A Parable For Divorce?


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.”




Filed under Marriage & Sexuality

10 responses to “A Parable For Divorce?

  1. sandi

    Who gets to define “dead” though? My husband and I were divorced 10 years when God put it on our hearts to reconcile. Even though we both thought our marriage was dead, God, it seems, had a different idea of what death looks like.


    • Ah, there’s the rub. The people in the marriage, of course. We can’t very well tell them, “You’re married, so suck it up, Buttercup”, can we?

      I am interested in hearing more about your story, so I would invite an email telling me how you and your husband reconciled after ten years. Do I know you from TMB, by the bye?

      My question would be, though, how often does the call come ringing through the graveyard, “Marriage, come forth!”


      • sandi

        Yes, you know me from TMB. I’ll email you when I can. As to your question about how often does the call come bringing forth dead marriages? Possibly, more often than you might think. Focus on the Family’s Marriage Intensive had great results if you believe their literature. As do Love and Respect conferences. There’s also a small, but growing ministry called Greater Impact Ministries that has helped hundreds of couples working with just the wife in their Daughters of Sarah training course and small group study and online study with the Respect Dare based on the book written by the ministry’s executive director, Nina Roesner. The Respect Dare online eCourse was the biggest help in turning around our very rocky re-marriage, so of course I’m a bit biased towards it. (Plus I volunteer for them now as well)

        Ours was a fairly rare situation for sure, but many “dead” marriages can be saved even when only one person is working on it, because God is in the transformation business. He is perfectly willing to change hearts in His time. That’s no guarantee that He will change any particular heart or marriage, but it happens enough that we should be very cautious about pronouncing death and saying it’s okay to move on.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi, Sandi,

        1) I thought so! As I was preparing my reply, I was going to say that you and another couple that I had heard of…. And then I saw the “10 years”. 🙂

        2) I am glad for all of those ministries, all those attempts at restoration. Focus on the Family, of course, is the big dog, but I also know of Nina Roesner’s work from reading Forgiven Wife’s blog. As to Love and Respect, I am a huge fan. I’ve read Eggerichs’s book, and I have identified several chapters and topics that I want to address for my core audience.

        3) I agree that many “dead” marriages can be saved, but I am not all that sanguine about the “when only one works on it” part. Recently, I read a post on TMB by a man in a long-term “bad” marriage who spoke of things still being kind of “one-sided”. But he writes about how his creating a fuss apparently caused his wife to change some of her behavior.

        To me, this speaks of the difference between “dead” marriages and “indifferent” marriages. This is something that Wife and I were discussing just this morning. Eggerichs always speaks of “good-willed” spouses, but never (at least in his book) of working with a “bad-willed” spouse. And we know that not all spouses are good-willed. Wife and I were discussing good-willed, bad-willed and (a CSL invention) “the indifferent muddle”. You can be sure that down the road there will be a series of posts about those three. 🙂

        4) “… we should be very cautious about pronouncing death and saying it’s okay to move on.” And I agree, that WE should be cautious. In fact, to the point of not saying stay or go. However, the husband or wife in that marriage should be given the leeway to say, “God, I’m done” without us telling them that they are wrong.


  2. Ted

    This one seems to be a little bit of a stretch CL. As Sandi points out, God’s definition of “dead” may not match ours. There may be grounds for infidelity, or if your partner leaves and files for a divorce,but apart from that I can’t see it. In my case, even those would not be grounds for me to initiate, since I am guilty/forgiven of adultery in my marriage.
    There is no doubt that marriage is a refining fire especially in this culture that justifies divorce for the most insignificant reasons.I can allow that as Christians, it is necessary for separations, while issues are dealt with, and confronting issues/sin in one’s spouse, but I could never advise someone to divorce, but rather to try and reconcile their differences. I don’t believe any marriage is beyond reconciliation, unless one of the partners is dead. This from a man who was separated from his wife for five years, and has been reconciled, forgiven, and continues to struggle in my marriage, yet would say, as well as my wife, that our marriage is the best it’s ever been.


    • Good on ya, Ted. But I’m going to ask if you think God quit, then, since He says that He divorced Israel?

      I can appreciate that folks say that you should NEVER give up on your marriage. After all, in my opening paragraghs, I speak of all the writers and teachers who say the same thing. However, I just don’t think that it’s a biblical position; Christian, yes. Biblical? Not so much.

      I’m into cinema, and watch all kinds of movies, including police and medical dramas. Many times there is a scene in which measures are taken to try to save someone’s life, but someone says, “Call it.” We don’t tell doctors to keep on ad infinitum; I don’t think we have the wherewithall to tell someone who has worked as hard as s/he could to keep a marriage together, but has decided that it is all for naught, “Get back in there and fight!”

      As I said, I realize that I am in the minority. But that’s never been a hinderance to me in the past. 🙂


  3. Ted

    As for God divorcing Israel, if you are referring to Jeremiah 3, you will notice that he also called her to return to Him, saying she was more righteous than Judah. So there was a reconciliation. I would never judge a man or woman for divorcing their spouse, I simply couldn’t advise them to do so. We all have to answer for what we’ve done in the body, and who am I to judge the servant of another in an area that is largely a matter of conscience?


    • Yes, God does hold out the olive branch of reconciliation to Israel, but we know from history that it never happened. Destroyed by Assyria in 722-721 BC, the Hebrews of the Northern Kingdom, Israel, were deported. Some were returned and inter-married the Gentiles who had been transported in and became the Samaritans, but to all effects and purposes, Israel was no more, and was never reconciled to God.

      Prophetic promises are often conditional, and if we refuse to meet God on His terms, we lose. I’ve recently been reading Amos (755 BC) and Hosea (730? BC), a one-two prophetic punch to Israel. Both warned Israel of destruction and promised healing if they would return to God and forsake their idols; Israel refused and disappeared from history and the Covenant, Jeremiah’s promise notwithstanding.

      It is a true cautionary tale.


  4. A couple of thoughts…

    Those “in hide know-so convictions” are usually part of a cultural system. Even when they are biblical we still need to renew wour minds. They have to be transformed from a cultural more into a matter of loving and pursuing God. I know that’s vague. It’s an enormous issue for me, and I’m going to curb the temptation to bloviate on the topic. I’ll just say it’s one very important facet of renewing our minds.

    The second thing has to do with the concept of declaring a marriage “dead”. I’m still married, and I consider my marriage to be worse than dead. There is ill-will towards me, contempt, and control. I have PTSD at this point and can barely function. I’m not sure that “dead” is the only characteristic that matters, though.

    Moses gave the law about divorce saying that a man could divorce if he found some uncleanness in his wife. This sounds like something that would come well before the actual death of a marriage. The law doesn’t say they *must* divorce, but it does sound like God is providing a way to avoid an even more massive catastrophe.

    As to God having a different definition for anything… I don’t think that invalidates the perception of the spouses. He obviously put that discernment smack in the lap of the people going through it, so the definition of “dead” is in their hands.

    Malachi brings up the topic of divorce, specifically addressing treachery. I think incorrectly defining a “dead marriage” is less of a danger than the possible treachery. Once again, renewing our minds will help us avoid that kind of thing… but treacherous people tend to avoid that sort of thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I need to clarify. God makes the definitions. It is up to us to apply wisdom to understand His perspective because His is the right one. What I meant to say is that He still leaves it in our hands to discern and make decisions. He still expects us to exercise our wills and make decisions although we might not use wisdom or follow in His ways.

    Liked by 1 person

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