Thursday, August 26, 2010

Staying Together

“Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." Mark 10:9

It seems to me that the Bible is long on instructions for living, but short on the reasons for those instructions. The response, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!” is insufficient for the inquisitive, and rejected by those without faith in the Bible. For most of us, the sure-fire way to find out why Scriptural injunctions are critical is to flout them; cause and effect are good teachers.

In today’s quote, Jesus emphasizes the necessary permanence of marriage. For His reasoning, we have only to look at the chaotic state of marriage in Western civilization and the trauma of children and adults from broken homes, to realize the necessity of stable marriages. Numerous studies consistently show that in general, those from broken homes compete poorly with children of established heterosexual marriages, are less likely to do as well in the market place, or establish stable marriages of their own.

That is not the end of it. Every action has cultural consequences, and fractured marriages threaten a free society. Government steps to “assist” by enacting laws to govern break-up, support single parents, provide daycare and counsel or fostering for wounded children, is both invasive and expensive. Anyone going through divorce will experience the heavy hand of government dictating what he or she can and cannot do.

Yet marriage break-up is a symptom of a greater underlying malaise. Integrity in our current culture is being true to oneself rather than to others. In fact, the argument runs, I cannot be true to others until I am true to myself. I should leave the marriage if I am not content or happy in it; it’s more authentic than living a lie; besides, a fractious marriage is no good for the kids!

This attitude, like the US constitution, is based on a false premise: the pursuit of happiness. In fact, happiness is a by-product: Goodness and mercy will follow me (Psalm 23:6, emphasis mine), suggesting it is the Shepherd’s path that inherits this blessing. In marriage, satisfaction follows service; sacrifice is necessary to ensure both stability and joy in the relationship. That pattern is set in the ultimate sacrifice that God endured to guarantee our relationship with Him.

The loss of Christian faith in our culture has resulted in a deficit of sacrificial care in our relationships, and the prevailing cult of self-obsession will continue to erode marriage and make resolution of failing marriages more difficult. While this attitude, and the ease of divorce that fosters it, persists, marriage break-up will continue. It takes two to make a marriage, but only one to break it up. It is the giving of sacrificial love—a practical rather than emotional gift—that is the active ingredient in joyful union.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hope in Extremity?

Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23.

The scale of earth’s tragedies is difficult to comprehend. It is only the snapshots on television that expose the individual suffering in the Pakistan floods, the Haitian earthquake, and other recurring catastrophes. They provide a glimpse of the devastation that millions of earth’s inhabitants endure.

So many lose everything of meaning, home, land, and often members of their loved ones killed in the disaster. Left with no means of sustenance, many more face death from starvation, exposure, and sickness, unless aid comes quickly. The initial calamity is only the beginning of a mounting struggle for survival.

While natural disasters are tragedy enough, it is unconscionable that millions more are forced into grim poverty and death due to rebellion and terror. Places like Dafur and Congo are household names due to the infamy of political or military perpetrators, or greed of the powerful.

In Jeremiah’s time, Judah and Jerusalem were in a similar predicament. The Babylonians had overrun and devastated the land, burnt the city and exiled the leadership of the land. Peasants were left to forage for food. Lamentations is Jeremiah’s record of the degradation and misery that remained.

Young and old were fainting and dying in the streets from hunger, bodies left unburied, and mothers ate their babies to stay alive. There was no aid from neighbouring countries. Few knew about it, and those who knew didn’t care, or even rejoiced in Judah’s suffering.

Today’s text is remarkable because Jeremiah wrote it during this calamity. Despite all this devastation and apparent hopelessness, he was convinced of God’s ongoing compassion for his people. He had no visible evidence to support this claim; he could only find it in the unseen reality of God’s faithfulness.

I doubt those of us in the relatively secure west will face such extremity, but most of us will face personal difficulties that seem just as intractable. I have to ask myself, would I respond with such assurance of God’s care? A verse later, Jeremiah responds to the question: The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.