Marriage and Divorce

Part 1: Culture

We live in a culture that wants permanency, expects stability, desires equality. We also live in a culture that appreciates newness, anticipates change, values improvement. When we apply these aspects of life in general to the specific topic of marriage, the water can become muddied and difficult to navigate. In a culture that values upgrades — cell phones, cars, houses — it seems to be a rare occurrence to find couples who have been married for 15, 20, 50 years. It seems we live in a disposable society, and marriage is being entered into as an event and situation that can be deleted as easily as an unwanted email can be deleted from our inbox.

A while back, I was staying with my folks for a week, and as I do not have television at my home, we spent an evening glued to the tv watching crime dramas and the like. We watched an episode of Chicago Fire, and a sub-plot involved two couples divorcing, and the woman from one couple and the man from the other couple getting together. The day after her divorce was final, she and the man spent 48 hours in bed together. When the man got together with a buddy, the buddy high fived the man for his “getting out there” and, well, responding how men do…  I questioned what that interaction is illustrating about societal values: no sense of “loss” after divorce and “hooking up” is something to be cheered and encouraged.

It seems to me that there is a belief or an assumption that anything that does not bring us happiness or satisfaction or something more than our next door neighbor is getting is worth throwing away. And what is included in that list is marriage. I read an article in the local paper this last weekend that spoke of the difference between marriage and holy matrimony. The basic idea is that “marriage” is a contract and is grounded in The Declaration of Independence: “all men are created equal” and are to have unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” and if that one party does not hold up their end of the bargain, that contract can be broken; conversely, holy matrimony is a covenant between two people and God the Father and shall be respected and honored and not be broken.

While I would like to definitively state what our culture values in terms of marriage, I cannot. A marriage like my parents, 46 years, is sadly the exception and not the norm. I am not sure what our culture values right now in terms of marriage, and based on what we see from those in the limelight (Hollywood and those in politics specifically), I’m not sure we have the role models to illustrate what those values are and how those values are demonstrated.

Part 2: Biblical Expectations

How does the Bible view divorce and remarriage?  The books of Matthew and Mark approach this issue differently.

How I view divorce in Biblical terms is found in Matthew 5 and Matthew 19: one may divorce as infidelity as cause. I also add abuse (sexual, physical, mental) as cause as well, though I am unsure if the Bible specifically states this. Feinberg and Feinberg notes that porneia refers to many types of “sexual impurity” (page 598), and to that definition I agree.

We are given the image of the husband as the head of the family as Christ is the head of the church in Ephesians 5. In that passage it is also made clear that the wife is to submit to the husband and hold him with respect and reverence with the assumption that she be accountable to her husband as she would be accountable to Christ.

This passage makes the assumption that those persons are believers. I also hold the passage in 2 Corinthians 6 that we are not to be yoked to unbelievers. Though this passage could infer any type of union which involves a stated or understood contract– marriage or business — it is important to reference this Biblical instruction here. If a marriage is begun with the man and woman not having a foundation of God, there will likely be additional problems to address throughout the life of the marriage.

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