Why Christians Divorce
- Friday, May 19, 2000
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I still remember my sadness on hearing that an old friend and someone I believed was a sincere Christian, was leaving his wife of many years. I was shocked and disappointed. I wondered: How could this man, committed to both his spouse and his Lord, fall in love with another woman?
An essay by the late Sheldon Vanauken helps answer the question and reminds us that such temptations are all too common.
Vanauken, best known as the author of the powerful love story titled A Severe Mercy, also published a collection of essays called Under the Mercy, which explores these feelings.
In one essay called "The Loves," Vanauken describes how a Christian friend named John shocked him by announcing that he was leaving his wife to marry another woman. John explained his sudden change of heart by saying, "It seemed so good, so right. That's when we knew we had to get the divorces. We belonged together."
Vanauken then describes a conversation with a friend named Diana, who left her husband for another man. Diana defended herself with virtually the same words: "It was just so good and right with Roger that I knew it would be wrong to go on with Paul."
As Vanauken explains, both John and Diana were "invoking a higher law: the feeling of goodness and rightness. A feeling so powerful that it swept away... whatever guilt they would otherwise have felt" for what they were doing to their families.
When Christian couples marry, they often say, "till death us do part." But what many unconsciously mean is, "till failing love do us part."
In reality, many people love their spouse, not as a person but as someone who evokes certain feelings. Their wedding vow was not so much to the person as to that feeling.
So when such people fall in love with someone else, they transfer that vow to the other person. And why not? says Vanauken, "If vows are nothing but feelings?"
Vanauken dubs these thrilling emotions "The Sanction of Eros." When John and Diana spoke of the goodness of their love, they were appealing to something higher than judgment, higher even than their own desires. But as Vanauken points out, "the sacred approval they felt could not possibly have come from [God,] whose disapproval of divorce is explicit in Scripture. It is Eros, the pagan god of lovers, who confers this sanction upon the worshippers at his altar."
"The pronouncement of Eros that this love is so good and so right that all betrayals are justified is simply a lie," Vanauken writes. But worst of all, few people are prepared "for the amazing sanction of Eros." Those caught in its thrall are convinced that their love is different, even sacred. They do not dream, the writer says, "that every other lover has the same assurance."
And that's why pastors have to work hard to warn engaged couples about this deadly appeal. At some point, Eros will almost certainly beckon with an exciting new loveand the feelings of rightness, and even sacredness, may be overwhelming.
Couples need to know that it is only when Christ is at the heart of their marriage that they will be able to resist this ancient pagan call.
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