This past year, my marriage ended, despite all my best intentions, efforts, and prayers. Divorce wasn’t something I wanted, nor was it something I anticipated. As a believer, I was prepared to fight for my marriage, and I did. But it takes two to make a marriage work, and when one partner decides it’s going to be over, the other doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter.
My life is now consumed with trying to move forward, which has not been easy. Sometimes I feel other people see me as “that guy with all the scary stuff going on,” and if I’m not careful, I can begin to see myself as just another hopeless, broken mess. I pour myself into God’s word again and again so I don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. The cross is about redemption, and redemption doesn’t end because we encounter tragedy. In fact, it is through hardships we often see Christ most clearly. Here is a bit of what He’s been teaching me.
We are accountable to God for how we live in marriage and divorce.
Someday, each of us will answer to God for how we lived our lives, including how we treated our spouse. But this accountability extends to divorce as well. Certainly, the one who breaks the marriage covenant is accountable, but so is the one who kept the covenant and fought for the survival of his or her marriage. They will be judged by how they responded when they were hurt. And how should we respond when we are treated badly? We should look to Christ. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23, ESV).
No doubt this is difficult to do. The sinful nature in each of us wants to lash out at those who hurt us. As well, our culture has made a virtue out of getting even. But for the person who wants to follow Christ, responding in this way is simply not an option. If we want to be like Christ, we must choose to take up our cross and follow Him in every situation, no matter how difficult. In my own experience, this meant praying for my wife, treating her with kindness, and humbling myself in order to show her Christ in my life. I will readily admit that it is not in my power to behave this way, but is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.
God is still in control.
As I mentioned, this divorce was not something I wanted, and it certainly wasn’t something that I was prepared for. Life felt totally out of control, so one of the things I had to relearn was that God is still sovereign. This divorce certainly surprised me, but it didn’t surprise God for a second. He is able to use it for His good and perfect purposes.
Take, for example, the familiar story of Joseph. God was at work, doing something good through Joseph’s painful path, though I’m sure it didn’t feel too good when Joseph was standing in a pit waiting to be sold into slavery or when he crudely marked off another year on the prison wall. In the end, though, Joseph was able to look back on his painful experiences and say, “God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). Even when it may not look like it to us, God is still king, He is still wise, and He is still good.
God uses all things for our good and His glory, but we must understand what good really is.
A familiar verse, Romans 8:28, says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The “all things” includes every seemingly random event, the sins and actions of other people, as well as our own sins and foolish decisions. And it certainly includes a painful experience like divorce.
Our problem often lies, not in denying this wonderful promise from God, but in misunderstanding what “good” really looks like. A few verses after Romans 8:28, Paul writes, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (Romans 8:36; cf. Psalm 44:22). When we’re tempted to feel warm and fuzzy about things working out for our good, there’s talk of slaughter. This is because our good is supposed to be wrapped up in God, and not in our circumstances.
We often recite the promise of Romans 8:28 in isolation, but listen to what Paul says in the next verse: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29). God’s good purpose is to make us more like Christ. That’s why, without skipping a beat, Paul can say all things will work out for our good and — we may lose our lives — because Christ is all that matters.
Even in the pain of divorce, Christ is all that matters. If you ever feel like “that guy or gal with all the scary stuff going on,” I hope you’ll remember God’s promises, knowing that the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe is at work in all the scary stuff.
Copyright © 2012 by John Greco. Used with permission.
John is a graduate of Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He attends Emmaus Church in Suwanee, Georgia.