Sunday, August 21, 2011

Divorce: One Pebble's Ripples

I did not grow up in a broken home. In fact, my family life was extremely solid by today's standards. Yet, even with both my mother and father lovingly raising me together, I was still impacted by brokenness caused by divorce.

When I was too young to remember, my aunt and her husband divorced. In that blurry pasture of early memories mixed together without order or connection to linear time, I heard the word divorce for the first time. In one memory, I stand with my brother and mother in the dark entrance way of their house, the one with the water bed that rolls waves when I push down with my hand, the porcelain array of "don't touch" owls in the bathroom by the toilet, and special coloring pages to take home. In the next memory, there is nothing but tears, hurt, and silence...lots of silence.

During the eighties, sitting your children down to explain problems, getting everything out in the open, just wasn't done, at least not in my family. In fact, after the divorce was final, we never spoke of it except for in passing. Even now when I ask my mother, she doesn't remember much, not even if I were in school yet or if the last time I saw them together really did happen in the summertime like in that mental picture where I peer at a distance through heavy crepe myrtles lining chain link fence, knowing they are past the bounty-filled vegetable garden and in the weathered barn where I am not allowed to go.

After the divorce, for every heated "discussion" my parents would have, I waited for the D word to appear. Once--only once--after a disagreement, my mother went for a drive to get some space, cool off. I can still feel the house's quietness after she left, how terrified I was that she wouldn't come back. Even years later as a teenager, when my parents sat my brother and me down to tell us some serious news, I remember that cold feeling that "This is it." (It wasn't.)

I was married with children of my own before I gave voice to these fears my mother never knew to help me overcome. To this day, they still raise their ugly head in the occasional nightmare that rips me from sleep or nagging day thoughts that strike my own marriage when I don't take them captive.

No. I did not grow up in a broken home, so it almost seems like I am ill equipped to speak on the topic of divorce. Even so, I've been impacted by its effects on an aunt whom I love dearly, on our entire extended family, and on me.

Marriage should not end in divorce. It wasn't meant to be this way. God said, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh" (Gen 2:24). The two became one, and it was good.

But like all good things in a fallen world, sin corrupts, distorts, alters from what was intended. Please know that I am not here to condemn anyone who has been through a divorce. I only know that only when a person understands covenant can she understand why God hates divorce and why the marriage covenant is that much more important to keep (or enter into in the beginning)!

When people use the Bible as a weapon to attack divorce, they usually quote Malachi 2:16 where God says, "'For I hate divorce,' says the LORD, the God of Israel." Yes, God hates divorce. The word "hate" means just what it says. Two verses earlier explains why God feels this way: "the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant" (Mal. 2:14, my italics).

Marriage is a covenant. God serves as a witness to each marriage covenant just as he served as a witness to countless covenants in the Old Testament, and as a "witness," God is also a judge, enforcer of the covenant.

Just as when Jacob and Laban entered into covenant and Laban said, "God is witness between you and me....The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us" (Gen. 31:50,53), the same is true of marriage covenants--God will uphold the sanctity of a covenant long after man has pushed it aside.

Over the past month, this space has discussed numerous aspects of the old covenant and how it is fulfilled in the new covenant in Christ Jesus. While I can't possibly cover everything in-depth in one post, consider in brief how the covenant aspects we've already discussed in previous articles apply to the covenant of marriage as well:

1. Covenant partners should take care of each other's descendants. Just as Jonathan told David, "‘The LORD will be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever’'" (1 Sam.20:42), so, too, in a marriage covenant, spouses are to care for their descendants, their children.

2. Covenant partners lay aside their oneness and put on a "two become one" identity. In the Old Testament, marriage is demonstrated in the covering of oneself with a garment such as a robe, an idea demonstrated when Ruth told Boaz, "spread your covering over your maid" (Ruth 3:9). With Ruth, the garment literally covered both, figuratively showing the two as one. With Jonathan's giving of the robe to David, the garment also demonstrates a "putting on" of the other person, both beautiful images of the making of two persons into one through covenant.

3. Covenant partners must protect each other from their enemies. The covenant between David and Jonathan put this to the test, especially when Jonathan's father, King Saul, became David's enemy, seeking his very life. Yet, because of covenant, Jonathan protected David, showing that the bonds of covenant supersede bonds of blood. Likewise, in marriage, a spouse's allegiance to his covenant partner takes precedence over his allegiance to a blood relative, even if that relative is a parent. God implied as much when He created marriage, saying to Adam and Eve who had no fleshly father and mother that "a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife" (Gen. 2:24).

4. Covenant partners should have a permanent token of remembrance. While in Scripture, this token differs from covenant to covenant (from a rainbow to a monument of stones), with the traditional marriage covenant, the exchanged wedding rings serve as a symbol of remembrance.

5. Covenant partners often celebrate the covenant with a feast. While not particularly important in its application, this does serve to explain the origins of huge wedding feasts.

6. Covenant partners enter into a permanent covenant. When King Saul broke a covenant Joshua and the leaders of Israel made with the Gibeonites, the entire nation of Israel was punished. When King Zedekiah made and broke an oath with ease, God let the king know a covenant was stronger than a man's will. The implication in both covenants is that while man may break a covenant, deem it null and void, God does not do the same. A covenant of marriage is a life sentence. Even if it were a hasty marriage of one's youth or a marriage to an unbeliever, the details do not disqualify the covenant.

This leads to the question, "Why?" Why is the covenant of marriage so important? In Gary Thomas' Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?, he argues that the marriage relationship is designed to show the world what a relationship with Christ should be.

Paul relates this concept of marriage between man and woman with the concept of a person joining together with Christ: "'For He says, 'THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.' But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him" (1 Cor. 6:17).

Marriage is an earthly relationship mirroring the relationship between each Christian and Christ, Himself. Together, Christians are the bride of Christ. We become one with Him. Our covenant relationship with Christ takes precedence over all other relationships.

It is permanent, unbreakable.

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