Marriage is a metaphor of God’s love through Christ in the gospel
Marriage, Divorce, and Adultery. Jesus places these three topics in the same sentence spoken to the Pharisees in Luke 16:18 to point out that they did not take God’s Word as authoritatively as they thought. It is instructive for all believers in Christ to probe our hearts by asking the question “How serious are we about living under the authoritative leadership of God’s Word?” The gospel teaches that love is at the center of the universe. Legalism places law at the center of the universe and this leads to condemnation. God’s love for us gives us commands to restrain evil, to reveal our need for him, and to guide us into the freedom that the Holy Spirit gives us when we obey God. To treat marriage lightly is to treat the gospel lightly because marriage is a metaphor of God’s love through Christ in the gospel. (Ephesians 5: 21-33)
The PCA Position Paper on Divorce and Remarriage
Our denomination, the PCA has affirmed a study committee report as the denominational position paper on Divorce and Remarriage. This helpful resource provides both biblical and historical clarity but also pastoral insight and instruction. Here are a few excerpts from the position paper (View the full position paper):
“Divorce is therefore always an abnormality arising out of human sinfulness. It was tolerated in the civil legislation of the Old Testament, but the Mosaic provision was given only ‘for the hardness of your hearts.’ (Deut. 24:1-4, Matt. 19:3-8). The civil legislation took into account in this matter the insubordination to the will of God characteristic of unbelieving Israel. “In the New Testament Jesus calls his people to faithfulness to the original will of God for marriage as expressed in the creation ordinance. (Matt. 5:31, 32, 19:3-8). The apostle Paul presses this teaching of our Lord upon the early Christian community, (1 Cor. 7:10-11). The original ideal of marriage is to be maintained by the people of God in this age of the fullness of God’s saving blessing. “This is not to say that divorce is never sanctioned in the New Testament. But it is only sanctioned in circumstances of grave infidelity—adultery and willful, irremediable desertion (Matt. 5:32, 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:15. Cf. Confession of Faith, XXIV, v-vi).”
“Scripture does not forbid the remarriage of the ‘guilty party’ in such cases. Where there is genuine conversion, evidenced by sincere and heart-felt repentance and faith in Christ, the church, after providing pastoral counseling and instruction in the biblical teaching concerning marriage, may approve remarriage in the Lord.”
The Damage Done to Children by Divorce
Dr. Judith Wallerstein’s landmark study on the impact of divorce on children has recently been published in in her New York Times bestseller, titled The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. Twenty-five years ago she began to build a relationship with over 125 children whose parents had divorced. She walked with these children through elementary school, adolescence, college life, and into adulthood. She now presents the research to show that even while children may learn to cope with divorce, its greatest effects don’t emerge until adulthood.
Even while children may learn to cope with divorce, its greatest effects don’t emerge until adulthood
Dr. Wallerstein sights what she believes to be the two faulty beliefs that are the foundation for the culture’s current attitudes toward divorce. The first myth is that if parents are not happy in their marriage, if they are able to find greater happiness through divorce, then divorce will lead to the children being happier. The second myth is based on the premise that divorce is a temporary crisis that exerts the most harmful effects on parents and children at the time of the breakup. This has led to our emphasis on crisis and momentary resources and support in the transition through a divorce. It has also caused us, as a society, to miss the support, understanding, and guidance needed to help children and adults experience the effects of divorce over the long haul. Her research concludes that both of these myths are faulty and she describes the trauma and difficulty children experienced throughout their lives because of their parents’ divorce.
Leila Miller, in Primal Loss, takes a similar approach of reporting the findings of interviewing 70 adults who watched their parents divorce. She notes that many felt abandoned and found it difficult to trust others as they sought to establish lasting adult relationships. She also notes that many children begin to feel an inordinate amount of responsibility for the emotions of their parents. Many talk of the scarring this has produced in their own capacity to handle emotions in relationships in healthy ways.
If Dr. Wallerstein is correct that divorce is a long term crisis that is affecting the psychological profile of an entire generation, how should the church respond?
Hope and Healing in the Gospel and in Loving Gospel Community
The Church of Jesus Christ offers a powerful remedy in the gospel-centered community it seeks to create. How does the gospel renew broken people in a way other social or psychological ideas fall short? The gospel of Jesus Christ has healing power for shame, guilt, regret, and loss in its dual delivery of reality (speaking the truth) and renewal (promise of hope). Here is where the gospel of Jesus Christ is uniquely able to bring real hope rather than the alternatives of cynicism or sentimentality.
God meets us in our darkest moments and helps us discover that the source of real life and joy is founded in a deeper experience of him
How does the gospel bring reality and renewal? John 1:17 says “The law was given through Moses, grace and truth are realized through Jesus Christ.” The gospel not only helps us see wrong, injustice, failure, and evil, but also helps us look for hope, restoration, awakening, and newness to emerge from our darkest moments. The centerpiece of our experience with God is undeserved forgiveness that we receive because of Christ’s love displayed in his death for sinners. Because of this, we find a strength and power to embrace reality and look for healing. The gospel allows us to admit our wrongs, to identify where we have been wronged, and to call those wrongs sin or evil or failure as they apply appropriately to what we have done or what has happened to us. The gospel of Jesus Christ also empowers us with infused renewal of life and love because God meets us in our darkest moments and helps us discover that the source of real life and joy is founded in a deeper experience of him.
What if you are divorced? How do you overcome the shame and guilt of this experience? What if you are the child of divorce? How do you continue to seek to heal and help your family heal? The answer is a deeper experience of God’s unfailing love that allows us to look at the reality of our brokenness and to long for renewal even as we learn to experience his unconditional love for us.
Healing from divorce in your family is a painful and difficult process. Janet Hagberg is a Christian psychologist who has written extensively about spiritual formation. In The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith, she and Pastor Robert Guelich describe God’s transformative process this way:
Hitting the wall is the painful and often slow process of dealing with the frightening and unpredictable disruptions in our broken world, described by spiritual fathers like John of the Cross as the dark night of the soul. Waiting for God to strengthen our inner world will require all of us at some point in our lives to face the dark night of the soul.
The dark night of the soul can be many things that bring suffering and disappointment close to home. When we feel that we cannot pray and cannot hope and sometimes we feel that our lives will never return to normalcy or joyfulness, these are evidences that we are in this stage of human brokenness. The dissolution of a marriage or the deterioration of a marriage in a family almost always leads to this type of dark night of the soul. This type of pain truly tears apart the inner walls of the soul.
The hope we have in the gospel is that even in our darkest moments, God meets us in our pain to change our appetites and teach us to worship him. When we meet God and find his affirming and comforting words of hope as sufficient, we grow and mature and find the healing and help we need.
I recommend the Fresh Start Divorce Recovery Workbook, for those who have gone through a divorce, written by PCA pastor and Covenant Theological Seminary Professor Dr. Bob Burns. The Bible-based insights included will give you the practical tools you need to recover from the trauma of divorce and complete the journey toward wholeness after the painful breakup of a marriage.