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Home Improvement: Dark Tunnel Of Divorce – And Light At The End Of It

Matthew 19:1-12

Ruth Graham, the wife of Dr. Billy Graham, is a magnificent woman, and she possesses a marvelous sense of humor. On one occasion, she was speaking to a group about the challenges of life with the famous evangelist. One of the people in the group then asked, “Well, Mrs. Graham, did you ever consider divorce?” To which, Ruth Graham quickly responded, “No.” There was a bit of a pause, and Ruth Graham then added, “Murder, but never divorce!” We can laugh about that, but there are those who will tell you that the results of those two—murder and divorce—are the same: death, physical death or emotional death, but death all the same.

You know the name Pat Conroy. He has written, among other things, The Prince of Tides. I don’t know if he is Christian or not. Sometimes his writings seem to hint that he is—sometimes not. In any case, I want you to listen to the way he describes his own experience of divorce, “Each divorce is the death of a small civilization. Two people declare war on each other, and their screams and their tears infect their entire world with overwhelming pain. The greatest fury comes from the wound where love once issued forth. I find it hard to believe how many people get divorced, how many submit to such extraordinary pain for there are no clean divorces. Divorce should be conducted in surgical wards. In my own case, I think it would have been easier if Barbara had died. I would have been gallant at her funeral and shed real tears, far easier than staring across the table telling each other that it was over. It was a killing thing to look at the mother of my children and know that we would not be together for the rest of our lives. It was terrifying to say goodbye to a rejected part of my own history. No words are powerful enough to describe the moment when you tell children about divorce. Divorces without children are minor-league divorces. To look into the eyes of your children and tell them that you are mutilating their family and changing all of their tomorrows is an act of desperate courage that I never want to repeat. It is also their parent’s last act of solidarity and an absolute sign that the marriage is over. It felt as though I had doused my entire family with gasoline and struck a match.”

Such is the pain of divorce for the individuals and families who have experienced it. Yet to be perfectly honest these days, who hasn’t experienced it directly or indirectly? A columnist in Newsweek Magazine recently penned these words, “Where is that one in our land who has not felt the sting of divorce? Divorce has touched every single person in our country.” When I first read that, I thought it was an overstatement. Then I began to realize that every family I know, including my own, has had some experience of divorce. In light of that, I think it is important to take a look at what our faith has to say to us in such circumstances. I believe that the Christian faith declares that divorce is a dark, frightening, lonely, hurtful, hateful tunnel—but that, with the help of Jesus Christ, there can be a light at the end of it.

Let’s begin by looking at what Jesus had to say about marriage and divorce.

In our Scripture today, Jesus sets forth the ideal for marriage. No matter what anyone else may say, Jesus makes it absolutely clear that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. Jesus would have coined the term “same-sex marriage” to be an oxymoron. He then went on to deliver His ideal for God-ordained marriage. He says that, “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.” It’s like. . . Well, imagine that I have in one hand a ball of white clay and in the other hand a ball of red clay. I take the two and start to roll them together. As I roll them together what happens? They begin to take on one another’s characteristics until the original color of the two is lost, and a new color is created. Or imagine that you are at the piano and you put one finger on one key and the other finger on another key. If you play them separately, they have two different sounds, but when you play them together a whole new sound, a new note, or a new tone is created. Or imagine that you have two strands of yarn, and you knit them together. Soon you get to the point where you cannot tell where one starts and the other stops. They are one. That is what Jesus is defining as marriage—the beautiful intermingling of two personalities and two sets of characteristics until when you see one, you see the other.

Of course, not everyone can experience that ideal, and Jesus has a word for that circumstance, as well. Divorce, in Jesus’ day, had become so casually and carelessly done that it had made a mockery of the ideal of marriage. Therefore, Jesus called upon His people to divorce only as a last resort. In other words, Jesus was saying to those who are married, “Stay married. Give it everything you’ve got. Go the 10th mile, if you have to. See divorce not as a live option, but as a last-ditch move to be taken only when every other effort has failed.” Jesus then went on to declare that divorce is permitted by God only in cases of infidelity. Now traditionally, the church has regarded that as referring to adultery, but I think it has a broader meaning. Do you remember that Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have committed adultery if you look lustfully upon another person?” In other words, Jesus made adultery not an act of the bedroom, but an act of the heart. Clearly then, when Jesus speaks of infidelity, He is speaking of breaking the faith and trust of the relationship in whatever form that takes. Infidelity, for example, is the woman who denies her husband intimacy, and who when he slips points the finger at him and declares him guilty. Infidelity is the man who has checked out of the marriage emotionally, who spends every waking hour at work or out hunting, fishing, or playing golf, who is never home, and when he is home might as well not be. Infidelity, the breaking of the faith and trust of marriage, is more than the act of adultery. So when a relationship is broken and it dies, there must come some form of closure. That’s why, for Jesus, divorce was a last resort. It is permissible—painful, yes; regrettable, yes; heartbreaking, yes; sinful, yes—but permissible.

Now unfortunately, as the church, we have tended to forget that while God hates divorce, He does love those who are divorced. He hates the pain created by broken relationships, but He keeps on loving the people anyway. In the church, sadly, we have tended to deliver the message that divorce is somehow a sin above all other sins—and when we do that, we tend to leave battered and bruised people wondering if God will ever have a place for them again. That is wrong. Divorce is not a sin above other sins. It is a sin among other sins, and it is, like all other sins, a forgivable sin. So let me state clearly that God hates divorce. He hates it because it breaks the hearts of men and women, and it wounds children. Let me state just as clearly that God loves those who are divorced, and those who are divorced are never beyond the reach of God’s forgiving grace. You see, there is no place in life from which, with the help of Jesus Christ, we cannot begin again.

Now let me offer to you some concluding words.

For those who are single, I would say, “Be careful.” Take advantage of every opportunity that you have to get to know a person before you make that deep and ideal commitment of marriage. For those who are unhappily married, I would say, “Be committed.” I know it may not be easy, but I am asking you to do everything in your power to make that relationship work. See divorce only as a last resort. For the happily married, I would say, “Be compassionate.” Divorce is not the sin above sins. It is forgivable, and therefore, do your part to take away the stigma from those who have experienced the death of a relationship. For the divorced, I would say, “Be confessional.” Own up to your part of it. Seek God’s mercy, and with His help, start over. God has always brought beauty out of pain for those who are faithful to Him. He will do that for you. And then to all of us together, I say today, “Come to this Table of the Lord. Here there is healing. Here there is help. Here there is wholeness. Here there is hope. No matter who we are, no matter what we may have been or done or said or thought in life, we need the forgiving power of Jesus Christ which we find at this Table. Here the light of Jesus shines into our darkness—and no darkness in our lives, however dark, can ever overcome His light.”

Soli Deo Gloria—To God Alone Be the Glory
Amen and Amen


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