Joy & Mourning

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief. Proverbs 14:13

In hindsight we can often see God transforming evil into good. The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution in China were horrendous, but planted the seeds for tens of millions to come to Christ. A devastating earthquake in Guatemala in the 70’s birthed a huge revival to where over a third of the country was saved. The tsunami in the Indian Ocean brought the gospel where it had not been able to penetrate. The Sichuan earthquake brought tens of thousands to eternal life. We can hope the same for the awful suffering in Haiti even while sending relief. But how about the other way around, having the foresight to anticipate the evil seeds inherent in things that are so very good? When wonderful things come to pass and dreams are joyously fulfilled, our celebrations hardly allow for consideration of dangers that may be lurking around the corner. Autumn, 1950: Imagine the joy of North Korean Christians when the Allies counter-attacked in the Korean War and drove the North Korean army not only out of South Korea which it had just overrun but even North Korea itself, right up to the Chinese border. NK pastors could suddenly preach enthusiastically without fear of being tortured and executed! Freedom had come! The kingdom of God was at hand! Seoul and Pyongyang churches re-opened and held special days of celebration welcoming the UN and South Korean forces. South Korean Christians joined the chorus. Who wouldn’t do the same when persecution had lifted and the gospel could be proclaimed openly? Just weeks later China joined North Korea and suddenly launches a counter-attack, pushing the Allies back out of North Korea and then across South Korea back into a small corner of the country at Pusan. Those who had celebrated mere weeks before, thereby identifying themselves as anti-Kim Il Sung, were slaughtered. Furthermore, because Christians had now clearly been marked as enemies of the North Korean Communist revolution, the fires of persecution in North Korea have intensified ever since. Indeed, how quickly joy may end in grief. Other times the destruction is more subtle and gradual, though just as deadly. The Roman Empire, as you probably know, also intermittently persecuted the church for over 200 years. It reached its terrifying peak around 300 A.D. under Emperor Diocletian, who martyred literally hundreds of thousands of Christians. After over two whole centuries just think how discouraging that must have been: from bad to worse, then from worse to worst. Where was God?? Finally Diocletian’s reign ended in 305. Civil war broke out with the two main players being generals named Maxentius and Constantine. Maxentius had by far the larger army, plus he controlled Rome itself, while Constantine’s smaller army was marching there for the decisive battle. It came in 311. Maxentius consulted a pagan oracle, which assured him of victory, so he confidently took his army outside Rome to go confront Constantine’s. Constantine, on the other hand, saw a vision of the cross with the Latin words “By this you conquer.” Ordering his men to paint the cross on their shields, he went to battle. Well . . . Constantine did win that day and became Emperor! He openly declared himself a Christian, so obviously persecution abruptly ceased. He died in 337 but freedom lived on—in fact in 381 Christianity was named the official state religion. What a turnaround! Who’d’ve figured? Imagine that celebration! Twelve years after Constantine ascended the throne, Christian leaders from across the Empire took advantage of their newfound freedom to gather for a great conference in a city called Nicaea. The main topic? Formulating a doctrinal statement of faith, the Nicene Creed. And a very good and important thing it was! But it’s also worth noting what was NOT a main topic: reaching the lost outside the empire or even inside the empire, for example. No, the main issue became the difference between “homo-ousias” vs. “homeoi-ousias” (same essence vs. similar essence). Actually an important distinction, but perhaps millions of lost souls could also have merited a place somewhere on the agenda? The pattern of priorities was set. Another council came at Chalcedon in 451, when the western empire was in crisis and about to be overrun by “barbarians.” It was here that Mary and the Bishop of Rome (pope) were exalted to their lofty positions. The doctrinal issue dropped from the essence of Christ at Nicaea to whether Mary was “theotdokos” or “Christokos” (God-bearer or Christ-bearer). Probably not a hot topic among Christians hiding in the catacombs from the persecution of Emperor Diocletian. Later major councils took on the earth-shaking questions of literally how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, and the color of Mary’s eyes. It all started with religious freedom, followed by a subtle shift in priorities. How gradually joy may end in grief. This winter Christians are rejoicing that Shouwang Church in Beijing, an unregistered (illegal) but wide-open church with up to 1000 in attendance, is actually being allowed to publicly purchase a building for its meetings. An historic breakthrough! Great . . . maybe. Note Matthew 24:1,2:

“Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’”

We may conclude Jesus was not too impressed with the building, the very temple itself. China after Mao has been experiencing the greatest revival in history. What characterized it? People not buildings, “lay people” not clergy, evangelism not systematic theology, relationships not institutions, sacrifice not status, realities not formalities, native not foreign leadership, and outward focus balancing inward focus. Could it be all these things are related? How will greater religious freedom affect them? Jesus sternly attacked dead formalities that stifle true spiritual life: Matt 21:23 Insincere leaders attacking truth when unauthorized by themselves :28ff Talk vs. obedient action :32 Status vs. real repentance :33ff Hirelings persecuting true sons :43 Status revoked in favor of the fruitful 22:1-14 Status reversed in favor of responsiveness :29 Teachers ignorant of the Bible and without spiritual power :37ff Law vs. Love 23:1-4 Words vs. actions :5ff Pretentious honor vs. servanthood :13ff Leaders actually obstructing God’s work :16ff Traditional human interpretations contradicting God’s ways :23ff Reversed priorities: observing the petty while missing the point :25ff Outward appearance vs. inner reality :29ff Pretense of honoring God’s messengers while actually fighting them Which side grows best when buried under the soil of persecution? Which characterizes the Christian life I am experiencing, both around me and within me? How might persecution impact that experience? Who would seek leadership roles when it means becoming a target? How would we function without any buildings? Would differences between the redeemed and the lost become more distinct or more blurred? What would happen to luke-warmness? What would I value the most? The least? Would my love for Christ grow or diminish? What aspects of church life would disappear? Which would survive—or even increase? Why? How would I handle the prospect of prison? Paul indicated there is a secret to godliness in easy times and a secret in tough times; neither is automatic. Each presents its own set of challenges and temptations from the world, the flesh and the devil. China’s Christians need to be alerted to the nasty seeds of formal religion, materialism, pride, pettiness and self-centeredness which we have seen bloom brightly in the sunlight of freedom. At the same time, we might consider our own need to learn the other side from them. by Gary A Russell, International Director for China Harvest

One Unifying Purpose

In a world of dizzyingly rapid change, multiple options, competing demands, conflicting desires, and limited personal resources, is there any way to find coherence in our lives? What overarching concept, single goal, clarifying lens, or fundamental principle can bring this kaleidoscope into focus? Where can we find a firm foundation, a stable platform or - to change the metaphor – clearly-marked path to personal peace and productivity? In one sense, the question is, Why are we here?As I struggled with these questions the other day, a “new” idea came to me. It’s really very old, but to my shame I have not allowed it to integrate all my thoughts, words, and actions. It is not the only way to look at life, and certainly not the only biblical category that sheds light upon the scattered fragments of our days and minds. I am speaking, of course, about the glory of God. Consider a few Scriptures: God called the remnant of Israel those “whom I have created for My glory” (Isaiah 43:7). Jesus Himself sought only the glory of God the Father (John 7:18; 8:50. He taught His disciples to pray first of all, “Hallowed be Your [the Father’s] name” (Matthew 6:9), and commanded, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Paul said that those who hoped in Christ should “be to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:14). He returned to this theme often: “Therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Peter writes that we are to exercise our spiritual gifts, “that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11). Indeed, the Bible abounds with exhortations to give God glory, for He alone deserves all the glory, honor and praise that heaven and earth can offer (Ephesians 3:21; Revelation 1:6; 4:11; 5:12-13; 7:12; 14:7). What if all our prayers and plans (in that order!) were aimed at God’s glory? Imagine the single-mindedness and serenity that would flood the hearts of those who had only one unifying purpose in life, one compelling passion, one magnificent obsession – the glory of God the Father and of His Son, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit!

Come Home, Son

You’ve wandered long enough, far enough. It’s time to come home. Have you found what you sought? What was it, anyway? What drew you away from your Father’s house? What induced you to demand what was “yours,” as if you had earned it by your own hard labor, or deserved the patrimony that would come to you by my free gift? What lured you away from my steady love, my protection, provision and care? Did you want to make a name for yourself – like the builders of Babel? Did you think that the delights of this ephemeral world satisfy the hunger and thirst of your immortal soul? Or were you just restless, driven, impelled to leave me, launch out on your own, perhaps even find yourself somewhere else? Are you content? Happy? How well do your erstwhile “friends” now like – not to mention love – you, now that your resources are expended and you have nothing left to give them? Did you find what you were looking for in these companions in comfort, comrades in carousing, cohorts in crime? You’re starving, I know, longing to eat one of the husks you feed the unclean swine of your stingy boss. But would they stop the gnawing in your stomach? You are coming to yourself; I see it from afar. You know what I have to offer you, but you don’t know (yet) that it is yours to have – for free. You are on the road, walking, now running. I see your anxious look, know your doubting heart – will your Father yet take you back? Your longing meets mine. I cast off my dignity and race towards you, arms outstretched. “I am not worthy…” “Hush, child. You are home. I am yours. Welcome home, son.”

Should You Get A Divorce? (2)

When we are tempted to consider divorce, we need to reflect anew on what the Bible teaches. In particular, we must understand God's plan for marriage, so that we can understand His opposition to divorce. From the beginning, he made man as male and female, and caused them to join together as one flesh. When asked about divorce Jesus quoted the words of Genesis 1:24, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined [cling, cleave] to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." Marriage creates a one-flesh union between a man and a woman. Although they may separate, this union cannot really be broken. Psychological studies have shown that any separation of husband and wife - through divorce or death - generates profound confusion, grief, and sadness. This union occurs when a man and a woman publicly commit themselves to each other, live together, engage in sexual intercourse, and work together. The bond thus forged lasts for a lifetime. Thus, changing marriage partners is not like changing clothes, as some erroneously believe. Because man and wife are one, they can bring each other either great joy or bitter sorrow. We are hurt most by those closest to us. No one is closer than our mate; that is why marital conflict produces such pain. Marriage, even when there is conflict, bestows many benefits: Companionship, help, security, an extended family, new friends, division of labor at home, to name only a few. Sexual pleasure adds to the delight of living with someone. For men, sexual intercourse fulfills a powerful drive, one which tends to dominate a man's life. For women, it can bring pleasure, release from tension, and a sense of being loved and desired. Sexual frustration, on the other hand, causes profound tension, especially in the man. God intended marriage to result in children. To carry on the human race, He ordained that new life should begin in a home with a father and a mother. He further planned that children should grow up in a stable home with two parents, as recent studies have proven. But what about the pain of marriage, to which we referred above? The benefits we can easily understand; they drove us to marriage to begin with. But the awful feelings accompanying conflict or even just lack of intimacy - what are we to do with these? Do they not prove that we made a mistake and married the wrong person, or that the union should be terminated? Here many people go wrong. They do not comprehend the role of pain in life, including married life. In a perfect world, pain would not exist. But in this fallen world, populated by sinners, pain plays a vital role. Walter Trobisch, the famed marriage counselor of a previous generation, used to say that "Growth is connected mostly with pain." God intends for His people to grow up into maturity, into the "measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13 ). That is, Our Father wants us to become like His Son Jesus. That means that we must learn how to love as Christ loved, laying down His life for His friends, giving Himself, sacrificing Himself. We come into this world infected with sin, a chief trait of which is profound selfishness. When we love, we deny ourselves for the good of another. We are also naturally filled with unbelief in God's goodness and power. When we trust Him, we receive both His love and His power to love others through us. As Martin Luther said, marriage is a "school for character." By living closely with someone whose personality, background, interests, desires, fears, and hopes differ so radically from ours, we must learn to love. But that means sacrificing ourselves. And that means pain. If we run from the pain, we shall never learn to love and we shall never grow up. We shall remain infants, pre-occupied with ourselves, demanding instant gratification of our own wants, regardless of the cost to others. Have you ever noticed how her baby's cry immediately captures a mother's full attention? God meant it that way. In the same fashion, the pain of conflict with our marriage partner engages us. We can't ignore it. If we run towards pain, seeking the cause and, relying on God's help, dealing with the problem, we shall grow through pain to maturity. If we run away, we shall lose the opportunity to experience God's power and love. But we shall never love perfectly, nor shall we ever be fully loved by another. Marriage confronts us with that sobering fact within a short time after the wedding. God knew that, too. He uses marriage (and other close relationships) to remind us that only He can fulfill our longing for unconditional love. When we feel the limited acceptance, or even rejection, of those close to us, God invites us into His own gracious presence, where we shall receive His boundless affection. Likewise, when we confront the reality of our own pride, laziness, fear, selfishness, and even malice, we can turn to God for forgiveness. Jesus has died for sinners, so that we can be reconciled to God. Failure to love others can drive us to the cross, where God's love meets our hardness of heart and melts us, again and again. Paradoxically, by confessing our faults and receiving God's mercy, we find new energy to extend mercy to others. In other words, our own failure - if turned over to God for His transforming work - can equip us to grant pardon and compassion to our spouse. All these blessings we lose if we give up and march into the divorce court.

The Biblical Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage

Here are the main passages explicitly dealing with divorce and remarriage after divorce.

For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce... Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously. Malachi 2:16

The words of Jesus:

Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except fornication causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. Matthew 5:32 Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate... Whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery. Matthew 19:4-6, 9 Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, he commits adultery. Mark 10:11-12 Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery. Luke 16:18

The words of the Apostle Paul:

The woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then, if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. Romans 7:2-3 Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife. But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And if a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her let her not divorce him... But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. 1 Corinthians 7:10-13, 15 A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 7:39

It would seem that these passages are plain enough, but several different interpretations have arisen among Christians:

  1. There are no grounds for divorce. Remarriage after divorce amounts to adultery.
  2. There is one legitimate cause for divorce: Fornication, which is defined either as pre-marital sexual relations or marriage to a close relative; if either of these is discovered after marriage, divorce is lawful. Remarriage after such a divorce is not lawful in God's eyes.
  3. There are two grounds for divorce: Marital unfaithfulness (adultery) and desertion of a believer by a non-believer because of the faith of the Christian. Remarriage by the innocent partner after divorce on either of these grounds is lawful in God's eyes.
  4. There is more to adultery than a physical relationship with someone other than your spouse, and more to separation than actually leaving. Thus, anything which shows a profound lack of commitment to the marriage constitutes either adultery or separation, and offers suitable grounds for a Biblical divorce.
  5. Athough Christians may not divorce (or remarry after divorce), Christians who were divorced before they believed in Christ are fully forgiven and free to re-marry.

As we consider this vital subject, we need to remember several facts:

  1. When Matthew and the other Gospel writers use the word "fornication" [sometimes translated as "sexual immorality"] he does so differently from Paul. He carefully distinguishes adultery (unfaithfulness of someone who is married) from fornication (sexual sin before marriage). Thus, any interpretation which fails to take note of this distinction will miss the point of Jesus' teaching.
  2. Jesus, while allowing divorce for "fornication," explicitly forbids remarriage after divorce, and He does so in the clearest possible language.
  3. Paul states clearly that married people are bound to each other until death.
  4. Paul, while allowing the believer not to contest the departure of an unbelieving mate, does not grant the right to re-marry, but at the end of the chapter explicitly says that married people are bound to each other until death.
  5. Contemporary Jews allowed divorce and remarriage for all sorts of reasons. Jesus obviously meant to distinguish His teaching from theirs. His words could not have been much more clear.
  6. Adultery, while devastating to a relationship, does not break the bond or kill the marriage. If that were the case, Israel's constant unfaithfulness to her God, often termed adultery, would have severed the covenant with God, which it did not. The entire book of Hosea makes this one point: God remained faithful to His people even when they were not faithful to Him. How could He allow Christians to do otherwise?
  7. There is a difference between forgiveness of sins and responsibility for the consequences of our actions. We live in a moral universe; God does not repeal His moral laws for His children. Therefore, when we sin - and we all do - and confess our sins with faith in the death of Christ for our forgiveness, God full pardons us. But we shall have to live with the consequences of our sins, as David did after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. One of the consequences of divorce for a believer is loss of freedom to marry again.
  8. Jesus and Paul make no distinction at this point between believers and non-believers. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that God's order for marriage began at creation, and thus applies to all men. We cannot apply one principle to people before, and another after, they believe. What we do as non-believers has consequences for our life as believers. People who crippled their bodies by reckless driving before coming to faith in Christ will have to live with their disability, just as those who divorced as unbelievers will have to remain single. In each case, God will provide sufficient grace to serve Him with joy (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  9. Moses in Deuteronomy 24 (a passage often cited in defense of the right to marry after divorce) says that a divorced woman who marries another has been "defiled." The most natural interpretation of this is that she has done what she should not have done.
  10. When Jesus says that not all can receive His teaching, He referred not to the binding nature of His laws about divorce and remarriage, but to His saying that some people deliberately forego marriage so "for the kingdom of heaven's sake," as the punctuation in the New King James Version indicates (Matthew 19:11-12).

Thus, I accept the second position named above, although I respect the first one; all the others I consider to be improper interpretations of the Biblical passages. If divorce (and thus remarriage) is not an option for God's people, that leads to the obvious question: What, then, should we do with a difficult marriage? First of all, we need to understand that ALL marriages are difficult! People think that only they are having marital problems when, in fact, all married couples do. We are selfish sinners, and will inevitably encounter conflict with each other. Then, we need to ask, What is God trying to teach me? How does he want me to grow in faith, hope, and love? How does my spouse's sin show me my own sin? How does his criticism point up my fault? How would Jesus love this person? As we seek God's wisdom, we shall find that we need His help. We shall see our sin more clearly, and our need for His forgiveness and His power to love the unlovely. That will drive us to prayer and to the Bible. In prayer, we should confess our own sins, asking God's forgiveness and His love for our mate. Then we should pray for our partner, asking God to forgive him and change him. We should find some other person of the same sex with whom we can pray. But be careful! Don't spend time complaining about your mate. Instead, confess your own faults and ask for prayer. You will find that mutual prayer will give you strength to go on. Of course, we need to go to church regularly. By worshiping God with others, we shall forget our own troubles for a while and concentrate upon the greatness and the goodness of God. In church, we remember why God made us - to know and glorify Him, not to have a happy life on this earth. Find some Bible passages that speak to your difficulty. If your wife is contentious - and most wives ARE contentious - then meditate upon those Bible passages which speak of returning evil with good, being patient, gentle and kind, and the duty of the husband to love his wife as Jesus loved the church (like Ephesians 5:22 -33) If your husband is unloving - and most husbands ARE unloving - then focus upon those passages of the Bible which remind us that Jesus is the only source of unconditional love, and those which require wives to submit to their husbands, even non-Christian ones (like 1 Peter 3:1-6). It is good for us to submit to God's discipline. Through marriage, he disciplines us, to cause us to grow more loving and to trust Him more. Remember, too, that marriage lasts only for a few years. When we die, we shall no longer be married, except for our union with Christ. We can stand a few more years of difficulty, knowing that we have ahead of us an eternity of delight. At the same time, we should try to be thankful. No one is totally evil all the time. Think of your spouse's good points, and meditate upon those, with thanksgiving to God. Speak words of encouragement and gratitude to your partner; this will encourage him to keep doing what you like. Nagging and criticism do no good, nor do they change the other person. After you have expressed your preferences once, take them to God in prayer and as Him to change your spouse. Your words of disapproval will only make the situation worse. Believe me - I speak from experience! Rather than concentrating upon the faults and failings of your spouse, ask God for strength to do your duty as a married person. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her; men must sacrifice for their wives. Wives, submit to your husbands as the church submits to Christ. Show him respect and serve him, and our life with him will be happier. We could go on and on, but these few suggestions are enough to show how we should begin to deal with a difficult marriage - which is a normal one! Finally, we need to address the very real situation of those who have already been divorced. They know pain that the rest of us do not, and need special comfort from God. Here are a few brief guidelines:

  1. All who repent of their past sins and believe in Christ receive full forgiveness. Divorce and remarriage - and all the sins which cause these actions - can be forgiven by God.
  2. Those who harbor resentment do not enjoy God's favor. Divorced people need to forgive their former spouses. If they have not remarried, they need to seek reconciliation.
  3. Although they can be admitted to communion, men who are divorced (or remarried after divorce) can not serve as elders or deacons in the church (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6).
  4. We should all deal gently with people who have gone through divorce or remarriage. They are our fellow sinners; we are no better than they are; if we are self-righteous, we are even worse than they are! We should look to ourselves, asking God to keep us from all sorts of sins, including sins against marriage, for this is an institution much beloved by God.

Should You Get A Divorce?

More and more marriages are terminating in divorce. In every case, one or both parties believes that divorce is preferable to staying together in an unhappy marriage. The pain of living together is so great that permanent separation seems to be the only choice. With the support of family, friends, the media, even church leaders, couples decide that it would be better to sever the marriage bond. No one – and certainly not those who are married! – disagrees that marriage is difficult, and that building a relatively happy marriage takes years of hard work. Nor does anyone deny that marital pain cuts to the heart and leaves painful inner wounds. What most people don’t know, however, is that a strong case can be made against divorce. I am not talking only about the teaching of the Bible. That is clear enough, despite the confusion reigning in the church on this issue nowadays. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). Jesus commanded, “What God has joined together, let not man separate (Matthew 19:6). When the Pharisees said that Moses had allowed divorce, Jesus reminded them that God joins man and woman together as one flesh. Moses gave a commandment about divorce and remarriage (Deuteronomy 24) in order to limit the sin that formerly married people could commit against each, but Jesus clearly attributed this to man’s hardness of heart. “Hardness of heart” in the Bible almost always describes a condition of those who do not believe in God, do not obey God, and are destined for eternal wrath. Christians differ over whether divorced persons may remarry. That is another subject. What we must see now is that God never divorced Israel, though she was frequently unfaithful to Him and never loved Him as He loved her. He remained faithful to a wicked wife. Likewise, Jesus has bound Himself forever to a church that constantly wanders away into sin. But that is the Bible, and most people don’t accept the Bible as their authority for making decisions. Are there any other reasons why divorce is not wise or beneficial, why it is actually harmful for those who choose that way? Yes. Diane Medved, a psychologist, once set out to write a book defending divorce as the lesser of two evils for many married people. When she had completed her research, however, she published an entirely different work, The Case Against Divorce (New York: Donald I. Fine, Inc, 1989). I briefly summarize some of her points below. Numbers in parentheses refer to pages in her book. As she did her research, she discovered that “divorce was catastrophic – but not in the commonly accepted terms of a simple year or two thrown away… The physical act of packing a bad and moving out is traumatic. And from there on the trauma escalates.” “People could be spared enormous suffering if they scotched their permissive acceptance of divorce and viewed marriage as a serious, lifelong commitment” (4) She learned about “the permanent distrust, anguish, and bitterness divorce brings” (4) and discovered the “lingering emotional and psychological effects.” “Women’s standard of living declines by… 73 percent in the first year after divorce.” Most women who get divorces are still clinically depressed ten years after the divorce, and all “were moderately or severely lonely.” The chances of divorced women finding another husband are less than those of “being struck by a terrorist!” (6). “The effects of divorce last a lifetime. And they are in actuality far worse than we care to confront” (7). She herself is divorced and, though happily remarried, writes poignantly of the “enormous loss” of her divorce. Her second marriage is an exception, for only one half of those she interviewed who remarried stayed with the second spouse or found themselves happy in their new marriage (actually, the percentage nationwide is much lower). “No one ever emerges from a divorce unscathed – he or she is inevitably permanently harmed” (10). She reviews the usual reasons for divorce and agrees that “after divorce women especially, and men to some extent, report emotional growth. But won’t admit that they might have blossomed even more had they gathered the gumption to stick with and heal the marriage” (12). In brief, her “case against divorce” includes four elements, which I quote in full:

  1. Divorce hurts you. Divorce brings out selfishness, hostility, and vindictiveness. It ruins your idealism about marriage. It leaves emotional scars from which you can never be free. It costs a bunch of money – and significantly reduces your standard of living.
  2. Divorce hurts those around you. It devastates your children for at least two years and probably for life. It hurts your family by splitting it in two; both family and friends are compelled to take sides. It forces you to be hardened against people you once loved. It rips the fabric of our society, each divorce providing another example of marriage devalued.
  3. The single life isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Ask anyone – the “swinging singles” life is full of frustration, rejection, and disappointment. The Mr. or Ms. Right you assume waits for you may be only a futile fantasy. Even a successful affair that bridges you from one marriage to another often becomes merely a second failure.
  4. Staying married is better for you. You don’t have to disrupt your life for two to seven years; instead, solving marital problems provides a sense of teamwork and stands as a concrete accomplishment that enhances problem-solving skills in the larger world. Marriage is statistically proven to be the best status for your health, divorce the worst. Marriage gives you something to show for your time on earth – children (usually) and a bond built on continuity and history (13).

Dr. Medved spends the rest of her book substantiating and illustrating her thesis with countless statistics and personal stories. She surveys the usual reasons for seeking divorce and finds them insufficient grounds for inflicting such permanent damage on yourself and your family. She then gives seven reasons for staying together, including

  • The welfare of the children (recent studies have added more weight to her argument that divorce devastates children).
  • The power of perseverance.
  • The value of keeping a long-term relationship together.
  • The damage done to family and friends by divorce.
  • The consequences of divorce are too awful.
  • The desire not to hurt one’s spouse.
  • The fear of being alone.

Then she mentions the “costs of divorce.” Here are some of the section headings:

  • “The emotional impact of divorce : Much Pain, No Gain
  • “A very Special Private Hell
  • “Hurting the One you Love
  • “Becoming a lesser Person
  • Being “Crazy in Our Midst
  • “The Alluring Vitality of Anger
  • “Divorce Won’t Solve Your Problems
  • “Doomed to Repeat the Past
  • “A Blow to Self-Esteem”

In her last section, Medved surveys a few of “The Benefits of Staying Married:

  • “Only Marriage Brings True Romance
  • “Marriage Is Good for Your Character
  • “Marriage Meets Our Need for Attachment
  • “Marriage is a Safe Haven
  • “Strength Comes Through Crisis”
  • Marriage is “The Only True Commitment”
  • Marriage is “The Ultimate Setting for Fulfilling Life’s Purpose” (The above are all from the Table of Contents”)

Medved is not a professing Christian so she writes from a secular standpoint. As a Christian, I would add that we can find the power to stay married and to overcome marital difficulties through faith in God. He gives us grace to forgive each other, accept each other, and to be changed ourselves.

So, What Should We Do?

If you or your friends are contemplating divorce, I urge you to reconsider. Ask yourself, “What is God trying to teach me through my conflicts with my spouse?” Almost surely, He is giving you an opportunity to grow - in faith, hope, and love. Ask friends to pray for you – but don’t criticize your spouse in the process! I said, “Ask them to pray for YOU.” Admit that your love and patience are running out, and beg them to call upon God to give you His strength. Confess your own faults and ask His forgiveness. Plead with Him to change you (and your spouse). Go to church. Get into a small group Bible study. Seek out a marriage counselor and keep going until you can communicate with each other without fighting. Read, ponder, memorize, believe, and obey the Bible. And keep your marriage vows! As we turn to Him, God will grant us all the grace we need to do His will, which is to stay together.

Brief Replies To Some Common Reasons For Wanting A Divorce

At the risk of seeming cold and hard-hearted, I would like to give very brief responses to some of the reasons for initiating divorce that people have expressed to me. I do this as a sort of reality check, to challenge some assumptions and hopefully to encourage people to re-think their views of marriage. - “My marriage is dead. My spouse’s behavior killed it.” You often hear this statement in Evangelical circles, where it is usually combined with the idea that “ the marriage bond has been broken” by adultery or desertion or some chronic behavior indicating low commitment to the marriage. The major problem with this concept is that you can’t find it in the Bible. The relationship surely suffers terrible damage by adultery, drug abuse, addiction to pornography, hateful words, and other signs of lack of love, but does it “die”? In the Bible, this metaphor is not used. God, as we have seen, remained faithful to His spouse, Israel, even when she had “broken” the “covenant.” He would not give up until, like Hosea, He had won her back. The relationship may be damaged and filled with excruciating pain, but it is not “dead.” - “There is no hope of reconciliation.” How do you know? As long as you persist in seeking God’s grace in your life, there is hope that He will change you enough to forgive your spouse, ask forgiveness from your spouse, and even for both of you to come to a new place of mutual respect and acceptance. Even if your spouse has remarried, you don’t have to; your faithfulness to your original marriage vow can stand as a sign of God’s faithfulness to us, His erring children. - “My spouse has no intention of preserving this marriage.” That may be the case, but do you then have to make sure that it ends in divorce? Perhaps if you showed more humility and patience, your spouse would come around. Perhaps not; maybe your spouse is so hard-hearted that reconciliation will never take place. But you don’t have to be the one who shuts the door. - “My marriage is a sham.” What do you mean? That your marriage appears better than it is? Most marriages do. We don’t – and shouldn’t – share all our secrets with others. On the other hand, perhaps someone needs to know about your troubles in order to help you. Find a marriage counselor; get into a couples group where you can express some of your difficulties; find one person of the same sex with whom you can admit your lack of love for your spouse and pray about it. - “God does not want me to live forever in an unhappy marriage.” There are several possible responses to this assertion: God DOES promise that certain people will be “happy” (usually translated as “blessed”) in this life. Notice to whom those promises are given: Those who turn away from sin, follow God’s law, and live out the Beatitudes (re-read Matthew 5:3-12 to refresh your memory if necessary). To the degree that we violate God’s will, to that degree this “happiness” will not be ours. Divorce violates His will. Jesus promised, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Paul tells us in Romans 8 that this whole universe groans in pain, awaiting the return of Christ and the redemption of our bodies form sin. Until then, there is no undiluted “happiness” for anyone on this earth. Those who set their hopes on earthly happiness will suffer sharp disappointment. True happiness comes from holiness. God wants us to be holy. He often uses “unhappiness” – illness, poverty, rejection, sorrow – to refine us and make us more like His Son Jesus. Our marital struggles – and all married people have them - are a part of His gracious work to reveal your sin and His forgiveness and demonstrate His transforming power. That will produce Christian joy, which much deeper and more lasting than worldly “happiness.” - “I can’t stand the pain any more.” The agony of marital strife is truly awful, but how do you know you have reached your limit? People can take far more than they realize. Perhaps God can use your pain to drive you closer to Himself, so that you see your sin and His grace, and begin to experience His transforming power. Remember the words of Paul, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (spoken to a different situation, but applicable to all believers). - “I can’t take the uncertainty of not knowing whether we’ll ever be reconciled; I would prefer the certainty of divorce.” That is understandable, but remember that uncertainty is a sign of life. The certitude of divorce is the certitude of death. It is final, irreversible, and far worse than you imagine. - “I made a mistake when I married this person. Now I want to correct that error and get on with life.” You may have made an unwise, immature, uninformed, even foolish decision, but God makes no mistakes. Your decision was part of His plan for your life. He works “all things” together for your good, if you love Him. Your past folly does not frustrate His design to conform you to Christ, mostly through suffering. - “Why should I have to live forever with the consequences of a poor choice?” Because that is the way God has constituted this moral universe: Actions have consequences. On the other hand, if we will repent of our sins, including the sin of a hasty marriage choice, then we can experience God’s renewing, redeeming, abundant mercy and power in our lives. He brings good out of evil – witness the Cross, for example. If we turn to Him in constant faith, He will grant us such a relationship with himself that we shall know His love and power more and more each day. Who knows? Perhaps your spouse will see a change in you and want to have what you have. - “I’ve learned from my mistake. When I marry the next time, I’ll do things better.” You should rather say, “IF” I marry again – the odds are not as great as you imagine. Then, you should say, “I HOPE I’ll do better,” for if you failed one time, you will most likely fail again. Further: Have you really learned from your mistake? What have you learned? To persevere under trials, confessing your sin and asking God’s love to fill your heart and overflow to those around you, or to cut and run when the going gets too tough? The bottom line is that God seeks our holiness. Given our fallen nature, He usually employs pain as His primary means of changing us. We can either cooperate with His chastening of us and learn what He seeks to teach us, or turn from His loving discipline and seek to go our own, pain-free, way. If we do refuse His chastening in our lives, we shall merely meet His loving resistance again and again, until we finally bow before Him in humble faith and submission to His will. God sends difficult people into our lives to uncover our hidden idols and then to deliver us from them through reliance on His grace in Christ. If we work with Him, we shall find increasing liberation from sin and freedom in His love. If we turn from Him, we shall continue in bondage to gods that are not gods, especially the elusive idol of “happiness.”

Take me home, Father

Take me home, Father.

Too long have I strayed from you,

Wandering through the wastes of a barren wilderness

Driven by deadly desires

Pursued by poisonous passions

Stuck in a silken snare

Tangled in a tender trap

Wrapped in a web of worthless folly.

Having squandered your generous gifts,

I now long to love the Giver.

Bring me back, Lord.

Snap the chains of sin

Break the bonds of selfishness

Lead me to the well of living waters

Turn my feet towards my true resting place

Fix my eyes on the only Beautiful One

Feed me with the fullness of your delights,

Yours alone.