It should come as no surprise that I follow several marriage bloggers on Twitter and via email notification. After all, I am a marriage blogger, and it’s always good to hear what others are saying. (And there is always a good chance that something I read will trigger an idea or two for me to write about, so it’s a win-win for me.)
In doing this, though, I find that I am something of the oddball when it comes to one topic, not necessarily in agreement with the accepted wisdom that these bloggers share. Now, because these writers are all great writers, speakers and teachers and I esteem their wisdom highly, I can’t fault them for hewing to the accepted party line on the importance of marriage and the evils of divorce. After all, it’s Christian orthodoxy, and even atheist Michelle Weiner-Davis, of Divorce Busting, is on board.
And yet, like so many of the teachings I have been given down through the years, I am finding that an absolutist stance is untenable. While many want to see marriage as an untouchable icon, I believe that scripture doesn’t back up our attempts to deify it.
“One Interpretation, Many Applications”
Before I expound on that, I want to give a little background for what I’m going to present. (If you aren’t a Christian, you don’t need to read any further, as none of this will pertain to you.)
As Christians, we have the Bible as our rule and guide for life and teaching. Admittedly, the Bible does not specifically address every specific topic in our modern life, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t present us with guidelines and principles that we can apply to our daily lives. While it is true that there is only one interpretation of scripture, there are many applications.
For example, in I Cor. 9:7–14, when Paul defends the right of ministers who serve the Gospel to receive a living wage, he appeals to Deut. 25:4, “Don’t muzzle the ox when he treads out the grain.” The statement has only one interpretation, but Paul takes the principle behind it and applies that Old Testament statement to a New Testament situation. Today, we might use the principle of Deut. 25 in understanding worker rights. One interpretation, many applications.
With that in mind, let me present
A Parable For Divorce
Like that’s gonna happen, right? Not so fast, Bucko; just hold on and see if there isn’t Biblical support for throwing in your cards.
A couple months ago, as I was doing my reading and meditation, the parable of The Barren Fig Tree was part of my reading, and I saw an application of the parable in a new manner.
And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9 ESV)
In keeping with the “One interpretation, many applications” thought, I need to say that most Biblical commentators say that this parable is about Israel, specifically, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and their last chance to accept God’s plan for the messiah (see Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard, Isa. 5). In keeping with the One Interpretation dictum, we understand that the vinedresser in Jesus’ parable makes an appeal to give Israel’s religious leaders one more chance to come around, but if they fail to do so, then they will be cut off.
However, the fact that the vinedresser of the parable makes an appeal for the tree asking for one more year/season doesn’t mean that patience is limitless in other situations. Note that the vinedresser acknowledges that there is a point in time when continued effort is merely an exercise in futility, and that there comes a time when one has to say, “It’s over.”
As you are aware there are many different optical illusion pictures floating around. Their trick depends on how you perceive an image, and it can sometimes come as a shock when a second image somehow comes into focus. Here is one of the most common:
My experience on the day that I read the Barren Fig Tree parable was just as surprising. There I was, reading a story that I know I’ve read or heard more than a hundred times in my life, and all of a sudden, I’m blind-sided when my mind makes the connection between uprooting a dead fig tree with uprooting a dead marriage.
With this post, I am not attempting an in-depth teaching on the intentional vs. ontological nature of marriage, nor am I trying to make a statement that the Bible clearly justifies divorce. But what I am saying is that if we are willing to see past our hide-bound know-so convictions and allow our hearts and minds to be open to different interpretations of scripture, we might be surprised to learn that maybe, just maybe, our know-so might not actually be so.
In my case, in the past few years I’ve come to see
- God allowing divorce due to “hardness of heart” (Mt. 19:8) might refer to obdurate refusers rather than obstinate divorcers.
- Wisdom in the book of Proverbs tells us that separation isn’t necessarily a bad thing (“better to live in a room on a roof than with a brawling woman”)
- God Himself is divorced.
- And now, if a fig tree/marriage is dead, it can be a mercy to cut it down.
That last is a new insight for me, and people in dead marriages need to know that maybe, just maybe, it’s neither harsh nor sinful to say “Cut it down.”