People will be lovers of themselves…treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. – 2 Timothy 3:2a, 4-5, NIV
“I feel like I’ve made my marriage an idol. So, I need to give it to God being willing to divorce you.”
Doesn’t that sound so godly?
This person is falling on her sword to honor God–allegedly–and put down her idol.
We would not want her to be an idolater, would we?
A real mind-bender isn’t it?!
All other considerations about what is a Biblical or non-Biblical divorce seem to fade away with this “justification.”
In the young, Reformed wing of conservative Christianity, there was a movement to seek out idols in one’s life. The idea was to identify the things or persons that took preeminence over God and repent of making them idols. A good book–and I am not being sarcastic–on this subject is Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters or from a Christian counseling perspective Edward T Welch’s Addictions: A Banquet In the Grave. Both these books make some excellent points and can be used for good. But they can also be used for ill. Obviously.
I do not know if it was just the particular sick, twisted brand of “evangelical” Christianity that I dealt with or this is a common demonic excuse to pursue an unbiblical divorce. Regardless, it was a tough nut to crack even though it certainly did not pass the sane, sniff test.
To be clear: Marriage can absolutely be an idol.
This is the appearance of godliness part: Marriage can be an idol. This partial truth’s purpose is to make the lie go down to the deepest parts.
In fact, I consider pastors who absolutely refuse to accept Biblical divorce in the face of adultery to have such idolatry problems. They hold the marriage to take precedence over God’s clear teaching that adultery is intolerable and divorce is an option when it is present in a marriage (see my post: God Hates Adultery More Than Divorce).
However, I am concerned about when a cheating spouse uses this excuse as a cover for seeking a divorce, unbiblically. It has martyr casting potential:
I’ve worked SOOO hard and in fact, too hard, in our marriage–poor me. So, now I am giving up my idol of marriage. Time to get a divorce.
Marriage is not something we earn anymore than we earn our covenant with God. It is a grace God has bestowed upon humanity. This gift can be destroyed just as any material gift. However, I am very suspicious of idolatry-talk on these matters. Other options exist than seeking divorce when a spouse is talking about making their marriage as their idol.
Attend to one’s calling in the career world.
Go on a contemplative retreat.
Invest more daily time in devotions.
Spend more time caring for the children.
Get a hobby or two.
Learn a new skill.
Volunteer at the homeless shelter.
Etc, etc, etc.
All of these take the focus off the marriage directly. Some are better than others for attending to one’s spiritual life. However, they are all adult solutions to such an imbalance that do not include divorcing one’s spouse.
My point is that “Marriage = Idol” does not necessarily lead to “I must get a divorce.” In fact, I would suggest it rarely does for a responsible, faithful Christian seeking to honor God (rare as in only when one is married to an adulterous spouse–with some possible limited additions).
This is a dangerous “justification” to use because it is thick with the appearance of godliness. My biggest issue against such a “justification” is that I nowhere see God instruct His people to divorce if they are too focused upon their marriage (ergo making it an idol). The Bible is full of teaching on idolatry, and idolatry is certainly serious sin. However, I find it instructive that neither Jesus nor the Apostle Paul make this one of the situations warranting an acceptable divorce for faithful Christians. As I have point out above, many excellent other options exist than seeking a divorce under such circumstances.
In sum, “My Marriage is my idol” is cheater-speak for “I want to look godly while I treacherously break my covenant vows with you and God.”
Do not be deceived by the shell.
It is simply a shiny cover for sin.