I thought that I was done with discussing divorce as a valid option after I posted the fourth of my series about Divorce as a a Christian’s option. However, something came across my Twitter feed that made me realize that I need to continue to address this topic.
I read quite a few different blogs and forums that deal with marriage and sexuality, and for the most part, I realize that I am somewhat of a fish out of water. The reason for this is that, while I am an advocate for marriage, I accept the fact that some marriages are too far gone to be resuscitated. We often speak of toxic churches and toxic relationships, but it’s not all that common for Christian writers and teachers to come out and say “Toxic marriages do happen.”
Instead, what I read and hear is, “Never give up on a marriage. Believe God can change you and your spouse and remake your marriage into a haven rather than a Hell.” (I do find it interesting, though, for that advice to NEVER be offered to a spouse who is being physically abused.) Recently, one of the Twitter feeds of someone I
look up to …. Heck, who am I kidding? This person I totally revere, and this particular tweet compared divorce to amputation and said that it is a fool’s choice.
Amputation? No, But….
Back in ‘91, I began to experience bouts of excruciating pain that seemed to be cutting me in half, across my back. I didn’t know what was triggering them, but finally, one evening, after eating at KFC, I spent half the night tortured by racking pain; I decided enough was enough, to see a doctor.
After asking me questions about where and when these bouts occurred, I was sent for an ultrasound, and the reading confirmed the doctor’s suspicions; I had a number of gallstones. The doctor said that the stones had blocked the duct from the gallbladder to the liver, and whenever I ate fatty/greasy foods (like KFC fried chicken), this triggered my pain. The doctor informed that I had to have an operation to remove my gallbladder.
At that time, I was very leery of the medical profession and so was willing to ask for second opinions. I had read someone who said that doctors were too scalpel-happy when it came to gallbladders, and suggested a treatment that purported to expel the stones. When I asked my doctor if there were other treatments beside surgery, I think I might have scared him a bit (suggesting malpractice?) and so he delayed the surgery he had scheduled for me, and said that they would do further tests.
Dumb move on my part! By delaying immediate gallbladder surgery, I spent two days in the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life. I was in total agony in the hospital while they did their tests, and at the end of all this, I was more than happy to be sedated and have them tear it out.
But here’s the thing. After the surgery, the surgeon came by the next day, and told me that if they had delayed even one more day, it was likely that I would have died. The problem had no longer been the fact that I had a sick gallbladder that was producing gallstones. Instead, delay allowed the blockage to cut off blood flow to the gallbladder, and it had “died.” It had turned gangrenous, and would have killed me, if left alone through my insistence on alternative treatments. It needed to be removed because it was gangrenous.
Okay, that was gallbladder surgery, not a real amputation. We all know that limbs, through infection and disease, can turn gangrenous, just as my gallbladder did. In those cases, amputation is not the decision of a fool, but a medical necessity that is the only choice to prolong life. And it might not even be due to gangrene.
One of the most famous tales of survival in modern times is the true story of Aron Ralston. In 2003, Ralston went hiking in a remote Utah canyon without telling anyone, and in the process, had an 800 lb. boulder slide down onto his right hand, crushing it and trapping him. After days of trying to free himself, he realized that he would have to amputate his own hand if he wanted to survive. His story is told in the 2010 movie, 127 Hours.
The point is that amputation is not a foolish decision, but is sometimes a medical necessity. And in the case of a marriage that is toxic, it may be a marital and spiritual necessity.
When Divorce Is NOT An Option
Do I believe that divorce is a valid option for a Christian? Uh, hello! Do you think I’m typing just to see words appear on my computer? Yes, I believe that!
BUT . . . I do not believe that divorce is something to be taken lightly. Just as entering into marriage is a life-changing event, so too divorce is a life-altering event. Marriage isn’t something you blithefully run into or out of, especially if, unlike the beginning, the ending of said marriage will affect more than just the two of you.
In reading around the blogosphere, I see marriage writers addressing readers who want to divorce over many different things. When I see these questions, I realize our Christian culture has been co-opted by the secular culture around us, to the point that we pretty much have accepted Reb Hillel’s position over that of Reb Shammai and Jesus. (You’re going to have to read my Divorce series for this reference, but it is extremely relevant.) After all, our society has accepted No-Fault divorce, so why can’t the Church, right?
Sorry, but marriage is still supposed to be important to Christians. Whether you believe in Covenant or Contract, it is still binding on the Christian to try to abide by his/her promise made at the wedding.
So am I switching my position, coming around to the idea that only adultery constitutes grounds for divorce?
When Divorce IS An Option
Here is when divorce is a valid option for a Christian: when the other spouse has broken faith with him/her and refused to live in accordance with the vows that s/he made at the beginning of the marriage. We accept that if a spouse has an affair, it is the breaking of the marriage vow, the breaking of the covenant, and as such, is a valid reason for divorce.
But the marriage covenant contains much more than sexual fidelity. As I’ve written before, Hebrew law, custom, mores and teaching recognize that a marriage agreement was a promise for food, clothing and sexual faithfulness (Ex. 21). This biblical formula is in the Ketubah (my podiatrist calls it the “Jewish marriage license) and has been the fundamental marriage vow for Jews for 3000 years.
This promise (food, clothing, sexual faithfulness) speaks to love and care, and was so vital, that to fail to live up to this promise (including sexual refusal, btw) was seen as breaking of faith and valid reasons for divorce. While the Church chose to teach that adultery was the only reason for divorce, Jewish teaching before and after Christ realized that there was more to the marriage vow than just keeping your butt out of someone else’s bed.
CSL’s Rules For Divorce
This biblical reasoning, divorce for breaking covenant/faith with your spouse, is not to be taken lightly or to be used casually. This idea that marriages are easily disposed of is what had led us to the state that we find ourselves in today. Instead, divorce, while not a fool’s decision, is still a radical option, much like a mastectomy would be to a woman facing treatment for breast cancer.
With the serious consequences of divorce in mind, I’m going to present my thoughts on what needs to be done before electing to proceed with this amputation.
- You have to decide “Can it be truly said that your spouse has broken faith with you and your wedding vows?”
- Have you discussed your marriage concerns with your spouse? By that, I mean many, many times. A one-time, Mr. Milquetoast “You know, we might possibly not have all that great a marriage, sweetheart” hint doesn’t count. I mean knock-down drag-outs in which you have laid your cards out on the table. In essence, have you had The Talk™? More than once?
- Have you worked your way to this decision? By that, I don’t mean have you ticked off all the boxes necessary to justify a decision to divorce to the minister or your friends? Instead, have you tried, in more than just a couple of ways, to convey to your spouse the seriousness of your concerns and to get him/her on board your efforts to save the marriage? Does s/he even know that you feel the marriage is in danger?
- Third-party counseling. I consider this a must. Yes, you know where you think your spouse has broken faith, but have you? By talking with your pastor/a counselor, you can present your issues to a disinterested party, and so can your spouse. You may discover that you have a splinter in your eye that you don’t know about, and this will be a chance for you to improve, as well.
- Along the same lines, are you making efforts to get closer to God? Are you working on you? After all, as the old truism says, changing your clothes doesn’t change you. Divorcing one wife and marrying another doesn’t mean that you’re trading up if you’re still you at the end of the process.
- Tell him/her that divorce is an option that you will consider. I think that the Walkaway Spouse, while understandable, is still completely wrong. All too often, I read where someone says, “My spouse left/filed for divorce, and I never saw it coming!” Let them see that it IS coming; it may just be the wake-up call they need to see the seriousness of the situation.
Marriage is serious and ending a marriage has deep-seated consequences. That is why you have to try to do all that you can to heal and save the marriage beforehand, and I believe that my “Rules” constitute an effort to do so. When all is said and done, please know that divorce is not necessarily a fool’s decision. But, by Billy Bedamned Hangtree, it had better not be a rash one!