No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century. ~Mark Twain
This weekend’s message really should have been a “two-parter”. It’s impossible to talk about the seventh commandment on adultery without talking about marriage and then, of course, sexuality, divorce and subsequent remarriage issues. It’s a big topic. So many moral quandaries, so little time.
One of the more fascinating books that’s come out in the last few years on the subject of divorce is The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. It follows a twenty-five year study on the effects of divorce on children. Judith Wallerstein tracked the lives of one hundred kids whose parents divorced in the 1970’s. The stats are one thing, but her interviews and stories are a total sucker-punch.
Predictably, Unexpected Legacy triggered powerful responses from readers. The family-centered-evangelical folks slam people with it. Parents who have suffered through divorced feel guilty. Adult children of divorced families naturally get defensive. And, of course, stats don’t tell individual stories, just averages. But the reality is, God knew what He was doing with He invented the family system. In the long shadow of the Fall, though, all bets are off the table in terms of tenure.
If anything, it should give us pause in how quickly we rush into matrimonial nirvana.
My own experience after presiding over fifty weddings (it’s been over one hundred now…and I quit performing them years ago!) way back in the ‘90’s was depressing: in one year, I ran into so many couples I had married who were divorced that I was stunned. I went back and checked my records and discovered the success rate of those who had gone through premarital classes was off-the-chart; conversely, those who skipped the classes had an abysmal rate. I became less sympathetic to excuses regarding situations and schedules and made a personal commitment to no longer marry anyone who refused to go through our premarriage program. If you’re in too big of a rush to get counseling, you’re in too big of a rush. No more Mr. Nice Guy.
Let’s be honest: none of us went to the altar with divorce on our minds. We were all brain-dead and starry-eyed, clueless that anything could change. When we said “til’ death do us part”, divorce was a remote problem for other people who were not in love like us.
God designed marriage to be the most intimate friendship imaginable. When Jesus speaks of a man cleaving (or uniting) to his wife, it’s based on the same Greek word used for glue. It is the bringing together of two substances to make a new one. Jesus is saying that we need to enter this covenant with a measure of awe, a reverent fear and responsibility to God. The reason why we get married with clergy represented is because we are testifying before God and asking Him to join us together. The heavyweight words that He speaks are, “If I join you together, then don’t you dare let any mere mortal tear you asunder!” That word asunder (or separate) in the Greek means to place space or room between two people. Marriage is a picture of two people being in the same emotional space. I learned early on that security for my wife Anita meant being included in my emotional world and me in hers. She wasn’t necessarily looking for someone to fix her problems; she wanted someone who would emotionally befriend her.
It’s not easy. But not impossible. Frankly, I don’t know how people who are not God-lovers make it work. And even when they do, in my opinion they’re missing the real thing: the highest reason for marriage is to bring God glory by giving an expression of His love and faithfulness to us.
As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. (Ephesians 5:31–32 NLT)