What forgiveness really means.
What does forgiveness really mean in the context of marriage?
Contrary to mere speculation and vox populi, divorce is not an answer to a problem marriage. The opposite is true; sticking to a marriage is many times better than divorce. Sociologist Linda Waite and a group of scholars from the University of Chicago tested the hypothesis that getting out of a troubled marriage meant being happier post-divorce, and what they discovered was that the two-thirds of people in troubled marriages who stayed married were far happier than the one-third who abandoned their marriage to divorce as little as five years later.
The fact is that unhappy marriages get happier, even when the couple involved does nothing but remain determined to stay married (e.g., no counseling, no extra efforts). The study found three areas in which these marriages improved. Couples determined to stay married…
…who did nothing else but stubbornly wait out the trouble spot were happier five years later.
…who actively worked on the marriage (arranging time together, counseling, seeking help or advice from family, friends, clergy, using the threat of divorce as a tool to pressure a spouse to stay, were far happier five years later.
…individuals determined to stay married who stopped believing their happiness was to be found in their spouse, stayed married and were far happier five years later.
The only similarity between the vast differences in the three areas above are that the people in the marriage were determined to stay married. What the study implied but did not state was the covenant nature of marriage. These were people who made a promise and kept it because of the value they gave to marriage, value which for believers derives from faith in Yeshua. This leads to a separate mute question, which group (believers v unbelievers) placed a higher value on marriage?
Though this seems to be an unrelated question, studies indicate that self identified Christian’s divorce rates are higher than self-identified non-Christians. This is only true among those who say they are believers, but make no effort to pursue the lifestyle. No church, no bible study, no prayer, and so on. Does this mean a non-believer places far more value on marriage than Christians? No. It means G-d created marriage and if a couple works at the marriage and their faith together they reap the benefits. But why should Christians, who are called to be examples of godliness to an unbelieving world act in a manner that brings discredit to G-d?
One answer is found in the concept of forgiveness; many Christians rate both self happiness and the shame of sin so high they are unwilling to forgive. It is as if they have identified with righteousness so much that when their spouse sins (even if they repent), or if they fall, their pride will not allow them to return to the marriage. Unbelievers may not be burdened by this type of guilt and are less likely to divorce.
Even though Yeshua haMashiach says, “if you love me obey my commands,” [Yochanan (John) 14:15], believers continue to sin by divorcing their mates. What command? The command to remain married, even if married to an unbeliever (Kehilah in Corinth I (1 Cor.) 7:10, 11].
How to Approach a Brother
Though rare, Church discipline may be applied to the unrepentant believing spouse.
“Moreover, if your brother commits a sin against you, go and show him his fault — but privately, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. 16 If he doesn’t listen, take one or two others with you so that every accusation can be supported by the testimony of two or three witnesses.[b] 17 If he refuses to hear them, tell the congregation; and if he refuses to listen even to the congregation, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax-collector. [Matityahu (Matthew) 18: 15-17
It is rightly said that the interaction must both be private (not broadcast) and pro-communication. If the prodigal spouse refuses to listen, then witnesses are involved. But modern life is dissimilar. It isn’t difficult to imagine having no church and no witnesses, yet if the witness were a committed, competent, Christian counselor, would this not be apropos? I believe so. Counselors may act as both witness and guide to help a troubled marriage back on track.
It is interesting to note that those who avidly pursued divorce were not as happy even if they married again. They simply were not as happy as those who went through the dark times and won out to the light of a happy marriage. Other articles identified this trait and some have asserted this is because a willingness to divorce carries with it the attitude that the problem is not one’s own. In other words, “I am divorcing him because HE is the problem,” which is the unwillingness to look at one’s own problems. This attitude carries its own baggage and is then manifested in the new marriage.
There are scriptural reasons for this as well, Messiah said, “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who married the divorced woman commits adultery” [Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:32]. This demonstrates that there is no escaping G-d’s view of what marriage means. To divorce a spouse for ANY reason except adultery is to commit adultery, and to remarry afterwards is also adultery (when two believers are married).
G-d designed marriage to be for a lifetime and said, “…they shall become one flesh,” Beresheit (Genesis) 2:24. The word one is echad and it means an indivisible one. It is the word used to refer to the trinity and the oneness of G-d. If G-d is not separate, then the word means couples in a marriage are not separate. G-d literally sees the couple as one, which is why Rav Shaul (Paul) could write, “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives,” to which there is no exception save for the divorce for adultery (Matthew 5:32).
Dr. Ramón de Torres
Edited: June 28, 2020