The news is full of the horrors of divorce and of single parent children. Everyone (perhaps I should say "Every person," as I'm sure the lawyers aren't losing sleep over divorce) is very sad about it. Too many are breaking their vows, and in doing so are breaking the ties that bind. But as is so often the case, our problem in the church is usually not the obvious sins. We like to be a little more circumspect than the world. We don't go in for easy divorce (at least at our best; the statistics seem to show that self-described evangelicals are in a dead heat with our unbelieving neighbors in the divorce rate). And if we did, there would still be plenty of other good men out there practicing the prophetic gift against divorce. That is not my aim here. No, my point is directed at others, the evangelicals who want everything practical and so go for practical divorce, all the sin without all the baggage.
The Sin Without the Baggage
"Practical divorce" is another, perhaps clearer, word for abdication. What we do instead of divorce is lie down on the job. Like Bartleby, when confronted with our familial job description we reply, "I would prefer not to." We find all kinds of ways to abdicate, to break the ties that bind, while still looking our best.
Often it is merely a matter of time. We simply fail to pay sufficient attention to our wives, husbands, or children. It may be sports, watching or playing. That we could even joke about "football widows" is a sign of decline. It could be the biggest sport of all, surfing. Whether we surf the east coast on a computer screen or the west coast on a TV screen doesn't make much difference.
The greatest danger lies in the greatest distractions. "Ministry" works great. Who better to have as your illicit lover than God Himself? Just let the wife or husband complain to the elders about that. Or how about the kids? Aren't they important? Better yet, call them God's covenant children. "Sorry I haven't said one word to you today, but you know, I've got these covenant children to look after."
Abdication doesn't even require absence. We can spend all kinds of time with our families, and yet have a practical divorce. We do so by failing to perform our functions. When we want our children to see us as buddies, and so fail to discipline, we have abdicated. When we want our wives to see us not as covenantal heads but as evangelical Romeos, we have abdicated. When we want our husbands to see us not as godly helpmates but as Christian playmates, then we have abdicated. When we want our grown children to see us as over-indulgent sitters of their children rather than patriarchs and matriarchs, then we have abdicated. When we want our parents to see us not as blessings to be nurtured in the admonition of the Lord, but as future all-stars or movie stars to be chauffeured hither and yon, we have abdicated.
We have been given roles to play in families. And the family is no place for stream of consciousness improvising. Those roles have been given to us by the Great Playwright Himself. These roles are no more stifling than the script of Hamlet. To be sure, the world beckons us to another stage where we can play the harlot. But God has not called you to be "you," at least what you think "you" are. He has not placed you upon His stage to hear you warble through yet another rendition of "My Way." He has called you to be His, that is, ever more like His Son. Like a mask, we put on Christ, not only covering our shame in His glory, but becoming more like Him with each passing day. And surprise, we become more like what we really are. We find that we are putting back together the shattered pieces of the image of God in us.
Blessed Be The Tie
The ties that bind us in our familial roles are also the anchors in our lives. They keep us from being smashed against the rocks in the storm of cultural rebellion. They keep us from drifting into uncharted waters, littered with the rusting hulls of those who have made shipwreck of their souls. The ties that bind us are like those that bound Ulysses, keeping him from leaping to his death in pursuit of the lie of the Sirens. The ties that bind us are the very chains that mark our enslavement to Christ. He bought us, and He owns us. Let us honor Him in all obedience, and with great joy.
Reprinted with permission from Every Thought Captive, Vol. 2, Jan/Feb, 1998.
- R. C. Sproul, Jr.
Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. is the director of the Highlands Study Center, www.highlandsstudycenter.org, editor of Tabletalk magazine, and author of Tearing Down Strongholds, and Eternity in Our Hearts. Most important, he is the husband of Denise, and father of six, with one on the way.