The link will remain active until April 14, 2017.
Thanks to all who attended my presentation. I greatly appreciate your being there!
When speaking or writing on the topic of divorce, I inevitably encounter someone quoting Mal. 2:16, “For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel,” and usually with a kind of “so there!” attitude that settles a matter. This perplexed me at first. It’s like screaming at an oncologist, “Cancer is evil!”
Eventually, I came to realize that many Christians simply have no exposure to this terribly complex, deeply sorrowful issue. And to that, I say “Amen!” May nothing strip them of their innocence. Would to God the rest of us could return. Unfortunately, we must deal with life as it is.
The problem is evil. It’s terribly confusing for those who believe that God is all-powerful, sovereign over creation, and fundamentally good. God hates evil and He’s all-powerful, so why does He allow evil to continue? This “problem of evil,” as it is called by philosophers, also makes divorce difficult for believers to comprehend, especially as it relates to filing the necessary forms with the court. Continue reading “The Problem of Divorce”
200 acres of secluded bliss. No place on earth felt more like home to me than the Dimple-C ranch. Whenever I could find the time, I made the journey to Duffau, Texas just to hear the brambles scuff across my boots and the grasshoppers flutter as I wandered its chalky, limestone hills. The cicadas buzzing in the August air always made it seem hotter to me, but I didn’t mind. This was the real Texas, and the Dimple-C always welcomed me like a mother’s embrace.
Of course, the ranch was nothing without my Uncle R.B.. Some of my fondest memories come from the days I spent playing outdoors with old “Red Beans” and his fishing buddy, Bud Stringer. (I kid you not; his actual name.) Several times each summer, from the time I was 12 ‘til at least 20, the old coots loaded up the farm truck and drove me through thicket and brush to a tributary known only to Bud. In seventy years, he never lived more than 10 miles from the spot of his birth, and no place existed within a hundred he didn’t know intimately. Continue reading ““Red Beans,” Bud, and Me”
My good friend, Chris Williams (aka “Wounded Warror“), and I share a common theological heritage. We were reared in fundamentalist Christian circles, which has given us a passion for pleasing the Lord and understanding His Word. Yet, like any manmade theological system, our tradition has also skewed our perspective of God. The same is true of all theological traditions, including Calvinism, revivalism, evangelicalism, and any other “ism” you care to name. Fundamentalism just happens to be ours.
After reading “My Husband Is Having an Affair with Pornography, What Should I Do?” he challenged me with a very insightful question. Because Chris has an impressive syllabus of Bible and theology training, my response reflects both the extent of his knowledge and the depth of his thinking. I also think his question is important enough to warrant an article, rather than a simple comment-level response.
Here is his question:
I am wondering about the separation you describe here by Cloud and Townsend. God does not separate from us in the way most of us think of separation. He says we can never be separated from his love, not the same thing you are advocating for the non-sinning spouse here. I know for me growing up severe separation was a problem, either too extreme or too lenient.
Calling someone into account based on the covenant of marriage seems to work better for me with my separationist background. I draw boundaries that are healthy, but that have nothing to do with withdrawing love or concern (you call it “loving response to sin” which is a great theme to explore, debunking the whole (if someone sins, run!) mentality.
Any helpful thoughts along these lines? Continue reading “God’s Tough Love”
Pleasing the Lord isn’t very complicated. It isn’t easy, but it’s relatively straightforward. He said so through the Old Testament prophet, Micah.
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Unfortunately, the world will make this neither easy nor automatic; it severely punishes those who choose to please God. Moreover, our own fallen natures would have us please ourselves first. Nevertheless, the Lord has not left us to struggle on our own. Those who belong to Him have been given power that cannot be overcome by evil. Therefore, let us be aware of the challenges we face so that, through His strength, we might overcome them. Each of the Lord’s expectations—to do what is right, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with Him—will be met with a particular challenge.
Generally speaking, people have two important values they hope to preserve: comfort and integrity. Continue reading “Living the Good Life”
“I don’t believe in divorce.” As Diane responded to the pleas of her non-Christian friends, the waver in her voice only dignified her desperate resolve. Some might have even called it heroic. Her husband of sixteen years, however, had demonstrated all too clearly by his love of alcohol and rage that he did not share her perspective on marriage. The sacred covenant she entered as a young woman had become his license to drink and hurl insults with no accountability. And after a thousand broken promises and countless wasted hours in counseling, Diane was at the breaking point. For the sake of her children’s safety and sanity, and for the survival of her own withered soul, something had to change. Unfortunately, her family, her church, and her own Christian conscience spoke in heartbroken, anguished accord: “I don’t believe in divorce.”
Like Diane, many conscientious believers find themselves hopelessly trapped between two intolerable options: divorce or continued misery. These weary guardians of dead or dying unions remain convinced that divorce is a sin; however, they find it increasingly difficult to ignore the conviction that tolerating the destructive behavior of a wayward mate is not the lesser evil. Meanwhile, the implied message of well-meaning family, friends, and church is, We know you’re enduring unimaginable pain and may even be risking bodily harm, and we don’t know what you should do about it. But for goodness’ sake, don’t seek a divorce! Not only does this fail to offer hope or provide leadership, but it also creates an incubator for sin, not only for the unrepentant partner but also the suffering spouse.
A person can endure this no-win scenario for months, even years, but not forever. As James Dobson so eloquently put it, “The human mind cannot tolerate agitated depression and grief indefinitely. The healthy personality will act to protect itself in time, throwing off the despair and groping for stability. One method by which this is accomplished is by turning pain into anger.” Given enough time, people in situations like Diane’s reach a breaking point and often make destructive or unwise choices. And the intensity of their emotional backlash can be frightening, especially against the offending spouse and anyone who had encouraged them to “remain faithful to their vows.” Feeling forsaken by friends, family, church, and even God Himself, some abandon themselves to an adulterous affair and desert their families, ironically giving their sinning spouse biblical grounds for divorce. Many others eventually decide that while God may not approve of their divorce, they cannot continue to exist in this moral limbo and then finally choose to pursue a divorce their loved ones and church friends do not support. They eventually console themselves with the quiet conviction that a lifetime of guilt is better than what they endured in marriage.
To be perfectly fair, leaders in Christian ministry face the no-win scenario on a grand scale. For them, the implications extend far beyond the suffering of just one person and his or her family. Also at stake are the institution of marriage and the authority of Scripture.
For many decades, Christian pastors, teachers, counselors, and sociologists have lamented the steady, undeniable erosion of marriage and feel compelled to shore it up, even if it means that some individuals must suffer. As the divorce rate climbs, church leaders elevate the institution of marriage. The more the world profanes marriage, the more sacred it becomes in the minds of those who defend it. As more people freely discard the marriage covenant at will, the response has been to proclaim the inviolable, unbreakable nature of the one-flesh bond more fervently and more rigidly than before. This progression has escalated to the point that we now place such high value on marriage that we are willing to sacrifice almost anything to avoid divorce, including the safety and spiritual well-being of individuals. This may explain the disheartening results of a survey conducted by James and Phyllis Alsdurf. They questioned pastors to determine when they would support a battered woman’s decision to separate from her abuser.
One-third of the respondents felt that the abuse would have to be life-threatening. Almost one-fifth believed that no amount of abuse would justify a woman leaving, while one in seven felt a moderate expression of violence would be justification enough. The remainder interpreted “occasional” violence as grounds for leaving.
However, only two per cent of the pastors said they would support a divorce in situations of violence.
We must ask ourselves, was man made for marriage, or marriage made for man? (Mark 2:27). Are we becoming guilty of venerating the institution of marriage over its original design, like the Pharisees obsessed over the Sabbath? Have we lost sight of the purpose of marriage in God’s ultimate program to make us more like Christ?
For Christian leaders, the debate over divorce also impacts the authority of Scripture. Jesus, when asked about divorce, stated that a husband and wife “are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6) and “Whoever divorces his wife, except for [sexual] immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). The interpretation of these words is a proving ground for how one will interpret and apply Scripture in general. And it’s a particularly difficult issue because it seemingly places two of God’s primary attributes, love and righteousness, in direct contention.
Many people correctly argue that God’s love would not want to prolong Diane’s domestic torture, but their arguments typically set aside His righteousness. And the arguments against taking the words of Jesus at face value are legion.
* “Jesus answered a specific question, so we can’t apply His statement universally.”
* “Jesus didn’t mean what we think He did.”
* “Cultures and contexts are no longer the same. That was then; this is now.”
Some of the arguments are intriguing—even compelling at first blush—but they all accomplish the same result. They effectively render the words of Christ meaningless, which leaves many believers feeling uneasy. And rightfully so. Any solution to this moral dilemma must not ignore the words of Jesus or rob them of their meaning.
On the other hand, many Christians correctly take the words of Scripture at face value and understandably reject any attempt to avoid a straightforward interpretation. But their dogged desire to honor the righteousness of God too easily dismisses His compassion, or, at the very least, they see God as holy first and loving second.
At present, much of the evangelical world has battled itself to a stalemate on the issue of divorce and, as a sad consequence, has left many suffering believers isolated and directionless. Clearly, something must be done. But what? How do we resolve the no-win scenario?
In the early 1960s, Thomas Kuhn wrote a book titled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he coined the term “paradigm shift.” When scientists can no longer make sense of their data using the established theories, someone stumbles upon a new perspective that sparks a scientific revolution. The facts don’t change; we just change our way of looking at them.
To use a word picture, think of a path leading to a wall. In the past, we may have turned left or right to go around something blocking our progress. Turning left or right always worked in the past because the obstacles were relatively small. So we’ve never needed any other way of thinking. But now we’ve come to a wall that stretches for miles in either direction. Turning left or right will no longer solve the problem. We need a new solution. We need a new dimension to our thinking: up. We must climb over the wall, something we never thought to do before.
Our present theological path has led us to an impasse. To turn left, we must either compromise righteousness or bend the Bible to sanctify our desire for mercy. To turn right, we must hold high the sanctity of marriage at the expense of compassion, forcing many thousands to choose between sin and survival. We need a new perspective. A paradigm shift. A way to view the issues in three dimensions instead of only two.
Clearly, our present solutions do not work. Marriages continue to fracture under unbearable stresses. But rather than blame the couple, or blame society, we must look to ourselves as members of Christ’s body and ask, What can we do differently to give real meaning to the words “sanctity of marriage” instead of the mere lip service we offer now.
We need an “up” kind of solution to the challenges marriages face. And that is the primary purpose for this forum.
Will you join me?
 James and Phyllis Alsdurf, Battered into Submission (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1989), 158.
 The Greek word translated “immorality” in the New American Standard Bible is porneia, from which we get our word pornography. The term refers to sexual sin.
 Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, rev. ed. 1996).