A number of years ago, as my husband Steve and I were waiting in the City Courthouse to obtain passports. We noticed a man and a woman who were obviously going to get married that day. There was so much kissing, hugging, laughing, and talk of “love” going on that you could almost see the electricity of it all in the air. How we hope they take their marriage commitment seriously.
In contrast, standing next to them in another line, was a woman who was filing for divorce. There was also another woman behind her who was also filing for divorce. The air around them was filled with anything but love and optimism! It was obvious, from the countenance and the words they were throwing around, that they were extremely hurt and angry!
Steve and I remarked to each other that it was surprising that a thunderstorm didn’t erupt before our very eyes in the courthouse. The clash of the different forms of energy these people were emitting in the same room!
Marriage Commitment on Both Sides
How tragic it was to see the difference in the countenance of all of these people. The couple who were getting married were obviously overjoyed as their dreams were being realized. They apparently were ready to enter into a marriage commitment. The others were noticeably distraught as their dreams appeared to be shattered.
We’re sure those who were divorcing, never in their wildest imaginations, ever thought on their wedding day that they’d ever be standing in line to get a divorce. How could something that starts out with so much joy and enthusiasm deteriorate into such utter sadness and distress? What could have happened we wondered?
Tragically, a lot can happen! And more people than we can count have found that to be true! And yet marrying and divorcing is still going on all around us. But what’s especially distressing is that those who claim to be “Christians” are marrying and divorcing at almost the same rate as those who don’t live by the values of Christ. Why is that, we wonder?
Marriage Commitment Has Changed
One of the many, many reasons, we surmise, is that marital commitment isn’t want it used to be. We see this from the rising divorce rate in recent years. And it definitely isn’t what it SHOULD be —not by Biblical standards, especially! The question we ask is: What has happened to keeping our promises of commitment to live out our marital vows “till death do we part?”
We’re told in the Bible to let our “yes be yes” and our “no be no.” We’re called as believers in Jesus Christ to be promise keepers. We are to remember that we made our vow not only to our spouse, but also to our God.
In the light of what we promised each other and God, what has happened to our commitment to live out the covenant promise “till death do we part?” Is our marriage vow only to be lived out “till love ends do we part?” Or is it “till hatred begins do we part?” How will they know we are Christians by the “love we show to one another” when our marriages show nothing much different?
Our Sacred Marriage Commitment
Author Dennis Rainey addresses this subject in his book One Home at a Time (published by Tyndale House). In it he writes:
“Marriage is not just a private experiment, littered with prenuptial agreements and an attitude of ‘Try me! If it doesn’t work, you can always bail out!’ Marriage is not some kind of social contract. It’s something you just ‘do’ for as long as you both shall ‘love.’ Marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman and their God for a lifetime. It is a public vow of how you will relate to your spouse as you form a new family unit.
“Any covenant —including the marriage covenant —is a binding, weighty obligation. In Proverbs 20:25, we read, ‘It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows.‘ God says, ‘I hate divorce‘ (Malachi 2:16). The Lord didn’t stutter when He spoke these words. It is time for each of us to embrace and proclaim God’s sacred view of marriage, as well as His corresponding hatred for divorce.”
Authors Dennis and Barbara Rainey also challenge our view on marital commitment in their book, Moments Together for Couples. In the August 11th devotional page they write:
Resurrecting Meaning of Marriage Commitment
“We need to resurrect the true meaning of commitment. In this age of lite beer, lite syrup and lite salad dressing, it’s no wonder we exhibit lite commitment, too. But for a Christian, commitment is a sacred vow and promise to God. It’s two people who hang in there during the best and worst of times who won’t quit. It’s a husband and wife who find working through problems much more rewarding than walking out.
“We need to pass on to our children the real definition of commitment. We do this while continually exposing the lies that their peers and the media propagate. A person who does not understand his or her ultimate accountability to God has little reason to fulfill a vow to another human being.”
Joining Hands in this Mission
It is our prayer that ALL of us will join hands as a Christian community to play an active part in helping those who are considering marriage. This includes our children. They need to make sure they really understand the covenantal commitment they are heading into when they marry.
We pray that we will ALL do what we can to impress upon them to take more time and intentionality in preparing themselves. Encourage them to live out the covenantal commitment of marriage for the rest of their lives, as God intends.
If you are considering marriage, please do all you can to make sure the above challenge applies to how you approach marriage. Do not allow your marital commitment to imitate the world’s approach. God takes the commitment of marriage very seriously and so should we.
It is also our prayer for you that we will view the way in which we interact with our spouse as being done “as unto the Lord.” We pray that we will live out our marital covenantal commitment. We will show by our words and actions that we are God’s promise keepers. Ultimately, we hope we will communicate the Gospel with and without words to our spouse and those within our influence.
Cindy and Steve Wright
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6 responses to “Marriage Commitment Isn’t What It Used To Be – MM #4”
We received the following e-mail from a subscriber to the Marriage Message, that gives great insight and also could use your prayers. Because she has not given us permission to give her country or name, we will keep it private (but we know that God answers our prayers even if we don’t know all the specifics):
THANK YOU AND PRAISE GOD. To sum up a very long story, my husband walked out on me this past Friday. And, “ironically” these are the very words I uttered to him. We are in this for better or worse and this is worse, and you don’t leave because of that. People don’t understand COMMITMENT. We live in a “me” centered society and the only persons a person is committed to is self, so when the love fades, and it just ain’t working for them they leave. Well, I ask that you pray for my household, for my husband’s heart and that God is able to work in us through this situation.
I do not believe one bit that God wants us to divorce, we have both made mistakes, but I don’t believe divorce is the answer. Please keep me (and my family) in your prayers! God bless.
We received another e-mail from a subscriber to the Marriage Message that had this to say:
You won’t believe how much this has just changed my life right now. My Marriage has been going thorough a very hard patch and after 15 years I was ready to give in and throw in the towel. My family and friends, who are born again Christians, encouraged me to give up and walk away, not because they are bad but because they loved me. I was making plans do do exactly this. When I read this email, I made a commitment to God by his grace to trust him. I know he will make a way even when it looks like I am in a trap with no where to run.
Please pray for me that Gods love is manifested in my life. Regards, A
(USA) I would have to agree, there is growing evidence that commitment to marriage is lagging, both inside the church and outside.
First, I’ll focus on the church as an organization. I’m sure if you asked any member, or pastor, he/she most likely would tell you that he is committed to marriage. The thing is if you asked most folks planning to marry, they would tell you the same things, we are committed to our upcoming marriage.
But what does being committed to marriage really look like, from the churches perspective? Today, it appears that commitment is largely embodied in the work against Same-Sex Marriage. (SSM) You’ll find petitions regarding SSM in churches, or calls to pray about the issue, etc. Not just in churches, but also in para-church organizations such as Focus on the Family, Family Life to name just a couple. There is a big push to speak out and organize politically against SSM.
What you don’t see is the same level of effort to speak out and change laws regarding No Fault Divorce (NFD).
While I agree, same sex marriage is an abomination, I have to question the wisdom of dealing with what I believe is an issue that touches 1% give or take of the population. NFD takes it’s toll on approximately 25% of all marriages IN THE CHURCH.
Depending on the numbers you look at, the basic trend is that divorce in the church is at or near the pace of divorce of those outside the church. More shocking is that Barna Research has found that it appears divorce rates are shockingly high in the largest Protestant evangelical body, the Southern Baptist Convention.
The numbers are not much better for others. However, there is some concern when the largest Protestant body of believers has a divorce rate on the scale of the secular world.
Yet you don’t see the same level of effort or media campaigns regarding NFD, when compared to SSM. I would think that since we believe NFD to impact 25% of our congregations, while SSM is at 1% or even less, given we don’t expect those folks to be in many of our churches, it seems odd that so much effort is devoted to an issue that doesn’t have the reach in our churches as does NFD.
My own experience, back in 2003 was that my church was gung-ho to petition against SSM, but unwilling to get their hands dirty when it came to one of it’s members having an affair with a married man and seeking a NFD. The clear refusal to engage in Church discipline, the process described in Matthew 18.
A commitment to marriage is not only the defense against SSM, but also working to eliminate the destructive impact of NFD.
Sometimes I wonder if the reason the church will not speak out against NFD is because 2/3rds of all divorces are filed by women. That’s right, women are 2x as likely to file for divorce as men. This is odd, since we hear the Barack Obama’s and Richard Land’s and others telling us that men are abandoning their families.
How can that possibly be true when it’s twice as likely that a divorce will be sought by a woman. Is the church afraid of losing the contributions of women, who make up more of the regular attendees in your typical worship service, if this matter is discussed? Is the church afraid of the women’s movement, who seeks to keep NFD available so that women can escape abusive marriages? Who knows.
The question is, how many marriages are abusive, or how many wives seek to divorce unfaithful husbands? In reality, of all divorces filed, the best I can tell, fewer than 20% involve abuse or adultery. While NFD prevents cause from being stated in most cases, looking at court transcripts where such matters can be discussed, as well as putting together information from marriage experts such as Dr Willard Harley, I estimate that about 20% of those divorces filed do have grounds such as abuse and/or adultery.
Which means, just for divorces filed by women 80% of the roughly 67% of all divorces, or about 54% of all divorces filed are filed by women who have no biblical grounds for divorce.
Similar numbers are true for the divorces filed by men. It’s likely that 80% of those are simply men who no longer wish to be married.
The stereotype is that men abandon women.
In the big picture, this is grossly inaccurate. I suspect it is true for long term marriages. The stereotype of the mid-life crisis does come to play. I believe the study from Virginia demonstrated that women were far more likely to file early in the marriage, when her prospects for a new marriage where at their highest. Since many marriages die early deaths and this is the time when women are far more valuable on the marriage market, they are the majority filers of divorce when young.
Sorry that sounds so crass, it’s the perception, young women have more value in the "marriage market" than older women.
The opposite is true for men. Men have more value the older they get. They typically have more earning potential and more assets, traits which are more valuable to women in most cases than is the physical appearance of her partner.
So while men value youth and beauty on average, and therefore are less likely to choose divorce in the early stages of marriage, women typically value earning power and maturity and are more likely to choose divorce in the early stages of marriage.
This is a major problem because women are choosing divorce while the children are still young. Now divorce does impact adult children as well. However, it’s hard to imagine that choosing to divorce a faithful, if clueless and immature father is a path for family success, let along following God.
Yet we don’t hear much about that reality, which, as far as I can tell, is far more common than the unfaithful man having the mid-life crisis and trading in his 50 year old wife for two 25 year olds.
Again, I don’t say that to denigrate women, because both men and women behave badly, sin, etc. Women are no more righteous and no more sinful than men. We are all sinners.
But I question the commitment of the body of Christ when we don’t hear near as much about the most common scenario of divorce in the US, which is divorce filed by the wife of a faithful husband with children still at home.
We hear the sermons about how men behave badly on Father’s Day. Candidate Obama tells men they need to shape up, stop abandoning their families, etc, yet we don’t hear similar sermons on Mother’s Day asking why women choose divorce twice as often as do men, yet men are not twice as evil as women, are they? Of course not.
So by ignoring those questions, I ask if the church is really committed to marriage.
I’ll close with my personal anecdote, which I believe underscores this attitude. While I realize that anecdotes don’t always make for accurate statistics, I think this is pretty accurate when it comes to describing the attitudes of modern evangelical churches.
When I discovered my former wife’s affair, after days of literally bawling, crying out to God, looking at myself to see what I might have done, I went to my pastor, explaining the situation. The first question he asked me was what did I do to cause the affair? Was I abusing my wife? Was I cheating?
I could hardly believe it. He questioned my anger, was I too angry with my wife? Did my anger drive her away? He didn’t seem to understand that any anger I had at that time was totally due to the circumstances, and that his line of questioning only fueled that anger.
I believe that we are called to be angry at injustice, but we are admonished not to sin. And I believe and still do, that I was smack dab in the center of God’s will with respect to anger.
When I learned of my former wife’s affair, I did not yell, curse, call her names, or any such behavior when I confronted her with the evidence of her affair. I said what she was doing was hurtful, that I felt it violated our vows, was a sin against God and against her family, but there was nothing that could not be forgiven. I shared that since Christ forgave me of my sins, I believed I could not do otherwise with respect to her sins against me, and offered forgiveness.
And for that sort of behavior, not only was my offered forgiveness rejected, but the pastor questioned my anger.
And over the past 5 years, I’ve spoken with other betrayed husbands, most ending up divorced by their wives and sharing a similar story. Men who are betrayed not only by wives, but also betrayed by their churches, which fail to effectively act to salvage the marriage.
Churches that are too busy defending against the 1% who seek SSM, or have bought into the lie that men are dangerous creatures,and women are victims of men and must be protected from them.
While such men exist, and their wives are vulnerable to them, such cases are the exception instead of the rule.
However, as long as the church fails to put the same level of time, treasure and talent into fighting NFD, as long as the church treats all men, and especially men of estranged wives as unfaithful, abusive, porn addicted threats to the family, and as long as the church buys the lie that men more often than not either abandon families or are the greatest danger facing the family, then I contend that the church is being willfully ignorant of the real issues facing the family and therefore is not really committed to marriage.
The actions or in-actions of the church speak louder than all the sound-bites and press releases that try to convince us otherwise.
I’ve been there, involved in a divorce and see how little action was taken by the church, or how the action was to blame the victims, and have legitimate questions surrounding the commitment of those who claim they follow Christ.
I don’t expect perfection. But is it too much to expect that the church say what it means and mean what it says, not only in word, but in deed. Or for the scholars, does the orthopraxis of the church match it’s orthodoxy?
(USA) Tony, Your response hit me on all levels. I am in the US Military, and just yesterday we had an Equal Opportunity class on Stereotypes, and I will be the first to admit that I had been brainwashed up until today about the dynamics of divorces in the world today. I had been brainwashed as a kid, and even through the actions of my father (whom I have recently forgiven and gotten back in touch with) upon leaving his family behind, that I needed to be a man, not abandon my family for a life of thrill, drugs, sex, etc. I had to beat that stereotype, as well as so many others.
In the military, the divorce rate is nearly identical, if not more tragic than its civil rate. The biggest thing being that deployments strip away the necessary time with the family, which opens up so many holes in marriages that drive people apart. I few years ago, before I met and married my lovely wife, I was on the receiving end of a ‘micro-divorce’ if you will, meaning I was not married… I was engaged. I was in Germany at the time and God has a way of revealing things and putting things in place… things were getting sour between her and my mother back in NY and she finally up and left, taking things from my mother that weren’t hers. She even sold the engagement ring that I had bought for her not even a month from the time she left. When I read your experience about the affair involving your former wife, I remembered the many experiences I was in where I got cheated on. To be honest I started to cry. God has worked through me so much to remain as strong as I could be and I promised myself that should the right woman come my way I would do everything I possibly could to keep her and not let her run away from me because of who I am and what I do.
I know I’m rambling on about my experience but in linking back to my experience of ‘love’ while in the military, it’s no secret that military life is harder on women than it is men, especially those spouses that remain at home. Soldiers have much to get into while deployed, some spouses have nothing to do on the home front but take care of the children or just watch TV all day, making them more susceptible to Satan’s seeds of ignorance. They soak in what they observe and start to become their perception…that marriage doesn’t ever work out, that its too hard, that they can’t make it, that they are throwing away their dreams for this, what they could have been will never happen so long that they are tied down to marriage and a family life…the list goes on and on.
Men are guilty too of abuse and cheating recklessly, because they are ignorant and do not know the Biblical principles that come with being a man in Christ.
Satan knows exactly what he is doing, he is attacking all of God’s valuable principles for his children in order to regain his foothold on this world. He’s attacking the church and planting that seed of blindness and ignorance in the membership of these churches and all its leaders. I do not attend, or rather I should say, I have been unable to find a church home on account of this. Some churches have their own ‘political’ agendas and are so focused on that that they overlook the lives of the people that sit before them. Pastors talk about visions but yet cannot even see the pain going on in his or her members? Its like you said Tony, they will push for whatever best suits them… to have an identity, to have a voice, but yet they can’t afford the time to really address the issues that people are crying out to hear about.
God appointed Men as leaders of the household. That is why Satan is breaking us down through media (porn, TV shows, the music industry, etc.), our jobs, careers, and occupations. We have to be the breadwinners in our family otherwise our families will ultimately suffer. Our marriages are breaking down from lack of knowledge of the roles and responsibilities of a husband and a wife, being able to guide our households in the way that it should go. Ignorance and inability of both parties to sit down, communicate, and ACTIVELY listen to one another before problems escalate too much is happening. Satan is attacking everything that God (and we) value and hold sacred and he knows that striking us down in marriage will have the greatest effect on us as leaders of our households. He spreads the seeds of divorce and takes advantage of the way our women are wired genetically. If it is too emotionally taxing (i.e., too much time away from families because of deployments, etc.) some will want out… ASAP.
I don’t want to put everything on our women because I know many many women that are strong! Men, we have our own faults that we need to fix as well to reforge our marriages. It is our responsibilities to know not just our roles, but our wives roles as well… not to correct them, but to help them and ourselves along… to truly know what makes them tick… what makes them happy and what makes them sad. Communicate to each other, draw upon one another and be unified. Husband and wife together can and must defend commitment, their households, and their families!
(USA) Max, I am former military, so I know firsthand the demands having been a platoon leader and XO. You are right, there is plenty of blame regardless of gender. What happens on TDY stays on TDY and all the cheating by the spouses left at home when the service member is deployed.
My point was it seems we are adept at blaming men and excusing women. In no way did I seek to lay it all off on women. My point was we do ourselves no good if we excuse and explain away the 2/3rds to 3/4s of divorces sought by women. There is no gender based moral superiority. Unless one believes that men are having affairs with other men, the reality is that for every man involved in an affair, there is at least one woman and vice-versa. Likewise for abuse. While the form of the abuse may differ, men specializing in physical while women take advantage of their typical emotional and verbal advantages to abuse their spouse, abuse is not something limited to one gender.
I also mentioned that at some point, the stats reverse. As I suggested, the overall number is 2/3rds to 1/3rds women to men choosing divorce. What is interesting is that when each is more likely to choose to divorce. Women are more likely in early years, when they perceive they have advantages in the divorce, such as they think they will get a better deal in court, when they have a better chance of capitalizing on their youthful good looks. Divorce cases from long-term marriages tend to be the reverse. Men are more likely to file. Why? Like the women who end short-term marriages, these men perceive they have an advantage. Older men have better prospects in the dating world, their children are grown, so they are unlikely to lose the non-existent custody battle.
Finally, the majority of all these divorces do not involve serious marital misconduct the part of the defendant in the case. So the women are not divorcing abusive or adulterous men. Neither are the older men divorcing abusive or adulterous wives. Now the defendants may be clueless, but what is the cause of that cluelessness.
There are a number of factors. I know in my own case, I asked simple questions. How are things? What do you want? Are you ok? Are we ok? I got assurances we were. So how does someone fix something when you are not given honest feedback by your spouse?
What about feedback that is confusing, or complex, or vague. Such as, be more romantic? OK, what does that mean to you? To me that means the kids are away, we are alone and we spend the day making love until we are famished and then we eat and do it again. However, if I’m not told otherwise, not given feedback and examples of what romance means, then it’s a guessing game, and I’m not very good at guessing.
I agree, we need to learn. But we also must be wiling to teach our spouse. We need to take their questions seriously and not fabricate falsehoods such as if he loved me, he would “know” what to do. That is simply an unrealistic expectation and only leads to a failed and frustrated spouse. We need to set our spouses up for success, not create impossible standards than ensure failure and frustration.
(Nigeria) I am happy to read your teachings and this one is striking because you are right. I think the reason for this failure is that so many people who claim to be Christians in our present day are not truly born again and the fear of God is very far away from them. Many people are in the church who are not Christians in deed and what do you expect from such people… divorce at will of course.
Covenants can only be kept where the parties concerned have the fear of God in them but many people who enter into marriage covenants do so to get married and do what they like to do after the marriage. We need to pray that our children do not fall into the hands of such wicked and deceitful men and women.