d: divorce

Divorce is painful. It’s tragic, messy and  often humiliating. And, sometimes, it’s necessary. It may even be good. Louis C.K., currently the world’s most famous comedian, has semi-famously said:

Divorce is always good news. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true because no good marriage has ever ended in divorce. It’s really that simple.

I’m inclined to agree with Louis’ core premise, which is essentially that a bad marriage is misery and that the end of that marriage is mercy. But for all that divorce is, for better and for worse, it is never “simple”.

Divorce is always complicated. Always. Even when couples divorce amicably, it is hard, messy work to extract from one with whom you had become one. And, divorce changes a community. Indeed, often it’s the community that makes it more complicated.

I came up through a culture that would say, “Divorce is not an option.” I actually used to believe that about my own marriage. Then we came to a crisis and all of a sudden, divorce became an option. Or at least the idea of divorce became an option. My wife said, “I can’t do this any more.” Actually she said, “I can’t do this like this anymore.” She did me a favor.

When divorce isn’t an option, marriage is simpler. But what if divorce were an option? Not as an easy out but as a legitimate and loving option for two married people. This notion will likely be unpopular for many of my readers. You might point to your vague memory of how the Bible says that “God hates divorce”. (It’s actually in Malachi. Have you read much of Malachi lately?)

I think God probably does hate divorce. But I think he hates it in the same way that I hate tomatoes. Tomatoes make me nauseous and I’ve done everything I can to protect my kids from their nastiness; but tomatoes are good for some people. Okay, the metaphor (and the theology) is fragile, but I do have a theology of divorce. It’s actually from Frederick Buechner who has a way of expressing exactly what I want to say way better than I ever could.

Nothing illustrates the difficulty of all this better than the situation of a man and woman who for one reason or another decide to get divorced but take their faith seriously enough to want to do what’s right. Jesus himself comes out strongly against it.”What God has joined together, let not man put asunder” is the way he puts it (Mark 10:9). In one place he is quoted  as acknowledging that unchastity on the woman’s part may be considered justifiable grounds, but he is clearly not happy about it (Matthew 5:31-32 Mark 10:2-9). In other words, insofar as Jesus lays down the law on the subject, divorce is out.But presumably his laws are to be judged by the same standards as the next person’s. Who knows what has gone wrong in the marriage? Who knows which partner, if either, is more at fault? Who knows what the long term results either of splitting up or staying together will be? IF there are children, who can say which will be better for them, those small neighbors we are commanded to love along with the rest of them? Will it be living on with married parents whose constant battling, say, can do terrible things to a child? Or will it be going off with one divorced parent or the other and falling victim thereby to all the feelings of rejection, guilt, loss which can do equally terrible things to a child if not more so? What would the Law of Love have you do in a situation so complex, precarious and fateful? How can you best serve, in love, the best interests of the husband or wife you are miserable with, your children, yourself, God? There is only your own heart and whatever by God’s grace it has picked up in the way of insight, honesty, courage, humility and, maybe above everything else, compassion.

Is it possible that divorce can be an act of love or even obedience? I think so. Let me be clear, I am not pro-divorce. The death of a marriage is painful and complicated, and I hate it almost as much as I hate tomatoes. But  mainly I think it’s complicated and I’m open to the possibility that it could be the beginning of some new permission. Permission to thrive, to serve, to be happy. And to love.

That’s a good thing, right?

One thought on “d: divorce

  1. Some days I think that if couples put the same amount of effort trying to get out of a marriage, in to the marriage, a lot of divorces would be negated. Other days I think that marriage divorce gets a bad rap — church divorces (splits) happen all the time and are often left alone because theological differences are non-negotiable.

    But then I see divorces that happen, and though sad for everyone involved (communities included), there’s lots of life that would never have happened if they didn’t divorce.

    You’re right: Divorce is never simple, or clean. Good words, Z.

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