Courageous Divorce

Courageous-the-movieI’ve seen the movie Courageous twice now, once with my family and once with my church men’s group, and I thoroughly enjoyed it both times.  In both viewings, I tensed at the action, fought back tears at the sorrow, and laughed out loud at the jokes!

Any movie that draws me into the story enough to experience such a broad spectrum of human emotion is a good movie.  Add that the movie also strongly encourages a deep abiding faith in God and the courage to trust Him through all of life’s difficult circumstances, and I would have to call Courageous a great movie.  If you’ve been wondering whether to go see it, do.  I highly recommend it!

Having established that I like the movie, Courageous, I now intend to point out a couple of issues, using this movie as an illustration.  Please understand, it is not my intent to criticize the movie, nor the producers, Sherwood Pictures, who have produced an outstandingly good family movie.  Rather, to the extent that the movie reflects attitudes and perspectives common within the Christian church, I would like to point out some issues with those common attitudes and perspectives, particularly as it relates to the topic of divorce.  The movie simply provides opportunity to point out these errors using fictional characters rather than by harshly judging the words, actions and motives of real live Christian believers.

The importance of a father’s involvement in a child’s life is a strong theme throughout the movie, as well as the need for all fathers to recognize the importance of their role as the responsibly involved parents that God has called them to be.  This is a good important message and was well presented through this movie.

In presenting this important message, the movie also portrays a no-excuses zero-tolerance attitude toward divorce. In one scene, where the group of men are sitting in the backyard talking about their fathers, Nathan Hayes, the likeable no-nonsense character played by Ken Bevel, emphatically states, “Divorce happens because you make it an option!”

I’ve heard the same view expressed, that “Divorce is not an option for a Christian,” many times throughout my life.  Often, it was being pronounced from a pulpit, by a man viewed as an authority figure, and accompanied by scripture quoted in a manner appearing to support the statement. For a child being raised in church, these are powerful words, especially when spoken in a manner appearing to carry the authority of scripture.

The problem with this viewpoint, is that it is simply not true.  Both in our civil courts and in scripture, divorce is upheld as a valid option.  Granted it is an option that should not be exercised lightly, just as matrimony should not be entered into lightly, but it is an option, and sometimes a necessity.  Portraying divorce as a non-option for Christians is a dangerously legalistic position to hold.

First of all, from a purely practical viewpoint of human nature and human relationships, there are many instances where divorce is not even optional for one of the marriage partners, but something that has been imposed on them by their prior spouse, without their consent.  There are also many instances where divorce is a necessity, because one partner has repeatedly violated the marriage covenant, using it as a means of inflicting bondage and abuse against their spouse.

For people in, or emerging through, either of these situations, telling them “Divorce is not an option,” is of no benefit, and great potential harm. And, for these people, the statement that, “Divorce happens because you make it an option,” is nothing other than a horrendously cruel lie.

Secondly, and more importantly, this attitude that, “Divorce is not an option for a Christian,” is not supported by scripture.  Rather, it is directly contradictory to scripture.  The law given to Moses not only specifically permits divorce, but also provides instruction on how to ensure the divorce is justly carried out in a manner that leaves neither partner in obligation to the other, but both free to pursue their separate lives and to marry someone else (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

Matthew 19:3-9 describes a scene wherein some Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus with a legal question.  They asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”  They were attempting to trap Jesus by limiting the potential answers.  They didn’t ask if there were ever a potential situation where divorce might be necessary or the best choice, but whether it was lawful “for any reason at all”…because his wife burned his toast…or because he found another woman more desirable.

The Pharisees were attempting to trap Jesus into either saying a man could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever no matter how frivolous, or else contradicting the law given to Moses by saying divorce is never an option.

Jesus artfully avoided the trap by both upholding the sanctity of the marriage covenant and simultaneously upholding the law given to Moses, explaining that divorce becomes necessary when one marriage partner’s heart has become hardened against their spouse.  He then went on to provide a specific example (immoral behavior) of when a divorce is not only justified, but expected, as well as a specific example (divorcing one’s spouse for the specific purpose of marrying another) that is equated to adultery.

Isn’t it sad, that many people in today’s Christian church have fallen into the same trap that Jesus so carefully avoided?  Rather than embracing both the sanctity of marriage and the necessity of provision for just divorce, as Jesus did, today’s church often falls into the trap set by the Pharisees.  Viewing the complexity of human marital relations as a black and white issue with only two options, either for or against divorce, they proclaim “Divorce is not an option for a believer!” in direct contradiction of scripture.

See, while the movie Courageous has done a fantastic job encouraging men toward courageously fulfilling their God-designed roles as husbands and fathers, it has also presented an underlying theme indicating that divorce is never acceptable under any circumstances, and that anyone who has experienced divorce has acted uncourageously and dishonorably, in opposition to the will of God.  Unfortunately, in presenting this underlying theme, the movie simply reflects an erroneous view commonly held by many Christian believers.

Sometimes divorce is God’s direct will for a given situation, as evidenced by Jeremiah 3:6-10, where God tells Jeremiah that God, Himself, has divorced the ten northern tribes of the kingdom of Israel, allowing them to be led away into captivity and dispersed among the nations (though not the two southern tribes of the kingdom of Judah who are the ancestors of modern-day Israel).  God, Himself, because of Israel’s unfaithfulness, divorced the nation whom He had once called His own by blood covenant.

Since God does not act outside His own will, clearly, divorce does not always equate to ungodliness, nor to falling short of God’s will in a given situation.  Sometimes, divorce requires more integrity and courage than choosing to follow the conventions of church mores that may be in opposition to the leading of The Holy Spirit, in a given situation.

Early in the movie, I was encouraged by the fact that one of the men in the close-knit group (Shane Fuller, played by Kevin Downes) was a single father with the commonly court-ordered every-other-weekend child custody visitation schedule.  The movie shows this single dad signing the same resolution and participating in the same ceremony as the other men.  “Cool!” I thought, “They’re portraying a father walking in godliness, through a post-divorce custody agreement!”

But, no, it was not to be.  The writers chose Shane Fuller, the single dad, the one person in the group who had experienced divorce, to be the bad guy…the man lacking integrity, who failed to fulfill his solemn oath, stole drugs, and wound up in prison.

Why not?  He’s a convenient villain, right?  Obviously, he lacks integrity and commitment to solemn oaths, as demonstrated by having divorced his wife, right?  And he’s obviously not very involved with his kids, since he only sees them two days out of fourteen.  Perfect choice for an example of poor integrity, right?

NO!  NOT RIGHT!  Terribly wrong, in fact!  Yet, sadly, that is how many people within the Christian church view those of us who have experienced divorce.

Now, I doubt the writers intentionally made a decision to portray “divorced” men as untrustworthy, or to villainize those who have experienced divorce.  I also doubt they even considered that the movie might be viewed as portraying that perspective.

And that is, perhaps, the saddest truth of all, in this situation.  The viewpoint that “divorce is not an option for a Christian” is so ingrained in the thinking of many in today’s Christian church that we don’t even realize we’re legalisticly contradicting scripture by our words, actions and attitudes.  We don’t even realize we are pushing godly men and women away from the body of Christ, treating them as untrustworthy or ungodly, simply on the basis that they have previously experienced divorce.

Too often, we do not even consider that their divorce may have been not only just and necessary, but also God’s direct will for the circumstances.  We seem to arbitrarily assume that everyone who has experienced divorce was acting outside of God’s will in an act of faithlessness, though this assumption is not supported by God’s word.

This legalistic attitude toward divorce, and believers who have experienced divorce, has resulted in many people becoming disenfranchised and ceasing church attendance all together.  Worse, many, believing God to have the same legalistic view, feel disillusioned with God Himself, and spend many years avoiding Him.

Passionately following God’s calling requires courage and integrity, in all circumstances.  Sacrificial love toward a spouse and children within the bounds of marriage requires courage and integrity.  Walking in godliness in the continuance of sacrificial love toward children, through divorce and child custody agreements, requires courage and integrity.

A courageous and just divorce is no less godly than a courageous and loving marriage, when based on faith in Christ and the leading of The Holy Spirit.

What example have you seen of a man or woman walking in courageous godliness through a divorce? 

Or, if you have personally experienced divorce, have you found that walking in godliness through a divorce requires courage, honor and integrity?


[This post linked to God-Bumps, Beholding Glory, Graceful, Wellspring, Seedlings ]