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Monday, 27 December 2004

"Divorce and Happiness"

Begin quote:

Many marry and fail altogether to find that happiness which they expected. Some find positive misery, while others find nothing more than disappointment and drudgery. This is the common experience of men--so common, indeed, that when the disciples hear the Lord forbidding divorce and remarriage, they immediately respond with, "If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry."

If the case of the man be so with his wife--if he is bound to her by an indissoluble tie, if he cannot put away an unsatisfying woman and put an end to an unhappy marriage--if the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry at all. This response of the disciples indicates that they well knew that a happy marriage was a rarity, while those of the unhappy sort were the common experience of humanity.

And yet, in spite of the common failure of the race to find happiness in marriage, the belief persists, as strong as ever, that it is in marriage that happiness is to be found. The myriads of men and women who fail to find it, or who find misery or drudgery in its place, yet remain firm and unshaken in their belief that marriage is the way to happiness. They never dream of impugning marriage as such: it is only THEIR OWN marriage which is bad, and they universally suppose that if they could but have a different partner, they would find that happiness which their own marriage has failed to give.

But here a great difficulty arises. God FORBIDS us to end a bad marriage in order to seek a good one. What then? Does he care nothing for the happiness of his creatures? So unbelief would suppose. Faith knows better than this, and yet faith itself may often be severely puzzled as to how such prohibitions of the Lord can consist with his care for the happiness of men. How can he desire their happiness, while he denies them the very thing which would make them happy? There is nothing impious in raising such questions, though God yet expects us to trust in him, as well when we cannot understand his ways, as when we can. Here lies the most honorable occupation of faith. Yet it is honorable also to get understanding with all our getting, and nothing is more honorable nor more profitable than to get understanding of GOD.

In the first place, then, it plainly appears that if God in certain cases forbids the very thing which would make his creatures happy, he has something else in view than the present happiness of every individual. It may be he aims at the ultimate happiness of all, or the greater happiness of a greater number, or both. But it is evident that if he aimed at nothing more than the present happiness of all who seek it, he must allow divorce and remarriage in a myriad of cases where he now forbids it.

We must further consider that while the Lord's prohibitions, coupled with the careless manner in which many enter the married state, may debar many from ever attaining marital happiness at all, yet these prohibitions may also contribute to the greater happiness of the greater number over all. In the first place there is probably nothing which could contribute so much to a wholesome caution in uttering the vows of marriage as the certain knowledge that those vows must stand, "for better or for worse."

On the other hand, there is nothing which could contribute so much to the throwing of all caution to the winds as the supposition that those vows may be broken at pleasure. Thus the free license to divorce must work directly to the multiplication of bad marriages, and so far contribute to the greater overall unhappiness of the race--for not all who carelessly enter ill-matched marriages, under the belief that they may end them when they please, will feel free to do so when the occasion calls for it. There are many constraining reasons for maintaining an unsatisfying marriage, even where folks believe themselves free to end it, the good of the children being the most compelling of those reasons.

But more. Love comes in a thousand different degrees, and marriage therefore exists in a thousand degrees of goodness or badness. Every marriage which is not perfect is not therefore miserable. A man may have a good marriage, which is yet less than the epitome of bliss. Yet the supposition that he is free to end that marriage, in order to seek a better, will tend directly to breed dissatisfaction, even with marriages which are essentially good, though less than perfect.But we know that many marriages are not essentially good. Their very existence stands as a bar to the happiness of the parties involved. They are not in love, and never can be, for all their trying. We will not pretend that making the best of an uncongenial mismatch will ever bring marital happiness, or make a bad marriage good, but it may after all be conducive to more happiness in general than a free license to divorce.

Yet in spite of such considerations as these, the belief persists that wherever an uncongenial marriage exists, divorce and remarriage are the way to happiness. It was doubtless on the strength of this belief that God of old granted permission to Israel to divorce and remarry--for who would avail themselves of that permission for any other reason? Some there are who teach that the Bible, New Testament as well as old, condones divorce for mere lack of love. Nor is this doctrine a new one, hatched in the present permissive age. Perhaps the strongest treatise in existence on the subject comes from the pen of old John Milton, a seventeenth-century English Independent, or Congregationalist, and the author of "Paradise Lost." He contends, with a great array of the most compelling reasons, that love itself must compel the separation of spouses who cannot love each other, and that therefore "the true church may unwittingly use as much cruelty in forbidding to divorce, as the church of antichrist doth wilfully in forbidding to marry." With great force of reason, and great powers of eloquence, he describes the hopelessness of an ill-formed marriage, and predicates to marriage without love a great host of great evils. And in fact we quite agree with him. But his reason and eloquence are evidently misapplied. He cannot maintain the strength of his reason when he deals with the prohibitions of Scripture, but must stoop then to strong assertion or weak sophistry. His powerful pleading, though it move us to tears and sobs for the plight of the mismatched, and though it burn into our very souls the truth of the old saw, "Better half hanged than ill wed," yet it leaves us just where we were with regard to the prohibitions of the Lord.

We do not pretend to know everything on this subject. Indeed, we do not pretend to know much. We have many unanswered questions, and we feel most deeply the difficulties involved in the matter. But this much we can say: If those Scriptural prohibitions are to stand, those powerful reasons are evidently not to be used to separate the mismatched but to prevent their ever joining themselves together in the first place. Let us employ all the little powers we have to prevent bad marriages, and we know that we do well. The divine prohibitions of Scripture, coupled with the prevalence of marriages without love, ought by all means to be used to inculcate the utmost caution in marrying, but when parents and pastors, when church and society have failed to cultivate that caution--when the carnal and the hyperspiritual alike have made marriage a blind lottery--it is no remedy to throw to the winds the very thing which will work most powerfully to return men to sanity and to secure that caution.

But modern society has no regard for the prohibitions of Scripture. It needs not labor, as John Milton did, to prove those prohibitions misapplied, or misinterpreted, or inconsistent, as commonly interpreted, with the goodness of God. Modern man has found a shorter way. He simply casts away the cords of the Lord, and breaks his bands in sunder. With one sweep he frees himself from the galling yoke which requires him to eat the fruits of his ignorance or his carelessness, and so paves a broad way for the whole race, to be as careless as it may please in uttering the once-solemn vows of matrimony.

Thus the effects of a free license to divorce are no longer a matter of speculation, but of actual experience. The experiment has been tried. And with what result? Has the happiness of modern man been increased by this freedom? We have no doubt that many individuals have been made happier. So far as this life is concerned, many who would have been locked up in uncongenial and unsatisfying marriages have found love and happiness by divorce and remarriage. No unprejudiced man could deny this. But still we ask, Has the happiness of men in general been increased? And here we can only say, we very much doubt it. To say nothing at all of the confusion and tears which have been thrust upon a myriad of children, the newspapers are full of advertisements from divorced persons who languish for love unsatisfied in a former marriage, burned and stung by a bitter divorce, hoping to love and trust again, yet fearing to do so, and now having--nothing. No husband, no love, no companionship, no security, no father for their children, but only aching and burning and languishing--as firm as ever in their belief that happiness is to be found in a good marriage, but unable to secure even a bad one, lacking now the physical beauties of youth, cumbered with children and debts and cares. The little which they had before was better than the nothing which they have now. Not only so, but the little which they had before may very likely have been made better, if they had committed themselves to so doing, instead of rushing to the divorce court.

We are of course well aware that there has always been a small amount of such unhappiness on the earth. It seems evident, however, that the loose laws of divorce have greatly increased that number, and so greatly increased the unhappiness of the human race. That freedom from the bands and cords of the Lord, by which men promised themselves greater happiness, while it has no doubt secured that happiness for some, has actually wrought in the opposite direction for a far greater number. Such is the wisdom of man.

-End quoted article. Written and published by Glenn Conjurske in "Olde Paths and Ancient Landmarks."The original article may be accessed by clicking on the title.

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