Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How to Have a Practical Divorce

Jesus once told a parable of two sons. A father went to one of his sons and told him to go work the field. He said he would, but then didn't go. He then went to see his other son and told him to go work the field. The son told him that he would not, but then later regretted it and went out and worked the field. Jesus then asks us, "Which one did the will of his father?"

We speak of atheism and practical atheism. The two are brothers but they express themselves differently. The former is an outright declaration that one is an atheist. He is out in the open. His atheism is public knowledge. He admits to what he is. The latter is hidden, and far more subtle in its expression. One can go to church every Sunday and call himself a Christian, but live as though he is an atheist. God does not factor into his decisions and daily life. The person who is a practical atheist may find comfort that he is not a declared atheist. He may condemn those who are declared atheists, but this is truly only hypocritical, as he is every bit an atheist as the one he condemns.

The same can be said for divorce. There are those we considered divorced who have publicly declared it. We know who they are, and may shake our heads at them. We may take comfort in the fact that we are not divorced and feel some satisfaction that we still have a piece of paper that says we're married. But what is far more common, and what no one seems to talk about, is the fact that a marriage can have a practical divorce. In fact, a couple may live with each other for fifty years as officially being married, but in reality have been practically divorced for the past forty-five of those years.

So I would take all of the signs in this article, if these are prolonged practices that are the norm in your marriage, as signs that you and your spouse have been divorced for some time.

You are two people living in a house together. Perhaps you occasionally have deeper talks or even become physical, but not as a normal practice. Many declared divorced people do the same. They occasionally have deeper talks with their exes and are occasionally physical with him or her. But it is the normative nature of your relationship that will tell if you are really living a married or divorced lifestyle.

Now, I say all of this to say that you need to make sure you are actually fulfilling your vows. A piece of paper doesn't fulfill them for you. You swore an oath before God and men, and what God has put together let no man separate. This means you need to be active in your commitment to God to make sure you remain married every day, regardless of what the piece of paper says. Ask yourself daily whether you look like a married couple or a divorced couple living in the same house.

Look at the list in the link. Does your marriage look more like the list, or does that list not look very much like your relationship? If it doesn't, congratulations. You're living a married life. If not, I'm sorry, but you're living a divorced lifestyle, one that does not take your vows to God and the one you committed yourself to love very seriously.

If marriage is a commitment to God and your spouse above yourself, then divorce can be described as a commitment to yourself above God and spouse. What other people think of your marriage is irrelevant. What the state officially says of you on a certificate is irrelevant. Are you married or are you not married according to what makes a marriage a marriage? That is the only question that matters.

I'm sorry to say that, as there are far more practical atheists than declared, theoretical atheists, there are far more practically divorced couples than there are declared divorced couples. Why in the world do these people think that they are more faithful to God than the others? Why is it more godly because you have a piece of paper that says you're married and the others no longer do? It's absurd. A practically divorced couple is no more pleasing to God than a practical atheist. In fact, they may be worse off, since God holds those who know better to a greater accountability.

If we are not merely to love in word, but in word and deed, then practical divorce is a sin of hatred toward God and spouse. It loves in word, but not in deed. It declares itself to be pleasing to God as one thing but lives as something completely unpleasing to Him. It isn't the boy who says, "Yes Father," with his lips. It's the boy who says, "Yes Father" with his actions that does the will of the Father. And the married couple has promised to God that they would say, "Yes Father" with their actions 'til death do they part.


  1. Bryan,
    Thanks for hitting me upside the head! Those are great words and warnings to the many of us who have declared our love for God and our chosen spouse. As difficult as they are to hear (for me at least), they are also great words of encouragment and motivation, as the God we serve is full of Grace and Forgiveness for idiots like me who don't seem to get it right often enough!

    Thank you Bryan for a well-spoken, much needed dose of truth.

    You da' man!

    1. Thanks Chad. We all really need to hear it, as I don't know anyone who doesn't rely upon labels (e.g., "I'm a Christian," "I'm a pastor," "We're a married couple," etc.) for their identity. That would be fine if our lifestyles weren't so out sync with reality, and those labels actually described who we were and what we were doing. It's my prayer that as we grow each day the two will match up more and more. But the key is remembering what it means to be married every day in order to make ourselves more thoughtful and aware of whether the life we're living is in accord with the life we say we're living. God bless, my friend.