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Will Divorce Make You Happy?

I referenced this article in the sermon on Sunday.  In place of writing on this topic I think it would be more helpful to simply refer you to the findings of this study.  Does Divorce Make People Happy?  Findings From a Study of Unhappy Marriages.  Here is an excerpt:
Why doesn't divorce typically make adults happier? The authors of the study suggest that while eliminating some stresses and sources of potential harm, divorce may create others as well. The decision to divorce sets in motion a large number of processes and events over which an individual has little control that are likely to deeply affect his or her emotional well-being. These include the response of one's spouse to divorce; the reactions of children; potential disappointments and aggravation in custody, child support, and visitation orders; new financial or health stresses for one or both parents; and new relationships or marriages.
In short the study concludes that divorce does not make people unhappy in a marriage happier.  An even more interesting conclusion is that couples who determined to stay married were much happier five years later.  I hope you find this information helpful.  As with any of my previous posts, I welcome your thoughts and discussion. 
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Divorced, Now What?

The simple Biblical principle when it comes to divorce is that it is not God’s will for couples to divorce, but like every other strain of hurt, injustice, and sin, divorce happens.  The Bible speaks to married couples in teaching marital oneness and forbidding divorce, but the Bible also speaks to the divorced by protecting the innocent, granting a sense of closure, and creating a safe place to heal.  More specifically, what does the Bible say about life after divorce?
1.       Know your Biblical rights.  Without restating what I said in the previous post “Divorce, The What If’s”, the Bible gives someone who has been divorced the right to be done with the marriage and move on.  Granted, as a pastor, if there is any opportunity for a divorced couple to reconcile and remarry, I seek that end.  Yet, in many cases post divorce life becomes a battleground of emotional and mental manipulation.  Even though the marriage has ended, one party or the other, or both may engage in deviant ways that seek to exercise control over their former spouse.  In my experience the most common agent of manipulation is young children.  Such action is a clear expression of evil.  Passages such as Deuteronomy 24 and 1 Corinthians 7 are clear teachings that a couple should stay married, but for those who divorce these passages also serve as safeguards against post-marriage manipulation. 
2.       Deal with the sin associated with divorce.  For many who divorce the immediate temptation is to present a strong front, that you are a survivor, and that post-married life will be better than one could ever imagine.  Try as we may to package divorce as a “new beginning” paving the way to a “whole new you”, these reactions are most often birthed in pride and/or fear.  Pride and fear never lead to healing; brokenness and repentance always do.  There is grace for the divorced, but “’God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you (1 Peter 4:6-10).”  Masks have one purpose, to hide one’s true appearance behind a false one.  Many mistakenly believe that admitting sin is a failure.  Yet, as awful as it may sound, the route to healing is to deal with the pain, repent of the sin, and make yourself vulnerable to mercy.
3.       Be careful with remarriage.  One of the sins associated with divorce is adultery (Matthew 5:31-32, 19:9, Mark 10:10-12, Luke 16:18).  The Bible only grants clear grounds for remarriage, without the new marriage being associated with adultery, on two accounts- adultery and dissertation (1 Corinthians 7).   In my practice of shepherding people, here are a few principles I apply in counsel on these matters:
a.       After divorce remarriage is not a priority.  Divorce does not deal with core issues of character whether they be one’s own personal contribution to a failing marriage, or even in scenarios of innocence, what divorce may have done to the core of a person.  Divorce does not guarantee that the next marriage will be different.  In fact, statistically, every subsequent marriage has a greater likelihood of divorce than the previous one.  Whether you are an innocent party in a divorce or a clear contributor to the failure of the marriage it is important to take time to heal, reorient to life, and grow from the experience. 
b.      Take a step back from responsibility and deal with reality.  Especially in the church context, I find that people hide their pain behind their service.  It may sound harsh, but let’s be honest, there are circumstances in life that make it difficult to be effective and take the lead.  Furthermore, your service to others during a time of crisis may not be a healthy choice for those you are trying to serve.  Many will say that serving helps them escape the pain and concentrate on something they love.  While this may be true, there are healthier venues to find such expression.  People on cruise ships love to dance, it may relieve stress, but if the ship is sinking dancing is not a priority.  For those contemplating divorce, every ounce of energy needs to be focused on saving the marriage.  For those who have gone through divorce, every ounce of energy needs to be focused on recovery.  Divorce changes life in countless ways.  Afford yourself the time to be ministered to.  Taking that time will help with healing and may even make you a more effective servant when it is time to return to what you love.
c.       Every marriage is different.  Every divorce is different.  Every person is different.  Hard and fast rules when it comes to divorce recovery may seem noble, but they are not effective.  The letter (of the law) kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6b).  If I am to be a competent minister, it is important for me to be an understanding and merciful one.  If I ever forget, in any scenario of ministry whether it be sin, divorce, evil, injustice, or offense that “this could be me” I will be less than human and less than honest.  This could be my marriage.  These could be my daughters.  At the same time, being understanding does not equate to being morally lax.  Not everything is right.  In any scenario we should encourage people toward righteousness in obedience to the Word of God.         
d.      When a divorced person finds love and seeks marriage they should realize that even in the best case scenario, things are going to be different.  There was a previous marriage.  No amount of legal paperwork or Biblical counsel can erase emotional memory.  There are attachments.  The Bible teaches that marriage creates oneness and sexuality creates deep, even mysterious connections between souls.  This is why the Bible most often associates marriage after divorce as adultery.  Remarriage should be carefully considered.  The couple and the minister involved in counsel and/or the marriage ceremony should progress through these matters prayerfully. 
As I write these pieces I realize that this topic is vast and far from simple.  There are appropriate contexts for firmness, and other ones appropriate for gentleness.  There is a place for judgment and a place for grace.  I keep coming back to this statement, as many people as there are, there are even more variables.  There is no way to exhaust all the possibilities.   In any scenario, may God be glorified and may we be in awe of His wondrous gospel. 
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Divorce, The What If's

In the previous post of this series I discussed the need for the church to be uncompromising in its proclamation against divorce, but caring toward those who have experienced divorce.  Our message needs to be direct, yet personal.  The personal, caring side of our proclamation comes in the “what if’s?”  Married couples shouldn’t divorce.  But what if there is abuse?  What if there is adultery?  What if there is addiction that could lead a family into financial ruin?  What if both parties agree that they are not happy together and they agree to an amicable divorce?  What if a person doesn’t want to divorce but their spouse leaves them anyway?  Are the people of the “what if’s” forever condemned?  Does the Bible have anything to say to the “what if’s?”
The Bible does have some “what if” clauses:  Matthew 5:31-32, 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:10-16.  In Matthew 5:31-22 and 19:9 Jesus adds an “except” to what is recorded in Mark 10.  The exception here is sexual immorality.  In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul says that if a person is married to an unbeliever and the unbelieving party separates, “let it be so.”  Without trying to be lengthy or overly academic, what do we do with the “what if’s?” 
1.   Even in the “what if” passages the overriding principle is that couples should not divorce.  If we rightly interpreted these “what if’s” and did with them what God said, divorce would be rare.  In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul is admonishing a couple to stay married for the sake of the gospel.  The believing wife or husband becomes a valuable witness of God’s grace and forgiveness to the unbelieving spouse.  In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul offers his own “what if.”  “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband?  Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife (1 Corinthians 7:16)?”  What if?
2.   The “what if” passages are not intended to give us reasons why we SHOULD divorce.  These passages are not the paperwork you need to help you decide to divorce.  These passages are the paperwork you need if divorce happens.  These passages do not give one permission to divorce.  These passages give permission for one who is divorced to move on.

In Mark 10, which is the occasion of this series of posts, the Pharisees point to Deuteronomy 24 as an exception clause for divorce.  Jesus corrects their faulty interpretation and points out that this Mosaic rule existed only because of their hardness of heart.  In other words, God, Moses, and Jesus know that in a far from ideal world divorce happens.  Deuteronomy 24, Matthew 5, 19, and 1 Corinthians 7 do not exist so that people “can” divorce, these passages exist because people “do” divorce.  Because divorce happens God gave us simple directives for life post marriage.  In the cultural context of Moses and Jesus, post divorce life was chaotic, confusing, and often not conducive to recovery.  Husbands would reclaim their wives, challenge their wife’s next marriage, or in twisted, filthy ways, try to guilt them into accepting their sexually deviant lifestyle.  Our culture is very similar.  The most difficult part of divorce is not the paper work, but the succeeding dance of mental and emotional manipulation by one or both parties.  Because God has a heart for people; single, married, and divorced, He gave us measures of grace that would help those devastated by divorce- close the book and move on.  In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul says, “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so.  In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved.  God has called you to peace.”  The language fits the context.  The gospel is the emancipation of the soul.  When applied it leads the soul suffering from divorce into freedom and righteousness.
3.   We should be careful not to make the mistake of believing that God allows, condones, or blesses divorce.  Many make a grave error of assuming that because these “what if” passages exist, that at times, it is God’s will for a marriage to end in divorce.  The truth is that it is never God’s will for a marriage to end in divorce.  This is the plain teaching of Scripture and the “what if” passages.  It is God’s will for marriages to demonstrate the gospel.  God’s will is for man and wife to become one.  It is God’s will for the unbelieving spouse to be saved, the addicted one to be sober, the abusive one to repent of sin and begin to demonstrate sacrificial love.  It is God’s will for marriages to be saved.  It is also God’s will for those who have suffered divorce to find healing in the gospel.  This is why the “what if” passages exist.  They do not bless divorce.  The “what if” passages give the divorced a place to find peace and healing. 
4.   Unhappiness is not grounds for divorce.  I mention this only because the Pharisees did in Matthew 19:3 and people still do.  The common line is, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”  I often hear couples manipulate Scripture (namely the “what if” passages) and God’s will to justify divorce.  “Any reason at all” is usually something like, “I don’t believe it is God’s will for us to be this unhappy together.”  Right on!  It is not God’s will for you to have a horrible marriage, but this does not then make it God’s will for you to divorce.  God’s will is for an unhappy couple to surrender to God’s will, love one another, and demonstrate the gospel in their marriage.  Matthew 19:4-6 is God’s will!
As long as there are people there will be a need for “what if’s.”  Life is not neatly packaged, nor is it ideal.  Our God is uncompromising, but He is not heartless.  He has demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners (addicted, untruthful, divorced, unfaithful, heartless, greedy, uncaring, etc.) Christ died for us.  Life is full of “what if.”  The gospel has it covered.
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Uncompromisingly Caring About Divorce

As previously stated this series of posts stems from questions that I anticipated to arise and statements that have arisen as a result of talking about divorce from Mark 10.  Mark 10 is a clear, uncompromising statement that there is no occasion or circumstance in which God blesses divorce.  Jesus goes on to say that those who divorce and marry others commit adultery.  We could not only consider this statement uncompromising as we acknowledge that it is tight and allows for no wiggle room in interpretation, but we could also say that it is abrupt and seemingly harsh.  If Jesus is uncompromising is He also uncaring?  They key is context. 
Because Jesus said it “like this” we have warrant to adopt a direct and uncompromising tone, which may at times seem harsh, when communicating the Scriptural position on divorce. The current culture, as well as the church culture, is much too flippant (much like the Pharisees of Mark 10) when it comes to divorce.  We have adopted a cavalier attitude that since divorce is so common it must not be as “bad” as it used to be.  Indeed, there may be a sense of moral erosion in the culture, but when it comes to the absolute nature of Scripture, bad is still bad.  Divorce was bad in 30 AD.  Divorce is bad in 2010 AD.  During counsel I have had people communicate to me that others have gone through with divorce, they have survived it, their kids have survived it, and their life is “just fine.”  They speak as if there are no consequences to divorce.  This is an awfully shortsighted view not only scripturally but experientially.  To say there are no consequences to divorce casts a blind eye toward the societal pain that is most apparent.  Even atheists use the term “broken home” to describe the aftermath of divorce. 
The other attitude I commonly encounter is that because divorce is sin just like any other sin, God is obligated to get over it.  If God forgives me for covetousness He will also forgive me for divorce.  True, sin is sin, but there are two glaring errors in this assumption.  1)  That because sin is sin, sin must not be a big deal.  Sin is sin and all sins are a big deal.  2)  Assuming that because sin is sin and God will forgive me anyway, is a presumptuous attitude when it comes to any sin and extremely dangerous.  God is not obligated to forgive anyone.  The truth is that God doesn’t forgive everyone (Hebrews 12:12-16).  Forgiveness is offered to those who are broken, repentant and seek the mercy of God as they realize what they have done is dreadfully wrong in the eyes of God.  To confess means “to agree.”  When we enter into sin and presume upon God’s grace we are in serious “disagreement” with God. 
Yet, because of this presumption of Jesus’ tone some have taken the cue that the church should be uncompromising (yes), but also harsh and abrupt at all times when dealing with divorce.  While I do believe the church needs to be direct in its statements concerning divorce, we should also be careful not to be so direct that we are impersonal.   We can be uncompromising, but we have no warrant to be uncaring.
In his commentary on Mark, Dr. David Garland calls attention to the importance of interpreting Scripture in context.  In the case of Mark 10 he writes,
“When applying what Jesus says about divorce to our context, there are several things we should recognize.  (1)  Jesus is responding here to hostile questioners, who are bent on trapping him (10:2).  We should therefore not expect to find in this passage instructions for pastoral care of divorced persons.  Jesus is not addressing those contemplating divorce and seeking his counsel or those struggling in broken relationships and needing encouragement.  He directs his answer to bitter opponents, whom he has already accused of mishandling Scripture and distorting God’s will (7:6-13).”[i]
Garland goes on to say,
“In answering this question, however, one should recognize that Jesus was not speaking here to those who had experienced the brokenness of a marriage failure; rather, he was responding to a ‘test’ question of the Pharisees.  What he might have said to the people in the throes of divorce we can only surmise from what he said to the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) and to the Samaritan woman who had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband (4:4-29).”[ii]
If the topic for a chosen Sunday is that divorce is bad, sinful, and that it should be avoided at all costs, then surely the topic for another is that there is hope for recovery from something as bad, sinful, and unavoidable for those who have suffered from divorce.  In a room of 400 people there are a million variables.  Not everyone wears the same size shoe.  No sermon can be tailor made so that one size fits all.  Pastors should say what needs to be said, but the hearer, in time, should also afford them the opportunity to say something else.  Pastors – in time – need to take that opportunity.  Pastors must proclaim “don’t do it.”  Pastors must also proclaim “let’s seek to redeem what’s been done.” 
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching.”  2 Timothy 4:1-2
At the same time those who have suffered divorce are in no need of compromising Biblical convictions.  I have lied.  Yet I believe it is wrong to lie and do not mind telling others that this is so.  To support Biblical proclamation is not necessarily self-condemning or hypocritical.  If a person has gone through divorce they can stand alongside their pastor and church leaders and affirm that divorce is wrong and that others shouldn’t do it.  If a person has been married to an abusive spouse they can help affirm the message by warning another who may be entering into a relationship with someone who exhibits character traits that suggest they may be abusive.  Experience is a wise tutor. 
We can be uncompromising and caring.  We can be direct and personal.  Jesus exhibits such tone when it comes to divorce.  There is a proper context for condemnation and there is also a context for restoration.   Let’s be careful to exegete the context and fully proclaim the Word of God in every season.

[i] David Garland, The NIV Application Commentary, Mark (Zondervan, 1996) p. 382-383.
[ii] Garland, 391.
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Why Talk About Divorce?

On Sunday (July 11, 2010) I preached a sermon from Mark 10.  A portion of that passage addresses the issue of divorce.  Although preachers are often accused of being “longwinded”, there is often not enough time for the wind to fully inflate the sails!  Such is the case when trying to cover the topic of divorce. 
Divorce is a “hot potato” in the church for two reasons.  1)  It is regarded as sin and 2) it is very common.  Preachers preach on sin all the time, but divorce is different.  There is no record at the courthouse for my last lie.  There have been times in my life in which I did not obey my parents, but it did not result in an album of professional photographs documenting a failure with “my other set of parents.”  Divorce is very public.  It involves a lot of people.  It is never forgotten and carries with it hurt feelings and guilt that can last a lifetime. 
Because divorce is such a personal issue it is usually a topic that is immediately met with a defensive posture and a great deal of misunderstanding.  I concede that the church has, at times, not had a stellar record when it comes to dealing with the victims of divorce.  I will deal with this issue of how the church should respond to the divorced in a later post.  Yet, for the most part when a church or a pastor takes a stand against divorce (as with most other sins) they are immediately labeled judgmental.  This is ironic being that accusing someone of being judgmental is a judgment call.  At the same time teaching that divorce is wrong is judgmental, but Biblical.  Because divorce often brings with it hard feelings and a great deal of personal pain, it is not difficult to allow our feelings and emotions trump what is biblically truthful.  This should not be so.  At the same time we should be careful not to shoot the messenger.  It is not necessary to believe that someone who is against divorce is necessarily heartless or calloused toward the divorced. 
Even still it is impossible to talk about divorce without a sense of judgment and misunderstanding.  It is nearly impossible, in the limited amount of time allowed for a sermon, to cover a topic fully and to everyone’s satisfaction.  Hopefully, writing on this topic will foster a healthy conversation that helps us get a more holistic picture of what the Bible says about divorce, to the unmarried, the married, and the divorced.  Yet, it is naïve to assume that there can be a conversation about divorce void of hurt, regret, fear, or a sense of guilt.  So why talk about divorce at all.  Why not let it go?
1.       The Bible covers the issue of divorce.  If the church is to be faithful to the sacred text it must preach, teach, and minister being fully aware and open about divorce.  God speaks about divorce.  His people should not turn a deaf ear or have a muted voice.  Because a conversation may be hurtful does not mean it is not needful.

2.       Preaching, teaching, and talking about divorce in a Scriptural context presents an opportunity for people to grow and heal.  God’s people literally feed on God’s Word (1 Peter 2:2).  Seeking guidance from the Bible on any topic, including divorce, is nutritional for God’s people.  This should be a nutritional conversation.  When the church broaches the topic of divorce from Scripture it provides people an opportunity to grow, to refine their views, to learn, and to heal.  Every time (including this one) I study divorce I learn, I grow, and I refine my views.  Studying the topic helps me learn how better not only to explain to couples how to stay married, but it helps me become a better minister to couples who have experienced divorce.  Furthermore, for those who are divorced, a Scriptural conversation should help to soften a defensive posture and invite those hurt by divorce to find avenues of reconciliation and healing through the gospel.
3.       We should preach, teach, and talk about divorce because it allows the church to clarify its position.  We are not against divorced people.  We are against divorce.  I concede this to be a very fine line considering it is people who divorce.  Yet, as is the case with other subjects, if the conversation is limited it seems like the church has only one thing to say.  “We are against it.”  Case in point, sex.  Because talking about sex is taboo in the church most people assume that the church is against sex.  Yet, attend a church meeting only a few times, hear the constant plea for nursery workers, and you will soon understand that the church is not against sex.  While it is true that the Bible prohibits sex outside of marriage it greatly encourages sex within marriage.  If we talked more about it, we may reflect a more Scriptural position that we are more for sex than we are against it!  THE CHURCH IS NOT AS MUCH AGAINST DIVORCE AS IT IS FOR MARRIAGE.  A broader conversation gives more ample opportunity to not only say why people should not divorce, it also gives an opportunity to say why people should stay married.
4.       Covering the topic of divorce brings awareness to the problem.  People do not try to find solutions to hidden or ignored problems.  There are no decent ministries to the dirt under the rug.  If divorce is a closet issue it will become a more prevalent problem.  If the church is Scriptural and vocal, it will bring awareness to the world that the gospel has a great solution to the critical issues of everyday life – including divorce. 
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