Recap and introduction
Talk (I) Marriage in the Garden of Eden - The gift of the bride, biblical principles of marriage
Talk (II) Outside the Garden of Eden – Thistles and Thorns, The challenges facing marriage
Talk (III) Building a home outside the Garden of Eden -The challenge to make a good marriage better – let’s grow old together, the best is yet to be.
Talk (IV) Garden of Eden lost. (cf Paradise Lost, John Milton) Things fall apart; the center cannot hold - Serious breaches of the marriage covenant.
How is it possible for a couple who have been married 20 years and have four children together finally come to the decision to divorce one another?
They must have loved each other deeply enough to consider and to go through marriage.
What happened? How did they lose ‘paradise’? How is it possible that so much good will, so much promise for good can be frittered away. With nothing remaining but hate, bitterness, anger, finger pointing and the deep desire to be rid of the other? This is the supreme irony for as young lovers will tell you, they can’t wait to be with one another, and all they long for is to be with one another. Now, they can’t wait to live apart and to permanently not to have anything to do with the other.
Will there ever come a time when we the leaders of the church may have to reluctantly, regretfully, agree that a couple is permitted to divorce? When we have to acknowledge that things have tragically fallen apart. The centre simply cannot hold:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction,
while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
The Centre cannot hold
When can we tell that the centre cannot hold and the marriage is over? What is the quintessential essence of marriage – once this is broken, divorce can be considered. What is it that breaks the marriage bond? What constitutes an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage?
(In the discussion that follows, we are assuming that both husbands and wives are committed Christians)
Definition of marriage
“Marriage is an exclusive heterosexual covenant between one man and one woman, ordained and sealed by God, preceded by a public leaving of parents, consummated in sexual union, issuing in a permanent mutually supportive partnership, and normally crowned by the gift of children”. (Cf. Gen 2.23-25) John Stott Issues Facing Christians, 4th Edition, p 361
Permanence of marriage, restoration and reconciliation of broken relationships is the emphasis – nowhere is divorce commanded or indeed encouraged.
Mt 19 3Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" 4"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' 5and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'6So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Three main purposes for marriage reflecting covenantal responsibilities
Listed in the order in which they are mentioned in Gen 1 and 2. Note, priority of order does not necessarily signify priority of importance.
(I) The reciprocal commitment of self-giving love which finds its natural expression in sexual union
Breaches : (adulterer)
Mt 5. 32But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
Mt 19.9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."
The one flesh principle is foundational to marriage as divinely ordained and biblically defined, ( p 372) – nothing less than a violation (by sexual infidelity) of this fundamental relationship break the marriage covenant ( p 381)
(II) Commanded to be fruitful. Procreation of children, together with their upbringing within the love and discipline of the family.
Provider, protector, guardian, partner, setting the tone in terms of discipline, commitment to the Lord.
Breaches: Abuser, violator, destroyer, abdicator (violent, drunkard, addict – alcohol, gambling, drugs, computers) Importance of pastoral considerations
(III) Companionship – it is not good for man to be alone
Breaches : (desertion, abandonment) (permission to divorce and remarry in case of non Christian spouse who deserts spouse solely because of his/her conversion to Christianity.
Summary of scriptural teaching
· God created human kind male and female in the beginning, and himself instituted marriage. His intention was and is that human sexuality will find fulfilment in marriage, and that marriage will be an exclusive, loving and lifelong union. This is his purpose. (Gen 2.24)
· Divorce is nowhere commanded, and never even encouraged, in Scripture. On the contrary, even if biblically justified, it remains a sad and sinful declension from the divine norm. (Mt 19.6)
· Divorce and remarriage are permissible (not mandatory) on two grounds. Firstly, an innocent person may divorce his or her partner if the latter has been guilty of serious sexual immorality. (Mt 5.32; 19.9) Secondly, a believer may acquiesce in the desertion of his or her unbelieving partner, if the latter refuses to go on living with him or her. (1 Cor 7.10-16) In both cases, however, the permission is given in negative or reluctant terms. Only if a person divorces his or her partner o the ground of marital unfaithfulness is his or her remarriage not adulterous. Only if the unbeliever insists on leaving is the believer not bound. (p 377)
· We may on occasion feel at liberty to advise the legitimacy of a separation without a divorce, or even a divorce without a remarriage,(eg : violence, abusive, disruptive behaviour affecting the safety of spouse and children) taking 1 Cor 7:11 as our warrant. But we have no liberty to go beyond the permissions of our Lord. He knew his Father’s will and cared for his disciples’ welfare. Wisdom, righteousness and compassion are all found in following him. ( p 385)
Pastoral care and concern
'Divorce is always a painful experience and the church's first task is to speak (by word and action) of God's attitude of grace and mercy for those who go through this trauma.
Stott, “marital breakdown is always a tragedy. It contradicts God’s will, frustrates his purpose, brings to husband and wife the acute pains of alienation, disillusion, recrimination and guilt, and precipitates in any children a crisis of bewilderment, insecurity and often anger” p 360
Mal 2.16 I hate divorce cf. Hos 14.4 I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them
“The primary question is how it may find some arrangement that will give adequate form both to our beliefs about the permanence of marriage and to our belief about the forgiveness of the penitent sinner” Professor Oliver O’Donovan ( p 383)
It could express this ambivalence either by permitting the remarriage in church (emphasising the gospel of redemption), while adding some kind of discipline (recognising God’s marriage norm), or by refusing the remarriage in church (empathising the norm), while adding some expression of acceptance ( recognising the gospel)”
Final personal challenges for us
The Knowing/Doing Gap
There is a gap between our knowledge and our ability or willingness to do it.
Don’t know what to do
Know what to do but do not have the willingness to do it
Know what to do but seemingly we do not have the ability to do it
Why is this so?
Knowing what is right is important – we need to retain the vision of what a marriage under God, ought to be – Adam, “this at last is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”. Our spouse are our soul mates, our best friends, there is no one closer, our spouse are our partners in the business of life, building the home, nurturing children, serving and honouring God. Our steps should quicken, our hearts lighter and glader when it is time for us to head home….in the theme song of the King of Queens, “All my life I will be coming home to you”
The King of Queens-Theme
My eyes are gettin' weary,
My back is gettin' tight,
I'm sittin' here in traffic,
On the Queensborough bridge tonight,
But I don't care cuz all I wanna do,
Is cash my check and drive right home to you,
Cuz baby all my life I will be driving home to you.
But it is not enough
We need honesty to admit we are not satisfied with the status quo, with the present state of our marriage. We do not talk enough, share enough. Not enough courtesy, respect, affection. Too much contempt, irritation. What happened to my vows to love, to cherish, to show unconditional love……..
Marriage begins to break up when we accept the status quo, indeed perpetuate the status quo.
We need to say,
“I love my wife/husband. I will not accept what is happening now to my marriage – I will do whatever it takes to fulfil my vows to love, to cherish my spouse – a vow I made before the Lord, in the presence of God’s people and to my spouse”.
It needs hard work – dissatisfaction with the status quo must go on to a firm resolve to action : this is what I would do : confess, repent, start anew, if need be, see somebody for counsel – take firm, concrete, definite steps – no more foul words, no more taunting, challenging, ….habits and patterns of behaviour set through many years takes time to unravel. Hard work needs to be made to set new habits and re-established new patterns of behaviour. Research shows it needs at least 90 days or three months!
Irritation, complaints, injustice and unfairness, disgruntled – often over quite legitimate reasons and grounds. Temptation to react and to respond in the same old familiar, habitual, destructive ways.
We need perseverance on our part to continue to respond with love and affection and patience for our spouse to respond in the same way. Here the husbands need to take the lead.
Waiting upon God
It needs iron discipline to wait upon God – tyranny of the urgent, our laziness, our lack of enthusiasm, a thousand other excuses…..
Stott reminds us of the iron discipline of the Lord’s greatest servant:
Moses sought God, “the Lord spoke to Moses face to face”, David looked to the Lord as his shepherd, his light, and salvation, his rock, the stronghold of his life and in times of distress found “strength in the Lord my God, “ Paul prayed through and was able to say, “ your grace is sufficient for me….Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane….your will not mine…..
Then and only then can we live a life of self denial, self forgetting unconditional love
Without being overwhelmed by our fears and worries over our rights being trampled upon when we practiced unconditional love. Then only can we let go of the need to overemphasise on our rights
There is need for the church to organise marriage renewal weekends and if need be marriage counsel
No marriage so good that it cannot be improved.
No marriage so bad that it cannot be renewed
in our first talk, entitled Gift of the bride – we reminded ourselves that marriage is ordained by God. He has not taken his eyes off our marriage. It is God’s will that marriage is permanent, until death do us part. With the Spirit’s enabling and empowerment it is possible for each of us to say to our spouse,
"Let us grow old together. The best is yet to be."