I am a 26-year-old single woman who is currently working on the international mission field. I have been hugely blessed to grow up in a secure, loving and Christian home from birth. My parents, grandparents and most of my extended family have all (up to this point) had successful marriages. Most of my friends grew up with two loving parents in stable relationships as well. They have all been good role models.
However, over the past two years, I have noticed more and more people separating and getting divorced after 15, 20, even after 30 years of marriage. Although none are in my family, they are all in close connection with my family. My brain is finding this increasingly difficult to compute, make sense of and deal with.
I hope to marry one day. I pray that my marriage will be as successful as those of my parents and grandparents; however, with more and more long-term marriages failing around me, I find myself increasingly closing myself off, unwilling to take the risk of even trying to get to know men with a potential to marry.
How can I practically accept and come to terms with the increasing number of failing long-term marriages in my life while still being able to keep my heart open to the hope of marrying, and without letting the fear of the risks increase to the point where I let my desire for marriage die?
It is right and good to grieve the marriages fracturing around you. It is also good that this doesn’t “make sense” to you, because it is not a sensible thing. Although Scripture defines the circumstance where divorce is permitted (Matthew 19:9), far too many of the divorces we see around us fall outside that narrow parameter.
No matter how much the culture says divorce is “the best of bad options,” or that “kids will be happier if Mommy and Daddy are happy,” the pain of tearing apart a one-flesh union is undeniable. Making it easy for husbands and wives to break their vows for insignificant reasons, or no reason at all, has made it hard on children, hard on communities and hard on future marriages. Your fear about the possibility of your own one-day marriage ending in divorce is a potent example of the damage caused by our no-fault divorce culture.
A recent commentary for the Religious News Service noted that given the consumeristic approach westerners have toward getting and staying married, as well as the decline in cultural incentives to stay married, “routine mass divorce is inevitable.” This is bad news for marriage. But it is not new bad news, nor is it adequate reason to lose hope in marrying for life.
The ability to stay married, and especially to stay married in a godly, loving, sacrificial and fruitful marriage, has never been something we can achieve in our own strength. While it’s true that for much of American history, strict divorce laws and cultural pressure to “stay married no matter what” kept most couples married, divorce has been common throughout history. Broken marriages were the norm in ancient Rome when Jesus entered the world. When the Pharisees who were trying to test him asked about no-fault divorce, He said,
Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.
They challenged Him, asking why Moses commanded that certificates of divorce be given. Jesus revealed their faulty understanding of the law, saying,
Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery (Matthew 19:3-9).
Staying married may not be easy, but it is simple. Marriage is a matter of obedience. For two believers who have been given hearts of flesh in place of their hearts of stone (Ezekiel 11:19-20, 36:26-27), obedience is possible in the strength of Christ (Philippians 4:13, John 15:5). Obedience is an outmoded idea, but it is essential to keeping one’s marriage vows. Obedience may not be sexy, but it is durable and dependable. And most hopefully, for the believer, in the power of the Holy Spirit, it is possible. To say that marital faithfulness is at root obedience does not at all diminish the romance, the companionship, the procreating, or the parenting. There are a million reasons to love being and staying married. But the most important one is that staying married is what God requires of husband and wife.
Knowing God requires it — that He is for our marriages — is a great comfort and encouragement. He will help us obey! Marriage is in part a declaration of your love for one another, but it is so much more. It is a cosmic mystery that “refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). Marriage permanence tells the truth about Jesus’ faithfulness and sacrificial love for His bride, the church.
If you were to step back in time to the early colonial days in America, you’d find a very different wedding culture. In many communities, weddings were woven into the fabric of a regular church service. Having worn their best Sunday clothes, a man and woman intending to marry would stand up at the “get married” portion of the service and the pastor would administer the vows. Sans elaborate beauty rituals, multi-tiered cakes, expensive flowers, matching bridesmaids dresses, limousines and all the rest, it was an understated affair. It was, however, solemn and binding. In the event that a couple decided down the road that they wanted to divorce, they were required to obtain the approval of the town elders. It wasn’t a private decision. Divorces were not granted often or lightly, precisely because everyone knew how disruptive just one broken family would be to their whole community.
It sounds quaint and old-fashioned, but oh how we need the help of friends and family to remain faithful to our vows. The promise to love and cherish, to honor and obey, to remain wedded to another for the rest of life regardless of financial troubles or illness or even wild success is an impossible one to keep in our own strength. That’s precisely why we make our vows before God. In Christian marriage, both bride and groom are declaring not only their commitment to each other, but also their dependence on supernatural help to do it.
Listen to the exhortation of the writer to the Hebrews:
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’
So we can confidently say,
The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me? (13:4-6)
There is much that is frightening about getting married. But that has been true since the fall in Genesis 3. To say, “fear not” would be meaningless if it were not for Christ. But He has come, and through His blood, He has made a way for us to be reconciled to God and to each other. When the storms of divorce rage, we must keep our eyes on Him who said to sinking Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
God is the One who made marriage, for our good and His glory. When we pray for a God-glorifying marriage, when we date with integrity and purity, when we marry with the input and encouragement of mature believers, and when we walk out our vows as members of a biblically faithful church, in the context of community, we can pray with bold faith that our marriages will endure till the end of life. God will surely do it (John 14:13-14).
P.S. If you’re wondering if half of all marriages end in divorce, if it’s more likely you’ll stay married if you stay in church, and if Christians have a lower — or as has sometimes been reported — higher rate of splitting up, this helpful article by Bradley Wright from the Institute for Family Studies explains what the numbers reveal when it comes to “Religion and the Risk of Divorce.”
Copyright 2015 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.