Marriage and Divorce
I’m going to say upfront that this month’s column is an infomercial for the The Life Application Study Bible. The Life Application Study Bible is such a valuable resource when searching for direction about issues or topics you can’t seem to make sense of. With easy-to-read detailed commentary by Biblical scholars on each page, any question I have as I read the study Bible is anticipated and addressed in the footnoted commentary.
So when I embarked on this article about marriage and divorce after a stretch of time when it seemed as if many of our friends and acquaintances were calling it quits in their marriages, I was enlightened, comforted, and made stronger by my study of The Life Application Study Bible.
When God created Adam and Eve, he breathed them into existence to be in union with one another. In Genesis 2:21-24 (NLT), we read:
So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man.
“At last!” the man exclaimed.
“This one is bone from my bone,
and flesh from my flesh!
She will be called ‘woman,’
because she was taken from ‘man.’”
This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.
There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing a married couple as God intended them to be—loving, respectful, faithful to one another. Marriage is a little snapshot of how God calls us to be in union with him. It’s no surprise that Jesus is referred to as the bridegroom throughout Scripture, and you and I as the person with whom he has union.
In Mark 10:8-9 (NLT), Jesus referenced Genesis 2 when he said, “Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” Jesus said this in response to questions posed to him by critics who asked him to respond to Moses’ statement in Deuteronomy 24:1 that a man could divorce his wife if, after he marries her, “she does not please him.” Jesus’ point was that a married couple is no longer two separate people, but they are grafted into one entity. A true marriage as Jesus intended it to be cannot be taken apart.
I like the image offered up in Ecclesiastes 4:12, which says, “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” When a married couple is grafted together with God, that’s a triple-braided cord not easily broken!
Maybe you are in a great marriage in which you are your spouse’s best friend. You communicate openly, are faithful to the needs of the other person, and love one another unconditionally as God loves us. You are blessed! Maybe you are just starting out and wondering how your relationship can sustain the challenges of financial hardship, threats on your faithfulness, or other more private issues that gnaw at you. Maybe you are in a marriage that is struggling. The laughter and intimacy is gone. You are two islands living side-by-side. There may be secrets that no one else knows about—addictions, unfaithfulness, abuse. Perhaps divorce is on your mind.
The Bible has a lot to say about divorce. In Matthew 5:31-32 (NLT), Jesus again addresses Moses’ Old Testament ideas about divorce: “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.”
I turn to the footnotes of The Life Application Study Bible: “Divorce is as hurtful and destructive today as in Jesus’ day. God intends marriage to be a lifetime commitment (Genesis 2:24). When entering into marriage, people should never consider divorce an option for solving problems or a way out of a relationship that seems dead. In these verses, Jesus is also attacking those who purposely abuse the marriage contract, using divorce to satisfy their lustful desire to marry someone else. Are your actions today helping your marriage grow stronger or are you tearing it apart? Jesus said that divorce is not permissible except for unfaithfulness. This does not mean that divorce should automatically occur when a spouse commits adultery. Those who discover that their partner has been unfaithful should first make every effort to reconcile and restore their relationship. We are always to look for reasons to restore the marriage relationship rather than for excuses to leave it.”
I have a friend, a car mechanic, who says marriage is a lot like an automobile. When you hear the first creaks and knocks in the engine, address them immediately by bringing your car in for scrutiny. If you ignore the small problems, eventually they turn into big problems that could destroy the entire car. The same can be said about marriage, he says. When there’s a problem, open up the hood and take a look—address it openly, talk to one another about it, respect the other person’s concerns, and work to resolve the differences. This takes incredible Christian maturity, of course. When one is angry and jealous, one is not always open to work on solutions. Pray about your issues together. When your spouse hears your concerns as you speak about them in the presence of God—the third cord in your marriage—he or she may listen better. Search the Bible for answers together about whatever the issue is.
Listen intently to the other person and respond with empathy, understanding, and selflessness. Seek help through a counselor or a trusted marriage mentor. Ignoring the problem will only find you on the garage hoist down the road, as my friend says.
Marriage takes work. That person you married five, ten, twenty years ago may not be the same person you are married to today for a host of reasons—health, addictions, failure, success, or unspeakable acts or words. The meaning of the words “unfaithful to the marriage” is also up for debate. If a husband is physically or emotionally abusive, is he being faithful to his marriage vows? When a wife becomes cold, distant, non-communicative, or non-intimate, is she being faithful to her spouse?
This article is just a primer, a discussion starter on a big, complex issue. But the Bible has lots to say about the topic, and The Life Application Study Bible is full of excellent supplemental commentary that makes devotional time even more meaningful and insightful.
Ron DeBoer is an educator and writer near Toronto, Ontario. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/rondeboer16.