Some years ago a book came out called Divorce: How and When to Let Go. In it, the authors wrote: “Your marriage can wear out. People change their values and lifestyles . . . Getting a divorce can be a positive . . . growth-oriented step . . . a personal triumph.”
It’s a measure of America’s own growth that most of us now see this advice as flawed and foolish. An avalanche of evidence has shown divorce to be, not a triumph, but a tragedy.
In his new book, The Family You Want, my friend Pastor John Huffmann, Jr. writes that divorce is “one of the most painful topics one can address in contemporary America.”
And it was a painful topic for ancient Israel. The rabbis haggled over how the teachings of Moses ought to be interpreted. Moses said a man could divorce his wife only if he found out something “indecent” about her. Some scholars interpreted this to mean adultery alone. But others taught a more liberal interpretation. As Huffmann says, these rabbis taught that if a wife so much as spoiled a dish of food, talked to a strange man, or spoke disrespectfully of her in-laws, her husband could divorce her. The institution of marriage had become so precarious that some women hesitated to marry at all — a situation, sadly, we find today, as well, even within the Church.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” his answer was two-fold. He acknowledged that Moses gave permission for divorce – – but he pointed out that the reason for this was the people’s hardness of heart.
But Huffman points out, Jesus “seems to underscore the word ‘permitted.'” Jesus makes it clear God hates divorce and does not intend for marriages to be torn apart. He reminds us of God’s ideal for marriage: That which God has joined together, no man should separate.
The Lord’s teachings on divorce were, Huffmann notes, “extremely sensitive to human pain and also very strong in the warning that he gives.” Divorce was “a concession to human weakness,” an acknowledgment of human sinfulness. Jesus “refuses to back away from the truth that divorce is a symptom of sin.”
Even under the worst of circumstances — adultery, abuse, and abandonment — God does not command divorce. He merely permits it. And divorce is always a trauma.
Novelist Pat Conroy gives a vivid account of this when he writes about his own divorce. Conroy does not speak blithely of growth and triumph. Instead, he writes of the “extraordinary pain” marital breakdown inflicts. With divorce, he said, “two people declare war on each other, and their screams and tears infect the entire world with the bacilli of their pain.” He says, “I . . . entered into the dark country of divorce, and . . . was one of its ruined citizens.”
In this age of no-fault divorce, Christians ought to do everything possible to protect their marriages. God does not want us stumbling into the “dark country” of divorce, but living instead in the light of marital love.
John Huffman’s book, The Family You Want, can help us live in that light and shows clearly why today’s trendy ideas about divorce no longer should apply.
For further reading:
John Huffman, The Family You Want (Christian Focus Publications, 2001).
Michael McManus, Marriage Savers (Zondervan Publishing, 1995).