“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
These are very strong words that Jesus has spoken, and we must take them seriously. Knowing that God has created marriage and that He hates divorce, we should take Jesus’ words very seriously.
I don’t intend to enter into an argument about the exceptions to what seems to be an absolute statement by Jesus (of course, in Matthew’s account He allows divorce for the cause of adultery.) What I’d rather meditate on is the nature of marriage and how Christians have been treating it lately.
If we begin with the understanding that marriage is a picture of the marriage between Christ and His Bride, His Holy Church, we at least have a good starting point. The kind of mutual love that is supposed to exist within marriage is that between Christ (who is pictured by the husband) and the Church (pictured by the wife.) Just as Christ and the Church mysteriously become one, so a man and a woman who marry truly but mysteriously become one flesh, even when they don’t act like it. It is also like the unity in the Church that God creates but that we must work to preserve.
Knowing all this, how are we Christians doing in our marriages? Barna’s research (somewhat controversial) suggests that divorce rates for “born-again” Christians are about the same as for the general population. How can this be? In Jesus’ day, the schools of 2 famous rabbis had 2 different ways of interpreting the Law on divorce. The followers of Shammai permitted divorce only for sexual impurity, while the followers of Hillel allowed divorce for almost any reason: speaking disrespectfully of her husband’s relatives in his hearing, talking to a strange man, spinning in the streets, or spoiling dinner.
Christians today seem to be veering more toward the school of Hillel.
One of the reasons for divorce is closely related to the idea of discipleship. What I mean is that we have not discipled each other to the point where we understand that marriage is a profoundly “spiritual” matter but also one that requires a very practical, dedicated life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Roy Austin believes that many Christians are taught an almost magical view of marriage (and probably many other things). He puts it this way: “’Put God first in your marriage,’ whatever that means to them, ‘be faithful in church, be a good Christian, pray a lot, attend church, and God will work everything out for you.’ Then they find out that’s a lot of hogwash.”
This is related to the view I’ve heard in many sermons and teachings that if you just trust God then He’ll bless you with everything you want.
Part of the problem is that we have inherited a “romantic” view of marriage from the media and from our culture, and not a spiritually realistic view. Dave Kinnamon, part of George Barna’s research group, writes: “Born-again Christians don’t seem to be very different when it comes to their attitudes about marriage. If you look at their perspectives about what they hope to get in a marital relationship, about what level of sacrifice it takes . . . about whether divorce is an option they would realistically consider, their perspectives about marriage and about divorce are very similar to non-Christians.”
The medical field is slowly waking up to the importance of preventative medicine. What about in the spiritual life? If we want less divorce, if we want to honor God by honoring marriage, then we need to teach our fellow Christians what marriage is about and how it will be a difficult place to practice being a loving disciple of Jesus Christ. We, together, need to assume that God wants marriages to remain intact and fight to keep them alive.
Whether married or not, whether married “happily” or not, God is teaching us through marriage and divorce about what it takes to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. It takes a clear understanding of what it means to follow Jesus Christ, whatever the cost to me. It takes a willingness to love, as I have been loved by God. It takes a willingness to work hard to dedicate myself to the relationships God has placed me in. And it takes a willingness to make godly choices to begin with, regardless of how I “feel” about a certain person or situation.
The reason so many Christian marriages fail is because we have failed in the task of discipleship.
But when a Christian marriage “succeeds,” I know of no richer, more palpable picture of a life in Christ, which is to say the life of discipleship.
Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve to use marriage and divorce as a means to spur me on to a more dedicated life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. If I am in a troubled marriage, I resolve to reflect on God’s will for my life and the call to discipleship and the call to live in love. If I am single and potentially seeking marriage, I resolve to consider what kind of person God desires me to marry. If I am “happily” married, I resolve to give thanks to God and to consider how I may help support others in their desire to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
Prayer: O God, who has so consecrated the state of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual marriage and unity between Christ and His Church: bless all Christian marriages; help those who seek marriage to seek godliness in their future spouses above other things; and remind us all of the love and unity with which you have called us to live. Amen.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson