If you want to kill a conversation, bring up divorce. Even though our culture treats it as no big deal, divorce is weighty. Something breaks within us when we hear that a friend or family member’s marriage is ending. And with good reason: Instinctively, we know divorce “shouldn’t” happen. It’s not remotely what God designed for marriage.
But, as John Greco puts it in his new book, Broken Vows, “If marriage is two people becoming one flesh, as the Bible says, then divorce is like that flesh being torn in two without anesthetic.”
This was certainly Greco’s experience, when he learned his wife wanted a divorce and had no interest in pursuing counselling. Not only did her decision end their marriage, it ended his career—the church he was called to pastor rescinded the call and he was left broke, unemployed, and bearing the mark of the “scarlet D” (to borrow a phrase).
And yet, despite all the hardship he experienced, despite all the pain and emotional anguish he suffered, he can look back and say, God was good in this. And this is what he wants readers to learn. He wants us all to see “a gospel-centered life learns to recognize everything—even seemingly bad things—as being the very best from the hand of a loving God and Father.”
In all honesty, this is a difficult book to review. I’ve never been divorced, nor do I plan to be, Lord willing. But I am a child of divorce and I’ve seen multiple family members divorce. And friends, too. So it’s hard to say, “this particular point really spoke to me and here’s how I’m applying it.” I’m just not in that place.
Despite the book not speaking to my specific experiences, there are still a couple of important things I’ve been able to glean from the book:
First, this book will be extremely beneficial for those counselling divorced believers. If you’re a lay counsellor, pastor, small group leader or if you’ve got friends, you’re going to have to deal with divorce sooner or later. And what divorced men and women in our churches in our congregations is not guilt and shame over having their marriages end; they need love and support from people who care about them.
Greco candidly shares his experience of finding hope and healing on the other side of divorce, and manages describe the wrongs done to him without painting himself as the innocent victim. This is especially helpful because this is the kind of mindset we need to help others model, not just those who are divorced, but all of us—we must clearly acknowledge the sins committed against us, but we must be honest about our own sins, as well. Greco’s example in this book will surely help others do likewise.
Second, this book reminded me why marriage is constantly under attack. Why? Because marriage is not only a wonderful gift from God, but it is meant to be a picture of the gospel. When a marriage is functioning as God intended, it’s a living illustration to all the world—it screams, “This is what our Savior does for His bride!” This is a wonderful and glorious thing. Witnessing a healthy marriage, where a wife is submitting to her husband and her husband is sacrificially loving her, says more about the gospel’s power than many a sermon.
But a broken marriage, a marriage where sin has torn apart what God has united, mars this reality. This isn’t to say that there aren’t biblical reasons to get divorced (see Matt 5:32), but when divorce occurs, it’s an ugly, painful thing. It subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) tells the world that maybe Christ isn’t sufficient after all.
Regardless of whether you’ve experienced divorce or not, Broken Vows will surely be a valuable addition to your bookshelf. For those who’ve experienced divorce, I pray that you’d see God’s work in you reflected in His work in its author. For those who haven’t, I pray it gives you a greater sense of compassion for those who have been divorced and allows you to better love and serve them to the glory of God.
Title: Broken Vows: Divorce and the Goodness of God
Author: John Greco
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2013)