Irreconcilable Differences

A friend of mine recently e-mailed me an article written by a clergyman, in which he discusses the idea of irreconcilable differences. It was a revelation to me, and got me thinking about the way marriage is going in our country these days: Downhill.

Before we begin, let me just say that there certainly are circumstances in which a divorce is permitted in the minds of even the staunchest Christian. No one believes that you must stay together when your spouse has committed adultery, and if you have been abandoned without word for years, this also qualifies as a reason to be divorced. I personally also adhere to the belief that when one spouse becomes abusive physically, this is a deal breaker. However, in the first case, that of adultery, I have worked with many couples who can repair their marriages through counseling and spiritual work, and this is a good thing, since divorce really is a horrible thing, most notably on the spiritual level.

The premise that was set forth in the article was this: Men and women by nature, are created to have irreconcilable differences. They are made to complement one another, to join together in a mystical union. If we look at the book of Ephesians, this mystery of union is compared to the joining of the human and Divine natures of Christ. Those two natures simply cannot be joined together, since they are qualitatively different. And yet, it happens: A mystery.  This is the highest view of marriage possible, and one which obviously has pretty much disappeared in our self-absorbed society.  So, while this view has obtained for thousands of years, it is suddenly non-functional. Let’s look at why this might be.

What is the Purpose of the Family?

No one can doubt that the family is the basic unit, the fundamental organism of society. Without stable families, a situation unknown until our present times, society will begin to come apart. Without stable families, people become mere individuals, living for themselves, unable to invest in others, unable to sacrifice for others. We see this process happening all over our society, and few have understood that this situation is an entirely new societal formation. Families are no longer required in order to have children. Families are no longer stable multi-generational groups who live in love and care. All is fragmented, broken, disjointed. Of course, there are millions who still adhere to the old ways, but over time, the preponderance of those prizing the individual over the family will tip the balance, and families will go the way of the horse and buggy. Replacing them will be various assortments of people living together with little or no commitment to the family’s health. Of course, all will suffer, but especially the children. We can already see this happening right now.

Myths about Marriage

In order for this breakdown of the family to occur, it is necessary for alternate theories to dominate the national psyche. While families were relatively stable until the Twentieth century, when divorce laws began liberalizing across the western world, there is at present very little non-spiritual incentive to stay together. Even though researchers have demonstrated that children of divorce have trouble in their own marital (or non-marital) relationships, this fact has done little to stem the tide of divorces. Why?

There are many myths which swirl about in the ether, and they are both powerful and seductive. Some of them are:

  1. I have a right to be happy in my marriage. If I’m not happy, I can pull the plug and move on to someone who makes me happy.
  2. I need to find my soulmate. My current spouse is not on the same wavelength as I.
  3. My spouse and I are as different as oil and water. We are just different people, and we need to find new spouses have similar interests.
  4. I don’t love my spouse any more. There is someone else whom I feel attracted to, and I want to love that new person.

You’ve all heard these arguments for divorce, and over them all, like a banner are the words:  Irreconcilable differences.  Yes, you and your spouse do have irreconcilable differences, because that is the essence of marriage. That is the basis for the sacrifice you are called to make in forming a family made up of those who have different wills than our own. Bridezillas aside, we don’t always get our own way when we marry. It may be necessary to submit our will to that of another: a spiritual exercise of the highest order.

The ideas that there is someone else “better” for us out there is a temptation to be resisted at all costs. We have chosen our spouse, and failing the major impediments to marriage mentioned above, our job is to find a way to live joyfully within those boundaries.  It is certain that no children desire their parents divorce, unless there is criminal behavior, such as assault, being demonstrated in the home. Is there drunkenness or other substance abuse? This is another spiritual matter that needs fixing, and it may promote the need to separate until it is dealt with.

But, since men and women are different qualitatively, it is ludicrous to bemoan that fact, and cite it as grounds for divorce. It is actually grounds for marriage! The desire to join together in union with another soul different from our own is the basis for marriage, and the programme is this:  I will spend my life serving this person, and will be faithful to the other until death. It is a serious vow one makes, and finding it difficult is no cause for release from it. Temptation to do so is all around us, but if it is recognized as such, we can fight against it.

The only other thoughts which this idea of the “rightness” of irreconcilable differences brought to my mind was this: If these differences are the essence of marriage, according to God, what does this say about those who try to bypass these difficulties by marrying another person who is very similar? I am referring, of course, to gay marriages.

The idea of marrying someone alike short circuits most of the inherent struggles faced by those following the mystical plan of marriage instituted by God.  These couples can never know the fullness of the mystery of union between a man and a woman, and the homosexuals’ decision to call what they do “marriage” does not present a comparable struggle.  Can I unite myself to another whose very being is mysterious to me? Can I take a chance and see if love can flow from this union, if children will be sent us through this mystical union? This is the dignity and grace of marriage as instituted by God, and no other arrangement contrived by man can compare.

Fro The Past To The Future

Steve Arterburn

God wants to move you out of your broken past and into a better future.  As you cooperate with God’s process of redeeming your past, you need to honestly evaluate your life so you can redirect your course according to God’s design.

Jesus said, ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (John 8:32).  The path to freedom always leads through the truth, even the truth about your past.  The apostle Paul examined his past, making an honest review of his earthly accomplishments, his wrongs, mistakes, gains, and his losses.  It was from this broad perspective that he wrote, ‘I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection! But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be’ (Philippians 3:12).  

Freedom from the past also involves facing up to times when others have harmed you and turning them over to God.  In a letter to Timothy Paul even states the truth that someone has hurt him but leaves the matter in God’s hands.

When you hand over your past to God with the prayer that he work it out for the best according to his will, you can finally let go of it.  Then you can redirect your course toward a brighter future and help others to do the same through the lessons you’ve learned.

Forgiving Ourselves

Steve Arterburn

For most of the wrongs you’ve done, you’re probably grateful and eager to accept God’s forgiveness. But sometimes we’re so shocked or ashamed or heartbroken over what we’ve done that we find it hard to believe that God could really forgive us. Yet God does forgive and he desires to restore you. He wants to redirect the course of your life for his service. But this can’t begin until you receive God’s forgiveness and forgive yourself.

Peter had once sworn his love for Jesus. He pledged even to die with Jesus if necessary. Yet that same night after Jesus was arrested, Peter sheepishly denied that he even knew Jesus. Jesus wasn’t surprised; he had already told Peter that Peter would deny knowing him three times. Jesus was ready to forgive Peter before he even betrayed Jesus. But Peter had a hard time forgiving himself.

After Jesus rose from the dead he asked Peter three times if Peter loved him. Peter had denied him three times and so Jesus gave him the chance to reaffirm his love three times. Jesus reached out to Peter.

When you’re disheartened by the things you’ve done, it can be difficult to receive God’s forgiveness. But God reaches out to us. Once you confess your sins, you need to let go of them. Find encouragement through the story of Peter. Once he accepted forgiveness, God was able to build him up and use him for His great purposes.