28 November, 2007

Current Ruminations on Divorce in the Christian's Life

I asked a few weeks ago what everyone thought about this crazy idea I'd heard that maybe God might allow divorce for causes other than adultery. I said I would go away and think about it and come back.

Here's the "come back" part.

It will be a year or two before I'm fully comfortable with any position after such a major change in perspective, but I'll tell you where I am today and that I'm surprisingly enough, pretty comfortable with it. In this post, I'm not going to go into a lot of explanation regarding the scriptural digging that brought me here. If the whim strikes me, or someone asks, I might put together such a tour de doubt. We'll see.

Anyway, here's the score. I do not stand behind the accuracy of these opinions yet, but I throw them out for thinking out loud purposes.

From my earliest age, marriage was presented to me as a sacred union, in the sacramental sense. The bonding of two people in marriage was a spiritually "creative" event. Where there were two people before, now there were almost three. There were the first two people, and there was this third person who was the combined spirits of those two people. God saw them as one person, and that mingling of spirits happened before God as much as on Earth. Their union became a conduit for the grace of God into their lives and into the world, and its maintenance as much a sacred requirement as the Lord's Supper or baptism.

At the same time, marriage was presented to me as a profound spiritual failure for anyone who might have a call of God on their life. This was never explicitly stated, but it always seemed to be written between the lines. Paul thought it was better if I abode alone. The person who marries will have tribulation, and will have split allegiances. Jesus found those who eunuched themselves to be rare and highly gifted people. Some had the gift of singleness, and the rest succumbed to putting out the fire of selfish sexual or emotional desire by marriage, even at the detriment of the kingdom.

As frequently observed here and elsewhere, I am a little hard on myself at times. I doubt anyone ever actually put these burdens on me, but that they tried to present a balanced message. I probably heard the burdens much more strongly than they were intended. Still, I believe I was hearing an actual implied "ideal" behind the pragmatic "balance" that was being presented. I believe the unrealistic ideal of celibacy was mentioned, and the second best ideal was a high spiritualization of marriage.

Let me file away the thoughts on celibacy for a minute, and concentrate only on the elevation of marriage to a sacrament.

Adam says he will become one flesh with his wife. Nowhere in the Old Testament does anyone go beyond this simple description of marriage. It is not until Paul says in 1 Cor 6 that being joined to a harlot is a joining of a body dedicated to Christ with sin that the definition of marriage begins to get a little sticky, especially when that passage is linked to "be not yoked unequally." But even then, Paul never says anything about the spirits of the believer and the harlot having been joined. The joining is human, not sacramental.

At some point some man decided he could gain power by making marriage and its act a matter of direct spiritual concern. Some priest came up with the idea that marriage should be handled with the same gloves as new birth, baptism and the Lord's Supper - namely priestly gloves.

This was not a blessing to anyone.

Instead, as I look at scripture I am come to see marriage as a contractual relationship. I don't see any other contractual relationship in scripture that parallel's marriage, either. Marriage towers above every other contract I can think of. In almost every other part of life, we are told to let our Yes be Yes, and our No be No, and that everything more than this is sin. In marriage, we see conditions and penalties like in no other binding agreement. The partners must provide shelter, food and the duties of marriage to each other, or the marriage is justly made null - even when the wife is merely a freed slave. If a man marries a slave and he later abandons her, she goes out from the marriage a free woman. She goes into the marriage in bondage and leaves the marriage a freed woman without paying the price of a slave's release. (Exodus 21:7-11)

Per Moses, the three duties of marriage listed above are contractual obligations binding upon both parties. And God played by those rules. He provided for Israel, and betrothed Himself to her. In Israel the betrothal period was no cooling off period before the marriage, but the true and binding beginning of the marriage, even though it was a period of chastity. So God was fully, if yet chastely, married to Israel when He divorced her. She had violated the duties of marriage, and God justly cast her from Himself. God expressed regret for her decision, but no remorse for His own action. And He did not consider Himself to have hindered His right to be fully and desirably married in the future.

If marriage is a spiritual sacrament, extending into the heavenly realm, then such freedom in divorce is not available to humanity. If marriage is a contract with valid binding/freeing conditions, then freedom equal to God's is available to us. When our contractual expectations are violated, we have a right to require the breach be remedied in some appropriate way. When no other way is appropriate, then divorce is a fully allowed option. God used it.

But Jesus changed the rules. Or rather, Jesus' words to the rabbis have been interpreted as a changing of the rules. Jesus seems to say that there are no longer three contractual obligations in marriage, but only one. The man need no longer provide food and shelter to the woman or even sex, as long as he refrains from fornication.

Given the perceived tightening of the rules by Jesus, I have always maintained that divorce is legal in all conditions where it is desirable, but remarriage is only allowed when one spouse has committed adultery, and then only for the victimized spouse. Hence, I have always felt personally justified and free to remarry (except for the celibacy discussion which I am defering until the end.)

This has been a hard place for me. I have friends who initiated divorces because of abuse, and I could not have blessed their remarriages. Then again, as ladies who had already had children and who had been abused in marriage, not one of them ever had a desire to remarry so my silence was a moot point. It was an awkward thing for me, even if not really for them.

If Jesus truly ramped up the requirements of marriage, then I must stand by His words. Those women should not divorce, but could. If they did divorce, though, they could not remarry without committing adultery. This passed every test of doctrine, but failed the ultimate test of all doctrines - does it leave the donkey in the pit until the end of the Sabbath? (Luke 14:5) Any time a doctrine hurts someone honestly doing everything in his or her power to please God from a true heart, the doctrine is wrong. It's just a matter of figuring out how and why.

Then I read the argument about which I asked my question of everyone. The argument stands on its own two feet, but the proof to me is that it allows me to pull donkeys out of pits on Sabbath days. It allows me to bless the honest remarriages of honest women who are brave enough to try again. (Please remember that for my own case, I had been given my "get out of pit free" card already.)

The argument is simply this. Jesus was asked by the rabbis whether ambiguous term "duties of marriage" meant any of the hundreds of legitimate duties of marriage, or whether it specifically meant fornication. Jesus answered strongly that divorce is separating something that God put together (flesh), and that it was only permitted for fornication. The argument was that the rabbis did not ask about divorce for lack of food and shelter because those were obvious points. Divorce simply was allowed in those cases. The point up for debate was what the ambiguous term, "duties of marriage," meant. Therefore, Jesus also did not state the obvious, but only answered the point up for debate. "Duties of marriage" could not be made the legitimate cause of a divorce except in case of fornication. (And "fornication" is "porneia" in Greek, which includes things we hardly call fornication these days. Divorce for pornography addiction is legitimate even by the tightest interpretation of Christ's words.)

The argument delved into other Greek which I am not going to do here, but it was persuasive.

More importantly to me, the argument aligns with the things I see in 1 Cor 7, and other such places. It aligns with the donkey stuck in the pit. It aligns with marriage being a joining of flesh on earth, as opposed to spirits in heaven. It even aligns with marriage as a flesh and blood type of the marriage of the Bridegroom to His church, because He divorced the fornicating bride and married one whom He had made pure.

So divorce for true and continuous violation of any of the three contractual obligations is authorized by God, and a remarriage afterward is pure.

But this brings me back to the discussion of celibacy.

I have believed for the last 4 years that I could be freely and cleanly remarried, but I've not believed it in my heart. For the last 30+ years, my gut has believed that marriage is the lesser path. The scripture says some people are given the gift of singleness and some people are not. Full Stop. So if remarriage was a lesser path the first time around, then how empty must it be the second time?

Only that's not what the scripture says. And I did not realize it until recently.

Paul actually says refering to marriage:
1 Cor 7:7
For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.


Every man has his proper gift, and to labor to exercise a gift that is not properly mine is a recipe for a misery God does not have planned for me. There is no honor to God in living outside of the gift He's properly intended for me, even if such self-denial seems spiritual as an act of "will worship."

I have made this last little argument briefly and in the first person, because I'm the only person I know who has struggled with it. It's awkward talking in the third person when I don't know anyone else to whom it might apply, so there you have it.

I hope no one thinks prematurely that they have found answers in these thoughts, because they are not yet safe to be leaned upon. They are not yet proven in any way. But if they have helped anyone in their personal sifting of the scriptures for wisdom, then I'll be quite happy.

May the Lord grant us wisdom.

19 comments:

Missy said...

"From my earliest age, marriage was presented to me as a sacred union, in the sacramental sense. The bonding of two people in marriage was a spiritually "creative" event...

At the same time, marriage was presented to me as a profound spiritual failure for anyone who might have a call of God on their life. This was never explicitly stated, but it always seemed to be written between the lines."


Kevin, this is something that has always confused me, too. It is a strange mixed message to receive. I think you have some great thoughts here - hopeful and considerate of the many gifts God gives. I pray that you first discover and and then find great peace in the gift God has chosen for you.

Weekend Fisher said...

May God grant us wisdom.

Take care & God bless
Anne/WF

codepoke said...

Thanks, both of you, for visiting the Familyhood Church cricket farm. :-)

And thanks for both your prayers.

Lynne said...

Maybe this comes from being an Aussie, but the marriage-as-spiritual-union thingy is something I haven't heard very often, and never when I was growing up. it's only crept in fairly recently, as, I hate to say, an import from America. To me it sounds vaguely like an idolatry of marriage, though I wouldn't want to condemn anyone for going there. But Jesus Himself said that there was no marrying or giving in marriage in heaven, which to me makes it pretty clear that it's for this world only.

God created marriage for our protection. Sex is so personal and vulnerable 9or should be)that its potential to destroy us outside of the safety of a committed relationship are ginormous. but it is not a unilateral, forever binding law. Someone I once read said that this would make marriage (which is temporary and this-world-only) more important than the welfare of the people in it (who are eternal and of infinite value). I agree that marriage is a contract; i would prefer to use the word covenant, but a conditional covenant which was voided if the basic conditions were breached. And if it is null and void (because of real breach, not mere whim) then the person is free to marry again. otherwise they are still in the power of the person who has wronged them, and I don't think that injustice is godly.

just my thoughts, I could say a lot more because I've had reason to think a lot about this subject, but I've probably already said too much in laying down my opinion here. I do want to say that I believe it's something everyone one of us has to figure out for their own situation (personal and/or pastoral) and that the bottom line must always be what best reflects the character of God. Bless you in this journey ..

Tal Prince said...

Hey Brothers and Sisters,

I'm a recovering sex/porn addict. My wife stayed with me after I confessed everything to her, and I am so grateful. We now minister in this area of our broken world.

I appreciate your insights, but do hold a different view. I clearly have a bias, and do not suffer the delusion that when I die that the Trinity becomes a quartet.

God is clearly anti divorce (Malachi), and we have to take in the whole teaching of Scripture on marriage.

Key to the debate is that marriage is a covenant. That dramatically raises the stakes of the game. Marriage is God's living allegory to the world of the Gospel. Unconditional, undying love - even when we screw up and don't deserve it.

God clearly joins couples together, and Jesus reminds us that what God has put together, let no man separate. Again, it's a covenant, and Our God is a covenant God.

Here's a really thorough treatment from John Piper to consider: http://www.desiringgod.org/resourcelibrary/articles/bydate/1986/1488/

May God Bless You, my friends.

codepoke said...

Thank you, Lynne. I wanted to make sure you saw this because of your questions at my last posting on the subject.

> Someone I once read said that this would make marriage more important than the welfare of the people in it

No joke.

This is precisely what I was taught to believe. My marriage was a divine thing, where I was just one of the people privileged to be in it. The subject was treated on an exact par with abortion. When a man and a woman make a marriage, to divorce is exactly on a par with aborting a baby. You are killing something alive and outside of the two you.

> To me it sounds vaguely like an idolatry of marriage

I'm OK with treating marriage as a divine and living if that's what I see in scripture, but I don't.

> but I've probably already said too much in laying down my opinion here.

Uh? Not on this blog you haven't. :-)

Thanks for dropping by, Lynne.

codepoke said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Tal.

> do not suffer the delusion that when I die that the Trinity becomes a quartet.

Hahahaha! Very nice. I may have to cop this line some day. :-)

> we have to take in the whole teaching of Scripture on marriage.

I could not agree more. That is precisely what I have tried to do.

> Key to the debate is that marriage is a covenant.

Hmmm. I said repeatedly that marriage was a contract.

Covenant:
1. an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified.

Contract:
1. an agreement between two or more parties for the doing or not doing of something specified.

OK. I call it a contract and you call it a covenant. What do you think I'm not seeing?

> Marriage is God's living allegory to the world of the Gospel.

Agreed. Marriage is a picture in flesh of Christ's relationship to the church. I made that point above, too.

> Unconditional, undying love - even when we screw up and don't deserve it.

Praise the Lord for grace and for grace lived out on Earth among us mortals. I hope at no point in my post I seemed to come out in favor of divorce. Forgiveness and reconciliation are Jesus' and Paul's preferred solutions to all marital problems, and mine as well.

And yes, God is a covenant God.

And yes, what God has joined together, no man should separate.

And yet, when one spouse physically beats another unrelentingly, the joining is over. The contract/covenant is broken. When the victim of abuse files for divorce s/he is not breaking a contract, but fulfilling the negative portion of the contract. The scriptural terms of the contract of marriage are not unconditional, any more than the conditions of God's blessing upon Israel.

I praise the Lord you were willing to repent before God and your wife, but not all men are so willing. And when men are not willing to repent, but are happy to continue to abuse their wives by their sin, Exodus 20, Matt 19 and 1 Cor 7 all seem to free them. God Himself mandated divorce in such situations, and divorce was understood to include remarriage.

Thank you for dropping by.

karen said...

I like what Lynne said. Not being a Bible expert, I look to the Ephesians model (properly translated of course) for what marriage is..it is a covenant. God knows a woman can't love a man without respecting him, and a man needs to love a woman as much as, if not more than himself.
When one person breaks that covenant (not loving, not faithful, etc.) I don't think God wants the other to be miserable, and I just don't think it all boils down to sex.
The divorce of Jesus' time and before was simple...men would just turn their wives out for no good reason, leaving them to fend for themselves on the street...usually ending up in prostitution. Jesus was speaking against that practice.

Tal Prince said...

Hey Kevin,
It's quite possible that I have misread your comments. For whatever reason I did pick up an endorsement of divorce that concerned me. It's quite possible that it is due to the fact that many couples in our community are getting divorced with no solid reasons other than "I'm just not happy."

I have a better idea where you're coming from.

I attach a higher standard to covenant than a contract. The Old Testament practice of entering covenant was more than an agreement.

That's one of the things that makes Hosea so incredible to me. To withstand the adultery and desertion by his wife and then to go back, years later, to buy her back at an auction and take her home - Man, that's amazing love, and it is the picture of the Gospel.

Jesus was speaking against the Pharisees practice of cavalierly putting out wives for no reason, which is what they had been doing using a misinterpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The real principle in that passage is that if a man were to divorce his wife on grounds of "sexual uncleanness" (which is not specified by the way - the word is only used one other time in the O.T. and means human defecation), and give her a certificate of divorce, and she marries another man who divorces her, the first husband can not remarry her.

In Matthew 19, Jesus takes marriage back to the beginning, which is where God institutes it. I think it's key that Jesus says in that discussion that "MOSES allowed you to divorce, but from the beginning it was not so." I think that means that Moses allowed it because of the hard and sinful heart of man. God's statement is that no one should separate marriage, and that He hates divorce.

Jesus is clear in the Sermon on the Mount that he allows divorce based only on fornication. I do think this refers to "sexual irregularity" and there can be divorce in a marriage where sexual addiction and porn addiction is present.

As for a woman, or man for that matter, being physically abused, I would, and do, advise separation and some cooling off before a deep and thorough counseling,and quite possibly legal proceedings begin.

D.A. Carson writes, "...our generation needs to be confronted with these demands. It used to be that divorce was a problem rarely found in evangelical circles. To our shame, it is no longer the case. Our society, including many professing Christians, has rejected biblical conceptions of both love and marriage. Love has become a mixture of physical desire and vague sentimentality; marriage has become a provisional sexual union to be terminated when this pathetic, pygmy love dissolves. How different is the Biblical perspective! In God's Word, marriage and love are for the tough minded. Marriage is a commitment; and far from backing out when the going gets rough, marriage partners are to sort out their difficulties in the light of Scripture. They are to hang in there, improving their relationship, working away at it, precisely because they vowed before God and man to live together and love each other for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness as in health, until death separates them. Love is the determined commitment to seek the other's good, to cherish, shelter, nurture, edify, and show patience with one's partner. This commitment worked out because of a deep rooted obedience to God which brings with it the emotional and sentimental aspects of love as well. Jesus presupposes this high view of marriage when, with one concessive exception, he flatly prohibits divorce."

But hey, the Trinity doesn't become a quartet when Carson dies either. (you can use that anytime you like, my friend!)

May God richly bless you and your community as you earnestly and honestly wrestle with the Gospel and how we live that out in this world.

codepoke said...

Amen, Karen. Thank you.

codepoke said...

Tal,

> It's quite possible that it is due to the fact that many couples in our community are getting divorced with no solid reasons other than "I'm just not happy."

I'd like to challenge this statement. Start by thinking of all the people you know who are divorced. Now filter out all the people about whose divorce you really don't know anything but hearsay. Now, filter out from that list all the non-Christians you know who are divorced (in many cases, this will mean filtering out one half of a couple, leaving only the Christian member in mind.) You now should have in mind nothing but Christians about whose divorces you are somewhat informed.

Of the people still in your mind, how many divorced with anything less than despair after trying every other option? The answer in my life is zero. Just because it's fashionable to paint divorce with a broad brush does not make it true, and does not make it profitable.

Please don't discourage your brothers and sisters who've been cast off by accusing us falsely in this way.

> The Old Testament practice of entering covenant was more than an agreement.

You'll not find this born out if you study old testament marriage.

> Jesus was speaking against the Pharisees practice of cavalierly putting out wives for no reason, which is what they had been doing using a misinterpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

I believe the discussion was actually around Ex 21:7-11. Neither Jesus nor the Pharisees mentions the original husband remarrying the rejected wife.

> In Matthew 19, Jesus takes marriage back to the beginning, which is where God institutes it.

This is indeed the question. Yes, Jesus goes back to the source. The question is whether He tightens the covenantal requirements from 3 to only 1, and then cuts that one in half. Orginally, a man had to provide food, shelter and the duties of marriage to his wife to meet the terms of his covenant. Was Jesus, in answering the Pharisees, really saying that a man no longer had to provide food or shelter to her? And was He saying that the man could deny his wife the duties of marriage, as long as he did not fornicate against her?

I orginally held to your position (and Piper's, BTW), but I am no longer convinced.

You quote Carson:
> Marriage is a commitment; and far from backing out when the going gets rough, marriage partners are to sort out their difficulties in the light of Scripture.

I completely agree.

In my marriage, I believe I did exactly this. After 7 years of struggle, my avowedly non-Christian wife told me she was done. She had found another, and was open to any legal arrangement that allowed her to have him. In my life, that was easy. The only arrangement possible for me - in the light of Scripture - was to divorce her and I did.

In the lives of others, it is not so simple. A woman is married to a man who abuses her, but who is perfectly willing to let her exclusively continue to service him. This man is evil. He doesn't just have (in Carson's words) a pygmy love; he has a goliath hate. He despises this woman, and uses her thoughtlessly for his own pleasure.

God in Exodus gave this woman the right to leave this man and remarry profitably. Carson, Piper, and many, many others have understood Jesus to take that right away from this woman. Pastors who follow these men have piled burdens on women that they themselves do not lift a finger to bear. They walk past the Samaritan bleeding and do not soil themselves to help. They leave the donkey in the pit because they cannot work on the Sabbath.

This is an injustice in our churches.

Carson says:
> Jesus presupposes this high view of marriage when, with one concessive exception, he flatly prohibits divorce

Paul says:
> 1 Cor 7:15
But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such [cases]: but God hath called us to peace.

(Yes, I am familiar with the context, and I assume you are as well.)

Either Carson or Paul is out of synch with Jesus' intent.

I hope you don't think I'm making up exaggerated claims for how women are treated in marriage. I am quoting from multiple real-life examples, and quoting the rulings of real life pastors. Divorce is not a sin in every case. Sometimes divorce is a fulfillment of the negative side of covenantal obligation, and it's the mercy of God freeing a victim from illegitimate abuse. Repentance is better, but when there was no repentance God Himself divorced.

codepoke said...

You know, let me add one thing here. I have not said a word about children through this whole conversation over the whole 2 years. Talking about them hurts too much, but this once I'll say this.

If 2 + 2 = 4, with children it becomes 16 + 16 = 32. And if each of those numbers actually means a degree of pain in someone's life, then the discussion is just too heartbreaking to start.

If Tal and Carson are right, and if divorce happens because of inconvenience, then may a millstone be tied around the necks of all those who hurt children to get a fresh start on life. And if I'm right, and if one member can be covenantally required to divorce, then the evil committed by the abuser is that much more evil - because so many suffer so much for one person's greed.

My heart gets too heavy to talk about this, so I'll not bring up the children again for a long, long time. I just thought I should say something.

Tal Prince said...

Hey Kevin,

I am a pastor, and the phrase "our community" was applying only to my church. I would not make such a large blanket statement, but thanks for checking me on that.

My statement is rooted in what is happening in our church, which is an addict based community - from sex,to alcohol, to meth, to food, to gambling to you name it.

It is a highly grace based church, and we get shot at a great deal by our more fundamental brothers and sisters for "allowing" registered sex offenders and homosexuals to be a part of our community.

I'm not trying to come across as a fundamentalist here, I just saw some things I was questioning in light of my current position as a pastor and being on staff at a seminary.

I also counsel people and couples across the United States due to my openness about my porn and sex addiction. So, again, I'm only speaking about situations in which I am directly involved.

In response to people's inability to resolve the marriage, I think that is absolutely correct. For me, that's what the Gospel is all about. We are incapable. It's why Jesus says, "Apart from me you can do nothing."It showcases our complete and total dependence.

Our studies of marriage obviously differ, but I'm going by God's definition of it at its' institution. The religious establishment was always looking for loopholes and legal interpretations to use to find a way to do what they wanted - which was divorce their wives.

Marriage, in my interpretation, is God's design, and we have to follow what He is saying.

I don't think that Carson and Paul are in disagreement - separation and divorce are two different things, which is why the follow up in verse 16 is how do you know, whether you will save your husband and vice versa. 1 Peter 3:1 supports that, as well.

I don't think you are making up, or exaggerating claims. As one who counsels a great deal, I have heard most everything. I've heard about the abuse -be it physical, emotional, and sexual - the adultery, the addictions, the horror stories are fairly regular. I believe the church is highly responsible for that since so many are not doing any thorough pre-marital counseling.

I am not sentencing, or encouraging any spouse to stay in a situation like that - especially where children are involved. I counsel separation a good bit, in hopes to cool things down, and if there are any legal matters that need to be handled in the case of physical abuse, to handle that. Then we can hopefully counsel both spouses.

I have seen God work incredibly in these situations. It is only the work of the Gospel that can save all marriages.

I'm not sure what you are referring to exactly in Exodus, but Jesus was absolutely taking a shot at the Pharisees for their wreckless and abusive practice of having disposable wives and leaving these sisters alone and impoverished and unable to remarry.

That is part of why he's taking the divorce that Moses allowed off the table in those passages.

It seems that I have made you angry, and that was not my intent. Since I work in the field of ministering to sexual addicts I get several Google alerts a day. Your blog entry came up in one of those alerts, and when I read it, it came across as pro divorce which concerned me for reasons posted in my last comment.

I'll not comment again, as my intent was not to stir up a fight, or pain.

May God Bless you and Your Community.

codepoke said...

Hey Tal!

Your spirit has been kind and open throughout. I am very happy with the way you have challenged my thinking and am certainly not angry in the least. I appreciate your sensitivity to the ease with which Internet discussion can drift toward anger. In my case, I can get passionate without being unhappy about a conversation.

I'm glad to hear you are commenting from personal experience, and I know there are some communities that split for convenience sake more than others, perhaps at both ends of the social spectrum. Separation for a cooling off period is a great recommendation, too. Every opportunity for repentance should be taken. To recommend less would be false counsel, both in the eyes of the Father and for the sake of those who will live out long lives with their decisions. I believe with all my heart that God does work the kinds of miracles you describe.

So, let me query you in a different direction. The book "Boundaries" suggests that it is necessary to assert your limits in order to give true grace. What are your thoughts on boundaries?

I am concerned that maybe if I had known there were things I didn't have to take in my marriage, I could have saved it. By allowing things to continue for years, I believe I essentially doomed my marriage. But since I was taught that marriage is untouchable, I could not stand up and stop those things. To do so would have meant risking a thing I didn't have the right to put at risk. If I'm right, then knowing that divorce is a legitimate, if awful, option might actually work to save marriages.

Thanks again for your kind spirit.

Tal Prince said...

Hey Kevin,

Thank you for your kind response. I enjoy the dialog and was just concerned that I had made you angry.

I never want to appear to be fighting about "non-essentials." Outside the orthodox elements of the faith, we're all going to get to heaven and be stunned about all the crap we were wrong about. :) I'll die on orthodox hill, but not Reform vs. Arminian hill for example.

Your questions about Boundaries are great. I'm a big fan of Cloud and Townshend, and routinely recommend that book to people.

I'm sorry to say that I don't know your story, but from what I can piece together from our dialog is that your wife left you for another man. I am so sorry if that is what happened, and if that's not right, I'm sorry in any case.

I deal with addicts mostly, and they attract, and are attracted to, codependent enablers. These people are notorious for having boundary troubles. And the truth is that no addict ever gets well until the codependent around them gets well.

It's sad, but so many addicts won't get help, or well, until the family system around them starts setting, and enforcing, boundaries. There do have to be limits for there to be grace. In the garden, there was no grace as there was no need for it.

We know our need for grace because of the law. We know we are sinners in need, and we can't earn anything - we have to be given grace. The garden has a boundary around it, and we can't get in without Jesus. He has to give us grace, and we understand that so love should be a response to that.

Marriages, or any relationships, without boundaries won't survive.

Don't be too hard on yourself on the marriage. I don't know what happened, but it's never one person that dooms a marriage. Both spouses contribute in different ways.

When churches teach that marriage is untouchable can lead to problems because the codependents hear, "You have to take whatever your spouse does without complaint, or objection and that's that." That is not the case.

From my perspective the teaching needs to be that marriage is an incredibly serious relationship, and you don't just do it cavalierly. Both spouses have incredible responsibilities and burdens and they need to know that going in, and once they know those, and work that stuff out ahead of time - then it's a better time to remind them that marriage is not disposable, and for Christians it is a reflection of the Gospel.

I won't marry couples without a minimum of 14 weeks of premarital counseling. We teach them how to fight, because without that, they are doomed.

I just had a couple come to our church, and they've been married less than 8 weeks and are already talking divorce because they "are not happy." Their former pastor gave them a whopping 3 sessions of counseling. What the husband knows is, "She's supposed to submit to me and my authority." He doesn't know that he is to die for her. He doesn't know he has far more responsibility and that if he fulfills them, his wife will love and respect him.

The Gospel has to become operative in the marriage, or it will never work. In it, all things are possible. Without it, nothing is possible.

The Gospel is about turning things around and bringing back things from the dead. Relationships are not exempt.

Divorce is always ugly, and God hates it because he knows all of the consequences of it. Is it unforgivable? No.

That's a big problem for me - so many churches slap the scarlet D on people that have divorced, even for adultery. There is no grace given, and that is so heartbreaking.

Nothing, or no one is beyond redemption. Corrie Ten Boom used to say, "There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still." It's a great statement, and very true.

Divorce is not unforgivable. No sin is - except blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Another interesting discussion there...

codepoke said...

Thanks, Tal. And sorry to be silent for so long. Too much going on, and I went to bed early last night.

> "You have to take whatever your spouse does without complaint, or objection and that's that." That is not the case.

Glad to hear you say this. That helps.

So what do you counsel when you get to this point. I believe(d) Christianity was forcing my hand into a codependent position. How do I say, "Here and no further," without saying, "Or else."?

> I get several Google alerts a day

This I must investigate. I'm really a technophobe for being a programmer and all. Thanks for the tip.

Tal Prince said...

Hey Kevin,

Now, I'm sorry for the delay! I didn't get an e-mail letting me know you responded, so while cleaning my inbox this morning, I saw the last e-mail I did receive and thought I'd swing over and check if you had commented and the e-mail didn't get to me.

Even the internet suffers Genesis 3.

The Church most certainly has contributed to a great deal of codependence. This is the problem with proclaiming "NO DIVORCE" to loudly and proudly.

To teach divorce, you have to teach healthy marriage. For me, it's kind of like how the Canadian Mounties train their officers to look for counterfeit - they never show them any. They make them study actual currency, so that they will know it so well, they will be able to spot a fake.

There absolutely have to be boundaries in a healthy marriage. Especially in the face of an addicted spouse. It does seem to counter the teachings of many churches, but I believe that it is absolutely speaking the truth in love.

Again, I don't know your story, but waht I pick up is that your wife was involved with at least one other man. That is a Biblical basis for divorce, but I still like to see an attempt made, if both spouses want to.

What I'll tell you is this - anytime a wife says she wants out, she's out. We'll usually not put much time into it. If the husband says he wants out, the marriage can usually be saved.

In your case, if she had been willing to work on it, we would have worked on boundaries for you. We would have said to her, "If you want this marriage to work, all other romantic/sexual relationships must stop. If they don't, there will be changes that have to be made."

The wounded spouse in the face of adultery, has to be able to finally say, "That is not what marriage is. I love you, and want to be married to you, but this type of relationship is unacceptable."

It's hard to give a blanket approach, since each case has so many variables, but usually a lack of intimacy, or a misunderstanding of what intimacy really is, is the problem.

From what I know of your situation, I would have encouraged you to say to her, "I love you and am willing to work on whatever issues we have, but you have to shut all of this down for that to happen. If you're not willing to do that, as much as it hurts me, I believe we need to separate. I believe we can get through this, because I believe in the hope of the Gospel, but we both have to want to. I know I do,and I'm willing to own my contributions to our problems, what about you?"

That's one of the hardest things, is getting BOTH spouses to acknowledge their contributions. The codependent spouse has usually been dishonest, too. They have been dishonest usually through withholding information - like their true feelings and emotions. When they started to feel things going wrong, they don't say so. This is where the enabling really gets going -

I'm kind of rambling here, actually, because I don't know the specifics, and we can't change it now.

You were definitely wronged, and for that I am so sorry. I am sorry she didn't want to stay and work on it, when you were clearly willing to.

The fall really sucks.

Both spouses have serious responsibilities and roles in a marriage. We spend too much time in churches screaming about divorce, instead of teaching what marriage really looks like. How to have a marriage that reflects Christ. How to show grace and mercy in marriage, how to sacrifice and die for our wives, how wives are to submit - biblically - not by becoming a footstool or door mat.

Basically, we've given people a desire to fly, and told them that they should fly. They go find planes, get in the cockpit, and we have a huge party to give them the controls, and then we tell them, "You have to stay in the plane and can never ever leave it. Ok, I gotta go." Then we bail out leaving them in control of a plane they were never taught to fly, or even where to get fuel. Then when the plane starts going down, and they want to bail out, too, we radio in from the tower that they have to stay. Again, without teaching or counseling anything other than, you have to stay, or God's gonna really be upset.

Add to that, the fact that many of the flight instructors are bailing out of their planes, and you've got real trouble.

We have got to get down to the Gospel. It's not behavior modification. It's not rules and regulations, it's intimate relationship. It's learning the rhythms of grace. It's focusing on God and how He is most glorified.

I hope some of that makes sense. I'm doing this with our 6 and 3 year old jumping up and down on the bed...

Have a great day!

codepoke said...

> What I'll tell you is this - anytime a wife says she wants out, she's out. We'll usually not put much time into it. If the husband says he wants out, the marriage can usually be saved.

Straight up accurate, so far as I can tell. They say a man chooses a wife like an apple chooses an orchard, and that seems to go for unchoosing as well.

> They go find planes, get in the cockpit, and

Excellent analogy, the whole way through. Amen.

> I hope some of that makes sense. I'm doing this with our 6 and 3 year old jumping up and down on the bed...

I envy you. :-)

Great answers, Tal. I'm glad we hung in long enough to find out how close we were all along.

May the Lord bless your ministry, family and life.

Francis Drake said...

My ex wife had threatened divorce many times over the years because of her continual dissatisfaction with the marriage and what she obviously wished it to be.
She had an affair some years ago. I forgave her. She then walked out. We were both Christians. There was NO violence, just different characters and a differing appreciation of what marriage stood for.

I prayed against deception and warred as much warfare as I knew.
I believed the "high" road was a reconciliation, because I knew that I was in a covenant relationship.
I prayed for a long time along the line of "Lord change me, change my wife".
Then one day God spoke words that shocked me, and illustrated a rather profound truth.

"If I could change Julie,I would have changed Adam!!!!!"

Although it was an act of rebellion, God masters in freewill.
My wife had planned her exit a long time before she left, and one day she just went.

I now knew she would not be back. It was a release for me. As soon as I recognised this I knew I was free to remarry also.

In my new marriage, a lady I met some time after my first had walked, I know that God is teaching me what Christ's love is about.

A parting thought.
When God created Adam, he breathed the breath of life into him. When God took Eve out of Adam, he did NOT breathe into her. This was because she shared Adam's spirit.

I believe that when a man and woman marry, it is the intention of God that their spirits become one. This of course depends on the level of union that they are willing to surrender to.