Torn Asunder: Children, the Myth of the Good Divorce, and the Recovery of Origins

Torn Asunder: Children, the Myth of the Good Divorce, and the Recovery of Origins, edited by Margaret Harper McCarthy, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2017

The reason you will remain married to your spouse is that you love God and are thankful to him for his gracious salvation of you. You wish to show this thankfulness by obeying his commandments, including those on marriage: “Let not the wife depart from her husband” and “let not the husband put away his wife” (1 Cor. 7:10, 11).
You don’t need any more reason than that not to (unbiblically) divorce your spouse.
However, it may be that a couple who has had a hard, contentious marriage which seems to be careening towards a divorce may consider divorce as a better alternative to their troubled, current reality. The unspoken thought is finally verbalized, “A good divorce will be better for our children than the bad marriage which we currently experience!”
In the new book Torn Asunder, a collection of essays on the damaging effects of divorce, psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons references a study that shows that “children whose parents had a “good divorce” fared worse compared to those whose parents had unhappy marriages” (53). If you are not finding the commands of God to be a compelling enough reason to stay married, do it for your children.
This book exposes the myth of the “good divorce.” Page after page confronts the reader with the damage that divorce does to the children.
The pain and harm that divorce causes children are not only in the year that the divorce takes place. Paul Sullins, in his essay titled “The Tragedy of Divorce for Children,” writes, “Even so, it is already clear that parental divorce has an ongoing effect on children through the course of their lives” (32). A few pages later he references a study done by Judith Wallerstein that “emphasized that some of the greatest effects of divorce don’t appear until adulthood, and emerge despite how well the person might have appeared to “cope” with the divorce as a child” (34).
The book is painful to read and will draw tears from the eyes of the heart-stricken reader. Adults have a hard time “coping” with divorce, and now you ask children to weather this storm?
Parents are given a unique, and powerful place of responsibility in the life of their children. They are “the first teachers of their children, the privileged witnesses to the deepest, most permanent realities” (12). When the people the children most look up to separate, it devastates the vulnerable, developing child. Almost always “the children are very young when the family is disrupted, and the divorce almost always removes from them the active presence of their father” (21). The divorce strikes at the very being of the children (many of the authors speak of the “ontological security” (38) of the child, where ontological refers to the very being or essence of a child). Andrew Root, himself a child of divorce, writes that divorce is an “act that leaves us feeling unreal, lost, as though the world is unreliable” (82). Haunting are the words of Stephanie Staal, “If our parents no longer love each other, and on some level we belong to both of them, where does that leave us?” (94). Another child of divorce remembers her dad saying “I never, ever loved your mother. I don’t know why I didn’t get out of this sooner.” She writes, “that was really painful, because it was like he was saying, ‘I wish you’d never been born.’ That was the implication behind that” (96).
If the reader wants to better counsel those who are considering divorce, or those who have been affected by divorce, reading this book will help you in your understanding of what they are going through. It is easy to ignore the Roman Catholic theology that is taught in the book because the Roman Catholic Church has lost all credibility and authority to lecture anyone on any spiritual matter, much less marriage and sexuality. Ignore the theology that is proposed and focus on the painful realities that divorce forces on children, how it affects them, and how they can be ministered to.
Studies have shown that those tasked with ministering to victims of divorce have many times done a poor job of it. In one study, 2/3 of young adults who regularly attended church said that “no one—neither from the clergy nor the congregation—reached out to them” as they were going through this traumatic event (67–68). Another study pointed out that children of divorce were “rarely approached” by religious leaders and rarely received responses “to their troubled questions” (55). We can all ask ourselves, church leaders and lay people alike: Are we doing all that we can do for those who have been wickedly abandoned (both spouse and children)?
The essay that points out the failures of the so-called political Christian right is damning. The Moral Majority, Christian Coalition, and the Family Research Council have protested many so-called ills in the nation but have been “virtually silent” on the scandal that was causing the most harm to families, divorce and the inevitable remarriage (137).
The book tracks the progression of church after church which over time changed their teaching on what constituted biblical divorce, not because of any new insights into the biblical teaching on the topic, but because of the pressures coming from the sheer number of people who were divorced and remarried. “All of these factors can lead pastors to ask themselves, how it is even possible to broach the issue without offending someone? They therefore hesitate, and then choose silence” (151). The essay “United We Divide” tracks the devolution from understanding the marriage after divorce to be “continuous adultery” (143) to the fact that “it is no longer divorce, but rather its condemnation, that has become taboo for all” (149).
Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:6 come to mind reading this book, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” The man (or woman) who calmly packs their bags, walks out the door, and into the house of their adulterous lover will one day answer to the King of these sheep. Then that unfaithful man or woman will themselves curse the day of their conception (Job 3:3).
Recognizing what divorce does to children and that God loves and pays special divine attention to his little ones, it is no surprise he hates divorce (Matt. 18:6, Mal. 2:16).
It weighs heavily on me that there may be a young person reading this review who is himself or herself a child of divorce. My heart breaks for you for the pain that you have had to endure. The loneliness (62), the depression (34), the fear and the anxiety (96) that you have had to shoulder are heavy burdens to bear. They are not impossible burdens, however. Your heavenly Father will never forsake you, and his care is focused in a special way on you. Throughout all of scripture, God admonishes his people to care for the poor and weak, for the widow, and for the fatherless. So important is this to God that he defines it as “pure religion” (James 1:27). “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation” (Ps. 68:5). Earthly fathers and mothers may forsake you, but God will be faithful to the end. “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up” (Ps. 27:10).
Whate’er my God ordains is right:
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet am I not forsaken.
My Father’s care
Is round me there;
He holds me that I shall not fall;
And so to Him I leave it all.
Samuel Rodigast (1649-1708)