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So, you want a divorce? You might just want to think that through a little bit first. Because of the importance of marriage to the individuals involved as well as society, someone has said, “We should make it hard to get married and harder to divorce.” Attitudes of most Americans and even Christians regarding marriage and family have changed radically over the last fifty years, but the consequences have been significant and detrimental. Because the family is the most important foundation stone of a stable and prosperous culture and nation, when the majority of the citizens take marriage lightly the very future of the nation is in doubt, to say nothing of the well-being of its children.
Now, before we move on, I am not going to address the situations of abuse or unfaithfulness. Those topics require a separate discussion and much more time. I am writing to you who argue that you are just not happy, that the two of you are not compatible, that you argue too much, that marriage is restrictive, and so on. In other words, marriage isn’t the “happily ever after” you had imagined it to be, and you want out.
Many who read this will respond with a host of reasons why divorce is a good choice for some, or at least a “necessary evil.” I will be called naïve, “judgmental,” or legalistic. But I believe that most of us know that the direction we are going as a nation is not wise, and if not altered will bring tragic results. Christ Himself acknowledged the inevitability of divorce due to the hard hearts of mankind, but He also stated that “from the beginning it was not so,” (Matt. 19:8).
The first thing you need to know is that God is the one who marries people, not the state, the church, or the pastor. Thus, we must understand what it is He creates when He forms a new home by marriage. First, and very important: Contrary to common perception, what He creates is PERMENANT! Once you are married, you are married until one partner dies, period. God creates a spiritual bond between individuals who marry that does not evaporate when the couple break up. You may respond, “well, divorce ends it.” Sorry, no. You do not end a marriage by getting a divorce. Divorce only allows married people who are no longer together to bring some order to the material aspects of life, the care of their children, and the provision for the needs of the spouse who will be personally taking care of the children, but they are still married in God’s eyes. Millions of people get divorced, remarry or not, and the world keeps turning but every divorce has consequences, individually and culturally.
This is why the Bible states that if a man divorces his wife and marries another, he commits adultery. You see, HE IS STILL MARRIED! And of course, so is she.
This is why divorce is always messy. It is taking apart what God has put together. It is “breaking” the unbreakable.
This is why the parties often feel like they have lost part of themselves. They have! When God married Adam and Eve, He told them that they were “one flesh.” From this truth came the expression, “my better half” which many men use when referring to their wife.
So, what’s to be done when you find yourself where you never thought you’d be or wanted to be: Unhappily married and looking at the “greener grass on the other side of the fence.”
In the same way that once you are pregnant your options are limited, so also, once you are married. Your options are limited. But that situation can be, even when it seems quite dark and hopeless, a great opportunity for the God, who created marriage, to help you discover a primary reason WHY He created marriage!
You thought marriage was God’s gift to make you happy, right? Boy, does that seem like a “bait and switch!” You married a guy who swept you off your feet and who was going to bring you happiness and prosperity; and what you got was a selfish, seemingly disinterested child, (or some variation thereof) and the drudgery of figuring how to keep your head above water for one more day! Or you married a “sweet young thing” who sparkled and brightened your day, only to find that it seems you can’t please her no matter what you do!
Well, you are not the victim of a “bait and switch,” because God does not do that kind of thing. It maybe that you failed to read God’s “small print,” His “marriage manual” in other words, the Bible.
It is impossible in an article as brief as this to fully explain God’s purposes in marriage, but there are a few important points we can make which may shed some light and hope into your situation.
An author I read many years ago recounted an experience he had as a boy when he happened upon a butterfly in the early stages of emerging from its chrysalis. As he watched the movement of the chrysalis, he felt sorry for the butterfly within struggling so hard to break out of its prison. He took out his pen knife and carefully slit the fabric of the chrysalis so that the butterfly could emerge, and it did, with its wings crumpled and unformed. What he did not know was that the difficulty the butterfly encountered as it sought to leave the chrysalis was essential for its wings to properly develop! The hardship was not a barrier to flight, but an essential enabler for it. Sadly, his butterfly never flew.
God created marriage for His own purposes, not just to make us happy. He intends that happiness be available to us, but He has a more important priority for us which must precede that happiness. Briefly, He created marriage to communicate attributes of Himself to us: His holiness, wisdom, grace, and love. Secondarily, He created marriage to help facilitate the best life for us and our children.
God’s first priority in all things is His own glory, and the first step in our progress to bring glory to Him, following our new birth,* is for us to be gradually conformed to His likeness. Therefore, marriage is designed to change us to be more like Christ. That is probably not the first thing you thought of when you decided to get married! You were expecting a rose strewn pathway of wedded bliss, and instead you found yourself knee-deep in a basic training obstacle course!
So, what do you do? Quit? Not an option! God knows what He is doing, and He wants you to trust Him for a good outcome. James, the half-brother of Christ wrote, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing,” (James 1:2-4 NKJV). Trials are not only not to be avoided, they are to be considered a source of joy in themselves!
While there are many books written, both good and bad, about strengthening one’s marriage, the best place to begin is with God’s word. A study of I Corinthians 13, Ephesians chapter five, Philippians 2:5-11, and Colossians 3:18-21, as well as reading thoughtful, conservative, commentaries on those texts will be of great help! The collapse of families and the American culture that began decades ago is the result of discarding God’s word and principles, so one would be wise to return to His word for wisdom.
Someone has said that nothing of value is easy; and something as complex and fraught with pitfalls as human relationships is going to require a determined will and self-discipline. Marriage, being the epitome of relationships, and sustaining such vicious attacks from the enemy, the world, and our own fallen natures, is certainly going to require our best efforts. But we must understand that the labor we invest in our marriage is not only for ourselves, but for the glory of God, the testimony of Jesus Christ, the well-being of our spouse, our children, and their children, and the stability of our community. When we consider it from that perspective, it makes the investment well worth the effort!
With time, and faith in the goodness of God and His word, you will discover that what appears to be an easy way out may well hinder your personal growth and even handicap you spiritually. God hates divorce for a number of reasons; one of which is that marriage’s difficulties and inescapability are effective tools for maturing us and shaping us into Christ’s likeness and bringing us to a place of greater joy and peace in Him.
Don’t be fooled by the messages of our culture! If you know Christ, He is available to help you overcome the difficulties of marriage and to bring you to your greatest fruitfulness as a Christian. If you do not know Christ as your Savior, it may be that the difficulties of marriage will help convince you of your need for Him, the Creator of marriage! In either case, you win!
God is not nearly as interested in our having a nice day as He is in saving us and transforming us into His own likeness. He has made no promises of an easy time here, but is near and available in the inevitable trials we face, if we call on Him. In the same way that the athlete or soldier must endure hardship to be at their best, so each of us is strengthened and matured by the difficulties of married life. Troubles are not barriers to our joy but building blocks enabling it!
Quitting a marriage because it is hard is not an option! Trusting God and His word leads to the fulness of joy He alone can give!
*When we come to an understanding that our sin is an offense to God, but that He has provided a way that that sin may be washed away, forgiven, by the blood of Christ, shed on the cross, and we trust Him to forgive us and make us His children, the Bible calls it being “born again.” We are literally made “new creatures” in Christ! A person can ask God to be granted this forgiveness and new life at any time and at any place.