Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

Happy Friday. Thanks for listening to the podcast! Today, Pastor John joins us over the telephone for a question from a perplexed father who writes in anonymously. “Pastor John, my adult son wants to get a divorce from his wife. They have been married for two years and have a one-year-old son and a newborn baby girl of ten days old. I’m totally perplexed by the timing. I don’t understand why he feels unhappy, but he claims he is ‘no longer in love’ with his wife anymore. What would you say to someone who has ‘fallen out of love’ with their spouse, and why that’s no grounds for divorce?”

Well, what I would say to them face to face would depend partly on their demeanor, but I don’t have him face to face. So I’m just going to say what I think he probably needs to hear. Whether I would say it exactly like this, I don’t know. But here we go.

Beyond Reasoning

We would be naïve, I think, to suppose that people, young or old — our own children or those of others — will act on the basis of reason and biblical truth when it comes to justifying divorce. I would guess that 95 cases out of 100 people do what they want to do and then find reasons to do it. Those who claim to believe the Bible will find biblical reasons to do it. They know what they’re going to do. They want to do it. They do it.

“Most couples who stay married for fifty or sixty years fall in and out of love numerous times.”

We should be realistic as we talk to people, and we should pray. That’s the greatest realism. Pray and fast that God would do what our biblical arguments and reasoning, by themselves, could never do.

Having said that, I totally believe in speaking the truth in love because it’s God’s way. It’s God’s design that people should know the truth and the truth would set them free. And that context is free from sin, like leaving your wife.

I would hang my thoughts on three words: joy, significance, and ownership. I would try to make those three words as compelling and winsome as I can, but also as forceful as Jesus and the apostles did for the sake of staying married. Let me say a word about what I mean by joy, significance, and ownership.

Joy

I would say to this young man who wants a divorce because he’s not in love, “Oh, what joy lies ahead for those who do not break their covenant even when their hearts are broken.” Here’s what I mean. I believe that most couples who stay married for fifty or sixty years fall in and out of love numerous times. I say that with not the slightest hint of trying to be funny.

It is, in my judgment, almost ludicrous to think that we experience “being in love” the same for the entire sixty years, just like we felt at the beginning of that relationship. That’s just utterly crazy. It is naïve and immature to think that staying married is mainly about staying in love.

“Staying married is not first about staying in love. It’s about covenant keeping.”

In a relationship between two sinners forced to live as close as married couples live, it is naïve to think that every season will be one of warmth and sweetness and sexual romance. That’s just contrary to almost the entire history of the world and contrary to every makeup of fallen human nature.

Staying married is not first about staying in love. It’s about covenant keeping, promise keeping. Be a man and woman of your word, a man and woman who keeps the vows to be committed for better or for worse, a man and a woman of character. That’s what it’s about.

This covenant keeping relates to being in love. We get this. I thought about how to say this. This covenant keeping relates to being in love the way gardening in the fall relates to roses in the spring. This is why I said a minute ago, “Oh, what joy lies ahead for those who do not break their covenant even when their hearts are broken.”

The modern world of self-centeredness and self-exaltation and self-expression has taken the normal fifty-year process of falling in and out of love and turned it into a fifty-year process of multiple divorces and remarriages. That pattern has not and will not bear the fruit of joy. It leaves a trail of misery in soul and misery along the generations.

Marriage is the hardest relationship to stay in and the one that promises glorious, unique, durable joys for those who have the character to keep their covenant. That’s what I mean by joy.

Significance

Here’s what I mean by significance. God offers to husbands and wives the highest possible significance for their marriage relationship by showing them what its greatest and most glorious meaning is — namely, the replication in the world of the covenant relationship between Christ and his bride, the church.

“You are free to break your marriage covenant when Christ breaks his covenant with his bride.”

That’s what the highest meaning of marriage is. There is no higher, more glorious, more significant conception of marriage than the one that Paul portrays in Ephesians 5. Marriage is a parable of the greatest, strongest, deepest, sweetest, richest relationship in the universe — the blood-bought union between Christ, the Son of God, and his bride, the church. That’s the meaning, that’s the significance of marriage.

I would just say to this young man that you are acting or about to act on one of the lowest views of marriage — not one of the highest, but one of the lowest views of marriage. If you divorce because you don’t feel love anymore, there is nothing noble, nothing great, nothing beautiful, nothing high, nothing truly significant about such a motive.

What does it say about Christ based on that model of a man’s commitment in marriage? What does it say if he forsakes his wife because he doesn’t feel like staying anymore? What does it say about Christ? That’s the issue.

Marriage is an act of worship. It’s a display of the price and the preciousness of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church. Covenant keeping in marriage glorifies Christ and the blood he shed to possess a bride forever. We cannot even conceive of a greater significance of marriage than the one God has given.

Ownership

Lastly, the word ownership. What do I mean by ownership? What I mean by ownership is that the union between a man and a woman isn’t theirs to break. They didn’t create it. They can’t break it. It’s not theirs. Jesus said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9).

It’s another sign of the man-centeredness and contemporary self-centeredness of Christianity that a young couple would have the mindset that they created the union called marriage and, therefore, they can break it. They didn’t create it. They can’t break it. God made it. God breaks it with death, or, as I think Paul would say, “You are free to break your marriage covenant when Christ breaks his covenant with his bride.”

For the sake of maximum, long-term joy; for the sake of the deepest and highest significance; and for the sake of the maker and owner of your union, keep your covenant. Oh, what joy lies ahead beyond anything you can presently imagine for those who keep their covenant, even when their hearts are broken.


Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes.