I understand that the divorce rate in this country is atrocious. I understand that this insidious practice of hard-hearted men has even infected God’s people, just as it did thousands of years ago. But I think it is time we fought it in a different way. Telling our children that Christians are leaving their mates by the score so they need to be careful is not the way to battle this ungodliness, and I will show you how I know.
Jesus grew up in a time similar to ours. Even among God’s people scholars argued about the acceptable reasons for divorce. Among the very conservative, adultery was the only “scriptural cause,” while among the more liberal almost any dissatisfaction was deemed suitable. Evidently the divorce rate was sky high because when Jesus made his pronouncement, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery,” Matt 19:9, even his own disciples were shocked. “If this is the case, it is better for a man not to marry!” they exclaimed a verse later.
Do you see what rampant divorce triggers in the young? Do you see how hearing the negatives warps their perspective of the way God intended people to live? They think a happy marriage is impossible. No wonder the world says, “You can always get out of it if it doesn’t work.” When you grow up hearing that over 50% of all marriages fail, and that the church is just as bad, what else will you believe when you hit the first little bump in the road but, “I guess this means it’s over.”
Everyone ought to know by now that statistics can lie. They may be facts, but they can be skewed any which way the researcher wants to skew them. What if we count your successful marriage, the successful marriages of two other friends, plus the marriages of Elizabeth Taylor and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Between you all that’s 20 marriages, only three of which lasted, a 15% success rate. Now that’s depressing unless you know who is being counted.
Yes, over 50% of marriages in our country end in divorce, but that lumps them all in, first marriages, second, third, etc. Let’s separate them and see if things change a little. 60% of second marriages end in divorce, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. And first time marriages for both parties? Only 41% end in divorce. It is still a terrible statistic, but it is quite a bit lower than when you count in all those folks who have either failed once or shown a propensity to fail, and it means well over half of first time marriages survive.
Some more good news: you can actually reduce your risk. If one set of parents is happily married, the couple’s risk decreases 14%. (I couldn’t find statistics if both sets of parents were still married to the first spouse, but it stands to reason the risk would decrease even more.) If the couple attended college (they don’t even have to have graduated), their risk decreases 13%. The older they are, the less the risk until by age 25, the risk decreases 24%. And let me add another one that just goes to show that God knew what He was talking about: if a couple lives together before marriage, their risk of divorce increases by a whopping 40%!
Now to those who want to mourn over the state of marriage in the church, even granting that this malady will touch us, please count how many first marriages are still intact in your congregation. I doubt the failures are anywhere near the national average. Simply put, when two people understand that they make a commitment not just to each other, but to God, they stand a far better chance of “making it.” Let’s share these statistics with our young people.
Yes, divorce exists among God’s people. Yes, you can find bad marriages among Christians. So let’s start nipping them in the bud. Several times Keith and I have taught a “Preparation for Marriage” class. We don’t sugar-coat anything. We tell them what can go wrong and how to fix it, but we also show them how to prevent those things from happening in the first place. We show them how to have a happy marriage from the beginning. We impress upon them the need for seeking advice when necessary, and usually before they even think it’s necessary. Several young couples have thanked us for the class, even after being married several years. They knew what to look for in a mate and they know how to spot problems before they become impossible to deal with.
And let’s also start giving our young people a reason for optimism. You can do this! You can live as one flesh for decades and have your love grow deeper and more meaningful with every passing year. You can avoid the common pitfalls and make it through the trials of life. No, it will not always be easy, but those difficulties are not a sign that your marriage is over. They simply mean it’s time to work a little harder for awhile.
I may be a cockeyed optimist, but do not let the pessimists out there ruin your view of marriage. Don’t let them make you sigh along with the apostles, “It is better not to marry at all!” God said you can do it, the two of you, living and loving together for a lifetime. Just who do you believe anyway?
Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Ecclesiastes 9:9
All statistics come from McKinleyIrvin.com, a family law website.