What God Has Joined
Tony Toto of Allentown, PA., survived several attempts on his life by his wife Frances. Twice she arranged for assailants to beat him over the head with baseball bats. On another occasion, she put a tripwire across the basement stairs so that he fell down a flight of stairs. Finally, she just had him shot. Miraculously he survived each attempt. More miraculously, Tony never really blamed Frances. He visited her in prison each week. When she was paroled, she went back to Tony and they resumed their married life. Tony is quoted as saying, “I don’t understand why people break up over such silly little things.”
I don’t know if they lived happily ever after—no one has heard from ol’ Tony for some time! But many people don’t have such unconditional commitment to their marriage vows. This is especially true for Christians. A survey done by Barna Research Group several years ago (read an article reflecting on the study) suggests that Christians divorce at a rate higher than the national average. In fact, conservative denominations had the highest divorce rates (Independents and Baptists were the highest), much higher than atheists. We can choose to deny, ignore or explain away these numbers, but they do tend to indicate that when it comes to family values, Christians talk better than they walk.
It is pretty easy for us to know how God feels about divorce. He hates it (Mal 2:16). In our reading today (Mark 10:1-10), Jesus makes it plain that divorce was not God’s will for us from the beginning and that it was only permitted because of the stubbornness of human hearts. Jesus command on divorce is clear— “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” There are a lot of questions about the issues of divorce and remarriage that are difficult to answer. We serve a God of grace who reaches out to us in our brokenness. Sometimes the Humpty-Dumpty of our broken relationships cannot be repaired, restored or put back together by all the king’s horses and all the kings counselors. You can’t unscramble eggs. What God does with broken relationships is to redeem them.
There are a lot of hard questions in dealing with the issue of divorce and remarriage. I don’t have all the answers. (Well, I used to have all the answers; now I’m not even sure of all the right questions!). But if we want to know what God thinks about divorce, He’s against it. If it really matters to us what Jesus desires, then that is easy, “What God has joined together, let man not separate.” At some point we decided that God really wants us to be happy (as we define it) more than He wants us to be faithful (as He defines it).
The church must live within the tension of on the one hand preaching and teaching that God hates divorce and while on the other hand ministering God’s grace and forgiveness to those who are divorced. It seems to me that it is hard to do both. It also seems to me that if Christians really do have the same divorce rate as non-Christians as Barna suggests, then we aren’t doing something right!
Perhaps the key marriage text is one that we seldom connection with marriage. It is about a cross and our willingness to place ourselves on the cross with Jesus daily. It is the crucified life that allows us to overcome the selfishness and competitiveness that ultimately undermines marriage. If God is on the throne and we are on the cross, our marriage will be much better than if we insist on keeping his and her thrones.