March 24, 2015

God Doesn’t Care About Shells

Gary Thomas — 

God Doesn't Care About Shells

One of my close friends, Dr. Mike Dittman, recently challenged me with a profound statement: “Gary,” he said, “God doesn’t care about shells; He cares about the people in the shells.”

Mike was referring to churches, but let’s apply this to marriage. Keep in mind, Mike is ardently pro-local church. His ministry is singularly focused on local churches and pastors. What he meant by his statement is that if any one particular church goes “down,” God is more concerned about the people who make up the church, not the organizational shell that crumbles. God can build up another church, perhaps even a healthier church, on that very same spot, to become a new shell for the people hurting inside.

Can anyone deny that this is true? Shells—ministry organizations, church buildings, non-profits, schools, Christian publishers—even at their best, are still shells. Some go on to glory. Some collapse into infamy. Some become agents of darkness instead of beacons of light.

God isn’t into shells—He’s into people.

Look at the nations God has torn down and lifted up. Look at the temples He commanded to be built and allowed to be destroyed. Look at the rulers He exalted and then humbled. Look at the churches that flourished and now have disappeared. Tell me—does God care about shells, or people? And shouldn’t we look at marriage the same way? Rome Forum final

That’s why I’ve recently been willing to speak up about the “shell” of marriage as it pertains to divorce. I’ve based a large part of my career and ministry on supporting hurting marriages, trying to build marriages back up. I’ve counseled couples, written books, spoken to thousands at conferences or millions on the radio or television. No one can say I haven’t tried to be faithful to the call to build up and even save marriages. The people who have told me that God used my book Sacred Marriage to “save” their marriage (their word) must number in the hundreds now.

God can and does heal and redeem broken marriages. But some individuals can and do marry evil people who resist God’s Holy Spirit but try to use God’s word as cover to keep perpetrating their evil. Marriage, like a church, to a certain extent is still a shell. If a marriage “shell” is used to allow real people to be abused and hurt, God may well take it down. Keep in mind, in the first century, Jewish women weren’t allowed to divorce their husbands. Jesus fought divorce to protect women who could be easily discarded with little prospects. His comments on divorce were to protect women, not to keep them in a harmful situation. He was caring for real people more than he was idolizing a “shell.”

Haven’t we turned this around a little? When a man preys on his wife and children, refusing to repent, almost laughing that they can’t escape his abuse because he has not been sexually unfaithful and won’t abandon them so any divorce would be “unbiblical,” and then he’s supported by well-meaning Christians who essentially say “the shell of marriage matters more than the woman and children inside the shell,” I think we’ve lost the heart of God.

God cared about Israel more than He cared about their land, their temple, even their freedom. He let plenty of shells crack in order to punish, renew, and ultimately, to rebuild His people. If God will take a throne away from a king, is it too much to think he might take a marriage away from a man, if that’s what He has to do to bring him to repentance?

One man—a serious drug addict and alcoholic—told me that the only thing that brought him to repentance was knowing for certain he would lose his wife and daughter if he slipped up one more time. He even told me, “Gary, if there was a one percent chance I could have both my addictions and my marriage, I would have held onto my addictions. It was only my certainty that my wife was done that made me be so ruthless in doing the work to get over my addictions.”

Of course, I hope any woman (or man) forced into separation or divorce will pray and work toward reconciliation. Remarriage is an entirely separate issue beyond the scope of this post. All I’m trying to say here is that the church shouldn’t enable wicked things to happen to people in the name of preserving a legalistic shell.

This might sound sketchy to some, but I believe God cares about the people in a marriage even more than He cares about preserving a marriage. If a friend or pastor becomes more concerned about preserving a shell and diminishes the people being destroyed within that shell, I believe the weight of Scripture is against that person, not with him.

I don’t want to argue about marriage or divorce in the comments section, so I won’t. I hate divorce. I wish nobody had to experience it. Biblically, it is clearly an absolute last resort when someone has persistently resisted repentance. It is not about escaping an unhappy or less than fulfilling marriage. But I’ve seen some women (and a few men) whose lives (and whose children’s lives) would have been ruined if they hadn’t gotten out. These are extreme situations so they shouldn’t be seen as the rule, but they are real situations and shouldn’t be dismissed.

Perhaps I’m wrong. But what Mike said to me rings true: “God isn’t into shells; He’s into people.”

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35 responses to God Doesn’t Care About Shells

  1. I’ve really gained so much from your wisdom Gary and I am so glad that I stumbled upon your site. I would like to share my story with you for the sake of two possibilities – firstly, to give you more insight into the relationship between a Christian woman married to a non Christian man and secondly – the damage that relationship has on the Marraige itself and on the children brought up in that Marraige. I have battled for a long time in staying in a Marraige that I believed I had to stay in according to what the church told me.. and I’ve seen my children gravitate to their fathers worldly ways and have become like him in treating me badly. I always thought that my job was just to forgive as Jesus said (yes the resentment never left) and to love unconditionally – even if that meant I had to put up with a lot of wrong treatment. But now, after many, many years of this I am nothing more then a broken woman. Most days now I am so sad that I dream of dying. I thank you for the subjects you write about and I thank you that what you write about has started to give me a different perspective. Kind regards, Josie

    • Dear Josie, I was very sad to read what you have been through. Never, ever forget that God loves you. It is not your fault that your husband has behaved badly. I am a little concerned that you have said that you dream of dying. Is there no one from whom you can get some support? Remember, in Jesus, we always have a future and a hope. I can recommend a good book for you. It’s not Christian book, but I think it’s got some very helpful tips as to how to behave towards people whose behaviour is less than satisfactory. The book is called “How to love and be loved” and it is by Dr Paul Hauck. As I’ve already said, it’s not a Christian book, but It has a lot of common sense. Dear Jessie, please do not despair. God loves you and he wants you to live a full life. And remember, He has said : “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

  2. There was abuse I think on both sides. After being submissive for so long, I really did not want to displease God, and my husband using his authority in selfish ways.. For example not letting me see female doctors and having an undertreated bladder condition for years…. I started to get bitter and defiant. God is working on my bitterness, but it is so hard to do when he lies, cover ups, and blames me for everything. Cps finally got involved due to the harsh treatment with the children and told me to leave or else they were going to take the kids away. When I left he told everyone he left me because I tiraded against him all the time. And then he told everyone I was guilty if fornication and he was Free. He is studying to be a minister…. And the using the bible to abuse is totally him. He led everyone to believe I was emotionally ill and highlighted ask the sins I feel in because of the dark depression I feel into. This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I have young triplets and have had to be in 5 different shelters as he gets to let everyone believe he is righteous and I’m crazy. I’m so broken I just want to die.

  3. Your post spoke volumes to me and is the first I have read on this very topic! Thank you for addressing it!

    I too believe that God cares more about the people within a marriage than the marriage itself, especially where there is abuse involved.

    I lived in an abusive marriage for 20 years and my ex walked out on our boys and me 6 years ago with the intention of setting me straight and straightening me out. I realized months after he left that his leaving was well played out on his part and no matter what happened he was going to make sure I was viewed as an un-Godly wife who was going against scripture. Turns out he was telling everyone that his leaving was mutually agreed upon so we’d have a time of separation to work on things.
    And because of what he told everyone in the church we had attended during that time most tried to let me know how wrong I was for not wanting to reconcile and make the marriage work. After 20 years, I think I’d tried pretty darn hard.

    This statement stuck out to me: “…I believe God cares about the people in a marriage even more than He cares about preserving a marriage.”

    You see, one of the elders of my former church was trying to ‘help’ my ex set me straight. This man actually said to me that God cared more about keeping that marriage together than what was going on inside of it!
    After I got over my initial jaw-dropping shock, I quietly, yet firmly told this man how I believed God cared more about the people within a marriage and their heart conditions than the marriage itself.
    We never talked again…and I left that church.

    I will be reposting this on my blog!

    Thank you again for speaking out. Yes, divorce is very painful even when it may be necessary, but staying in an abusive situation is far more damaging.