My wife and I went to see Crazy, Stupid, Love last weekend; a rom-com starring Steve Carell as “Cal,” Ryan Gosling as “Jacob,” Julianne Moore as “Emily,” and Emma Stone as “Hannah.” The story centers around the troubled marriage of Cal and Emily, high school sweethearts whose relationship has seemingly run out of gas, to which the audience is made aware of to early on. At a dinner scene, Emily dramatically chooses something not on the menu – divorce. Cal takes the news very hard yet lethargically accepts. He’s the classic middle-aged man who has sort of stopped trying – with his wardrobe, with his physique, and in his relationships. Thankfully the one thing he does have going for him is his strong relationship with his kids, the father-son relationship with “Robbie” being highlighted. Hearing the news of the coming divorce unexpectedly, Robbie is shocked and upset; he admires his father, especially what his father had taught him about love.
I won’t ruin the rest of the movie for those who haven’t seen it. It was a decent movie over-all. Steve Carell plays a great dorky-middle aged guy (see 40-year old virgin and Dinner for Smucks for more instances), Ryan Gosling is hot (according to my wife), and I liked Julianne Moore and Emma Stone. Besides an awkward “sexting” incident, (which as potential future parent of a daughter found troubling and an unnecessary “stamp of approval” of the practice),it was a funny, feel-good, and romantic story.
This movie got me thinking about divorce and the perceptions of such within Christianity. Growing up a conservative Baptist, divorce was a four-letter word. As I’ve moved into liberal Protestantism, there seems to be a more an attitude of indifference towards divorce (in fairness I’m fairly new, maybe I’m missing something). I find myself looking for something in the middle between condemnation and apathy.
The “Christian” response to this question would be to “see what the Bible says;” if only it was that simple. Yes, in the Bible, there is much said in a negative manner about divorce, even by Jesus; but this is where it’s important to remember the Bible was written low ago in a culture far different from our own. When a woman (or more likely a teenage girl) married a man, she was forfeiting her relationship with her family in order to be assimilated into his. If a man divorced his wife, he left her without any family or even any social support system. The family in this time was self-sufficient –they were their own creator and supplier of the needs for daily living. Divorcing a woman left her destitute, with only two real options to provide for herself – begging (if she was old) or prostitution (if she was younger). No wonder Jesus spoke so vehemently about divorce!
So I still find myself confused, and perhaps this is where I need to remember there are not any easy answers when it comes to life (and only the foolish think there are). In the movie, Cal had obviously quit trying; can one really blame Emily for wanting to move on? Yet this resolution has unintended consequences as Robbie is extremely disillusioned (his father’s failure at love casts a dark shadow on his own future ability). Divorce is hard on kids – flat out hard (check out The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce), but again condemning everything or looking the other way is no “solution” anyway. And that’s assuming a solution is always possible.
Is there a solution to a husband that has quit trying and is unwilling to ever try again? Is there a solution to an abusive spouse? Is there a solution to a loveless marriage? Is there a solution to infidelity? If only “staying together for the kids” was as easy as it’s made out to be in Couples Retreat (and even there it’s hardly painted as a success). Is there an easy answer when two folks get married far too early and far too young? My wife and I will readily admit we got married WAY to young (me 21, she 20), but it was what you did in the culture we grew up in. We are very glad we are together, but it has been WORK, with many ups and downs along the way (I love you btw!). Unfortunately we know others who haven’t been as fortunate as us, who married too young and who weren’t able to make it when one didn’t want to try anymore. If there is one takeaway from Crazy, Stupid¸Love, it is that love takes work, and when you stop trying, you stop loving.
So again, back to the church, I’m still looking for something in between condemnation and apathy. Perhaps a strong support system for those within committed relationships (I’ll open the door wider, after all I’m a liberal) but also for those on the other side who simply couldn’t make it work. And for the latter, this is where the church must not cast out judgment but rather focus on bringing healing to the hearts of the parties involved – especially the children.
Once a friend commented to my wife that Satan, “roars around like a lion,” trying to destroy marriages. Do I believe in devilish figure with a pitchfork sabotaging relationships? Not really. But I do believe there are many things within our culture that can destroy relationships? Yes, wholeheartedly. For those of us in relationships, we would be fools if we don’t take those things seriously.
I’m not sure I’ve really come to any conclusions about divorce, but I don’t really think conclusions can be drawn. Love is a beautiful, wonderful thing that is sustained by effort; I pray the church will be there to help love flourish, and be there to help pick up the pieces when things go array.