|Long ago but not so far away|
A comment on my recent post about divorce reminded me that the key part of the Bible's teaching on marriage is that it is a commitment for life, that it needs to be worked at, and it must not given up on too easily. Sometimes it's easy to get bogged down in the more difficult area of divorce and so fail to see the wood for the trees.
My take on the 'one flesh' picture used for marriage in the Bible is that a marriage is a living thing. It has its own life and growth; it is greater than the individuals involved; and it helps their lives to be more than they would otherwise be. To kill a marriage is a terrible thing.
Divorce, as Jesus tells it, does not kill a marriage. The marriage may be killed by something else beforehand, so the divorce is more like a death certificate recognising what has already happened. Or the divorce route may be taken too quickly, whilst the marriage is still alive; then a second marriage is what kills the first, which is deeply saddening and not a propitious way to make a fresh start.
We live in a fallen world: marriages do die.
A couple of real life (and therefore necessarily vague) examples: I once knew a woman whose husband had run off with his secretary (yes, clichés do happen), moved several hundred miles away, and started a new family, leaving her on her own to cope with their young children. That's about as dead as a marriage can get, yet fellow churchgoers (some of them) were openly critical when she divorced him.
I also knew a slender, petite woman who married in her teens. Her husband turned out to be a violent and abusive drunk. She had the strength of mind to divorce him, but surely he was the one who killed the marriage not her.
On a more positive note, I know many people whose first marriages failed, but whose second marriages are still going strong decades later (or whose long second marriages really were 'till death do us part'). Second chances work out well sometimes.
If there's one thing thirty years of marriage has taught me it's to be thankful, not judgemental. Marriage is a long and difficult journey, and I am a very fallible person: "There but for the grace of God ...".
PS: One thing I should note is that the New Testament is very positive about singleness - not being married. This is because the way the local church is supposed to work is that it too has its own life and growth, is greater than the individuals involved, and helps their lives to be more than they would otherwise be. Not my path, but an extremely honourable one.