At the beginning of the month, I presented ten affirmations about marriage in a sermon, then repeated them here. I’m looking at the different affirmations, one by one. The ninth statement was:
God hates divorce; God loves divorced people.
The church must present both of these concepts, teaching both vigorously. Hearing one without hearing the other leads us to dangerous extremes.
In an effort to show compassion toward those who have suffered through divorce, the church has run the risk of overly softening its stance on divorce. Divorce should be a rare exception, not an accepted alternative. We need to step up and say to younger generations: “We were wrong. We’ve made divorce seem normal. It’s not. God hates divorce.”
I learned a great life lesson once from some scraggly college kid whose name I don’t even know. I was 8 or 9 years old and was taking swimming lessons from the Red Cross. The day came for our swim test to pass from Advanced Beginners to Intermediate, and we each took our turn trying to do the different exercises on our way across the pool and back. Each person before me had tried and failed. One girl had made it to the other side and started back, but that was as far as she got. My turn came, and I started out, waiting to reach that moment when I too would admit failure. At one point, I felt the familiar burning sensation of water filling my nose, and I stopped and grabbed the side of the pool. This young man towered over me as I looked up from the water and screamed, “Why did you stop?” I gave him the obvious answer, “I got water in my nose.” And he then uttered the one word that I will never forget: “So?” That’s when I realized that I didn’t have to stop, I had merely chosen to stop. I learned that many times finishing something is merely about “stick-to-itness.” As you can probably guess, on my next try I was the first one in the group to pass the test. And, not surprisingly, several others in the class passed after that.
What does that have to do with marriage and divorce? I think we need to question our reasons and motives for giving up on a marriage. Are we giving up too quickly? Have we lost our “stick-to-itness”? We need to consider the impact our example has on others.
I was teaching a high school class about ten years ago. During one lesson, I got them to think about where they would be ten years from now. I’ll never forget the words of one boy who grew up in our church. “Wow, in ten years, I’ll probably be married. I may even be divorced by then.” We can’t have our young people thinking of divorce even before they are married.
Another effect concerns sexual purity. In another high school class, a visitor asked, “Why do people worry about waiting until they’re married when so many marriages end in divorce anyway?” When we teach an “escape clause” for marriage, we undermine the idea of being faithful for life to one person.
Do you remember the story of Aron Ralston? Aron Ralston loves the outdoors, hiking and trekking in the mountains. In 2003, he was hiking alone when a boulder fell and pinned him by the arm. For five days he waited for rescue. Then, facing dehydration and death, he took an incredible decision. He took a pocketknife and slowly amputated his own arm, freeing him and allowing him to hike out to safety.
What would it take to come to a decision like that? How desperate would you have to be to cut off a member of your own body? Would you turn to that solution quickly, or would you first explore every other possibility? Only when faced with death would a man do such a thing. So should be divorce. It is a desperate act, a self-mutiliation. It is the amputation of a part of our selves. We should resort to it only in extreme circumstances.
When you take a course in wilderness survival, they rarely teach you how to cut off your own arm. Why? Because it is assumed that you won’t ever reach that state of desperation. What if our teaching on divorce was similar? What if we could go back to a time when divorce was a rarity among us and not the norm?
Tomorrow I want to talk about the need to show compassion and love to those who have gone through divorce. But that compassion and love must be accompanied by a clear message: God hates divorce. Is there a time when divorce is okay? The answer is “NO.” It may be justifiable, it may be necessary, but it is never okay. God hates divorce, even in those rare instances where he permits it.
Affirmation #9: God hates divorce; God loves divorced people.