A few years ago I unexpectedly, unwillingly, and at times ungracefully walked through the pain of divorce. And I’m thankful.
Of course, it wasn’t that I wanted my former wife to commit adultery or that I was overjoyed to watch her walk out on me. It wasn’t that I was glad to see my marriage end, either. It’s just that I wouldn’t trade what I now know of God’s grace for anything in the world. Now more than ever, I am convinced God’s goodness is higher and wider than this world’s brokenness.
When the wound was new, Jesus was my only comfort. As I began to heal, God’s Word guided me through the process of grieving and forgiveness. And as I began to move forward with my life, my heavenly Father directed my steps, drawing me closer to him—closer than I’d been before—in a world that now seemed so uncertain. I can attest that God is able to work all things for good and that he is a refuge in times of uncertainty and trouble. God’s goodness in my life has been more extravagant than I could have imagined—as if the truth, beauty, and goodness of heaven were poured into my life from above.
Casualties of the Culture War
Yet during the most difficult season, I experienced what I now refer to as the “murdered puppy phenomenon.” It was like I had lost my dog—like he had dug a hole under the backyard fence and wandered out into the street only to be hit by a passing car. But instead of receiving sympathy and compassion for the loss of my dog, I heard sermons and platitudes from well-meaning people who suspected I’d left the back gate wide open. Mostly, they just wanted to make it clear they were against the murder of innocent pets.
It’s not a perfect analogy, of course. And I wasn’t a perfect husband either. The prophet Isaiah said our righteous acts and best efforts are nothing more than “a polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6) or “filthy rags” (NIV). This was true even during my best moments as a husband. Still, the fact remains that I was a faithful husband who tried with his entire imperfect being to honor Jesus in his marriage. Divorce wasn’t something I sought or desired, but it came knocking all the same.
I understand what’s happening, though. We live in a culture that condones and minimizes the damaging effects of puppy murder—er, divorce—while God intends for the marriage covenant to last a lifetime. When I arrive with leash and collar in hand but no puppy, people assume I agree with the culture. But of course, I don’t. In fact, I know better than most just how tragic the shattering of a marriage can be.
Divorce is a third-rail topic, one about which there are a variety of opinions within evangelical circles. Gospel-centered people who love Jesus and his Word can draw markedly different conclusions on the issue based on the same biblical texts. While everyone would agree marriage is a good gift from God that should be upheld—defended from the inside by a husband and wife and protected from the outside by the local church and the broader Christian community—we’re often unsure how to proceed when the brokenness of this world infects a marriage and it succumbs to the disease. Disparaging the existence of the morgue won’t raise the dead, and it certainly won’t bring comfort to those who mourn.
Divorce Is Not Always Sin
Even in writing this article, I realize some may interpret my words as being “soft” on the issues of marriage and divorce. I believe sin is always and necessarily to blame when a marriage ends in divorce. Every time. Without exception. However, divorce itself is not always sin. It can be sinful, of course, but not necessarily so. The problem comes when compassion for those who have experienced divorce gets squeezed out in an attempt to draw easy, clean lines of demarcation in the culture war.
This reaction is, in reality, a cousin of the health-and-wealth gospel—one in which we imagine Jesus has already and completely eradicated the effects of the fall for those who are counted as his bride. For months following my divorce, it felt like I was wearing a scarlet “D” on my chest in church. I imagine it’s somewhat like walking into a prosperity-gospel church with holes in my clothes and a case of the measles. I can’t be counted among the faithful if their theology dictates that faithful living means surviving unscathed.
Jesus will one day return and reverse the fallenness of this world. The effects of sin will be wiped from our hearts along with the tears from our eyes. But that day has not yet come. We still live with the consequences of sin. There is no utopia yet, no unspoiled promised land—not even in the church. Perhaps I needed the reminder more than most, and that’s why God allowed me to walk through the valley I did. But let’s remember we’re not home yet, that we all walk with a limp this side of heaven, and that spurring one another on to holiness is an act of kindness, not a weapon in the culture war.