I got divorced today. Well, it was final today; the marriage actually died a long, slow death. And it was painful and messy and hard. Sadly, like a silently growing cancer, it was caught too late.
I have spent a lot of time in the last year thinking about divorce. It’s interesting. Now that I’ve gone through the failure of a marriage and a subsequent divorce, I see that people seemed to treat me the same way they did when I was sick. (I had a brain tumor seven years ago.)
They asked probing questions from a distance — partially out of concern and partially trying to make sure they wouldn’t catch it, too.
Divorce makes married people nervous, the same way my brain tumor made anyone who got headaches nervous. And the truth is, no one is immune to either. God never promised us that. If we learn anything from the plight of the Israelites in the Old Testament, it’s that God promised to be with us in hard times. And I’m learning that that’s enough.
In the midst of it all, the church crowd likes to say, “God hates divorce.” (Which I’m not sure he does, by the way. In order for someone to hate — and hating is different than being angry — there has to be a defect in character and, the last time I checked, God is perfect.)
But somehow, making a declaration on behalf of God himself seems to be an acceptable way to pass judgment. And to be fair, not all of my church friends responded that way. Some listened and loved. Maybe those are the ones who understand the message of Jesus the most.
I have reflected a lot on Jesus this past year and I recently heard someone present the idea that he actually came to save us from what we tell ourselves about ourselves. And this was a radical idea to me, but one that deserved some thought. It brought me back to my divorce and the inevitable painstaking quest to understand how I got to this place.
I think it goes back to Genesis. (Well, it all goes back to Genesis.) Genesis is our first picture of God and of people. The institution of marriage came much later and the arrangement as we know it today seems to be created by man. Since society evolved into a thing where men had all of the power and women had none, marriage became a way to protect women.
In some respects, we’ve come a long way socially since the times of the Bible, but not in all ways. Most churchgoing Christians are steeped in the Genesis 3 idea of marriage. I was. I accepted that that’s all it could ever be. Honestly, I’m not sure why people even try to be married if Genesis 3 is what you have to look forward to.
Perhaps the New Testament offers a more hopeful picture of marriage. A familiar verse in Matthew stopped me in my tracks when I read it in “The Message” by Eugene Peterson. He translates Matthew 19:12 this way: “But if you’re capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it.”
And maybe that’s the miss. Maybe that’s where we fail — understanding and stepping into the largeness of marriage. I don’t think Genesis 3 gives us an accurate picture of the largeness of marriage.
But the Bible doesn’t start at Genesis 3. It starts at Genesis 1. It starts with God’s creativity. It starts with God’s goodness. Those are our first glimpses into the character of God. Yet, for some reason, we quickly brush past that and seem to settle into Genesis 3. And as a people, it feels like we have been stuck there for a long time.
Genesis 3 seems to have snuffed out the light of Genesis 1. We have lost sight of the good in people. We have lost sight of God in people.
Maybe it’s the salacious tale of a snake and forbidden fruit. Maybe it’s the idea of a woman leading a man astray. Maybe it’s the idea of wanting to know more and be like God. But whatever the reason, we seem to have forgotten that we were like God all along. We were created in his/her/their image. We have good in us. It’s been there all along. God made us that way.
And I think that maybe Jesus came to remind us of that. We focus on the horror of his death and don’t always spend enough time looking at and emulating his life. He knew it. He saw the good in the woman at the well.
He saw the good in the woman caught in adultery. He saw the good in Mary Magdalene and confided in her. (Sometimes I wonder if Jesus invested so much in women to rewrite the Eve narrative — to reclaim us for what God intended.)
My divorce taught me that sometimes things are broken and can’t be fixed. And God is still in them. Good is still in them. And even when my life doesn’t go as planned — or in a way that makes people comfortable — God is still in it, because God is in me.