Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? ...The Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made to each other on your wedding day . . . Didn't the Lord make you one with your wife? . . . So guard yourself; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. " For I hate divorce!" says the Lord. Malachi 2:10-16.
All of us have been touched by divorce. Maybe some of you have experienced divorce first hand. Whether you bore the brunt of the guilt or were simply a victim of an unfaithful spouse who just walked out on you, the tragic reality is that as a society we are witnessing a disturbing and painful rise in the breakdown of marriage. Even Christians who pray together are no longer staying together.
I don't need to tell you that there is nothing pleasant about divorce, especially if you've been through the pain. And yet divorce seems so commonplace and marriage nothing more than a caricature. So if you're struggling with the idea that you would be better off walking away from your marriage, wait. Escaping a broken marriage is not easy or pleasant. Divorce is among the most painful and stressful events of a person's life. The feelings of betrayal, hate and abandonment can linger in your life forever.
It's no secret that nearly half of all marriages in North America end in divorce. The more disturbing statistic, though, is that the numbers for the Orthodox Church don't appear to be much better. Sadly, when Christian couples divorce, the message we send to the world is that our God is not faithful. The breakdown of marriage in the Church is perhaps one of the biggest blots against us, and the most visible way that we have become indistinguishable from the unbeliever.
Today's world is full of self-centeredness. "What's in it for me?" we ask. We really do live in a world where marriage has been reduced to rating the level of our own personal happiness and fulfillment. Yet it wasn't supposed to be this way. God never intended for marriage to be conditional or broken. Divorce is a departure from the way God established marriage as monogamous, intimate and permanent.
Christ wants our marriage to model His relationship with His Church: permanent, faithful and loving. This way our light will not be blurred by the distance, disillusion and dissolution of divorce. Divorce is an aberration. The Church is married to Christ and can never be divorced. A man and a woman are a type of that permanent bond. A marriage needs both commitment and love. In fact, beyond the dreamy-eyed period of romance, love becomes a choice. A choice to stay committed to the other: warts, pounds and all. We cannot abort a marriage because of difficulties or inconveniences.
So what leads people to abandon their family and their God? Sin is the leading cause of divorce. The by-product of sin--abuse, grudges, deception, selfishness and unfaithfulness-all weaken your love and commitment and will eventually lead you to become another statistic. The reality is, though, that we are all susceptible to the lies of divorce, because we are all guilty of sin. Paul Evdokimov in The Sacrament of Love says, "real incompatibilities, 'mis-loved' people are found very frequently. Nonetheless, the majority of nuptial disagreements are due to some spiritual failure: a refusal to follow the heroic way of life, a rejection of repentance, the evangelical metanoia. A person who betrays his love betrays himself."
Love, faithfulness, commitment, what do they all mean anymore? Are they mere words to be used in songs, novels or ads? Solomon says, "love is as strong as death" (Song of Solomon 8:6 NASB). In other words, a wedding is really a funeral service. It sounds morbid and frightening and you probably never thought of the most enjoyable and memorable day of your life this way, but really it is so beautiful. You see love is about dying to yourself-your ego, your wants, your desires-and becoming resurrected as a servant to others. No longer two but one. Isn't this what Christ did? Isn't this love what our creed, our liturgy, our prayer is all about? This kind of marriage vow is not conditional on health, wealth, or personal fulfillment. The way Christ loves us and is faithful is the way we must love and be faithful to one another.
It is so easy to try to hold on to our personal happiness by being self-focused. But God has a way of yanking things out of our tightly clenched fists and bringing our focus back to him. Love in marriage is not about being happy. If both husband and wife devote their time and energy to making the other happy, they will in turn make themselves happy, because they are one. By seeking the happiness of the other, you find your own happiness (Ephesians 5:28). But love hurts and costs. Love bleeds and forgives. Vladimir Berzonsky in his book, The Gift of Love writes:
There is no such thing as free love. Something so precious always comes with a price, and society has no right to pretend to offer what it neither possesses nor controls. Forgiveness does not come by enlightenment, which sometimes our society offers the guilty. Only Jesus Christ is in a position to forgive, since He paid with total obedience, even to death, the admission price to salvation for all who follow and trust in Him. Christ makes us free, but in order to be like Him we must be free from sin, wholesome and pure within and without.
With divorce reaching epidemic proportions, the tragedy is it was never meant to be like this. The story of humanity as told in Scripture begins with the creation of man and woman. Desiring someone to share life with is nothing new. God created us this way. And just as He created that natural attraction between a man and a woman, He also spelled out the basic things we need to make a marriage successful. There is no high-cost psychological or theological training required: just the fundamentals.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let no man separate (Matthew 19:4-6 NASB).
A married couple needs to sever the bond with their parents, because it is the only way the couple can grow to depend on each other and God. It avoids the painful scenarios of emotional and financial dependence on parents. A married couple also becomes permanently united. A marriage is a life-long relationship where two individual persons: each with their own personality, grow intimately, permanently, and profoundly as a unified entity.
Being married to another person is neither easy nor always pleasant. This is why it shouldn't be entered into lightly. When we realize that it is God that has joined a man and a woman together, then maybe we'll understand that we need to love one another, and not because we always want to, but because we need to. No marriage is without its problems, but what separates a good marriage from a broken one, is facing up to our problems and working them out. There are men and women who have been faced with unbearable burdens of physical abuse, alcoholism, perverse sexual infidelity, and satanic occultism. Things that are unspeakable and paralyze you so you can't come out from under the covers. Yet many have been able to stay united and grow strong because they turned away from the downward spiral of their lifestyle.
There is a hauntingly beautiful story in the Old Testament book of Hosea where God commands the prophet to marry a prostitute, named Gomer. Can you imagine Hosea's shock and disbelief? Yet, Hosea obeyed God and married Gomer and eventually paid a price to bring her back to being faithful to him. It is a wonderful story, an analogy of God's mercy, patience and forgiveness. All of us, to varying degrees and different times, are like Gomer, off doing our own thing, forgetting both God and our partner. Yet God keeps waiting and looking to bring us back. Will you try to do the same? Turn away from choices that tear down and begin now to build up your marriage. Help each other become the person you want to see. Remove the word divorce from your vocabulary and stay committed. If your life is broken, seek God's mercy. Go to Him with all your fears, your insecurities, and your regrets and let Him rescue and restore you.
John Kapsalis has an M.T.S from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.