The Sting of Divorce
The Sting of Divorce
Not only God hates divorce, people do too. Every divorce is a horror story, in which all the characters suffer. The husband and wife are hurt by the fading of love. It is difficult to say what is more painful: to have become unloved, or to conclude that one's own love has been quenched. But the death of love is not all. Too often hate puts down its strong roots where once the flower of love flourished.
The children of separating parents embark on a process of suffering as well, which may last the rest of their lives. The two people in whose physical union the children found their origin, have stopped being one body. As that union lies broken, the children are torn apart. Their loyalties are now divided and may go through painful shifts. Especially small children may not understand why their parents cannot stay together, and nearly all children blame themselves at one time or another for the break-up.
Family members and friends are affected also. Good relationships have grown awkward to the point of becoming impossible. The harmony between husband and wife, which reflected the love of Christ for his church, has been ruined by discord. The resulting disharmony displeases the Lord of the Church, while it impacts the members of the home congregation and of the extended families.
Divorce is a double stinger in the flesh of the divorced. There is the inward sting. It cuts like a small piece of glass which is stuck in the sole of one's foot. Each time one takes part in the normal things of life, its sharp pain is felt. It travels along wherever one goes. It interferes as the children graduate, marry and become parents. It intensifies the sorrow during the funeral of a loved one. It pokes a little stab when one has to check off "divorced" or "separated" on tax forms.
As if this were not enough trouble, the inward sting is insidiously attached to an outward one. As relentless as its counterpart, this outward sting cuts into the public side of the divorced. It consists of the pernicious label "Divorced." Like a stigma this stinger makes its presence felt in social contacts. It pinches as divorced people notice a change in the attitude of their acquaintances. It acts up when they have to introduce themselves to a group. It may cause the numbing pain of increasing isolation. The two-pronged stinger hurts and marks for life.
In most cases it is difficult to pinpoint the incident that eventually led to the divorce. Even the actual occurrence of blatant adultery is usually the conclusion of a long path of derailment. The process of estrangement is long and tedious. At its onset it is barely recognized. Occasionally a disagreement remains unresolved. An embrace is refused. The joy in doing things together diminishes. The eagerness to share the daily pleasures and sorrows disappears. Friends are sought out individually as confidants for marital concerns. Over time it becomes increasingly obvious that the union of husband and wife has become disjointed.
The borderline between squabble and estrangement has been crossed when husband and wife do not live with each other anymore according to the created order. God created man and wife as a unit. Being co-heirs of eternal salvation, they are each other's equal. However, in the execution of their calling to fill the earth and subdue it, they complement each other with their difference. This interplay of unity with diversity is stimulating, intriguing, delightful.
To understand how the borderline is crossed, we have to look at the difference between husband and wife. This difference is embedded in their function. Though they take on their task as a team, they have individual roles to play. Sharing the assignment, each partner complements the other's contribution. The Lord created a pattern in this joined enterprise. The man is the head of the wife. He loves her with all his soul and dedicates all his efforts to her. In doing so he bears the ultimate responsibility for this wife and his family. He is accountable for their wellbeing. The wife, on the other hand, contributes as recipient of the husband's love. She takes initiative, she makes plans, she promotes, she encourages, she undertakes. But she is carried by her husband's love and finds security in his responsibility. Her activities stand out because they are put in the perspective of her husband's headship.
This is not a putdown of women, but an acknowledgment of the created order and a reflection of the relationship that Christ has with his church. The second part of Ephesians 5 describes that beautifully. As Christ loves the church, so the husband must love his wife. That means that he must be ready to give himself up for her. On the other hand, the wife must accept the husband's love. She cannot go her own way, but must respect her husband for taking on the responsibility of their union.
In marriages that derail this creational order is broken. An occasional argument could clear the air. A refused embrace may open the eyes for the depth of the mutual love. An emergency with one of the children might make the partners realize how much comfort they derive from sharing concerns with each other. However, consistent undermining of the husband's headship role often indicates the breakdown of a marriage.
The downfall of the proper order could be occasioned by either the husband or the wife, though usually the escalation of the problem is fueled by both partners. The husband might undermine his own position by not loving his wife after Christ's example. He may surreptitiously replace the all-encompassing love for his wife with a selfish love. This may manifest itself in becoming demanding, taking the wife for granted, escaping to work or becoming absorbed in hobbies. As the husband looks for fulfillment and purpose outside his family, the wife and children feel the change in dedication. They experience it as a distancing. The husband does not live up to his commitments anymore; the father stops coming through with his promises.
The derailment can also originate with the wife. This happens when she looks for opportunities to build up herself apart from her family. Of course, it enhances a family when the wife and mother further explores her talents. But the danger is real that the pursuit of personal goals directs the focus of the wife away from her husband. As she starts developing herself, she may build a new circle of friends. Finding her niche among these people, she may over time develop an appreciation for herself to the point that she looks down on her husband. He has not risen to these new heights. At this stage she has invalidated the creational order. Instead of sharing her life with her husband, she moves away from him. She takes pride in her own personality at the cost of being one with her husband.
It is not difficult to see how both scenarios can lead to an increase in collisions and derailments. His lack of love and her change of focus will undermine her respect for him. Conversely, a husband who is not respected but tolerated will only with great spiritual strength and resolve keep the love for his wife pure and undefiled. Very often he will act according to the altered expectations. If he is not respected anyway, he will not even try to do what is expected of him.
No wonder God hates divorce. It goes against his creational order. It distorts the image of Christ and the church. It undermines the proper management of creation and it makes accountable stewardship very difficult. Divorce turns things upside down. It is for man's own good that what God has brought together is not put asunder.
A word may be in place for those who reassure themselves that they are faithful to their partner. Do not be fooled. Separation can occur between people who live under one roof. The marriage vows may be broken by people who sleep in one bed. A husband who hardens his heart against his wife and does not honor her, has broken his promise made before the Lord and the witnesses. A woman who looks for acknowledgment and purpose apart from her husband, is unfaithful in her heart. Those who live in marriages that have in essence fallen apart do well to embrace the ordinance of the Creator with renewed resolve.
Though living in one house is no guarantee of true commitment, the road to restoration becomes much more difficult when the separation between husband and wife has necessitated a geographical distance. Though temporary separation can increase the possibility of understanding the problem and renewing the commitment, reality shows that the peace of living apart seem more attractive than the struggle of making up.
The decision to separate is often based on consideration for the children. Growing up in a climate of disharmony, these youngsters are exposed to examples of unholy living. Neither son nor daughter receives proper training for marriage. Rather, they might take over some forms of inappropriate, ungodly behavior. Though this is true, it should not be overlooked that the separation of the parents is a very traumatic experience for a child. A youngster who grows up with divorced parents needs extra guidance to establish a married life that reflects the relationship between Christ and his church.
It can be observed that often one partner leaves the church after a divorce. In a sense this is not a surprise. If the created order of the Lord was ignored for the marriage, it might lead to a further turning away from God's ordinances. It could also be that the distancing from the partner was the result of a turning away from God. In such situations the children might not only have taken over an ungodly perception of marriage, but also an unholy lifestyle and unholy thinking patterns. While in those cases it might be preferred that the marriage be dissolved, the resulting amputation will cause its own lasting misery.
The reality of divorce is painful indeed. The loneliness can be severe. The sense of rejection might be overwhelming at times. Feelings of guilt can obscure a proper assessment of the present. Envy of married people who receive comfort and support from their partner may cause a bout of self-pity. And all the while the two-headed sting gives its painful reminders of the separation. The road of the divorced is paved with hindrances.
Yet, there is comfort for those who daily experience the agony of the twisted created order. The burden of divorce becomes bearable when it is carried in the Lord's strength. To the divorced who lead a godly life, the Lord will extend his love and he will surround them with his presence. His ways lead to life and peace.
The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.Zephaniah 3:17
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