Marriage and Divorce
Marriage is one of the vital institutions of society. It is also an institution which has been under subtle but relentless attack in the West. If we don't want western nations to disintegrate, marriage and family must be reclaimed.
Divorce is traumatic. One other or both of the couple suffer very obvious hurt. For children, particularly in the mid years, the effects are most often devastating and often leave them emotionally scarred for life. Where children then come under step parents, the incidence of abuse increases dramatically. The hurts involved ripple out to the extended family – from grandparents having limited access to friends having to “take sides” and drop one member of the former couple. Economically there are costs as joint assets have to be split and often the family home sold also if the couple do not re-marry two households are more expensive to run than one.
Changes to the law making divorce much simpler may have caused more divorces, but were also introduced as a result of divorce increasing.
Many churches have loosened up on re-marrying divorced persons. This may sound cheeky, but I think churches were in error Biblically banning divorce altogether, an equally un-biblical now in accepting it to align with the spirit of the age.
Yes I know Jesus' words and I take them seriously. But note that when the Pharisees questioned him about divorce their question was more in the nature of “how much of an excuse do I need in order to divorce my wife?”. Jesus' answer was then in the form of “no amount of excuse will stop what you are planning to do (put away the old wife and marry the new) from being adultery”. This is strengthened when their reply “then why did Moses command ...” (of course they are miss-quoting Moses here – the command was to give the wife written proof if she was divorced) is met by Jesus saying “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard, but it was not this way from the beginning.”
So divorce was never God's intention for humans, but our fallen nature sometimes made it the lesser of two evils.
Among Jesus' followers divorce should be unnecessary. But even professing Christians can be unteachable sinful or cruel. There is an old saying – usually about a man: “street angel: house devil” In practice even in the church, let alone in general society, there are times where one partner is so abusive to the other (and or children) that to allow the innocent party a divorce is definitely the lesser of two evils.
On the other hand, Jesus made his opposition to gratuitous divorce abundantly clear. His position, as always, is at one with the Old Testament, with statements like “I hate divorce says the Lord”
So in every area of public life there needs to be asked “what can we do to reduce the divorce rate”
If as a society we were really concerned to reduce the divorce rate people in various walks of life should be asking the question “why do people divorce” and “Is there something that can be done to save some of these breaking marriages”
Here are a few thoughts I have had over the years:
As a minister I had people coming to me to re-marry after a divorce. I always went through the details of the breakup of the previous marriage with them. A thing that really hit me was that most of these breakups did not involve wickedness or cruelty or serious issues: they had simply allowed themselves to grow apart – until of course the inevitable happened to one or other. I so often felt that if someone had got hold of them early in the drifting apart and banged their heads together they would have gone on to have a happy marriage: So that is one thing that can be done: friends, family etc to reinforce “You are a single social unit now: do your socialising together, develop interests you can enjoy together …”
As a doctor my wife sees even more divorcees. Some had partners that were so abusive that the wonder is that they stayed so long – of course some of these had husbands who were so dangerously violent that they didn't dare leave. But the more common causes she says are unreal expectations, and the stress of modern life.
Women particularly – and they more often than men now initiate divorce – expect their husbands to be everything and meet every need. Men can't. They can be good husbands and fulfil those needs but they can't be everything and fix every problem. So the women leave – only to hit the same problem over and over because what they have been led to expect marriage to provide is just not realistic. So how, as communities can we have young people grow up with a realistic ideal of what to expect to contribute and receive from a good marriage.
Stress in modern life. I don't mean the “old days were better” that, the Bible says is a foolish thing to say. But there are some higher or different stresses.
In my mother's day, middle class husbands earned enough that wives could stay home. Children came home from school to find mum waiting to hear all about their day, husbands came home to find dinner prepared. The importance of the wife and mother role was reinforced by the 50's movies and TV.
Now both parents have to work to maintain the same social position. Also the social and media pressure is on women to follow a career path. Obviously as my wife is a doctor I don't have any problem with women and careers, in many ways the opening up of these things for women has been very good: I'm just looking at the stress that has come with it. The importance of motherhood is played down, so children now spend long hours in child-care and after-school care and come home to a mother who is exhausted from the day's work. Husbands come home - and there is now hot dinner ready (for either of them!). So someone has to bath kids, cook dinner, and by then the evening has gone. All I am saying is that feeling too tired, burdened and not enjoying life makes escaping the marriage look attractive. Of course like all those things that used to be called “temptation” in the end it only multiplies the problems.
As a society can we change the expectation that working wives will do all the tasks their non-working mothers did? Can we re-discover the importance of parenthood, so that father or mother sacrificing several steps on the career ladder to stay home and rear young children is not resented?
Can more part time or shared positions be provided? I even think providing better highways to reduce time and frustration travelling to and from work would help.
Then there's the oldest cause of all: adultery. Some marriages survive it, some don't and many leave their husband or wife to live with the new man or woman. Currently as I see it social mores accept this and the world view constructed by our TV shows and films actually encourages it. This is a false world view, and the end result is a great deal of human misery, and as I said earlier, emotional harm to kids and even child abuse. But sex is a powerful temptation: to resist it ordinary people need all the support available, including social taboos, and the reinforcing of the true word view: adultery looks enticing but the end result is hurt. So there are things that could change in our societies that would reduce the divorce rate from this cause too.
What causes have you come across? How could they be made less potent?