Summary: The secret to making marriages thrive is to dance with the spiritual reality that you are no longer two lives trying to get along, but two former lives now becoming one new life by the loving hand of God.
In the 1970’s, a wave of no-fault divorce legislation swept across the nation. As states passed no-fault divorce laws, a culture of divorce developed. The divorce culture was perpetuated by the rise in pre-nuptial agreements. Now, many states are realizing the socio-economic effects of divorce. The effect of divorce on children is especially notable. The impact on juvenile justice systems, education, and welfare from the psychological and behavioral patterns of children of divorce have caused the states to stand up and take notice.
In 1997, Louisiana passed a "covenant marriage" law, allowing couples to agree beforehand that they can only file for divorce in cases of infidelity, abuse, neglect, imprisonment and other marital faults. But so far, only about 5% of marriages have agreed to enter into legal covenant marriages.
Other states have proposed similar measures to no avail. Some states have looked at such ideas as mandatory counseling, mandatory 1-year waiting periods for divorce, and requiring marriage education in high school. All of these proposals have been raised to curb the divorce culture we’ve created.
The church is in the act too. In West Albany, NY, 14 churches got together and agreed that they would not marry anyone without their having first completed 6 months of counseling. I received a call late last year from a couple in Gresham who wanted to be married in two months, but the church they attended required 6 months of counseling. Out of respect for the authority of the church they attended, I refused the invitation to officiate their wedding.
Are these solutions viable? Can anything be done to curb the culture of divorce in our nation? Personally, I believe some of these solutions might help, but they don’t address the problem with marriages. If we want our marriages to survive, contrary to the culture in which we live, we must refer to the Bible--not for a mandate (though we will find plenty of mandates regarding marriage)--but for the revelation behind the mandates that provides the key for marriages to survive. The key is this: marriage is not a legal issue, it is a spiritual matter.
In Matthew 19, the Pharisees tried to raise the legal question with Jesus. (Matthew 19:3) They asked this to test Jesus, hoping he would draw battle lines and alienate those on different sides of the Jewish debate on marriage and divorce as it related to the law of Moses.
But Jesus’ ignored the legal aspects of their question and answered their question from a Creator’s point of view. (Matthew 19:4-6) Jesus was telling these Pharisees that the law should not supercede the Creator’s work in marriage. Marriage is not a legal issue, but a spiritual one. At its core, marriage is the creative and mysterious hand of God uniting two people, joining them together. "Let no man, or no man’s laws, separate what God has done," Jesus said.
So the Pharisees, in their vast knowledge of the law, thought they had Jesus. (Matthew 19:7-9). Allow me to paraphrase. "Moses didn’t command you to divorce, he permitted it. He gave those laws to govern your hard-hearted behavior. But this is not what my Father intended when he joined people together. I tell you that if any of you divorce, unless your spouse has already broken that bond by becoming one flesh with another, you are in danger of committing adultery. The father still sees you as one with your first wife." You see, as hard as they were trying to make marriage and divorce a legal issue, albeit a religious one, Jesus insisted that it is a spiritual matter.
Viewing marriage as a spiritual matter as opposed to a religious legal issue can help your marriage survive this culture of divorce. In this dialogue, Jesus reveals three spiritual truths about marriage and divorce that will help us find success.
First of all, working backwards through the text, Jesus seems to affirm the disciples’ conclusion that it is better not to marry. (Matthew 19:10-12) A eunuch was a male who was castrated so that his sexual desire would not interfere with his service. Some were born that way, many were slaves castrated by their masters. But there were those who willingly put their sexual desires aside for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
I’ve realized the tension between being married and serving the kingdom of heaven. (1 Cor. 7:32-35; 1 Cor. 7:7-9
Jesus takes divorce so seriously, it might be better for you not to marry. He said those who can accept this, should accept it. If you can serve God with undivided attention without burning with passion, God bless you! It’s not for me. But I married with a strong realization that marriage is a spiritual matter, and that divorce was not an option and continues to not be an option for Tammie and me.