We’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark as a church and its been an interesting and valuable time as we have just rolled with the chapters and tried to cover it fairly sequentially.
That said we just jumped from chapter 6 (where we spent 4 weeks) to chapter 9 and now I’m up shortly with chapter 10 – a chapter that begins with Jesus thoughts on divorce. There is much more in the chapter that we could focus on, but I’m feeling drawn to look at this issue and speak about it.
In a community of people where this has happened I guess it could be a bit of a risky business as there will inevitably be raw wounds and perhaps entrenched views either way. But the more I read it this morning the more I felt the need to give some thoughts on where we sit with this one.
I feel like its an important issue to pick up and speak to – intentionally. So much of what we say about divorce is said in private and addressed in response to specific (often unsalvageable) situations. So maybe its better to say some things with clarity out of the heat of the moment so that there is some food for thought if the issue ever arises.
But what to say…
The stats are pretty terrible on divorce (and let’s face it, you don’t need statisticians to know that). I remember 30 years ago when I first heard of a church leader getting divorced. The shock and horror was palpable. Was the man still a Christian even? Will he still be allowed in church?… He was someone I looked up to so it made it even more confusing. He became a pariah – on a par with a 21st C paedophile.
Our kids wont have that problem. They will have a whole different set of problems.
They will see divorce as a valid option for failing marriages. And if we don’t take it off the table then I imagine they will see it as a viable way to go if their marriage starts to get tough. And whose marriage doesn’t get tough?! Really… Marriage is hard. And at times it feels completely undoable, but if divorce is never on the table (yes – except in some cases) then there is hope.
So I guess my short gut level response to this issue is to take it ‘off the table’ as a possibility altogether except in some fairly terrible situations. And there is where the challenge lies – to define what is considered as fair biblical cause for divorce.
Infidelity is a clear one, but after that it gets hazy (biblically). Abuse seems an obvious reason, but who defines abuse? And what constitutes abuse?
Is it just physical? Can it be emotional? Can it be neglect?
Let’s face it – there are a wide variety of views on those issues in Christian circles. So to call it hard and fast is difficult.
Then there’s the issue of shame and guilt that many struggle with because their marriage failed – even if they were the innocent party. Its tricky to speak objectively about a topic that is anything but objective.
When Jesus spoke about divorce in Mark 10 he said that Moses consented to divorce ‘because your hearts were hard’. If I were to try and translate that to simple English I’d say it’s a result of selfishness – at least on the part of one person, if not both. Either or both has said ‘I want my way no matter what and if it costs the marriage then sobeit’.
And as the church we have made divorce both far more possible as well as palatable.
Because many of us want a way out of tired marriages and many of us want a relational change of scenery. Maybe that sounds cynical, but I don’t think it is. With so many Christians now getting divorced it needs to be given some legitimacy, so we can do it without feeling bad. I wish I could believe that all failed marriages were a result of serious infidelity or abuse, but I don’t think they are.
Often they are just self centredness. So that’s a fairly tough line to take, but I think its true.
And then there’s the question of how we respond to those who have either been devastated by a divorce or who have initiated a divorce (for what we might call ‘selfish reasons’) and remain within the fellowship.
I’m for erring on the side of grace every time, and for offering hope and forgiveness and restoration to folks who find themselves here. But… if I’m honest I think I also want to give some folks a really hard kick up the butt and I want to say ‘What on earth on are you doing? Wake up to yourself.’
That’s probably not politically and ‘pastorally’ correct, but I think our tendency towards grace and forgiveness sometimes messes with the need to say some other hard truths.
So – those are some of my immediate thoughts on the subject and no doubt they may start a fire among the small hardy crew still reading this blog… And maybe come Sunday next week they will be a little more refined…
Interesting. For personal reasons that I don’t want to share here I reckon it’s really worth tackling and completely necessary.
My one opposing thought is that going too far the other way, it could put people off committing to a marriage relationship. Because it’s too tough, and there’s no way out if it goes wrong. I honestly think it’s worth including a couple of examples, ideally from folks in your community, who would be honest enough to say that they wanted to walk away and didn’t… and it was worth it.
Lasting relationships are tough in this culture, because nothing is supposed to last. We’ve lost something because of that.
I never married for various reasons but have a number of families in whose homes I have lived for a number of years. I have seen healthy and unhealthy marriages but have to say what I think marks the ones that are more healthy.
And I have no idea how hard marriage is but here are my very few opinions of what helps a couple from my view as an outsider looking in at couples.
1. A preparedness to not be driven by the time concepts of our society…Society including churches really push people to give more and more and more of their time. So destructive.
2. Meal tables which are fun – laughter, funny stories, crazy antics. I have seen this time after time. Where couples make some of their meal times fun it seems to spill into the personal life with each other.
3. Getting unmarried folk, like me, involved with your children so couples can get away for “couple time” without having to think to hard about what to do with the children. If marriage is a symbol of Christ and the church, unmarried folk need to be taught support of married couples in this way is
4. A home of hospitality which brings the stranger in from time to time. I think this act of grace, particularly around a table which is fun, reminds all family members what we have.
I see all these four things as “practices of practicing generosity and grace that is fun” and we really need to build such practices into our lives. They don’t just happen.
Let me add in the last 9 months I have become aware of a community of abused immigrant wives. I now have one abused wife and her children living with me and am deliberately implementing related practices into our life to bring healing for them and to help me to remain sane in the pressure of caring for increasing numbers of these women.
If I had experienced healthy families I would not have known where to start.
I am aware these are pretty trite ideas in the complexity of marriage but my friends who have healthy marriages all have these aspects in their marriages
Some great thoughts, Hamo. I remember my first “Oral Communications” speech in college was covering this very topic, and being considerably more black & white on it than you are, and not doing a very good job of it at that. To add insult to injury, I discovered afterwards that our prof was divorced. Awkward! He handled it very well, though. Anyway, I think the things you’re wrestling with are fantastic, as well as your conclusions. May God give you wisdom to know how to communicate His grace, as well as his righteousness.
Well written brave and honest!! I am with you we need to take it off the table as an option, if that means people will have to think before getting married or not get married at all then perhaps that is a better. These days people don’t see it as a necessity to start a family anyway so why get married if you’re not sure.
It always bothers me when people characterize marriage as “HARD…I mean, REALLY HARD”.
I will have been married 18 years this November. I would not describe marriage as hard, tough, difficult, trying, an adjustment or anything else. It isn’t “pure bliss” but it is an excellent arrangement preferable to being single or “looking”. My parents have been married 60 years, both of their parents married for life, their brothers and sisters: the same. I am the youngest of 6 brothers and sisters; all have been married longer than I have. My Aunts’ and Uncles’ children; all married for life (and all married longer than me).
Divorce does not appear in my family for two generations past and for every branch of the tree. The grandchildren who are finding mates are doing (IMHO) very well in identifying someone who they will spend the rest of their lives with–and they understand what that means through countless observations of couples who have done the same.
Marriage isn’t hard. Divorce is hard.
Oh, and to Mary: Yup and Amen. This has been my experience.
Yeah – good thoughts Bob and Mary
Bob – I see something in that generational pattern that makes divorce an anomaly rather than a norm.
I’d be concerned that we are headed in the other direction.
I agree too that divorce is hard – and marriage is good – but I think it is hard too 🙂 To be honest mine isn’t that ‘hard’, but it has had its moments…
And that’s what I mean, Hamo. I’ve been reading your blog for…well…a while. We’ve never met but I would be surprised if your marriage has been “hard”. Sure, life gets hard and that causes stress and stress comes out in various ways, but I doubt the bond–the covenant–entered into by you and your wife has ever been in question. In all the stress, it has been the marriage itself that made the hard times navigable.
But when people say “marriage is hard” everyone nods their heads knowingly and agrees. Shouldn’t we question that response? When we hear this and affirm it we begin to look at marriage as the *cause* of the problems. So when trouble comes it is identified as the thing that must go. Worse yet, since everyone agrees openly that marriage is hard, the community tacitly supports the “solution” of divorce.
The things Mary brings up *are* trite. Just like saying diet and exercise are the secrets to health. This, too, is easy but we say eating right and exercising regularly is “hard”. Really? Harder than having a heart attack or a foot amputation or lung cancer?
There is a trend towards divorce over marriage (or even towards no marriage at all) but it is built on a falsehood. A falsehood that is perpetuated in our communities.
It is a tough one to address and I wouldn’t want to be doing it! I have a friend that told me before I got married ‘Marriage is tough. It is really hard. But hey congratulations on the engagement.’
I see why they said that, because from the outside looking in at his marriage, he is in a relationship where it seems two individual people are living together trying to make a life, but don’t have a mutual respect for each other, much in common, or even it seems – any shared goals foor their future!
My Parents are still happily married, my husbands parents are still happily married – we have wonderful relationships to look up to. We’ve seen them go through some harder times and seen them come through the other side with their relationship in tact.
Marriages at times may take some working at, but in a society where if something breaks you through it away and just buy a new one, sadly some people treat their relationships the same.
In choosing our vows to take at our wedding, I discovered some (many) people take the ‘until death do us part’ off the vows now days. We stuck with traditional vows as I am committed to m husband, my marriage and my family for the rest of my life. We will work through the tough times and come out the other side intact, and being the best role models we can be.
We all need great marriage role models, and I have been lucky enough to have some great ones throughout my younger years – you guys being one of them.
I reckon Mary is bang on. What she is describing is what also forms great community and home-groups. Time together, fun & zany sometimes, hospitality, growing together. I think ‘divorce’ is up there with ‘this church community just isn’t doing it for me – it’s so much more fun at the other joint’.
Hamo, I reckon talking divorce is like telling a heart attack victim that he just needed to say no to a few more chocky bars. A bit late sometimes. God loves us to live in great community, and for those who are married, this is the closest form of community. So, I reckon get talking about what you’ve learned about living in various community groups, and you’ll end up talking about marriage building. Earlier comments about selfishness (that’s a harsh word… maybe ‘self-directed-living’??) are the opposite of genuine community, so that will have a similar effect.
Love is patient, love is kind… ‘who should we love?’ love your neighbour as yourself (not your neighbour’s wife!!) if a man looks at another woman in lust… love your wife as Christ loved the church… they all speak of selfless love. If we can’t be selfless, then marriage is a tricky road to walk. Of course, it would be easier if I get to be selfish and my wife is selfless… that might suit me fine! So, the problem might then arise when my wife stops being a doormat and I end up being caught out as being a selfish so and so.
In the meantime, I hope that the teaching spots on this topic go really well, and that as a community, you can push past the ‘raw-nasties’ and encourage your group to be honest with each other about where things are at for them, and that there is a time of healing, restoration and (ideally) marriage and relationships building. What a great topic!!
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