Divorce

I say, with an attempt at being lighthearted, that the most common theological question I field is “I am thinking about a divorce. What should I do?”  There is nothing however lighthearted about the question.  Divorce often is devastating not just to the couple but to families and friends alike.

And yet there are situations where divorce is a legitimate choice.  I don’t believe the job of a pastor is to serve as a court-appointed arbitrator who renders decisions on a “legitimate” or “illegitimate” divorce. The role of a Pastor is to listen, to hear, to offer an unanxious and loving presence willing to sit with someone in pain who has reached a painful crossroads.  From that place a pastor can offer what he/ she sees as God’s insights from His Word.

And what would those insights be?

For me, it starts with the overwhelming need for compassion.  Working on both sides of the marriage equation – with those who want to keep working and those ready to leave – I know the entire enterprise is filled with pain for everyone.  No one gets a “Get out of jail free” pass .  That is a clear call for compassion, a call we see again and again in God’s Word.

In the New Testament, Jesus consistently narrowed the scope of appropriate reasons for divorce, eschewing the Old Testament teaching that a man could divorce his wife if she was “displeasing” to him.  That Old Testament perspective reflected the overbearing paternalist chauvinism of Middle Eastern culture.  Christ stood clearly against it, urging men to leave ancestral family ties behind in order to join with their spouse.  He likewise narrowed the cause for divorce to adultery.  Those teachings were offered in the spirit of compassion, as a way of protecting women for whom a divorce was often, literally a death sentence, given their lack of rights and their inability to claim any of their husbands property in the event of a dissolution of the marriage.   New Church theology reflects that same basic posture.

I do not believe marriage should be dissolved for “light” reasons.  I likewise believe that adultery is a broad term.  A husband addicted to pornography who purposefully pushes the marriage aside as he dives further into a land of addiction is adulterating the marriage covenant.  Abuse – physical, sexual, or verbal – arguably would be the same I believe.  All relationships entail periods of suffering.  However there is a categorical difference between the suffering that is within God’s will and the suffering that is death dealing, that is outside of God’s will.

And what I know at a very deep level, is that regardless of “rights” and “wrongs” compassion must reign supreme.  For those versed in the New Testament, Jesus’ comment to the woman caught in adultery was not “suffer the consequence” but instead quite literally the life saving approach of the Savior.  To the Samaritan woman at the well – married 5 times and now living with her boyfriend – the promise was in the same vein – a promise of “living water.”

Words of kindness are not just reserved for the easy situations in life.  They are likewise applicable to the mess.   As Emanuel Swedenborg noted, “Those guided by kindness hardly notice evil in another but pay attention instead to everything good and true in the person. When they do find anything bad or wrong they put a good interpretation on it.” Lets do the same.  Lets be guided by kindness.

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