Mapping the Terrain—Divorce
Instituted by God in the opening chapters of Genesis, marriage is foundational to human society, and, as the New Testament teaches, it is meant to picture Christ’s unshakable relationship with His Church. God intends marriage to last a lifetime, a fact He underscores repeatedly in the Bible.
Secular culture takes a lower view of marriage, casting it to the ebb and flow of human emotion, convenience, and ambition. Wedding vows are too often taken lightly, making a mockery of these venerable words: “ . . . to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death us do part, according to God's holy law . . .”
Though many try to minimize the sanctity of marriage, rationalizing separation and divorce for all manner of dissatisfactions and disappointments, modern men and women still fall prey to the heartaches and social pathologies divorce produces (e.g., greater incidence of poverty and suicide)—and their children are particularly vulnerable. All the while, the illusory images of the entertainment industry, the tawdry examples of prominent public figures, and the unscriptural counsel of many friends and family members serve to normalize divorce. Many parents can be heard saying, “I just want her/him to be happy,” while far fewer will confide, “I just want him/her to be holy.”
Unfortunately, the culture’s low view of marriage has found its way into the Church far more than the Church’s high view of marriage has found its way into the culture. Even among professing Christians, the rate of divorce is astonishingly high, and pastors find few if any issues more difficult. They are constantly called upon to excuse, accommodate, and even bless multiple divorces and remarriages. Though Scripture gives explicitly only two grounds for divorce—adultery and abandonment—ministers are pressured to remain silent when couples split because “they grew apart,” “had to think of their careers,” or “were always bickering.” And if the Church is not compliant, she faces the threat of departures, financial retaliation, and internal strife, stirred by indignant partisans.
The pastor must stand in the gap, holding up God’s standard and fearlessly, though lovingly, proclaiming God’s strong word against divorce. Though urged to ignore marriage histories and to treat each request for wedlock as a brand new opportunity to get things right, God’s man must not seek to be more liberal than Jesus, who drew firm lines in the Sermon on the Mount, John the Baptist, who sacrificially spoke truth to power in Herod’s court, and Paul, who addressed this issue while bringing order to moral chaos in the Corinthian church.
In all this, the pastor must handle wounded spirits carefully, grant the awesome and even awful challenges of marriage, and honor all who seek to walk with Christ, whatever their pasts may hold. But he must not think to compromise the Word for the sake of kindness and fellowship, for the world is desperate for clear, godly speaking on this matter of utmost gravity.