01/10/2012 10:22 am ET Updated Mar 11, 2012

Divorce Prevention Through Marriage Attention

A couple of days ago, I found out about the recent engagements of two of the most prolific basketball stars of our generation, Michael Jordan and Lebron James. Also, I reflect on the recent divorce of Kobe Bryant, who publicly more than eight years ago admitted adultery to his former wife Vanessa for 10 years. Of course, since we are just talking about prolific athletes we cannot discount the very public divorce of Tiger Woods.

I know that athletes are not gods, and despite the money, fame and fortune that comes with such appeal, it hurts me anytime a marriage is dissolved. How does the magical connection that comes with consenting adults affirming their undying love for each other leads to its dissolution even if it means settling for as much as a billion dollars. It is time in 2012 to restore the sacred meaning of marriage as a society, culture and make a stand that we as a community and nation will uphold this sacred institution with dignity and accountability.

I realize that many of our own marriages are not as sea worthy as we'd like them to be. Some are like the U.S.S. Arizona -- a roaring battleship. Some are like the Minnow from Gilligan's Island -- the crew set out for a pleasant journey and ended up barely surviving on an uncharted desert island. Others are like a rowboat -- it's definitely afloat, but it takes a ton of hard work to keep it moving forward. The solution to these peaks and valleys in any human relationships in not through divorce.

It's the same thing when we get performance evaluations at work. What makes you think our marriages are any different? They need regular, proactive attention.

Jesus' words, as recorded by St. Mark, should encourage us to consider a marital tune-up. This passage can be a sensitive one because he addresses this issue of divorce.

We've probably all heard that divorce rates, inside and outside of the church, are the same, so we haven't exactly upheld a model of healthy and sustainable marriages for the watching world. We also haven't done a great job caring for the divorced in our churches. Divorced people tell stories of how they have been socially marginalized in the church -- about being branded with the Scarlet "D."

Part of the reason the issue is a sticky one comes from the fact that there are several different streams of belief on what the Bible teaches about divorce and remarriage.

Some people believe there is no acceptable reason that allows for divorce or remarriage.

Some hold that there are acceptable reasons for divorce, such as marital unfaithfulness, but that a divorced person cannot remarry at all, save for reconciling their original marriage.

A common view in the church is that divorce and remarriage are only justifiable by the "innocent" spouse in situations of adultery or abandonment by their partner.

Still others see numerous justifiable reasons why people might divorce and freely remarry.

Consensus hardly abounds, and we would not assume to find it here today. But perhaps there is another view on divorce that we can all find common ground on:

Divorce prevention through marriage attention.

That's how Jesus handles the issue. The Pharisees have questioned him about the law: "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" (10:2). They want to know about the rules. Who can and who can't? For what reasons? In which of the previously mentioned streams of belief would Jesus locate himself?

But Jesus redirects them back to God's heart for marriage. The question shouldn't be "Is it lawful to divorce?" It should be "How can we be one flesh?"

Jesus connects marriage to God's creation mandate when he recites Genesis 2. God originally made male and female (10:6). His plan was for daughters and sons to leave their families and unite into new families through marriage (10:7). Families can't be dissolved because they are of the same flesh, blood and DNA. Hence, marriage is described similarly: "the two shall become one flesh" (10:8).

Our society offers freedom and choice everywhere. Become a teacher, a doctor, a construction worker or a stay-at-home parent? Contemporary or traditional worship? Coke or Pepsi in diet or regular or lime or cherry or vanilla?

Our culture does not arrange marriages, thankfully. We choose our spouses as well. But after that choice is made, Jesus wants it to be clear that marriage equals one flesh equals family. And when you stop to realize it, family is one of the only things we can't choose in this life. God didn't consult us on who our parents would be -- he told us to honor our mother and father (Exodus 20:12).

When a marriage choice is made, family is made. Now God's primary concern for us is how we relate to our family, and not if we will relate to them.

As people date seriously, they inevitably think about their potential partner by asking, "Can we make this work?" Once they strike their vows of marriage, the question changes to, "How are we going to make this work?"

In "The Mystery of Marriage," Mike Mason compares marital vows to other promises we make. He notes that promises lose their power when they are broken, but not vows. Wedding vows hold their power of intent irrespective of one's feelings and conduct. A person cannot promise to love another person -- they can only vow to do so. He says, "To keep a vow therefore means not to keep from breaking it, but to devote the rest of one's life to discovering what the vow means and be willing to change and grow accordingly." God's idea for marriage preceded the union of Adam and Eve and the coming of Christ. We know this because when Christ's apostle explained the mystery of marriage, he reached back to the beginning of the Bible and quoted Genesis 2:24, "A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." Then, in the next sentence, he interpreted what he had just quoted: This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32).

That means that in God's mind marriage was designed in the beginning to display Christ's relationship to his people. The reason marriage is called a "mystery" is that this aim for marriage was not clearly revealed until the coming of Christ. Now we see that marriage is meant to make Christ's love for his people more visible in the world. I wonder are we revealing that mystery to the world by having more persons divorce that are married in our culture? I wonder if we are showing that length of love Christ has shown us in suffering when our spouse is busy and we connect with the most convenient Johnny or Jane come lately? Are we going that length to show this sacred mystery by concluding such dissolution as responsible adults by claiming we just grew apart? It is time for us to recover this mystery by going the distance in our present relationships to suffer as Christ for the one we love.

Every time we attend a wedding and hear marriage vows, it reminds us of the intents that we made to our own spouses. And anyone who is honest about marriage will tell you that holding those vows takes effort. Selflessness. Choice. Growth. Compromise.

This is what two lives becoming one flesh means.

What if a little more of both went to our marriages? We could go on dates as spouses the way we used to as boyfriend-girlfriend. We could learn each other's love languages and put our intentionality into communicating through them. We could seek counsel from friends, pastors and professionals when we see an area of marriage to work on.

Jesus doesn't want us concerned with whether or not we can pursue divorce. He wants us concerned with whether or not we are pursuing our marriage.

Let's put some elbow grease into our relationships because we could all use some cramming for marriage by recovering the mystery of this most sacred institution. A healthy and sustained relationship means divorce prevention through marriage attention.