Today’s Chocolate: Chocolove Almonds and Sea Salt in Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: 1 Corinthians 7
First anti-intellectualism, then judgmentalism, and now marriage and divorce. Paul is opening up cans of worms faster than we can close them. But that’s the nature of the enterprise: All the Paul, baby!
Paul’s position on marriage and divorce is complex. At forty verses and, in my Bible, two whole pages, this is easily the longest chapter in 1st Corinthians yet. But when I take the time to work out what exactly he’s saying, I find that it makes sense to me. There’s even nuance to it: he allows for individual conscience, saying, “[A]s the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk” (17), and makes a clear distinction between what “not I, but the Lord” (10) says versus what “I say, not the Lord” (12). The crucial rule, on which Paul is clear, is to refrain from sexual immorality, namely sexual activity outside of marriage.
I feel like there’s a lot of points on which the modern reader might differ with Paul. He seems to treat marriage as a concession to the weak, a second-best fallback position for those who aren’t strong enough in the Lord to remain single and undistracted, and his attitude toward non-Christians married to Christians might seem condescending. I could respond to those hypothetical objections, but I feel like the most important matter to address is divorce itself. Paul summarizes the Torah’s commandment on divorce: “[T]he wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (10-11). And that’s Paul’s axiom, you know? The underlying foundation of everything else he says.
And to a lot of modern people, that’s got to sound insane. I can’t imagine how Paul managed to write this stuff in the first place, because here I am, a single guy trying to explain why this no-divorce view of marriage makes sense, and I don’t even know how to approach it. I don’t know what it’s like, right? Never having been married, let alone divorced, affects my credibility with my hypothetical disputants. At best, I’m like Albert Einstein calculating the physics of marriage and divorce, and at worst I’m a Dunning-Kruger dimwit with no clue what I’m babbling about.
But here’s what I know: Jesus Christ himself said, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mark 10:9). And this statement makes no sense at all unless there’s a God who created the universe and is in the business of redeeming humanity from the mess we’ve made of ourselves. If the commandment not to divorce comes from flawed human beings, or from a God who doesn’t know what he’s doing, then by all means throw it out. And given basic human sinfulness, you’re all but guaranteed to marry the “wrong” person, someone you’re a suboptimal match for and who is a suboptimal match for you. But if God’s plan really does have your best interests in mind, if he really is omnipotent, if he did in fact create this universe and is not about to bail on it–then there is no marriage so wrecked that he can’t work within it to make it better.
And that’s what marriage is, when you don’t bail on it. It’s the trust that even when you both are garbage spouses doing garbage-spouse things, when you’re both at your most rock-bottom, God is able to do something good in you. It’s the commitment to letting God make you the more loving person that you couldn’t be without him. It’s open-heart surgery, it’s both of you holding hands on the operating table. And it doesn’t make sense if the surgeon doesn’t know what he’s doing, but if the surgeon created the universe–and within that universe he created marriage itself? Then it makes all the sense in the world.