Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Against Divorce

I've been thinking about marriage and the sin of divorce lately.  The popular wisdom is that divorce hurts children.  Many couples will stay together in loveless marriages "for the sake of the children."  This unselfishness though praiseworthy to an extent, is not the primary reason to preserve a marriage.  Even more important than the offspring of marital union is the life of marriage itself:  "From the beginning it was not so."  Holy matrimony is a participation in the mystery of Christ and his Church (Eph. 5:32).  It is a holy thing.  The failure of any Christian marriage is therefore destructive of the manifestation of Christ's love in the world.

It appears that in the current crisis of the state of Christian marriage in general husbands are primarily responsible for the failure of their marriages.  This failure is largely due the man's neglect of his God-given role as head of his family, the biblical pattern.  Husband, act as the head of your home (I Cor. 11:3).  Cherish your wife.  Do not forsake your vows. Seek the face of the Lord and total submission to him.  Emulate the Lord Jesus in all that you do for your family, sacrificing yourself for them in all things, the biblical way

The woman is not the head of the home. She is not her husband's spiritual counselor or pastor.  He does not and should not answer to his wife as if she were. If a man has a problem, he needs to consult a pastor or a priest, and he certainly needs all the fellowship with and support from mature Christian brothers he can get.

St. Peter says, “[W]ives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any one of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior” (I Pet. 3:1-2).

A woman's need to feel loved and spiritually cared for by her husband does not give her license to set herself above him in any authoritative way.

The apostolic instruction is clear: "[if] a woman has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away” (I Cor. 7:13).  No husband will be perfect, but as long as he asks forgiveness for his faults—seventy times seven in a day—his wife is constrained not only by her marital vows but also by the grace of Christ to forgive and accept him.

It is amazing how many Christian wives wish to divorce their husbands even when lacking serious grounds, such as violent or immoral behavior that constitutes an overriding exception to the principles enunciated above.

Woman came from man and woman is made for man (cf. I Cor. 11:8-9).  Why was woman made for man? Because, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18a).  Ironically, while woman originates from man, she brings to the male-female union the gift that completes man—the complementarity that enables man to fulfill his original created purpose (Gen. 2:18b).  Together as a unit, male and female cooperate together to procreate and cultivate the world for God’s glory (Gen. 1:27-28).

It is through the woman who honors her man that God gives man the stability and the motivation to do the work God has given him to do in the world. This is true of mothers as well as wives.

Married people, do you remember your vows? You know—“for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part”? Are you committed to honoring the Lord through them? Then always remember that the context of Christian marriage is grace. Grace upon grace. Cover one another’s nakedness. Do not subject each other to dissection, analysis and interrogations.

Married people experiencing marriage problems should be accountable to a Christian pastor and take stock of the life of their family as a whole, seeking the Lord’s will together (not apart) in reliance upon the Holy Spirit.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Permit me to suggest the analogy of the “incompetent servant.”  The incompetent servant when continually beaten by his master will always be worthless.  He will always cower and cringe before his lord.  He will always make the same mistakes over and over again, because his incompetence is expected.  His master believes he is worthless and the master is always right, so the servant believes he truly is, and always will be, worthless.  In the end, the master prefers to administer beatings than receive quality service.  In the end, also, the servant prefers to receive beatings than render quality service.

Who is at fault here?  Why, both the master and the servant, of course.  Neither of them planned for this to happen, but it is much easier for the master (who thinks more highly of his competency than he ought) to administer beatings than manage his staff effectively, working with the actual capabilities of his people.  It is also easier for the self-loathing servant, because he doesn’t have to think for himself or produce quality work.  And beatings can be a comfort, as long as they continue in their regularity.

This dynamic is characteristic of worldly power relationships.  Why?  Because, it is in the interest of the powerful to keep the dynamic going.  People are so much more easily controlled (and destroyed) when their dignity is already taken from them.  The powerful tie heavy burdens on men’s shoulders, but are unwilling to help with so much as a finger (cf. Matt. 23:4).  Thus, these kinds of arrangements don’t require real leaders.  They don’t require real progress because real effort isn’t required.  At the root of it all is pride and laziness.

Christian arrangements of authority should not be like this.  This is not the way that Christians should relate to one another.  On the night of his betrayal Jesus said to his disciples,
The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’  But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the least, and the one who rules like the one who serves (Luke 22:25-26).
Here, it would be erroneous to interpret Jesus’ statement as some kind of proto-egalitarian manifesto that negates formal structures of ruler and ruled, of command and obedience.  Nowhere does the Scripture advise disobedience to duly established authorities, but always and everywhere submission is enjoined.  What Jesus is getting at is the unhealthy dynamic that pervades all human relationships in this sinful world: the hateful cycle of domination and self-pity, of sadism and masochism.

Husbands and wives in the bonds of holy matrimony should not relate to one another as severe masters and incompetent slaves, or even as employers and employees for the purposes of mutual economic exploitation.   They do not punch time clocks or follow checklists and procedural formulas.  However, there is a proper familial order of headship and submission, of ruler and ruled. 

Ironically, there seems to be more unhealthy co-dependency in modern egalitarian “marriages” and live-in relationships than in the older traditional arrangements.  An inversion of the proper order that goes under the name “Christian” isn’t Christian at all, but a communist caricature of Christian marriage.

What I’m trying to get at here is that the complementarities of husbandly love & wifely honor (and husbandly honor & wifely love) flow to one another (and evoke the desired response from the other) most naturally and spontaneously when husband and wife each occupy the roles established for them at creation and set forth in the biblical pattern.  Contrary to Lennon & McCartney, the love we give is unequal, because different in kind, to the love we take.  But this is appropriate, since sacrificial love and honor cooperate together (energized by the Spirit of Grace) to unite in a higher synthesis, a higher unity, in which man and wife will live and flourish.  The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and this is all made possible in and through Christ’s love for his Church, his bride.
Christ is the head of every man,
And man is the head of a woman,
And God is the head of Christ (I Cor. 11:3).
Husband and wife, for the sake of your marriage and for the sake of your children, embrace the Christian and biblical pattern and way of marriage.

Husband, love and cherish your wife.  Wife, honor and obey your husband.  Only by performing these things together in obedience to the Lord will you save your marriage.