I wish we could take the word “divorce” and strike it from our vocabularies. But divorce is a reality, of course. There are times, frankly, when a marriage cannot survive, and the Bible makes allowances for this. But I believe that wedlock should be a padlock. When a man and a woman make a commitment to each other in marriage, they should stand by it for their entire lifetime.
Every marriage gets tested. Every marriage gets challenged. And just because I am a pastor doesn’t mean that my marriage is exempt from this sort of thing. We have gone through the most intense test ever with the death of our son, and we are still going through it. But I have only come to have a greater appreciation for my wife. Every marriage will face storms, but a lot of people buckle when the first storm comes. A marriage needs to be built on the right foundation, because it is not a matter of if the storms will come; it is only a matter of when – and how many.
Because of my profession, I have spoken with many people as they are preparing to enter eternity. What I have discovered is that when people are on their deathbeds, they don’t think a lot about how much money they have in the bank. They are not all that concerned about their collection of this or that or their career or sports or other things that so preoccupied their thoughts at one time. Instead, three things seem to rise to the top when they look back over their life: faith, family and, to a lesser degree, friends.
First, people are thinking about their faith, or lack thereof. Either they are clinging all the more to God and their faith is stronger as they know they will see him face to face, or they are wondering why they didn’t spend more time in the pursuit of God. Family is a close second, and usually there are regrets. They wish they had done this, said that, spent more time here or there, or done more of a certain thing. And then, to some degree, they are also thinking about their friends.
This is why a person should do everything he or she can to have a strong and lasting marriage. And if a marriage is built on the right foundation, it will stand the test of time. That foundation begins with leaving and cleaving. The Bible says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24 NIV). Yet I have met married couples who have never grasped this basic premise of marriage.
Marriage begins with leaving – a leaving of all other relationships. The closest relationship outside of marriage is specified in Genesis 2:24, implying that if it is necessary for a man to leave his father and mother, then certainly all lesser ties must be broken, changed or left behind.
Of course, even though married, a man is still a son to his parents. A woman is still a daughter to hers. But a new family has started: a husband and a wife. Therefore, the primary commitment of a husband must be to his wife, and the primary commitment of a wife must be to her husband. Certainly, they still should honor their parents, but leaving must take place. If it doesn’t, it actually could be detrimental to the marriage.
Then there is cleaving. The word “cleave” means to glue or to cling. So to “leave and cleave” is to sever and bond, to loosen and secure, to depart from and attach to. This gives you the idea of the kind of relationship a husband and a wife should have.
When God talks about a marriage, he speaks of the wife as a companion to her husband (see Malachi 2:14). That means a husband is united with his wife in thoughts, goals, plans and efforts. They should be best friends.
In speaking of marriage, the New Testament uses a word that carries the meaning of being glued together, even welded together, so the two cannot be separated without serious damage to both. That is how a marriage is meant to be.
Having been a pastor for more than three decades now, most divorces I have seen could have been avoided if the husband and wife would have applied themselves. That means deciding to do things God’s way instead of the world’s way. It means taking biblical principles and applying them to your marriage. It means periodically taking stock of your marriage to see if there is anything that is dividing the two of you.
I find it troubling that irreconcilable differences are cited as the No. 1 reason people get divorced. Everyone has irreconcilable differences. My wife and I have had them for 36 years. For example, she is very neat; I am often messy. She is sometimes late; I am usually early. The very things that first attract a husband to his wife or a wife to her husband often become the very things that divide them. Why did he like her in the first place? Why did she like him? Because she was different than he was. She was outgoing and talkative. He was more quiet and reserved. She was more this. He was more that. But now these very things drive the other person crazy. Sometimes it simply means saying, “This isn’t going to change, but I love this person anyway. I made a vow to love, honor and cherish this person for better or for worse.”
Finally, we need to recognize that a husband or wife cannot meet the deepest needs of our lives. But God can. And only he can help us be the husbands and wives he has called us to be.