The gift that keeps on taking

Father David Epps's picture

I was speaking with a pastor friend recently and he expressed concern that a couple in his congregation may be getting a divorce. I understand his consternation. I’m told that about half of all marriages, inside the church and out, end in divorce. My response to my friend was something like, “A bad divorce is infinitely worse than a troubled marriage.”

Unless a spouse is being physically abused, I generally think that one needs to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to hold a marriage together. I believe that marriage should be entered into with great trepidation, copious amounts of counseling, an abundance of caution, and a determination to never leave, whatever the reason. I also believe that it should be extremely difficult to get out of a marriage.

Over the decades I have been a pastor, I have seen, I suppose, hundreds of divorces. While there are exceptions, for the most part the bitterness, rancor, downright hatred, the using of children to hurt the ex-spouse, and the desire for some sort of vengeance endures for years beyond the final divorce decree. Divorce is the gift that just keeps on giving ... actually, it is more accurate to say that divorce is the gift that just keeps on taking.

There are many aspects of ministry that I love. Marriage counseling is not among them. Individual counseling is fine because the person often comes realizing that they have a problem and are willing to try to solve it.

However, when married couples are at war, it is rare to find a husband or a wife admit that they, themselves, have a problem. They, more often than not, come to counseling believing that their spouse is the problem and that if he/she gets “fixed” all will be well. They can see the other person’s faults with crystal clarity but they are incredibly blind to their own.

An ancient confession of sin to God includes the phrase. “I have sinned by my own fault.” In the overwhelming majority of divorces, it seems that the parties involved are oblivious to their own sin, their own part in the mess. They seem to be saying, “I have been perfect and blameless and my spouse in the one who has sinned by his/her own fault.” It is rarely true.

Some say, “I’m getting divorced for the sake of the children.” While it is true that a minority of parents abuse their offspring, it is almost never true that children benefit from divorce. The difficulties that children of divorce endure for the rest of their lives are well-studied and documented. Children almost always are better off with both parents in the home.

I used to wonder why Malachi 2:16 says, “For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce ...” (NKJV). Until, that is, I was able to see what divorce does to men, women, children, and families.

My wife says that marriage is like gluing two pieces of tissue paper together: they are still individual pieces of paper, but they have been joined. Divorce, she says, is like separating those same two pieces of tissue paper. It is possible to do so, but not without both pieces being irreparably torn and damaged.

When children are involved, they, too, are torn and damaged, often believing that the divorce is somehow their fault.

God simply hates what divorce does to people who once pledged undying love to each other and who together made promises and vows that were genuine and sacred. God does not hate divorced people. He does hate what they do to each other and to those who love and care for them.

It is easy to get married. It is easy and expensive to get divorced. On the other hand, it is difficult to fulfill the promises and vows made, especially during difficult days, but it is well worth the effort, humility, and selflessness that must be expended to persevere and grow together for a lifetime.

I realize that it takes two to make it work. Both the man and wife must be willing to lay down their selfishness, their agendas, and their need to be right. But it’s what they both pledged to do when they made their marriage vows. That’s one promise that must be kept.

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