The Better Question

In 2005, Kyle and I flew to Lima, Peru for the Pan American Lectureships.  We hoped to gain some perspective on the Peruvian church and meet other missionaries from around Latin America.  We were aware that the “marriage-divorce-remarriage” controversy had split the Peruvian church.  In fact, in addition to the usual Lectureship activities, some of the visiting missionaries attempted to bring the two sides together for the first time in many years.  It was and is an ugly situation.

As observers still years from entering the mission field, we did not expect the controversy to touch us personally.  Moreover, while the conflict was clearly real, it all seemed caricatured—tales of preachers trained to travel around and insinuate themselves into congregations in order ferret out the false brothers; which is to say, in order to split churches.  Fixating on an issue or reducing salvation to a single conclusion is one thing–a historically typical thing—but a country-wide witch hunt was another thing altogether.  It was surreal.

Then a young Peruvian preacher who had heard were were planning to work in Arequipa approached us during a coffee break.  “I hear you are going to Arequipa,” he said.  “Yes, that’s right,” we responded.  “What do you think about marriage-divorce-remarriage,” he inquired directly.  There was no avoiding the confrontation.  It was already pursuing us.

Yet, we’ve had no part in that internecine strife.  Instead, our friends’ marriage struggles have confronted us.  What Scripture says about marriage has come alive as God’s own wisdom for living well in our most challenging relationships.  It is only by contrast that the tragedy of using Scripture as a bludgeon to defend one’s legal verdict.  The urgent question that comes from every direction is not whether one is allowed to get divorced or remarried but how to stay married despite the difficulty it involves.  The former is a question worth exploring, but the latter is far more important.  Jesus himself said that divorce existed because of hardness of heart—the same affliction that he diagnosed in his apostles—which leads me to believe that the more fundamental question in his mind was how to soften hearts.  Our friends who ask for biblical guidance to better their marriages are not asking which commandments they must obey but how to obey.  They are asking to be discipled; they are asking for softened hearts.  Imagine if the Pharisees had asked that instead.  Imagine if the Peruvian church had.

Requests for sound counsel led Abraham and me to offer a marriage seminar, which we recently completed.  For five Saturday evenings we explored the nature and purpose of marriage.  The sixth and final class was cancelled because of José Luis and Miriam’s wedding.  Preparations for the ceremony were more than they could manage alone, but the church members worked together to make it happen.  It was a tremendous thing to witness the church rally behind Miriam, who is a new Christian, and bless their union with service and love.  I much prefer to see the unity of the church upholding a marriage than to see a teaching against divorce dividing the church.