her first shaky hello, I knew something was wrong. “Can I come see you?” she asked. “I need to know what the Bible says about divorce.”
Later that morning, she explained. Her marriage, only two years old, was struggling. She and her husband Troy—both Christians since their early teens—were constantly at each other’s throats. Worse, she’d begun to suspect Troy was attracted to his pretty new co-worker. “We’re in a mess,” she said tearfully. “This isn’t at all what I thought marriage would be. I think we’ve made a terrible mistake. Are we stuck for life?”
Many Christian women have asked that same question. Maybe you’re one of them. I guarantee that one blog post isn’t going to hold all the answers. But let’s take a look at one of Jesus’ most specific teachings on divorce for some help.
Read Mark 10:1-12, then read the same account from Matthew’s viewpoint in Matthew 19:1-12.
Jesus had begun His final journey to Jerusalem. Satan had tried repeatedly to thwart Jesus’ purpose, without success. On this day he made another attempt, using a group of Pharisees. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” they asked.
Why did the Pharisees pick this issue? Because divorce was as controversial then as it is now! No matter how Jesus answered, He was sure to alienate someone—potentially even Herod (as John the Baptist had, with deadly consequences; see Mark 6:17ff).
Jesus answered their question with a question. “What did Moses say?”
The Pharisees went straight to Deuteronomy 24:1-4, their “proof text.” “Moses permitted it,” they said smugly. “He said, ‘Write a certificate of divorce and send her away.'”
Jesus nodded. “Because your hearts were hard, Moses gave you this concession. But Moses also recorded what happened at the beginning of creation. ‘God made them male and female.’ Then Moses continued with God’s words, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
“One flesh.” The Hebrew term basar in Genesis 2:24 refers to way more than physical union. It encompasses the entire mortal existence. Marriage melds two lives into one for the duration of their mortal lives. It is a covenant relationship, two made one before God. To separate them is to rend a single entity—extremely painful, perhaps deadly.
Every divorce, no matter how amicable, has three undeniable elements.
• Sin, with at least one partner failing to fulfill the covenant vows, tearing apart the basar.
• Pain for the spouses, their children (including adult children, who are just as traumatized as young kids when parents divorce), their parents and siblings, and their friends—not to mention the pain God feels. The fallout is agonizing. No one comes away from divorce unscathed.
• Consequences, cheating both partners of God’s ideal for marriage. Both may move on, both may experience God’s mercy, both may successfully marry again. But they’ll never recapture the pristine joy that God designed marriage—a portrait of Christ’s relationship with His bride, the Church—to be.
It’s a hard picture, isn’t it? So what can keep us from this disappointment? Here are some thoughts, gathered over years of ministry to women.
To the single:
• Be wise. Only date men who share your faith and your values. Then when love comes, you’ll have a sound basis for marriage.
• Keep your pre-marriage relationship pure so your decisions aren’t colored by the emotional bond that God designed to accompany sexual intimacy in marriage.
• Don’t ignore red flags. After marrying, irritations will escalate, not evaporate. What whispers now will thunder then. Communicate about differences now, rather than assuming they won’t matter later.
• Take advantage of premarital counseling to identify potential problems. You can work out good solutions in advance, sparing a lot of stress.
• Be willing to hear godly advice from others who may recognize issues you’re too biased to see.
Understand that you will be looking across the breakfast table at this man for decades to come! Make a careful, prayerful, God-pleasing choice that will last a lifetime.
To the happily married:
• Don’t take your husband or your marriage for granted. Put him first—before your parents, before your kids, before your sisters or friends. Pray for him, and support him.
• Actively pursue happiness together. Be cautious about too many friends and interests that take you away from each other; don’t be content to live separate lives. Develop couple-friendships, so you can enjoy a healthy amount of leisure time as a couple.
• Don’t criticize your husband in front of others—whether he’s present or not.
• Be a wife he can be proud of. Take care of yourself. Make your best effort to be attractive to him—in public and at home. (As Ann Landers once wrote, “Don’t look like a leftover from a garage sale!”)
• When troubled times come (and they will), fight for your marriage! Never let go.
Make a daily habit of looking at him and thinking, “There is the love of my life. He is my chance for God’s ideal, and I am his.”
To those in a struggling marriage:
• Pray for your husband every day, thanking God for at least one characteristic about him.
• Try to pinpoint one or two specific points of conflict, and see if there are changes you can make to relieve them—regardless of what your husband does.
• Don’t criticize him in front of others (including your parents or kids), whether or not he’s present.
• Do something kind for him each day—just one tiny little deed—expecting nothing in return.
• Be the kind of woman he would want to be with. Do your best to be attractive, to be pleasant, to take an interest in him—in effect, to “date” him like you did before you were married.
• Avoid extreme words, like “You always….” or “You never….” Those phrases almost guarantee a fight.
As hard as it may seem, look at your husband and think, “There is the love of my life. He is my chance for God’s ideal, and I am his. For a thousand reasons, our marriage is worth fighting for.” Just thinking it can transform your outlook, and you may be amazed how your transformation changes him. My young friend Tammie took on this challenge, and saw her troubled marriage thrive. Now, years later, she and Troy are together, happy, and raising four great kids. It happened for her, and it can happen for you.
To those divorced:
• You completely understand the pain involved in divorce because you’ve endured it. Pray for the marriages (present or future) of your kids, siblings, and friends, and be their encourager.
• If God brings you to dating and marriage again, submit it all to Him at every step. Be wise and take your time, understanding that second marriages have unique challenges.
• Pray for God to use you now, where you are, for His glory. You may be surprised at His plans for you, if you’re willing!
Marriage is a gift, instituted by God and meant to be cherished and protected. No matter what your situation is, may He use you this week to strengthen and encourage the marriages around you—including your own.
Thanks for joining me for today’s post in Knowing Jesus, a study of Mark’s gospel. We’re out to learn all we can from the life of Jesus so we can be more like Him. You can subscribe to this weekly blog by adding your email address at right. Also, I welcome your comment on today’s study. Feel free to share your thoughts!
© Diane McLoud 2014