We’re all sensitive to certain things. My sensitivity is for those who are divorced and towards the still-public impressions of those who have gone through this severe life-changing circumstance.
While much has changed in terms of morals and attitudes over the past half-century, one that apparently hasn’t in the minds of those in the church is the attitude towards those who are divorced. This is quite ironic since statistics bear out that the divorce rate in the Christian church in America is no different than outside its walls.
It seems that today people still treat divorce as a communicable disease that can be “caught” by simple transmission or proximity to those who are divorced. I’ve heard it explained, and have thought the same myself, that the divorced person feels like he or she is wearing a large, scarlet letter on their chest in the shape of a capital “D.”
It’s particularly disappointing and upsetting when these attitudes come from your friends in the church. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure that for the most part they do not mean anything malicious by it (or that’s what one would hope), but there still seems to be an underlying attitude among people that we are contagious and even (to borrow an Old Testament phrase) “unclean.”
You might recall the phrase. It was what lepers were required to shout to others as they passed because of the fears people had of the disease. This gave the other person ample opportunity to pass on the other side of the street and avoid any possible contact with the diseased person.
Divorce is a disease, but not the kind you’d think. It’s the product of a fallen, sinful world. It causes a whole host of very physical and psychological impacts in the adults involved, as well as their children. The pain of divorce has been described as that of a knife cutting through the body. This makes sense.
God’s Word talks about marriage between a man and a woman as the joining of flesh into one. This mystery isn’t fully understood, but can be made a little clearer as we discuss divorce.
If marriage is the spiritual joining of two into one, then divorce is the spiritual dismemberment of that God-ordained mystery. Unlike the clean severing of a destroyed limb by a doctor as the result of disease or accident, divorce tears; it rips. It does not separate neatly as in a piece of paper, perforated along a straight line. It’s a lot like one would expect it to feel if doctors performed heart surgery on you by entering your body through your mouth without anesthesia. At some point the doctor is going to have to perforate the lungs with his fingers to reach your heart.
That may sound a bit gruesome, but it’s pretty close to the physical pain one goes through in divorce.
If that weren’t enough, imagine the horror of turning to doctors to heal your physical ailment, only to have them avoid treating you out of some irrational fear.
I’ve heard the church described as a hospital where we go when we need spiritual healing. For many people it’s probably an involuntary response, almost like breathing. Something so bad goes wrong in our lives to where we feel we could sink no lower, and we’re somehow compelled to seek out a church where we believe we will find love, acceptance and help to heal. This fits well with French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal’s notion that within us all is a “God-shaped vacuum… which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” It certainly can’t be explained through a mathematical formula, it’s simply something we seek.
Why is it then that the one place we go to seek help and healing, particularly for those going through divorce, can be one of the more hostile and unfriendly places? Are we that insensitive to the pain and suffering of others that we’re unable to look at them through the empathetic lens of our own pain and suffering, or are we simply so arrogant instead because we’ve somehow found a safe place and don’t want anyone else to mess up a good thing?
Why do people who once were your friends as a couple, for example, suddenly avoid you? Could it be that they’re so afraid of appearing to choose sides that they choose to abandon you instead?
While I’ve personally not experienced it myself, I’ve heard stories of people who’ve felt compelled to leave a certain church because they were divorced from the spouse with whom they attended services. Instead of welcoming the person who’s pain is very real, those in the church shun the divorced individual, casting them out as if they were in Old Testament Israel and had discovered that they were inflicted with leprosy.
The last thing someone in that circumstance needs is the rejection by a group of people who Christ commanded to love as he loved.