Should You Fear Divorce?

Divorce has become a regular part of our culture.  Many of us come from divorced homes and there is a huge fear of getting married and then getting divorced.

This affects unmarried people in a variety of ways.  It raises all sorts of questions. Questions about what is a biblical divorce or when it is it ok to remarry or even date a divorced person (or as a divorced person, can I remarry etc.).  There are some clear and some unclear answers to many of these and I plan to actually get into some of that at a later time (I’ve avoided it for about as long as I can).  But today I want to help us deal with fear of divorce.

As Christians we want to make sure that we don’t end up in that situation which is good. We want to choose well in a spouse with the intent of never getting divorced.  But I think we have bought into some lies that cause us to be more afraid than we need to be.  We want to avoid divorce but we don’t need to allow fear of divorce to affect our ability to get married to begin with.

So let’s clear some things up.

Let’s talk about the statistic everyone knows that says that 50% of marriages end in divorce. That is big time scary.  That’s half.  But that statistic is not quite what it seems in several ways.

For starters, that is not a first marriage statistic.  According to the census, 41% of first marriages, 60% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages end in divorce.  The point here is that the real number of first marriages ending in divorce is less than half and falling. Granted part of that is because WAY less people are getting married.

People who wait to marry until after age 25 (which is almost everybody at this point) are less likely to get divorced.  Attending college makes you 13% less likely.  Basically if you live in the U.S., your parents are married, you have a college degree and you are 26, your chance of divorce is actually pretty slim.

Still scared?  Well then be an active follower of Jesus.  One of the completely false ideas is that Christians divorce at the same rate as everyone else.  I’ve always balked at this stat – even though it makes for a really dramatic sermon.  But when you dig behind the numbers you get a completely different idea.

This is why the word Christian can be such a mess.  Think about online dating for a second.  When you join a site like Match.com, you have to pick a religion.  A lot of people will pick “Christian Other” for example.  What does that even mean?  This is why when I was online dating I put Jesus in my profile, because I knew just saying Christian didn’t mean anything.

Here are some real numbers to encourage you.  An active Conservative Protestant has a 35% less chance of divorce.  An active Catholic has a 31% less chance.  (Interestingly a nominal Catholic has a 5% less chance while a nominal Protestant has a 20% higher rate of divorce than a non-relgious person).

Here are a couple of other random statistics to keep in mind that may mess with your head.

  • In the past, men cheated more than women.  But in recent years that has changed.  In one study 23% of men and 19% of women had “cheated”
  • Men might need to be more afraid than women.  Women file 2/3s of all divorces.  In some no fault divorce states that number rises to 70% and among college educated couples in those states women file 90% of the time.
  • If you think practice makes perfect, think again.  Living together can increase the chance of divorce by as much as 40%.  More sexual partners (especially for the woman) greatly increases the chance of divorce.

So what the heck does all of this mean? 

First and foremost fear of divorce should not drive us as Christians.  It’s not that it can’t happen to us or that we should take it lightly.  But we need to understand that the odds shift dramatically in our favor.

Secondly, and maybe more importantly, we have the chance to set ourselves up to not get divorced.  Now am I saying that you should only marry a person that comes from a two parent home, is over 25, has a college degree and has never slept with anyone?  No that’s not really what I’m saying.  What I’m saying is that we can do things ourselves and make choices that matter.

The person you control is you.  You choose who to marry (I have a blog coming on some of the important things to look for in that choice).  You also choose how you live your life both now and when you get married.  You have the choice once you are married to stay married.

Even if you’ve already messed up some of the above examples you can repent and change.  You are for sure not disqualified from having a great marriage because of any of that.  God’s grace is bigger than that.  But it would make sense if you are on any of those bad paths to do an about face if you want to end up in a Godly, stable marriage.

How afraid of divorce are you?  What is that based on?  Are you setting yourself up to be in a good situation?

Links to Stats from this post 

Overall divorce stats

“Christian” divorce stats

Women Divorce Stats

Cheating Study

Sexual partner divorce stats

Grace, Sovereignty, And Excuses

Here’s a parable:

There was a young man who loved Jesus.  His ministry with people was growing and God was doing great things.  As he hit his mid twenties he was still single.  He began to pray and ask God what the deal was.  As he prayed and talked to others it seemed as if God was calling him to celibate ministry.

But this man didn’t want that.  He kept dating and eventually fell in love with a great lady.  Once again, in his heart he felt like God was calling him to celibate ministry but he was in love and he shoved down God’s call.  He married this lady and decided to not even do full time ministry.

He went to work for McDonald’s.  He started as a mid level manager and then moved up to running his own store. Now somewhere along the way, he again sought God.  He turned back and repented of his disobedience and sought God for how he should live.  He ran his store in a Godly way.  He loved his workers and many came to know Jesus. Because his workers were so good his store was the best in the state.  People would drive a little further to go to “that” McDonald’s.  He and the staff knew customers’ names and what they liked to order.  Some of them even came to know Jesus.

On top of all of this the man loved his wife well.  They had kids and they grew up loving Jesus and loving others.  God blessed them in all sorts of ways.  Was this God’s plan?

One of the huge traps for any part of life, but perhaps especially singleness and marriage is this idea that whatever happens is God’s plan.  The idea that whatever happens must be what God wants, which in my opinion really means it’s never my fault.

“I’m single right now, must be where God has me.”  “I can’t help that I like this guy, even though he leads me away from what God is calling me to.” “God wouldn’t let me have these feelings if it wasn’t His plan.”  Or my favorite, ‘God let me sin this way so that. . . .”

God doesn’t need you to sin in order to show you something or use later in ministry.  He shows us stuff and uses us in His kingdom IN SPITE of our sin.  It’s called grace.

In the parable above it worked out, sort of.  But that doesn’t mean that the man wasn’t disobedient to God’s call.  It means that God’s grace was bigger than his disobedience.  It means that God worked something that was a bad decision into a good one.  God’s grace is not the same as God’s plan.

So why does this matter?  Isn’t this basically a theological argument? 

It matters because we shouldn’t assume stuff will work out anyway. Yes God’s grace is always available but not always in the way we think.  We especially need to be careful in what we tell others.

“My wife and I had sex before marriage.  I know it was wrong but it’s worked out.  We’re following God now.” “My wife wasn’t a believer when we got married.  But she became one later and now we are on the same page.” “We just couldn’t stay married anymore. But now God has provided someone else.” If we share it as testament to God’s Grace, that’s awesome. If we share it to excuse ours or someone else’s sin, that’s not so good.

Just because God rescues it and it turns out ok doesn’t make what we did right. Disobedience is just that.  God’s sovereignty and grace are not a license to do what we want.

This is very important as we walk with others.  We shouldn’t advise sin or tell people its ok.  In the example above it wouldn’t be good for this man to tell people, “Go ahead and blow off God’s call, you can always repent later.”

Most of the time disobeying God’s call, especially when it comes to what we know for sure to be his commands biblically, doesn’t work out that well.  As an example, for every couple that lives together first and later ends up in a life long marriage there a bunch that don’t. Why stack the odds against yourself?

Obviously we all sin and make bad choices. I know for sure I have and do. That doesn’t mean we should excuse it, and we sure as heck shouldn’t advise it.  Using God’s grace to justify sin is not ok.

What we can do is advise against it.  We can point out God’s grace and how as we’ve turned to Him, He has blessed us.  It means there is hope in absolutely any situation. Instead of justifying the mistakes, let’s focus on God’s grace and use it as a platform to save others.

Are You Disqualified From Marriage?

One of my favorite movies is Good Will Hunting and my favorite scene comes toward the end.  Will (played by Matt Damon) is meeting with his counselor (played by Robin Williams).  Williams pulls out Damon’s file and talks about all the abuse he has faced in his life.  He then says, “Will, I don’t know a lot, but this, all of it, it’s not your fault.”  Will says, “I know” very nonchalantly.  Williams then says it again, and again, and again until finally Will, after getting very agitated, falls into his arms.  You see Will knew intellectually that it wasn’t his fault, but until that moment he didn’t KNOW that it wasn’t.

I think we do this with forgiveness.  Around a year ago I was having a cigar with a good friend.  This guy is one of the best guys I know – smart, fun, talented and a good friend to people.  Without going much into his story he has some issues with religion.  As we were sitting there discussing this I said, “You know that you’re forgiven right?”  He stopped in his tracks. He kind of tried to skirt the issue but I just kept hammering it.  A month later we met up and he said, “Thanks for screwing up my life – I mean that.”  He knew it intellectually but he just then began to KNOW it.

I bring this up because I think it relates to thoughts we can have as a single person.  We watch marriages around us and we think about all the reasons we are not married.  One of the things that can creep in is “It’s because I sinned.”  It’s as if we think somehow we have disqualified ourselves before God.  Now we probably wouldn’t ever say this but if we are honest many of us have had the thought.  God is not punishing your sin with singleness.

Now if you have unrepentant sin, that could certainly get in the way of getting married, among other things. Let’s say for example you are sleeping around, that might not be the best time to say to God, “Will you just bring me a spouse.”  It’s important to understand that how we are living affects our situation.  But that is not what I’m talking about here.

What I’m saying is that you are not disqualified from marriage because of sin.  God is not holding out on you or punishing you because of it.  It’s not a marriage qualifier.  If it was, no one, and I mean no one, would be married.  All the people you see married – they have sinned too.  You say, “Well Justin, you don’t get it, I’ve done really bad in this area of life.” You’ve slept with 100 people, dated the wrong people, had an abortion, looked at porn, or masturbated a river. . . I do get it.  God’s grace is bigger.  You are forgiven.  God is not holding it against you and keeping you from having a spouse because of it.

I think we kind of understand forgiveness as a means to salvation – which is mainly an intellectual exercise.  I don’t think we get it as a means to freedom in life – we don’t live out of it.

This is extremely dangerous as a single when we assign it to dating.  First of all as I mentioned earlier, you don’t earn a spouse.  Secondly, it can lead us to very bad choices because we have a bad view of ourselves. We can decide that we have to marry someone who has sinned the same way as us, which can lead us to bad situations and rule out people.  We can think, well I’ve had sex so I have to marry someone who has, I’m divorced so I have to marry someone else who is.  The list goes on.  That’s not a very good approach.  It also leads to the idea that singleness is a punishment from God.  But worst of all, it short changes God’s grace.  It basically says that God’s grace is good enough for salvation (a ticket to heaven) but it can’t free me from much here.  That is a lie straight from hell.

If you are in Christ, your sin is forgiven and you’re not disqualified from Heaven.  You are a new creation.  Jesus has paid for it.  Which do you think is easier, getting you into heaven or getting you married?

You know you are forgiven right?  How would you date different if you knew you were free?

You Don’t Earn A Spouse

About ten years ago I was having lunch with a friend who was 24 and had been married about two years.  We were meeting for work but we ended up talking about life.  At one point my young friend (who I was supposed to be mentoring but who was about to mentor me) asked, “Justin why do you think you are still single?”

I sat for a minute trying to come up with something wise to say.  Then I said something like, “I don’t know exactly.  Maybe God still has stuff for me to learn first.”  I sat back satisfied with my “Godly” answer.

He responded, “How come I didn’t have to learn any of that stuff first?”

Bam!  I was in trouble.  In one sentence he had just taken out my religious answer.  I mean he was right.  He was a mature 24 year old but did he know more than me at 22 when he got married?  What was it exactly that I needed to master first before I was “studied up enough” for God to go ahead and grant me a spouse?  Yikes.

This is one of the subtle things that can sneak into our minds.  This idea that if God is waiting for us to get something so that we are now “ready” to be married.  Even typing that seems ridiculous now but in the back of my mind I’ve spent a lot of time there.  Especially in my 20’s.  This is dangerous on so many levels.  It can lead to earning God’s favor which takes out grace.  It can lead to bitterness towards others, “How come God gave that heathen a spouse when I’ve been over here trying to stay pure and do it right?”  It can lead to following God’s plan in an effort to earn a gift from him instead of simply to follow Him.  And, because of that, when we get tired of trying to earn it, it can lead to sin, especially sexually, because obviously God is not delivering on my hard work of staying pure.

No where does God say that a spouse is earned.  In fact all through history, including in scripture (e.g. just about everyone in the Old Testament) you could make the case that horrible people get married all the time.  A spouse is a gift, not a prize.  If your motivation to please God is so He will give you a spouse you’re in trouble.

Now it is sure fair to ask God, “Are you teaching me something here?” or, “Is there something I’m doing that is preventing me from having a spouse?” But the idea that I’m going to earn one is bad news.  Any married guy can tell you, they don’t deserve their spouse.

Where has this idea of earning a spouse crept into your thought process?

Where are you bargaining with God by following certain rules with the hope of a payoff?