Marriage and Divorce

By Richard J. Foster and Dallas Willard, Quaker Life magazine, 1973.
Written when Richard and Dallas were equipping the saints together at the Woodlake Avenue Friends Church, Canoga Park, California.


I. Christly Basis For Marriage

The basis for getting married, which conforms with the way of Christ, is regard for the well-being of oneself and others and especially a regard for the advancement of the kingdom of God in this world. This, of course, takes into account such matters as sexual gratification (I Cor. 7) and romantic love, both of which are God's creations and limited goods. But neither sex nor romance is to serve as the basis of marriage among the disciples. Either may serve as one and perhaps a final consideration in the decision to marry or not (see, e.g., I Cor. 7:9), but neither is to be regarded as the reason why X and Y should get and stay married.

The New Testament regards romantic love as such a negligible factor in marriage that it does not even mention it. Disciples can no longer neglect this form of love because in our world of today it is running amuck destroying the lives of millions by its insubordination to agape. Disciples must, above all, be convinced and must convince their children that people cannot build a marriage upon either sexual attraction or romantic love alone and that the goodness which is in these is available only within properly agapized homes and communities. The basis of the Christly marriage and family is mutual subordination to the good of others out of a respect for Christ. (Eph. 5:21)

II. Christly Basis For Divorce

The basis for divorce among disciples is precisely the same as the basis for marriage. Where it is the case that the persons involved in a marriage would be substantially better off if the marriage were dissolved, the law of love dictates that a divorce should occur. If indeed the divorce is realized as a consequent of the law of love, the evil which is present in most divorces will not be present—and, indeed, very few divorces will occur. But the disciple will make sure of his or her obedience to the law of love in any divorce by making God his lawyer and judge through prayer.

The above view of the basis for divorce seems to run contrary to the directives given by Jesus and by Paul in their respective cultural-historical settings. But this is not so. Neither Jesus nor Paul ever discussed what we today call divorce. Jesus taught that men should not put away women. Neither He nor Paul dealt with divorce or separation by mutual consent or in cases where provision is made by a division of property or alimony or otherwise. He did not deal with this because it did not exist. Now this is not a theory or interpretation but a fact about his teaching on man/woman relationships. In I Cor. 7 Paul also deals only with one person putting away or leaving another, where one mate is a disciple and the other is not. To repeat, there is no prohibition of divorce as we now know it, except insofar as a divorce still turns out—as it often does—to be the cruel "putting away" which Jesus condemned. Jesus did not deal with this for the simple reason that in his day there was no such thing as our divorce procedures allowing a bad situation to be improved by the dissolution of a family unit. We should stress, however, that most divorces which occur are avoidable and lamentable. In the context of divorce, the role of romantic love must once again be mentioned. Difficulties concerning this type of feeling, or its absence, form a hard core of suffering within and without the church in Western society. For example, men and women are troubled by a lack of romance with their mates, or by its presence with someone to whom they are not married. They tend to feel guilty where there appears such a mismatch of feelings. Again, some think that a romantic feeling between two persons legitimizes sexual relations between them! Conversely persons married without romance will complain of feeling dirty because they have to have sex—possibly even otherwise good sex—with their mate but do not have romantic attachment to them.

Most disastrous for our whole social order—and especially for children, who tend to perpetuate the error—is the practice of divorcing and remarrying merely on the basis of a shift in romantic attachments. Not only does this delusion about romantic love afflict marriage but the jealousy and possessiveness which it breeds also makes the lives of single persons miserable as they attempt to relate to members of the opposite sex. It is this type of love that leads lovers to kill each other—with tongue or gun. It is anything but a blessing unless enveloped in agape.

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