This article is a collaboration with Levaire author, Yaneke Lewis.
Relationships, dating and marriage; to put it politely, they can be a real bugger.
Our romantic relationships don’t often start as curses though, do they? No, not at all. In fact, if a budding relationship starts off too roughly, we’re usually keen to cut if off at the root before we get too invested. When that happens, most of us simply sweep the attempt aside and say we weren’t a good match. We may be disappointed, even hurt or rejected, but we move on. We minimize to normalize. We forgive (hopefully) and we forget (most certainly).
“There are plenty of fish in the sea,” we say. I no longer believe that, but that’s what we say.
Our marginally healthier relationships often begin similarly, full of long talks, hours of easy conversation and laughter, genuine interest and attraction. Sure, there may be warning signs early on—if we were looking for them—but the excitement and newness behind the possibility of mutual “love” and adoration shines a light that easily fades any potential hints of future darkness.
So, if all goes well, we may marry. Hope wins (for the moment.)
From bright adventure to faded glory
At first, married life can be great; an absolute adventure. But let’s notice one thing about almost all the fairy tales, books, movies and television shows we’ve ever consumed: precious few of them include the mundane minutiae we experience in our day-to-day journey through life. If they did, we would almost certainly get bored and close the book or change the channel.
From our earliest years, our programming has romanticized the events of life and has neglected to prepare us for the life between the events.
For many, we find ourselves locked into married life—all of it—for better or for worse, ‘til death do us part. For many, at first, this seems like a dream fulfilled.
In time, we may find the luster on our beloved spouse begins to fade. Often that starts with the little things. Maybe we notice they keep leaving the cap off the toothpaste. Or they leave the toilet seat up. Or they leave their clothes on the floor. Maybe it’s morning breath. Maybe that cute mannerism we used to adore now looks more like an annoying tick. Our rose-colored glasses take on a few scratches.
Life gets busy and what was once a commitment to do life together often becomes doing life separately but under the same roof. In time and without intention, we drift apart. Our interests shift. The gaps between love notes and romantic expressions grow. Our love and adoration ebb. Our words get harsher, our patience shorter. We no longer fight for each other as much as we fight with each other.
Add to this the pressures of raising children, the demands of work life, bills, responsibilities and a myriad of worldly concerns and eventually, we may wonder what we ever saw in our spouse at all. We compromise, we bite our tongues, we lose our tempers, we complain to our family and friends to gather support and evidence. We may even seek marital counseling and still, the nagging feeling we’ve made a mistake looms.
We feel trapped.
Divorce—or a life sentenced to a dead marriage—seem to be our only two options.
Where is God in all of this?
Up to this point, maybe you’ve noticed I haven’t mentioned God in this picture at all. I haven’t quoted a single Bible verse. This is because, largely—whether you’re a card-carrying Christian or whether you can’t even spell “God”—this pattern I’ve described is a common one in the decline of marriage.
But as Christians, what would God have us do in the face of a failing marriage? When every fiber of our being seems to scream, “I’M DONE!”, what is it He would have us to do? If we believe the Bible is the Word of God, what does God say about divorce?
Though infidelity, addiction, abandonment, violence, poor communication, money problems and a host of other sins can accelerate the decision to divorce, are these all Biblical grounds for divorce?
Here are five Scriptural truths to consider.
Truth #1: It’s not your life.
To begin with, once you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, your life is not your own; not that it ever was. That self-deception should be on its way out.
“What then? Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you, who you have from God, and that you are not your own?
For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
Claiming Jesus as Lord over your life means you now live for Him. You now have a new owner. You’re under new management. After all, you were bought.
Therefore, we defer to the Living Word for our direction and to the Written Word for our final authority, regardless of how we feel or what we think. Our feelings and circumstances are temporary, but His Word is everlasting. This truth should be the guide to every facet of our daily lives, marriage included.
Truth #2: Trust in God; not your wayward spouse.
When it looks like our marriage is rushing headlong into the rocks, what do we do? Do we trust God? I mean, do we really trust God? Or do we take matters into our own hands?
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not upon your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
If we’re trying to control our significant other, their behavior or our situation, we are taking justice into our own hands. Some common tactics may be manipulation, negotiation, self-defense, neglect, threatening, guilting, begging, lying, yelling; the list goes on. Our spouse’s behavior might take us by surprise, and going on the defensive, we may automatically react with the tools we most understand. Suffice it to say, this far too often does not look like Jesus’ example!
There is an old story of a scorpion and a frog that may help illustrate what you’re dealing with if you find yourself struggling with your spouse. This illustration works particularly well if your spouse is (or is living like) an unbeliever.
One day, a scorpion approaches a frog readying to cross a river. The scorpion asks for a ride, but the alarmed frog declines, sure the scorpion will simply sting the frog once they get to the other side. The scorpion promises the frog it will not be stung when they land, so the wary frog agrees to let the scorpion climb onto its back. As the pair are about halfway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. As they both begin to drown, the frog cries out, “Why!?” The scorpion answers, “Well, I’m still a scorpion.”
In this account, the scorpion was true to its nature. Scorpions sting. If we consider the nature of an unbeliever—someone who is living apart from the revelation of God, the saving lordship of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—we can expect to be stung occasionally. Jesus said it best in John 15:5 when He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
I believe—if we truly trust that God will carry us through our trials—we will press into Him when our relationship woes flare up. We do this, not from a frantic, emergency-mode mindset, but to call on the One who is very present in trouble. (Well, we might freak out once or twice, but it shouldn’t be our norm to throw our ailing relationship at God when we need His help, then forget to give it to Him during our happier moments.)
Committing our relationship to God should be our habit. This does not mean our relationship will always go smoothly. What it does mean is that we’ll have all the strength we need to weather the storms; a strength that is ours if we’ll simply turn our spouses over to Jesus again and again.
Ultimately, if our spouses are not being regularly filled with the Holy Spirit, they will not be able to offer us much light or life, both of which come through Jesus. Until that happens, expecting them to fill our emotional or spiritual needs is misplaced. This is like trying to quench our thirst by drinking from a dry cup. Hence, we direct our hope and trust towards God.
But just so we’re clear, the same is true for you. If you are not growing closer to God regularly, what light are you really offering your spouse?
Truth #3: What would love do?
You have heard it said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward is that? Do not even the tax collectors do that? And if you salute your brethren only, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do that? Be therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
Feel like a tall order? If one who was once your best friend has somehow become your household enemy, this heart posture can seem near impossible to achieve or maintain. Here is where we want to reconnect with our true identity and the love we have been crafted for.
Genesis 1:26-27 says we were originally made in God’s image. That image was destroyed when Adam ate from the tree. When God called, “Where are you?” to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, do you really believe our all-knowing Father didn’t know where they were? I believe this call was a heart-cry of separation, like Jesus’ heart-cry when He hung from the cross and experienced the separation of sin for the first time: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46)
God knew exactly what had happened, just as He knew it would happen.
In what must have been a violent, painful instant, God’s children were spiritually severed from Him; and not just them, but all creation that had been placed under their dominion—the entire earth. Adam and Eve’s spiritual death in Eden through the first human rebellion destroyed them, just as God promised it would. God was separated from His creation through sin (as there is no sin in Him) and with sin comes death and brokenness, whether spiritual, mental, financial, physical or relational.
What kind of crazy love shares its own life with a creation, knowing in advance that creation would willfully and painfully break off from its source and run headlong into self-destruction?
What kind of crazy love picks almost complete and recurring rejection, generation after generation after generation?
What kind of crazy love already has the rescue plan crafted in advance, even in the face of this future rebellion and rejection?
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that through Him the world might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)
Enter Jesus, the Spotless Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. Our perfect atonement for sin. The Way, the Truth and the Life. As the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15), Jesus’ crucifixion on a tree recovers what Adam lost when he ate from the tree. As the curse came through Adam unto all the earth, Jesus took the whole curse upon Himself. As Adam lost his spiritual appearance at his transgression, Jesus lost his physical appearance paying for our transgression (Isaiah 52:14). God’s “I love you” was sent loud and clear, from a Roman cross to a dying world, 2,000 years ago.
God, is it any wonder You took delight in Jesus’ destruction? You see the long game. You see Your creation loving You back, restored back to You, made whole in You, walking in perfect communion with You. The prodigal people returning to their Father, greeted with an embrace and a kiss and a celebration.
“Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:10-12)
That is the love that we’ve been created for. And that is the love we’re called to. That is the image we’re called to. Love takes no account of its own, and now, neither do we.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Truth #4: We’re being sanctified along with our lost spouse.
And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she departs, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
But to the rest I speak, not the Lord: If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and she is pleased to stay with him, let him not divorce her. And the woman who has an unbelieving husband, if he is pleased to stay with her, let her not leave him.
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: God has called us to peace.
For who knows, O wife, whether you shall save your husband? Or how do you know, O man, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:10-16)
If we looked beyond the personal pain of a disappointing marriage, we would recognize an opportunity: that of soul-winning.
But this contradicts the intention with which we marry in the first place, doesn’t it? Whether we want to admit it or not, each partner has placed his or herself at the forefront of their marital fantasy. So, when the real tests come along—demanding a sacrificial care be given to one we’re no longer enamored with—marriage becomes hard.
If you are a believer, you have the spiritual advantage. Your faithfulness, enduringly displayed to a wayward spouse, may provide just the witness they need to be saved and restored.
If your spouse’s behavior bears unsaved or backslidden fruit, this is the time, Believer, that he or she needs you the most. God declared in Ezekiel 22:30 and Isaiah 59:15-16, that He sought for a man to stand in the gap; an intercessor. Was that at a time of holiness and consecration among His people? No. In fact, it was at a time when God’s own people were at the brink of harsh judgement, and deservingly so! Yet God still wanted and sought for an opportunity to spare them.
God wanted an intercessor for His wayward people. He wants you to be a sanctifier for your wayward spouse. But if you give into your great burden and leave, where will the opportunity be? Who will be the sanctifier? How then would a soul be saved?
“But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For who knows, O wife, whether you shall save your husband? Or how do you know, O man, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:15-16)
Truth #5: Divorce is not God’s will for us.
The Pharisees also came to him, tempting him, and saying unto him, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?”
And he answered and said unto them, “Have you not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and for this cause shall a man leave father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh? So they are no longer separate, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not break apart.”
They said to him, “Why then did Moses command to give a writing of divorce, and to put her away?”
He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whosoever divorces his wife, aside from fornication, and marries another, commits adultery; and whomever marries her who is divorced also commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:3-9)
With God the Father as our example, and Jesus the Lamb of God as our example, it becomes understandably clear that divorce is never God’s perfect will. So much so, that marriage has been selected by God to illustrate the relationship of Christ with the Church. That’s special!
It’s significant to think about what caused the first divorce case to arise. It wasn’t infidelity. It wasn’t spousal abuse. It wasn’t an “irreconcilable difference”. It wasn’t any other reason we give before the courts these days. Jesus put the blame on only one factor: hardness of the heart. Hardness of the heart translates and manifests into unforgiveness, impatience, anger and self-centeredness. Hardness of the heart keeps a record of offences. It’s always had enough. Hardness of the heart is the arch nemesis of marital union.
So unbreakable is the marriage bond that there are only two biblical provisions for divorce:
Infidelity: In Matthew 5, our Lord establishes infidelity as grounds for divorce. “It has been said, ‘Whoever puts away (divorces) his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement’, but I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away (divorces) his wife, except in the case of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whoever marries she who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)
Death: The second biblical foundation for divorce is given in 1 Corinthians: “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39)
Hardness of the heart wants to quit before death us do part.
The call to sacrificial love
The same marital challenges that tend to harden our hearts provide us a rich opportunity to shine forth what marriage is all about: true, self-sacrificing love. Yes, it may seem like you’re the only one giving, but that’s not to be taken as a punishment. You are blessed to be a partaker with Christ.
“Therefore, if your enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirsts, give him drink: for in so doing, you shall heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:19-21)