There are many examples of faithlessness in our world. We see it in something as trivial as the lack of loyalty in a professional basketball player leaving one team for another. We see it when people quit teams, schools, or jobs when they become difficult. But the most prominent and public version of faithlessness is in the realm of relationships. Few things cause pain, heartache, and long term emotional distress like faithlessness in a relationship. This is true of relationships between friends, among church members, and within families. The most tragic, and sadly the most common, form of relational faithlessness is in marriage.
Witnessing divorce and its consequences in my own immediate family has given me a front row seat to the devastation it causes. My brother, sister, and I know full well the brutal pain divorce inflicts. But as bad as the emotional consequences of divorce are, the greatest tragedy in divorce is the horrible picture it paints of the gospel.
Paul taught that the mystery of marriage is that it was created to show the world a picture of God’s relationship with his covenant people (Eph. 5:32). Marriage is the primary metaphor in both the Old and New Testaments of God’s relationship to his people. Marriage is the means of raising up a new generation of disciples. When a husband or wife leaves, mutually or otherwise, they paint a picture of relational faithlessness and God-forsakenness. We tell a story of the gospel in our marriages. Divorce horribly distorts the story. When we quit in our marriages, we tell a lie about the gospel because God will never quit on his people.
This is the heart of Jesus’ prohibition of divorce and remarriage in Mark 10. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. Also, if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). As one author has strongly said, “Divorcing your spouse without biblical grounds is an assault on the Lord’s plan of redemption.”
If you have either witnessed or participated in marital infidelity, your trust in relationships may be shaken. You have likely brooded with bitterness. Seeing my parents dissolve their marriage, regardless of reasons, was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life. If you have walked through a divorce, either as a participant or spectator, I would encourage you to press in on your feelings of hopelessness and issues with trust. Deal with them. Talk about them. Write about them. Weep over them. Do anything but ignore or hide from them.
It’s a great tragedy that our society has become comfortable with divorce. It’s almost expected. Don’t run from that uncomfortable, sick feeling that overcomes your heart when you hear of another marriage imploding. Christians more than anyone should mourn divorce because of the false narrative it tells of God’s covenant faithfulness. Mourn the sight of couples making and breaking promises to one another in marriage.
I cannot continue this post without a word of caution. The context of my call for covenant faithfulness in marriage is rooted in our quick and easy divorce culture. However, if you or anyone you know is in a truly physically or emotionally abusive marriage, proper authorities must be contacted. Using God’s design for and declaration through marriage to justify or neglect abuse is morally reprehensible and evil.
Hope and motivation for faithful living rests in God’s faithfulness, which always overcomes our unfaithfulness. In light of rampant relational faithlessness, God enters into an eternal covenant with us through the blood of Christ. In light of a culture of quick and easy divorce, we are motivated to remain faithful to our spouses because though we deserve to be abandoned by God for our idolatry, he remains faithful to us and even pursues us in our adultery (Hosea 1-3).
The greatest tragedy of divorce is the lie it tells about Christ’s faithfulness to his Church. A desire to proclaim God’s covenant faithfulness to his people in Christ motivates covenant faithfulness in marriage. Pursue permanence in your marriage because God pursues permanence with you.
Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.