The word divorce shakes us; jars us. When we hear it we are startled, saddened and we struggle with the deadness it represents. Even when you saw the title of this blog there was a part of you that didn’t want to read further. It has a variety of applications but ultimately divorce means to violate, break, sever, neglect, or render dysfunctional and its presence inevitably leaves scars of some sort.
When we use the word divorce these days it is almost always referring to the dissolution of a marriage and the subject has been a big one in churches for a couple of generations. It’s not difficult to understand why, since marriage has statistically moved from usually being a life-long commitment to more of a 50/50 likelihood of permanence.
This has forced an uncomfortable transition for churches. It began with encouraging people to stay together regardless of the circumstances – in one sense that is a good idea, stick with it and work things out – but it assumes both parties are able and willing. What about physical or emotional abuse or abandonment?
One awkward outcome during those transition years was that many churches refused to re-marry divorced people. You can imagine the further frustration this judgement caused for people trying to start over again with this legalistic option.
For others, if a divorced person wanted to remarry, the priest or pastor was charged with determining if they were the ‘innocent party’ in their divorce. If one of the marriage hopefuls fell into the ‘guilty party’ classification then the church could not bless the marriage. Of course this was a very inexact skill, relying entirely on the testimony of the divorced persons and any outside opinion available. Legalistic again.
The unfortunate result has been that, in a headlong crusade to condemn divorce and reinforce marriage, the church often forgot the human element and pushed people aside who simply wanted to pick up the pieces. It frequently resulted in another painful divorce, only this time a divorce from the church or from God – a divorce from acceptance, healing and grace.
In spiritual terms divorce is not just a legal transaction but an emotional one. When someone withholds support or affection it is considered an intentional act of divorce. In the Bible divorce is most literally described as sending away.
For example, if one person in a relationship chooses to withhold affection or if two people live cold, separate lives under the same roof they are divorced regardless of whether or not it is made official by a court. It’s possible for politicians and national leaders to be divorced from the will of their constituents even while they hold office. A church can be divorced from its community’s needs even while proclaiming their concern. You and I can be divorced from someone occupying the space right next to us.
We can be divorced from reality, divorced from a job, divorced from responsibility, divorced from honesty even as we live within a justified cocoon. Divorce happens when someone chooses to send away, abandon, ignore or go their own way.
When people demonstrate acts of separation, physically or emotionally, they are declaring their intentions for the health of the relationship. A husband can begin divorcing his wife by spending an unhealthy proportion of time at work or with friends or in his shop. A wife can begin divorcing in the same ways but perhaps with different activities. Divorce begins easily but is always driven by someone being self-centred.
I’m not writing about blame, I’m writing about awareness and vigilance. Is there a relationship in your life that you are ignoring and sending away? Are you divorcing in some way? It is easy to do if we are not active in keeping our relationships current, honest and healthy. The good news is that relationships can be healed if the symptoms of our actions and intentions are operated on early.
There is a reason God is quoted in Malachi 2:16 as saying, ‘I hate divorce’ but let’s be clear that divorce is about something more than just a marriage certificate. It is about breaking trust, distancing ourselves from someone, demeaning the value of individuals, and worst of all, it twists love into a temporary and selfish act. Each of these is anti-God.
On the other hand we have a deified example of relationship…
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
Christ is also the head of the church,
which is his body.
He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead.
So he is first in everything.
For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions.Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.
But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. The Good News has been preached all over the world, and I, Paul, have been appointed as God’s servant to proclaim it.
… I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church.God has given me the responsibility of serving his church by proclaiming his entire message to you.This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to God’s people.For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.
So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. – Colossians 1:15-28 (NLT)
Notice the unity between God and Christ (Jesus): they work in harmony and trust; they are active in applying love across the board; they are the antithesis of divorce.
And as the writing proceeds we see Paul revealing a secret that applies to each of us: ‘Christ lives in you’.
If Christ is in you, then are you doing your part to ensure it is a healthy relationship?