The Book of Genesis is a book of beginnings: the beginning of the heavens and the earth, the beginning of life, and sadly, the beginning of the brokenness we now all experience. The book also records the beginning of marriage. God joins the first man and the first woman together as “one flesh” (2:24), blesses them, and tells them, “Be fruitful and multiply” (1:28).
Contrary to what some may tell us today, marriage is not some made-up cultural construct—a relic of a primitive people, designed only to bring security and social advantage. It was part of God’s good design for this world. From the beginning.
Not too long ago, it seemed there were no beginnings left for me, only endings. My world appeared to crumble all around me as my marriage ended abruptly on a Saturday morning. Without warning, my former wife confessed to being unfaithful and told me she would be filing for a divorce. If marriage is the creation of “one flesh,” then divorce feels like your arm is being ripped off.
When the wound was new, Jesus was my only comfort. When I needed to face my own shortcomings and learn to forgive, the Holy Spirit guided me. And when I was ready to pick up the pieces and move forward, God directed my steps. But no matter how God blessed me, it seemed as if I were living out a consolation-prize life, now that my marriage was over. This feeling didn’t come as the result of self-pity or pessimism, though. It was grounded in the unchanging words of Scripture, or so I thought. In his letter to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul writes this about marriage: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31-32). In my mind, the implication was clear: Contained within marriage is a wonderful blessing, unlike any other. Single and divorced people need not apply.
In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, sparkling slippers were Dorothy’s ticket home, and she’d had them all along—since she and her house first landed in Oz. A seemingly small detail from the beginning of the story comes back later to reveal something essential to the plot, and it changes everything. Only it wasn’t an afterthought; the author, L. Frank Baum, had planned it all along. God did something similar as He authored the story of redemption.
In Ephesians, Paul explains how God had buried a mystery in the plot line of redemption way back in Genesis 2—a mystery that should change the way we think about His good gift of marriage. As he draws parallels between a husband’s love for his wife and that of Christ’s love for the church, we imagine Paul is merely using a grand example of sacrificial love to get his point across. But that’s looking at things backwards. Christian marriage is the example—the symbol, the metaphor, the illustration—intended to mirror something older and more foundational than itself.
In my mind, the implication was clear: Contained within marriage is a wonderful blessing. Single and divorced people need not apply.
The purpose of marriage is not up for debate—it was to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and His people. And the end goal of Christ’s love for His bride, according to this passage, is “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:26-27). Husbands and wives are to help each other become more like Jesus.
On the far side of divorce, I read passages such as Ephesians 5 with a tremendous sense of loss. If marriage is a gift, a means of becoming more Christlike, then it was one I no longer possessed.
And because marriage seemed such an important part of the Christian life, the thought left me feeling like a second-class Christian. As many single people do, I thought perhaps I was missing out on something special. Worse—I had been married, so I knew just what it was.
In time, however, I discovered nothing has the power to sabotage God’s plans—neither the breakup of a marriage, nor any other hardship, heartache, or hang-up we may walk through. The cross of Jesus Christ loudly proclaims that God is for us. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). God uses everything in life, every circumstance and every relationship, to make us more like Jesus, whether we’re married, single, or divorced. That’s why He called us in the first place. (See Romans 8:29-30, 1 Corinthians 15:49.)
The purpose of marriage is not up for debate—it was to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and His people.
When we believe that something in life can derail this purpose of God, we believe one of Satan’s oldest deceptions: that God is holding out on us. (See Genesis 3:5.) And just as Jesus did when confronted with Satan’s lies in the wilderness, we must answer with truths from God’s Word—truths about who we are in Christ. Armed with this knowledge, we can stand firm against the Devil’s accusations. Scripture assures us that in Christ, we are:
• Rescued Sinners. Peter Minuit reportedly purchased the island of Manhattan from the Native Americans for a stock of goods worth about $24 in today’s currency. It was a ludicrously lopsided trade. But it would seem fair compared to the one that took place on Good Friday, when Jesus removed our sin and gave us His righteousness in return. Scandalous as it may be, God calls us righteous when we surrender our lives to Christ. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21.) And if God is able to do this for us, He is able to make us more like His Son, bringing good out of every circumstance, no matter where we find ourselves.
• Temples of the Holy Spirit. God drew near when He spoke with Moses from the burning bush. He came close when He filled a desert tent, and later the temple, with His presence. And He moved into the neighborhood when He took on flesh as Jesus of Nazareth. But God wanted to be closer still, and so His Spirit now dwells inside every believer. He is the great Comforter, and His presence was the unwavering affirmation in my life that God does indeed care, even during the most challenging of times.
• Children of the King. Perhaps the greatest indication of God’s good intentions is His adoption policy. When a sinner confesses Christ as Lord, he is not only forgiven; he’s also adopted as God’s child. Regardless of what our earthly parents may have been like, there is no need to wonder about God’s parenting style: “Who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? . . . If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matt. 7:9-11).
In the months following the end of my marriage, my identity was shaken. I was no longer a husband, no longer a son-in-law, and no longer an uncle to a couple of sweet little boys I had known since they came into this world. Even my identity as a pastor was shaken; the job prospects for a post-divorce seminary grad are anemic at best. But these bits and pieces of identity are secondary, and they make a poor foundation for an overflowing life. When those layers of my patchwork self were peeled away by divorce, I was left with the only identity that matters: my life in Christ, a man loved by the eternal King.
The amazing love of God demonstrated at Calvary remains a fact, no matter what comes our way. And it is during difficult seasons like divorce that we must cling to our identity in Jesus most tightly. Doing so has the power to disarm every moment of insecurity and doubt, because God’s kindness shines brightest at the cross, offering each of us a new beginning.