, pastor, Southcenter Seventh-day Adventist Church, Washington Conference
As your pastor, I highly recommend divorce,” I told my members on a recent Sabbath.
I knew I had their attention now. No one was going to sleep through the rest of this sermon. I could imagine the thoughts racing through their minds, “Is he preaching heresy?” “Will this be the last sermon this pastor preaches from our pulpit?”
Before I explain to you why I recommended divorce as a solution for marital problems, let me set the context by explaining the six stages of marriage. The reason we have these six stages is because of the entrance of sin into this world. If humans had not fallen and we were still living in the Garden of Eden, we would have only experienced stage one and stage six of marriage. But because of temptation and the entrance of sin, we have all six stages.
Stage one is: the honeymoon. Everything is great and life is perfect at this stage. My advice to newlyweds would be to enjoy every minute of it. It would also good to practice saying the following:
Saying these things requires very little effort when you are in the honeymoon phase. It’s good to get into the habit of saying these things because when stage two rolls around, it can be painfully difficult to say them. Mignon McLaughlin, a U.S. journalist and author, nicely summed up the honeymoon stage this way: “Pity all newlyweds. She cooks something nice for him, and he brings her flowers, and they kiss and think: How easy marriage is.”
Before we move to stage two of marriage, consider this important question: “Why doesn’t God allow us to continue in the honeymoon phase throughout our entire marriage? Why does our loving God allow the blissful honeymoon phase to come to an end?”
Have you ever thought about that? I believe it is because God is more concerned about our holiness than He is about our happiness. The reason He is so concerned about our holiness is because ultimately He’s concerned about our happiness. There is no true happiness apart from holiness. In Matthew 5:8, Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” Another way of saying this is, “Happy are the holy.”
Interestingly, in Matthew 5:4, Jesus also says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This is a comforting promise for those who are mourning because of their marriage. For many, marriage has become a burden, a curse.
Notice what Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White has to say about Jesus’ promise to those who mourn: “The Savior's words have a message of comfort to those also who are suffering affliction or bereavement. Our sorrows do not spring out of the ground. God ‘doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.’ Lamentations 3:33. When He permits trials and afflictions, it is ‘for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.’ Hebrews 12:10” (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, page 10).
I would like to paraphrase the last sentence this way: “When He permits the honeymoon phase to come to an end, it is ‘For our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.’”
The passage goes on to say: “If received in faith, the trial that seems so bitter and hard to bear will prove a blessing. The cruel blow that blights the joys of earth will be the means of turning our eyes to heaven. How many there are who would never have known Jesus had not sorrow led them to seek comfort in Him!”
Once again I would like to paraphrase the last sentence this way: “How many there are who would never have known Jesus had not the honeymoon stage come to an end leading them to seek comfort in Him!” Our God who desires for us to be partakers of His holiness allows us to go from the honeymoon stage on to the next stage.
When I asked my members what they thought stage two is, one member shouted out, “The nightmare stage!” I guess that would be a fitting description.Stage two is: What was I thinking?
When stage two comes around, people find themselves thinking, “My spouse and I are complete opposites.” For a lot of couples, what initially drew them to their spouse will later bother them. For example, the shy introvert who is attracted to the outgoing extrovert may later resent the spouse who is always away spending time with friends instead of being at home with family.
The next stage is where divorce usually happens. Stage three is: Everything would be great if you changed. When we marry someone, we choose the partner out of the 7 billion people on this planet, and then all of a sudden we are saying, “You have to change.” It’s been said that women get married thinking, “I’ll change him.” Men get married thinking, “She’ll never change.”
Now if you are in stage three and it is so bad that your home and marriage are falling apart, I highly recommend divorce. Yes, you read correctly. Let me repeat, “I highly recommend divorce.” I wholeheartedly agree with this quote from “God's Little Instruction Book for Couples” by Jerry McCant: “You can never be happily married to another until you get a divorce from yourself. Successful marriage demands a certain death to self.”
The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:31 says, “I die daily.” In Galatians 2:20, he says, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
We, too, must die to self if we want a successful marriage.
Consider these words in a marriage preparation manual called, Before You Say “I Do,” by H. Norman Wright and Wes Roberts: “Marriage is a refining process that God will use to have us become the man or woman He wants us to become. Think about it. God will use your marriage for His purpose. He will mold and refine you for your own benefit and for his glory.”
What is marriage? It is a “refining process,” a furnace. It gets extremely hot in a furnace. We must remember that the purpose of the fire is not to destroy you, but it is to consume the dross. Ellen White has a lot to say about the refining furnace. We are told: “The refining furnace is to remove the dross. When the Refiner sees His image reflected in you perfectly, He will remove you from the furnace. You will not be left to be consumed or to endure the fiery ordeal any longer than is necessary for your purification” (Our High Calling, p. 312).
We can successfully get past stage three if we are willing to get a divorce from self and recognize that God desires to conform us into the image of Christ.
Stage four is: I choose to love and accept you as you are.
God is calling us to do for our spouse what He has done for us. God chose to love us, and it wasn’t when we started repenting and getting our act together. The Bible says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). When Jesus was beaten and mocked, His response was, “I love you.” When they pounded the nails into His hands His response was, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). In Ephesians 5:25 it says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” God is calling us to love our spouses with unselfish love as He has loved us.
If we can die to self and learn to love unselfishly by His strength and grace, we can advance to stage five and stage six. Stage five is: I’m blessed to have you in my life. And stage six is: I want to grow old with you.
As we journey with our spouses heavenward, let us ever keep in mind that God is using our experiences in marriage to daily transform us so that we may reflect the character of Christ. We are told: “God's work of refining and purifying must go on until His servants are so humbled, so dead to self, that, when called into active service, their eye will be single to His glory. … God brings men over the ground again and again, increasing the pressure until perfect humility and a transformation of character bring them into harmony with Christ and the spirit of heaven, and they are victors over themselves” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 4, page 86).
Let’s remember that God will bring us “over the ground again and again” until we become like Christ. This may explain why your spouse continues to do the same irritating, annoying thing that drives you up the wall day in and day out. If this is your experience, I highly recommend that you get a divorce from yourself today. May we able to say with the apostle Paul, “I die daily.”