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Marriage, Divorce, and Children (1) Featured

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This article first appeared in the Apr. 1, 2009 issue of the Standard Bearer (vol.85, #13)

Marriage is for life. Marriage is a special, truly astounding union of one man and one woman for as long as they both shall live.

God instituted marriage in the beginning. That work of God is recorded in Genesis 2, another essential reason for insisting that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are literal history. In Genesis 2 God reveals that He formed Adam as head of the race and king of the creation. Next, God wisely revealed to Adam that Adam needed a help that was fitting for him—something that he did not find in all the animals that God had created. In perfect wisdom, the Creator took of the very flesh of Adam and formed Eve—a perfect complement to Adam. When God led Eve to Adam, He instituted marriage as a creation ordinance—an institution that belongs to the very fabric of this creation.

God did something else. He personally united the first husband and wife in a bond that only He could break. Whether the next words were spoken by Adam or are God's own pronouncement does not matter—it is God's word. "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Gen. 2:24).

Jesus confirmed the nature of marriage as a union of one man and one woman for life when the Pharisees, "tempting him," asked whether marriage might be broken "for any cause" (Matt. 19:3). After quoting the statement of Genesis 2:24, Jesus added, "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (v. 6). That God unites and "let not man put asunder" is not to say that man can put asunder but ought not. Rather it warns against man's attempt to separate a husband and wife, because what God has joined, man cannot put asunder. As the inspired apostle Paul makes clear, only death breaks the marriage union. Only God unravels what He has knit together. With wisdom and purpose God made this lifelong bond an essential characteristic of marriage. For God determined this blessed relationship to be the clearest picture of the covenant of grace that God establishes with His people in Christ. Like the picture of a husband living with his wife, Christ's life with His people is one of love, fellowship, and astounding intimacy. He whispers to us His secrets (Ps. 25:14). And, very significantly, that covenant relationship cannot be broken. God promises, "My covenant will I not break" (Ps. 89:34).

Because of God's wisdom, marriage is truly beautiful. One sees its beauty in a strong young man and his lovely bride as they marry in the Lord, promising before God to love and be faithful to each other until "death do us part." The beauty of marriage is glimpsed in the young wife and mother, and the young husband and father, seated together with "children like olive plants round about [their] table" (Ps. 128:3). Behold the faithful husband and wife, now sporting graying hair and deepening wrinkles, laboring with tears and prayers to bring their children through the trials and crises of their teenage years. The beauty is that these pressures do not separate, but by God's grace, press them more closely together. And, united, they give good instruction to their children.

And then take note of the beautiful harmony in the marriage of the godly grandparents. Their love has weathered the storms of life. Their marriage is steadfast. Content, happy, and blessed they are in their God-given unity.

Two individuals, two lives made one. What God has joined together.

Divorce

Then there is divorce. Jarring; ugly; tearing apart; dividing and separating. It conjures up images of unspeakable bitterness, heartache, and turmoil.

The "one" divides unnaturally into two partials. One home becomes two. One family has two parts. One set of parents is torn apart into one man versus one woman, at enmity.

Divorce is not only ugly, it has serious effects. The family has been the basic unit of all societies from the beginning. Sad to say, divorce is rampant in western society, and its disastrous effects are obvious. As more and more marriages end in divorce, the whole fabric of society is left tattered. Thousands upon thousands of broken homes and fragmented families dot the landscape of virtually every society. The whole culture of unfaithfulness to marriage vows has resulted in two additional notable evils: 1) marriage is increasingly disregarded altogether, and 2) marriage is being redefined to allow for legal homosexual "marriages."

By God's grace, the Protestant Reformed Churches have taken an uncompromising stand. It is not a novel position. It is the biblical position, namely, marriage is for life. The Bible gives one ground only for divorce, namely, adultery. And there is no remarriage for a divorced man or woman so long as the spouse lives. Scripture's prohibiting of remarriage is due to the lifelong character of marriage.

This is one of the "hardest" teachings that the PRC maintain. One wonders how many people, though expressing love for the doctrines of sovereign grace, yet spurned membership in the PRC because of this teaching on marriage. They could not abide the implications that condemned a beloved divorced father, or sister, or child. These convictions on marriage have been the cause of the PRC turning away numerous others who confessed love for the preaching of the PRC, but were themselves divorced and remarried. In my experience, every such incident is hard for the pastor, for the consistory, and for the congregation or mission fellowship. But each occurrence also confirms the Bible's teaching.

Children of Divorce

Recently, two books have led me to examine these matters from a different perspective, namely the effect of divorce on children. The books have given me additional reason to thank God for the grace that continues to sustain the PRC in their convictions on marriage and divorce. The first is Child of Divorce, Child of God: A Journey of Hope and Healing, by Kristine Steakley. The second, written by Elizabeth Marquardt, is Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. The books, both written by children of divorce, complement each other. Kristine Steakley's book is a personal account of her experiences, backed by various studies as well as by personal interviews of other children of divorce. Her perspective is that of a believer who knows that God is the only hope for children ofdivorce. Hence the title. Elizabeth Marquardt's work arose out of a national study she conducted of young men and women raised in divorced families.

Both of these young women are considered "successful." Their respective parents had what many would describe as a "good divorce." They were not totally abandoned as children. And their interviews were not conducted with children who had gone to pieces, leading to sexual immorality, drugs, or violence.

Nonetheless, both authors substantiate one common theme with incontrovertible evidence:divorce is devastating for children. These young women courageously stand up to the overwhelming flood of opinion expressed by countless psychologists and psychiatrists, books, newspapers, websites, and children's literature. The popular view is that "divorcewill not hurt the children if you do it right." Steakley pointedly rejects that notion.

Not surprisingly, the proponents of this theory are parents who havedivorced. I have yet to meet or hear of a child of divorce who has bought into it—we know better. There is not a "right way" to divorce so that no one gets hurt. It may be a nice idea, but the reality simply does not work that way. Our actions have consequences, and one of the consequences of divorce is the battered hearts of children whose homes are broken when marriage vows are abandoned (10).

Writing from personal experience and her interviews, she confidently maintains that "havingdivorced parents permanently alters the reality of our world.... [T]he trauma of a family shattered by divorce lingers on in the broken hearts of those children as they grow into adults" (9).

I heartily recommend both books to all the SBreaders. If I had the power, I would make them required reading for every believing couple looking to be married. They ought to know how serious a thing it is to vow to be faithful even unto death. Every married couple ought to read them—particularly when there is conflict between husband and wife. They should recognize that a good marriage is worth working for. Even a less than perfect marriage is far better for their children than divorce. Every pastor, elder, and deacon should learn from these writings something of the inner turmoil and the burdens shouldered by these young, oh so young, believers, not to mention the effects lasting into adult life.

The church of Jesus Christ must face these issues and deal with them properly, which is to say, biblically. How can, how must the church officially (through the officebearers) and unofficially (in the office of believer) help divorced members and their children? For all these purposes, the books are valuable, and we intend to discuss these issues in subsequent editorials.

Above all, the books, whether intentionally or not, demonstrate the wisdom of God in establishing marriage as a lifelong relationship. Although neither author expresses it explicitly, they touch on a truth of marriage that is well known to every Reformed believer. Marriage is not only a lovely picture of God's covenant of grace; in addition, one of the primary functions of marriage is the nurturing of the covenant seed. Godly fathers and mothers are united so that together they may rear children in the fear of God's name.

Near the close of the old dispensation, the prophet Malachi rebuked apostatizing Israel for their despising of marriage. Jehovah told Israel that He would no longer receive any offering from their hand. Why? "Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant" (2:14). Then the prophet adds, "And did not he make [husband and wife] one?... And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed" (v. 15). And he concludes, "the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away" (v. 16).

To be continued...

Dykstra, Russell J.

Prof. Russell Dykstra (Wife: Carol)

Ordained: September 1986

Pastorates: Doon, IA - 1986; Hope, Walker, MI - 1995; PR Seminary - 1996

Website: www.prca.org/Seminary/SeminaryMainPg.htm

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