Picture, with me for a moment: the aisle, the white dress, the friends and family adoringly gathered, the minister, and the dazzled look on the groom’s face as he sees his bride for the first time. It is a scene that is repeated daily all over the country: the joyous moment when a man and woman pledge, “Until death do us part.” But wait a minute, they have both done this before. On a different day, with different friends and family, they promised to live faithfully with different people. Yet here they are, making the same promises to someone new after failing to fulfill those promises the first time.

According to the US Census Bureau’s latest statistics (https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2021/marriages-and-divorces.html), 34% of females who have ever married have also been divorced, and 33% of men. In addition, more individuals than ever are choosing not to marry at all (instead, they choose to cohabitate). Between increased cohabitation and divorce, the American family looks very different than it did a few decades ago, even in the church.

If we are honest, none of this is surprising to us, and is it really that big of a deal? As Christians, should these issues concern us? After all, God wouldn’t want us to be unhappy, and it certainly isn’t good for our children to see us unhappy. Not to mention that life is stressful enough without dealing with a stressful relationship on top of it.

First of all, with all of the love in my heart, I believe we need a serious reality check concerning the harmful effects of divorce. Because it is so common we frequently sterilize the idea of divorce in our minds and convince ourselves that it really is in everyone’s best interest. After all, growing up in an unhappy home can’t be good for our children.

Yet, in the mental health field, we are increasingly seeing the harmful effects of coming from a home with divorce/separation. In fact, coming from divorce/separation is now officially classified as an “Adverse Childhood Experience” (which is therapist speak for trauma.) Even more disturbing, the research is now showing that parental divorce/separation is almost as emotionally traumatic for a child as sexual abuse. Let that sink in for a moment.

As horrible as that is, I believe it is only a symptom of why divorce is such a serious issue. Along with other symptoms such as financial strain, difficulties with co-parenting, children acting out, and emotional struggles for all involved. So, what makes divorce such a big deal? Why does it have such a negative impact? If all of these struggles are just a symptom, what’s the real issue? It’s the fact that the marriage relationship represents the relationship God desires to have with His people.

All throughout Scripture, direct correlations are drawn between the marriage relationship and God and His people. The entire book of Hosea is God using Hosea’s hurt at his wife’s infidelity to illustrate the hurt God feels when His people aren’t faithful. In Jeremiah 31:32, God refers to Himself as Israel’s “husband.” Isaiah 62:65 compares a groom’s joy over his bride to God’s joy over His people.

Moving into the New Testament, Ephesians 5:22-28 directly compares the husband/wife relationship to the relationship between Christ and the church. 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 describes the church as the pure bride of Christ, and Revelation 19:7-9 paints a picture of the incredible moment when the bride (the church) and the groom (Jesus) will finally be together.

We also see this in the qualifications for a man to serve as an elder in the Lord’s church. 1 Timothy 3:2 states that an elder is to be the husband of one wife. In the original language, this literally means, “a one woman man.” Verse five helps explain why,

“for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”…1 Tim. 3:5

If a man can’t properly love and lead his own bride, he won’t be able to properly love and lead the bride of Christ. While this is specific to the man, clearly having a godly wife is the other part of this equation, and it’s because the family unit, the husband-wife relationship, equips us, trains us, and prepares us for service to the church. A man who loves his wife as Christ loved the church and a godly woman who makes this a joy for him will treat the church with this same care and intentionality.

At the same time, a man who is unfaithful, harsh, or critical regarding his own bride would have the tendency to treat his brethren the same way. Just as a woman whose husband cannot trust in her (Proverbs 31:11) because she is unfaithful, gossipy, or cantankerous would likely be viewed the same way by the brethren. If we do not value our spouse above all others and intentionally strive to reflect Christ in our marriages, we aren’t just telling our spouse that they aren’t our priority; we are telling Jesus that He and His bride aren’t our priority.

This is why, in the days of old, marriage was referred to as “holy matrimony.” To be “holy” means to be “dedicated or consecrated to God.” Our marriages are not just about us, they are a covenant relationship between ourselves and our God (Matthew 19:6). This means that when we violate our vows and divorce for a reason other than sexual immorality (Matthew 19:9) we are also violating a covenant we made with the Almighty. It’s one thing to tell our spouse that it’s too hard and we just can’t do it anymore, but imagine looking into the eyes of Christ and making the same statement because that is, in effect, what we are doing.

This is why the consequences of a dissolved marriage are so severe for all involved; it is the dissolution of a holy union that represents our relationship with our Creator. From the very beginning, God’s design was one man and one woman for life (Genesis 2:24) because God’s plan has always been one God and one people for eternity. In God’s wisdom, the total intimacy and unity of the marriage relationship reflects the unity and intimacy we were designed to have with Him for eternity.

So why is marriage so important? Why is it absolutely vital to actively invest in growing and strengthening our marriages? Because, to an extent, the effort we are willing to invest in our marriages reflects the effort we are willing to put into our relationship with God Almighty. Because the value we place on our marriages is indicative of the value we place on our God. Because marriage is, and always will be, a holy union regardless of how flippantly the world treats it.

So then the question comes to us: what does my marriage say about how I view God? Join us as we strive to ExelHer in our marriages and have the mutually loving, satisfying, and godly marriages God desires for us to have.

Lacy Crowell
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Lacy Crowell is the Dean of Students at Freed Hardeman University in Henderson, TN. She has been married to the love of her life, Jonathan, for over 20 years. They are blessed with four amazing kiddos whom Lacy has had the privilege of homeschooling. She has also served alongside her husband in full-time ministry for 15 years.  She is a graduate of the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Her great joy is working to help others become excited about studying God’s word, and helping couples thrive in their marriages. She is a member of the Come Fill Your Cup team and the author of two Bible study books for women: Proclaimed – Jesus the Messiah which is a study of the Gospel of Mark, and Pursued – God’s Plan for Intimacy in Marriage: a study of the Song of Solomon.