Divorce (old Cornerstone mag article)

Cornerstone Archives, Issue #55]



by Jon Trott


Despite reflection and prayer, an oppressive feeling had slowly settled over me. “I wonder‑what’s wrong?.” I asked a fellow Cornerstone writer. Under questioning, the realization of the oppression I’d been feeling became evident. A series of divorces among men and women I’d felt a kinship with, namely contemporary Christian musicians, had caused the unseen burdens. I felt both saddened and somehow betrayed.


A further examination of the divorce question opened new vistas which I hadn’t wanted to see. The disease of disposable marriage ran also throughout the “straight” gospel music industry, through church denominations, throughout those I’d known as “men of God.”


I was convicted of my lack of understanding or compassion concerning this Christian tragedy. There were so many conflicting opinions! Was divorce sometimes necessary? What about remarriage? Other questions followed. The answers weren’t as simple as I’d thought.




“So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while be was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.


“The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man.’


“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:21‑24 NIV)


To begin with, what is God’s view of marriage? A discussion on divorce does well to start here. George Peters, a scholar widely recognized for his biblical views on marriage and divorce, comments that there are at least four factors involved in the divine ideal for marital union.


First, the emphasis is on monogamous marriage (one man, one woman). The words “man” and “wife” are both singular in Genesis, the “two” becoming “one flesh.” Next, the permanency of  marriage is exhibited in Mark 10:11 and 12, where Jesus states, “Anyone who  divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.  And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits  adultery.” Thirdly, the intimacy of marriage both sexually and in fellow ship is emphasized by “they … shall be one flesh.” Finally, the mutuality of  marri . age is, as George Peters notes, “for mutual supplementation and com plimentation, as stressed in the words ‘help meet’ (Gen. 2:18).” (Moody 146 Monthly, June 1978, p. 41)


We can be assured that divorce was never a part of God’s original plan. The marriage ideal was shattered by the fall of man. Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees (Matt. 19:1‑9) deals with the fact that God allowed divorce in the Mosaic law (Deut. 24:1‑4) only because of Israel’s “hardness of heart.”


Women in ancient times had the status of property which could be swapped or disposed of with case, an obvious example of this “hardness.” Mosaic law actually offered women more protection than any other society of that time, including special measures for divorced women (Numbers 30:9, Lev. 22:12, 13). However, this law was an admission of man’s unrighteousness not a mandate for divorce.


Jesus’ comments in Matthew, Mark, and Luke are echoed by Malachi in the Old Testament: “You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your bands. You ask ‘Why?’ It is because the Lord is acting as a witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.


“Has not the Lord made them one’ *


In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seekingodly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. ‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel (Mal. 2:13‑16 NIV


So, in looking at Scripture, we see marriage as two human beings becoming united into a new and different creation. Divorce totally smashes this creative partnership. and cannot be biblically viewed as part of God’s highest hope for mankind. It is the sad exception, allowed under certain conditions.




In Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 we find the so‑called “exception clause.” Matt. 19:9 in entirety reads, ” I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (NIV) In both Matthew appearances the clause is identical; the RSV renders it “except for marital unchastity.” The word “unchastity” is translated from the Greek word porneia, covering nearly the entire sexual spectrum. This is in a broader sense than the idea of adultery only, which is signified by the word moickeia. For instance, an incestuous or homosexual husband or wife is an unchaste marriage partner.


Paul asks in I Cor. 6:16. “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ ” This fact strengthens the idea that Jesus did mean exactly what he said. The act of sex outside of marriage is an illicit bonding of one’s body to another, destroying the union consummated oil the married couple’s wedding night. The long‑ suff ering mate who finally asks for legal proceedings to begin is merely signing the coroner’s report on a marriage which is already dead.


If one partner is caught or confesses to adulterous liasons, must he or she be divorced ? Absolutely not! This is contrary to the Christian message of true repentance equals true forgiveness. Christ’s exception comes not in form of a command, but an allowance.


Paul’s words of reconciliation in Colossians 3:20 should apply: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” A reading of the first three chapters of Hosea will further exemplify how far a wronged partner can go in forgiveness and loving restoration of a marriage.




The core of Paul’s teaching on divorce is found in I Corinthians 7:10‑16. Here he gives a straightforward reiteration of Jesus’ teachings, then expands upon a problem among first century churches concerning marriages containing one non‑believing partner. Verses 10 and 11 echo Jesus: “To the married I give this command (not I but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” (NI V)


These verses, like those in Luke 16:18 and Mark 10:2‑12 don’t contain the exception clause for unchastity. The reason is a simple one; as William Barclay notes, sexual misconduct was known in Jewish culture to be a stamp voiding marriage vows.


Verses 12 through 14 have to do with a believer/unbeliever marriage where the latter wishes to stay with his Christian partner. Paul commands the believer not to desert his or her spouse, both for the sake of any children and the possibility of the non‑Christian being converted.


The phrase “To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord) . . .” (v. 12) does not mean that Paul was merely making a suggestion in the absence of clear ‑‑uidance from God. George Peters notes: “the problem in verses 12 to 15 has not been dealt with before. Here Paul bands down an authoritative apostolic verdict


Verse 15 deals with the abandonment of a believing husband or wife by an unbelieving marriage partner. George Peters again notes that this is “in relation not to legal divorce (putting away) but irresponsible desertion (going away) due to religious intolerance.” There is no contradiction therefore in what Jesus gave as grounds for divorce (unchastity) and Paul’s permission to recognize a divorce initiated by the non‑believing partner. The sin rests with he who separates from his spouse (condemned in I Tim. 5:8).


A further problem exists concerning the words “if an unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances . . .” Did Paul mean by “let him do so” that the door was open to divorce, or was Paul merely allowing for separation ? Didn’t the “not bound” refer only to the fact that the deserted believer could act freely in matters not pertaining to marriage?


  1. Edwin Bontrager appeals to the original Greek to clear up these queries. “A literal rendering from the Greek according to the Interlinear GreekEnglish New Testament for verse 15a is, ‘But if the unbelieving one separates him/herself, let him/herself be separated! And . . . it must be emphasized that the word for separation is choridzestho which is not a word only for separation from bed and board, but divorce.” (Divorce and the Faithful Church, Bontrager, 1978, p. 58)


This same Greek word is used by Jesus in Matthew 19:9 concerning marriage and divorce. Jesus is speaking of divorce, not mere separation, and Paul’s use of this same emphatic Greek word leaves no doubt that divorce, not separation, is his topic as well.


Concerning the words “not bound,” Bontrager observes that their Greek interpretation (ou dedoulotai) means “not to be made a slave of” or “not by constraint of law.” In this light, “The word for bondage was a legal term and it meant that persons were no longer held by constraint of law to a former contract.’ For the married person, it meant freedom from all that the married bond implied.” (Ibid., p. 59~)




The question over remarriage has sparked more arguments, legalism, and bitterness than any other aspect of the divorce issue.


Again we must return to Jesus and Paul to frame proper contexts for re’marriage. Most scholars are agreed that Matthew 19:3‑12 is the definitive teaching on divorce given by Jesus, since it incorporates His other statements into a cohesive whole. Verse  19:9 is again the focus of attention in a discussion concerning remarriage: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, another woman commits a ultery.” (NIV)


Remove the exception clause, and the verse would read, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adulterv.” According to such a verse, remarriage for any reason would be sin.


The only reason for including an exception clause is to clarify on what grounds both divorce and remarriage are legitimate. Additionally, it must be noted that, in Jesus’ time to ‘legally” divorce automatically meant one was free to remarry. The bill of divorcement specifically gave this freedom.


Once again we turn to Paul and I Cor. 7. In verses 27 and 28a we find: “Are you bound to a wife? Don’t seek to be released. Have you been released from a wife? Don’t seek a wife. But if you do marry, there is no sin in doing so.” (NBV) Dr. Jay Adams’ superlative book Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, notes concerning this passage:

  1. The word translated ‘released’ in both instances is the same word, luo.
  2. To be released from a wife in the second instance must mean what it does in the first or the intended con­trast that is set up would be lost.
  3. It is plain that divorce is in view in both instances. Clearly, when Paul says that one must not seek to be released from a wife he doesn’t mean by death! The release in view can only mean one thing‑release by divorce. So too, the release in the second instance must refer to release from the bonds of marriage by divorce ( ‘released’ is the opposite of being ‘bound’ to a wife).
  4. Paul allows for the remarriage of those released from marriage bonds (i.e., divorced) even in a time of severe persecution when marriage, in general, is discouraged. (v. 28)

5, And, to boot, he affirms there is no sin in remarrying.” (p. 84)


In the light of both the Corinthian letter and the gospel accounts, “the question,” as Jay Adams says, “must be put more sharply. To call ‘sin’ what God expressly says is not sin (v. 28‑‑‑wittingly or unwittingly‑is a serious error that cannot be ignored or lightly passed over (cf. I Tim. 4:31). In effect, it amounts to placing the traditions of men (whose motives may be good, but whose judgement seems clouded) above the Word of the Lord by adding restrictions and burdens that God has not required us to bear. This can (and does) lead to nothing less than confusion, unrest and division in Christ’s church.” (Ibid, p. 85)




Evangelical Christians presently are fighting a losing battle on two fronts; the arenas of law and of grace. Law thunders from the pulpit that once one has divorced, he cannot for any reason remarry. Some take this even farther saying that those who have remarried need to return to their first wives, and leave the adulterous liason they are now engaged in. Meanwhile the muddied banner of grace sways unsteadily in the hands of a generation of pseudo­Christian ministers and celebrities, who proclaim not forgiveness but their rights as God’s heirs to do as they please. Scripture is wielded as a club or trodden underfoot, depending on which side has the upper hand at the moment.


First, where does the idea come from that proclaims a man who divorced his first wife and remarried should divorce the second and return to her? Such an idea is heretical, and comes from an improper understanding of marriage itself. Divorce no matter what the reason, is a real severance of the marriage vows. Further, by putting away the second wife an act of sinful divorce is committed again.


A less blatantly ridiculous but equally incorrect view is that which hunts for “innocent” and “guilty” parties in divorce. The “innocent” may remarry, but the “guilty” partner cannot. This idea is wrong for three reasons. First, one who truly repents, asks forgiveness, and attempts restitution and reconciliation (if his partner hasn’t already remarried), has discharged himself properly as a man of God. Second, his heart‑felt repentance if not accepted puts his sin in the category of “unforgivable,” different from other sins including murder, fornication, and greed. Finally, guilt and innocence are often very hard to apply to two sinful human beings, both of whom probably contributed to their marriage’s fall. (The church also has its guilt in the matter, as we shall see later.)


This isn’t to say that scars and problems will disappear the moment one repents from his or her part in destroying a marriage. It is always better to avoid sin in the first place: with sin comes confusion and complexity. Nonetheless, the penitent’s fellow Christians should aid him in biblically dealing with his problems, and not stand around wagging their tongues. Growth in the faith healing, and an adequate understanding of any future marriage’s demands should be prerequisites for remarriage and marriage both. (see Eph. 5:22‑33)


But now concerning the sullied flag of grace: what can be said of ministers, Christian TV personalities, and Christian recording artists who seem to be playing a Christian version of Hollywood wife‑swapping? This writer knows of one Christian “entertainer” who currently is married to his third wife; the first (unjustly accused of adultery) still vainly waits for her husband’s return.


Jerry Kirk must have surprised a number of friends with his book Homosexual Crisis in the Mainline Church. He begins not with an attack on homosexuality, but a scathing indictment against widespread immorality among leaders of his denomination. Pastor Kirk entitled the section “The Saga of the Reverend Lukewarm”:


“The church has not been taking Jesus seriously. Why not? Because we are gutless. We are influenced by the numbers game. ‘But everybody’s doing it.’


“Since when did number‑ determine morality? This is why we face the present crisis with homosexuality: Both the people and their leaders in the church are committing adultery with impunity. Do we respond? No, we’re afraid we’ll make. some waves.


“For example, when one of our leading clergy in the West divorced his wife and married another woman in his church, the incident was never discussed at the presbytery level. The man was ‘kicked upstairs’ to an administrative job in the denomination without any evidence of confrontation or repentance . . .


“A dear friend from seminary, a pastor in another part of the country, is divorcing his wife to marry his secretary, leaving his five children behind. I met his brother who is also a pastor and another friend of past years, at the General Assembly in Baltimore, only to have him sheepishly introduce me to his new (second) wife. That same day I beard that one of our national administrative staff members couldn’t be at the Assembly because he was on an around‑the­world trip with his new wife. I wanted to weep! Or shout! Or something!” (p. 42)




Where is the balance here? Obviously, the legalist wants to make nonbiblical divorce and remarriage the unforgivable sin. On the other hand, the Christian hedonist wants cheap grace that won’t interfere with his self‑centered pleasures. The true Christian must stand for biblical truth and ethics while always being willing to aid another who has fallen, rejecting both the religionist’s and the humanist’s views of sin and grace. Scripture alone gives us clear guidelines to light our way.


Grace entails two facets when dealing with sinful men. First, it demands recognition of one’s sin and repentance from it. Webster’s defines repentance as “to turn from sin out of penitence for past wrongdoings, abandon sinful or unworthy purposes and values, and dedicate one’s self to the amendment of one’s life.” Three aspects are covered by the definition.


  1. a rejection and sorrow for past sins; 2. a conscious reorientation towards biblical values; 8. a life exemplifying one’s love of God and hatred for sin.


The second aspect of grace is forgiveness, which can by its nature only occur in the sinner’s life when he asks for it. Forgiveness, like repentance is vertical (between man and God) and horizontal (between individual men), in both cases requiring a total “cleansing of accounts.” (Isaiah 1:18).


It becomes readily apparent that repentance followed by forgiveness is touching near the heart of grace. A striking biblical example of grace can be found in the encounter between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. (Though many early manuscripts don’t include the story inJohn 8: 1‑11, scholars are in basic agreement as to its authenticity.) The case was extremely clearcut. The woman was an adulterer, and as the Pharisees knew, deserved death according to the law. Jesus’ response was a unique one. Rather than address ing her particular sin, he poses the im, mortal statement: “If any one of you is without sin let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” No one took up the challenge.


Can this story be applied to non‑biblical divorce? It must be! Re‑reading the Sermon on the mount (Matt. 5, 6, 7), a Christian will discover that he or she has broken most of the commandments Jesus set up, from adultery of the heart (5:27‑30) to materialism (6:19‑24). Is divorce alone on the list of sins in its gravity?


Further, the story of the adulteress has an additional lesson. One man who stood before her was sinless, and could have “cast the first stone.” Jesus, however, chose the way of forgiveness while lovingly demanding repentance; (“Go now and leave your life of sin.”) In short, His was the way of grace.


One other ingredient must be added to repentance and forgiveness in order to give them form and substance. That element is accountability. Men are eternally accountable to God, but are also accountable to one another (Matt. 1.8:15‑17). In the case of non‑biblical divorce within the church, Christians have sometimes behaved as though this were not the case. Confrontation and loving demands for repentance before the divorce occurs should be the norm, but due to the (non‑biblical!) model of “just me and Jesus,” many churches have failed in their calling. Anger at the already‑divorced Christian should often become rather conviction that such a thing was allowed to occur unchallenged among God’s elect.


Paul, in I Corinthians ‑ 5, demands that the Corinthians deal witha believer who is living in sin with his mother by expelling “the wicked man from among you.” Apparently this rejection by the church of Corinth occurred and bore good fruit, for Paul in his second letter (2:5‑11) explains that the sinner should be forgiven and comforted. This presupposes the man’s sorrowful repentance.


Dr. Jay Adams applies this biblical model of accountability specifically to divorce. He initially notes that a church must be instructed and convinced of the need for church discipline. This should be first done with the elders or board of the church, preferably by the pastor. and then with the congregation, ostensibly through a teaching or sermon. “Finally,” he adds, “begin exercising scriptural discipline in the very next incident that arises.”


The church should point out to the Christian couple considering divorce that it is not an option, and that they should rather focus on biblical reconciliation and restoration of their relationship. Scripture, not feeling, holds top priority for a Christian, and the Bible does not allow for divorce between believers!


The church who lovingly confronts such a problem but does not see repentance must then turn to Jesus’ discipline model (Matt. 18:15‑17). Jay Adams give‑, an example: “Let us say that a husband who is a professing Christian refuses to be reconciled to his wife. Perhaps he has even left her. Reconciliation has been attempted by the wife, If she continues to insist upon reconciliation (according to Matthew 18), but fails in her attempts at private confrontation, she must take one or two others from the church and confront her husband. Suppose she does and that be also refuses to hear them. In that case she is required to submit the problem officially to the church, which ultimately may be forced, by his adamant refusal to be reconciled, to excommunicate him for contumacy [willful contempt of authority.]” (The Christian Counselor’s Manual, Jay Adams, p. 61)


Following Paul’s example (I Cor. 5:11‑13), the husband would then be treated as an unbeliever.


Such an act changes the husband’s status to that of an unbeliever. Jay Adams further notes that, in case of his desertion, the wife could now sue for divorce since her husband is no longer to be approached as a Christian. Of course most Christians faithfully confronted in this manner by their church will repent; few truly desire the death of their marriage and/or to be disfellowshipped by their church.


Here we see the difference between biblical grace and “cheap” grace, the primary “parting of the ways” being true repentance and a return to Scriptural standards. Cheap grace is not grace at all, for it presupposes a God who “winks at sin” and denies the awe­some price Jesus paid on the cross to redeem men from sin’s power.




By the time many Christians get around to addressing (usually in con­demnatory terms) their fellow believers who have divorced and/or remarried for non‑scriptural reasons, it’s too late! The single divorcee’s marriage partner is, often remarried. Many churches deny the power of forgiveness even then by disallowing remarriage for the repentant sinner.


Accountability is the missing ingredient in both individual marriages and the church itself. When church leaders live out what they claim as truth, and when Christians are willing to go to men of God for help in marriage difficulty, perhaps the tragedy of Christian divorce will be solved. Until churches and those within them are willing to be honest and responsible toward one another, the climbing divorce rate among Christians will be yet one more example of the shallow­ness of our faith. 0


We recommend highly for further reading Jay Adam’s book Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage. A refresh­ingly biblical approach, it can be pur­chased for $3.50 from Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phil­lipsburg, New Jersey, 08865.

Voting: Politics is Ugly… and So Is Life

Voting in my hometown Chicago can be fascinating, infuriating, or both. I’ve seen it from more angles than most folks, having served as an election judge (many times), poll-watcher, and “get out the votes” activist (many, many times!).

Voting is ugly. This is the truth of it. From the moment you register as a voter, you will discover this. Campaign literature fills your mailbox. The TV screen is filled with attack ads against the “evil other” candidate and plenty of sunny photos of “our candidate” with his/her family and others of assorted ethnic hues. It is all seemingly designed to turn us against the entire process.

Like being a member of a church, being a citizen of a democracy sometimes seems more an invention of the devil than blessing from the Lord. As someone once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government… except for the others.”

Human relationships are messed up and hard to navigate. That’s what politics is about… human relationships. How will we govern — govern is to “guide” — a ward, a city, a state, a nation? And who will we elect to take on that job for us? Aren’t all the candidates really just clones of each other?


In Chicago, when we arrive at the polling place folks are there counting votes — actually tracking each voter’s name! “Izzat legal?” the unversed voter (or even observer) might ask. Oh, yes. Be comforted — the vote itself is still your secret (unless you tell folks who you voted for). The fact you voted, however, is not a secret. And candidates vying for the same office usually know exactly who “their voters” are, or at least hopefully will be. So they have their precinct captains running around nagging prospective voters, offering rides to the voting booths, handing out “palm cards” (so named because they fit in your palm) with the key candidate’s info emblazoned on it. It feels invasive, annoying, perplexing. Tempting just to stay home, isn’t it… Don’t.

Then there’s the election judge. Will she be eager to help you vote (this is the ideal) or imagine herself mainly a watchdog over the polls to prevent as many people as possible from voting? We all pray for the first type, but — esp. in hotly contested election years — the “ugly” type of judge seems to show up more and more often. Who needs the grief…. thinking of staying home again… but don’t you do it. You have an advocate in the Election Board. In Chicago, that number (and I suggest having it handy on election days such as today): 1.312.269.7900

Heaven's Poll WatcherAnd poll-watchers… same two types. The one that is mainly interested in seeing any and every legit voter get that ballot cast… and the one who knows what voters are voting for “the wrong candidate” and immediately attempts to challenge their right to vote. All most voters have to do is wait out the noise such poll watchers make… but some voters get frightened off or frustrated enough that they simply walk away. That’s a score for the enemies of democracy, and should get your fightin’ blood up! In fact, any and all “noise” from the folks supposedly there to help you vote quickly and easily can and should be viewed as part of a very imperfect process.

It is messy, invasive, unsettling — the whole gawdawful machine (they call it “the Machine” in Chicago, and no wonder!). Your precinct or town or state may have its own machine. Set out to break it, change it, rebuild it for people instead of powers.
All action… hear me now… all action causes reaction, friction, resistance. Nothing that truly causes movement can be done without expending some energy, some personal comfort. It is as though we’ve forgotten what democracy implies… that *WE* are not only the governed but also the government. “Government by the people, for the people, of the people.” Or however those prepositions are ordered.

If you want government that doesn’t bother you (as long as you don’t bother it), dictatorship is the way to go. No need for elections there. But in a democracy, every election is going to be a little bit like listening to alley cats yowling. Take comfort in the noise… it is, despite the ugly, also about the process of trying to make things better.

cartoon_200002If we choose not to be involved — and being involved means not only voting but bothering to actually be informed! — then we are functionally rotten citizens of a democracy. We can complain that the corporations are buying the elections, or that special interests of various kinds control what happens, but largely that SIMPY IS NOT TRUE! We — collectively and individually — still can change the nation’s (or the ward’s!) entire direction with a  strong enough showing at the ballot box.

And if we invest ourselves that far… who knows where it might end? Government of the people… sure has a nice ring to it. We can make it a little more true today than it was yesterday.

Politics, as ugly as it is, offers us the opportunity to love our neighbor by participating in something that just might make a better life for all of us. The struggle is par for the course… in politics, and in life. We aren’t going to vote in heaven on earth… but (and here I speak as a Christian yet without authority) we can make room for enduring values to take root and inform social discourse. My own politics are left of center in almost all cases, but I don’t claim they are the “only” politics to have.

Caring enough to vote is, in itself, somewhat of an insurrectionist act, a rebel yell. The majority of adult Americans who can vote, don’t. And that shows neither good citizenship nor love of neighbor.


A Conversation with Death


I’ve always hated you. I first learned about you in books, crying in quiet horror as your servants’ hands took Anne Frank away to meet you and end her beautiful words, or Kafka’s victim stood in the rock quarry looking up at a figure in a window as others’ hands plunged a blade into his chest. I saw you in a garter snake’s partial swallowing of a salamander — my rescue of the salamander doing nothing to help it and a lot to damage the snake, who was only exercising his innocent snakiness. I held you off with a Methodist hymnal in the small hours of the night over my father’s hospital bed, singing to him resurrection songs but later than morning watching as his breathing suddenly stopped and the green kiss of your lips ran up his body as a wave.

You aren’t very talkative, are you? Maybe that’s why no one talks about you much. All discussions about death end in an uncomfortable silence, just as all life ends in silence. You don’t boast, you don’t advertise. You just show up. Sometimes you’re a tease, one of your companions — pain — doing all the talking for what turns out to be too long. Your own intimate moment is just that — a moment, and forever.

Death, you are what is. The word “is” has never been so immovable as when connected to you. We can avoid you for a time, but time itself is the signal that you are the one immutable fact of our existence. Your void is larger than all our wealth, power, pleasure, or fame. We are all relativised by your absoluteness. Our meanings, built on words, die in the silence of your non-reply. You take our words. You take our nerve-endings, our eyes, our genitals, our brains, our hearts. And still them into silence and unknowing unfeeling unpersonhood.

I know you will not reply, you cannot reply.

But what happens when someone dares death, passes through death, and is again alive? Not a swoon. Not asleep. Dead. Nails, blood, suffocation, spear point revealing a heart which has burst open. Dead, dead, dead death. And then, alive again?

Oh, how I want to run to this end of the story! How I want to avoid you, death, at all by looking for a “rapture” or a political take-over of “secular culture” by white English-speaking Christian males! It is as though I’ve never really read the bible to think in such stupidly shallow ways, and yet the temptation — no, my sin! — is to keep going back like a dog to its vomit. I don’t want the Savior’s path toward life, because it requires a cross of me, a crucifixion of self and self-desires and self-aggrandizing intellectual constructs.

And so too often I embrace you death in the here and now. I and others embrace the mind and heart numbing comfort of political bigotries, religious constructs using Christ’s name but far from his heart, chemical and sexual and monetary and prestige-seeking dead ends. Dead. Ends.

Jesus healed ten and only one came back to thank him. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but wept. Sure, death, you gathered Lazarus in again years later….

Death, I have to admit something. You are more real to me today than you have ever been. But I see now something I’ve no seen before. You are no longer my enemy, but the final companion I will have as I am ushered from this life into Life Itself.

These things are fantastic, utterly unbelievable to some. But you, death, know. You were with him in the tomb and then you were, for the first time in your millions of years existence, shoved aside. For the first time, Life had no room for you! Love and Life and Glory dethroned you and your kingdom of dust. And so, I accept you, death. I accept you as my traveling companion. You always were, but I hated you. I do not hate you now. You bring me, and moreso others that I love, great sorrow and pain. But I do not hate you, because you are a conquered foe pressed into service by He Who Is Life.

One day, these limbs will be stilled. One day, these eyes that wept over my father’s body and that saw my daughters born into the world and that saw my beautiful wife next to me warm in my bed will see God Himself. Now, only a dim reflection of what truly is…. but then, face to face. And you, silent companion, will usher me into my heart’s greatest desire.


The Tragedy of 9/11 and the Horror of Righteous Certainty

The below editorial was written in 2001, soon after the events of 9/11, and published in Cornerstone magazine.


“Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.” (Psalm 143:2 NIV)

Second tower is struck by hijacked plane, Sept 11, 2001


September 11, 2001, I saw the orange fireball of human righteousness. America—the Great Satan—had been dealt a crushing blow at the hands of those with a pristine vision of our absolute evil. Ponder how long, and with what patience, this group of men (some married and with families) lived among us, sharpened by purity of purpose. We can call them mad, but after all, they acted not out of madness but out of certainty. What was it they were certain of? They were certain they were right, and further, that they were the instruments of righteousness.

Of course my nation has sinned, and will sin, as all Americans (and all humans) are sinners. Our own leaders’ response so far seems to have glossed over that theological and historical reality. Yet what seemed amazing to me even as I wept with my wife over the images of thousands dying in New York, hundreds more in Washington, and the plane of brave souls in Pennsylvania, was the brilliantly simple perfection of the hijackers’ vision. Like all such perfect visions, theirs required the reduction of fellow human beings to nothing . . . to Ground Zero. Nearly seven thousand individual lives had been reduced to symbols of evil, pawns moved on some spiritualized chessboard. Yet the hijackers totally believed in this vision, even to the point of taking their own lives!

I fear such righteousness. Its footprints are all over history, all over the very faith I hold so dear. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny,” the hanging of alleged witches (one, Rebecca Nurse, was a direct ancestor of mine), the African slave trade—these are all acts of human beings who were righteous. Righteous, that is, in their own eyes. Whether my Savior’s name is used, or the name of Allah, or such concepts as “Choice” or “Revolution of the Proletariat” . . . all such visions are rooted in man’s righteousness, his certainty that his acts and ideas are morally pure while the history, culture, and very lives of his perceived enemies are without value.

Children are often the righteous man’s victims. They stumble through the dust of impoverished nations, starving because someone’s self-defined crusade/jihad is more important than his people. They lie beneath smashed concrete, the smell of death in the air, as their assassin praises a god of his imaginings that his mission was successful. Their corpses are dumped behind a clinic, declared waste by a society so besotted with the need for endless “choice” that it rejects its responsibility toward the most helpless members of the human family. The children stand, struck dumb by anguish, at the grave of their mother or father who died via the flying shrapnel of someone’s absolutes.

And here is the message of Christmas: Righteousness came as a child, powerless by any world standard. He was born to an impoverished teenager and a carpenter. His first attendants were animals and shepherds. Yet within Him dwelt the full measure of the Godhead. He who is All Righteousness and All Powerful surrendered His power in order to come to us in love, to save us from ourselves. Shocking tragedy! We, clothed in the filthy rags of our human righteousness, were the cause of His death. Some of those involved in His murder actually thought they were doing God a favor. Yet death could not bind the Righteous One. He erupted from the grave and enthroned Holy Love in the hearts of any who would follow Him in surrender.

The manger, the cross, and the empty tomb are God’s antidotes to self-righteous piety, sanctimonious posturing, and moralistic acts of violence and repression. The manger bears witness that true righteousness comes in weakness and humility, as a child. The cross bears witness that none are righteous, no, not one. The tomb’s gaping mouth cries out that Love, not human righteousness, has the last and forever Word. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up again in three days,” Jesus told the authorities of His time, speaking not of the Temple but rather of His body. He is coming again, clothed in the power and glory He laid aside to rescue humanity. His judgment will be swift and sure, and none clothed in their own righteousness will see Love’s face.

Who am I, What is “Jon Trott’s Blue Christian,” and Why?

Jon Trott.

Nowhere near this fit now!

I am an Anglo male afloat in the fog-covered ocean of middle age. I am a Jesus Freak. I am a skeptic. I am a writer — have won some awards and also have been called a “Satanist” or “Cult apologist” or “Socialist / Marxist” by those who didn’t like what I wrote. I am a communard (more on that momentarily). I am a political liberal who often veers left of liberal though occasionally can veer right as well. I am an activist. I am a husband and father and grand father. I have the spiritual gift of being annoying.

Blue Christian – This blog.

First, let it be said — *nothing* on this blog represents anyone’s opinion but my own. I am a member of an intentional community, Jesus People USA, but don’t speak for them. I did once edit the community-supported magazine, Cornerstone, as well as wrote for it between 1977 – 2003 (as editor-in-Chief, I presided over the melancholy task of shutting it down). I also have a book of poetry, Trees, Roots, and Growing Things, now out of print, which I hope to soon make available here for people who enjoy romance and God with a little spice tossed in. Mike Hertenstein and I co-researched and wrote a book, Selling Satan: Mike Warnke and the Evangelical Media, which caused a ruckus but didn’t seem to change things much.

A final note: the original Blue Christian blog — http://bluechristian.blogspot.com — contains older writings of mine but is no longer active (I leave it there for archival purposes). I wrote a whole lot about my Jesus Freak support of Barack Obama, among other things. And of Jesus Rock music and feminism… some of the same things you’ll find here.


Writers write. That’s the most obvious reason. Every human being, whether it is true or not, believes he or she has something unique to add to the overall human conversation. That is certainly a (mis)belief I share.

What have I to add? On many things, just one more voice.

I am a Christian feminist — which to me means women’s place is wherever their gifts and callings lead them. A woman might find a calling as a house wife, a Senior Pastor, or both, or neither. Likewise, as a Christian feminist, I believe marriage is to be a community of three — woman and man bound together by the Holy Spirit in and through them. There is no “leader dog,” no “boss.” Scripturally, there is only a call to outdo one another in love. And with this tiny corner of the web universe, I try to mirror such beliefs and practices.

I am Privileged, and committed to exposing Privilege. As a white male American, I automatically have racial and gender privileges which are almost impossible for me to acknowledge, much less question. Yet question them I will. I believe hiding such privilege from ourselves remains one of the gravest sins facing white Evangelical Christians.

I am a believer in the Scriptures as the Word of God. That is, to put it as my denomination the Evangelical Covenant Church puts it,

“We believe the Bible is the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct. The dynamic, transforming power of the word of God directs the church and the life of each Christian. This reliance on the Bible leads us to affirm both men and women as ordained ministers and at every level of leadership. It is the reason we pursue ethnic diversity in our church and is the inspiration for every act of compassion, mercy, and justice.”

This high view of Scripture is a conservative view in many circles, especially the circles I often travel in idea-wise. Yet it is also, as the Covenant affirmation above exhibits and many other Christians believe, a document urging social justice and change rather than a reflexive defense of the social status quo. Leading to…

I believe the Scriptures’ teachings on justice, mercy, and love have little to do with what has become known as “the Christian Right.”  This aberrant movement within historic Christianity is rooted in an Anglo-centric nationalism foreign to the Scriptures. Because American Evangelicals’ pockets, and therefore voices, are well placed to make the most sound, their influence upon Christianity worldwide is amplified. The peculiar version of Right Wing politics often associated (not always fairly) with Evangelicalism has its roots in the deep American south — and slavery. History is clear on this even when many Christians are in denial over it. The Scriptures, then, call us to a quite different vision — one with the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, and Peter at the heart of it.

I believe whatever I write here is far less important than what I live. Words on paper or screen can easily become an act, an “eminence front” by those who’ve learned to play with words to create a role for themselves they like. I can only say that I will try not to be an actor, but rather someone whose words and actions match… and when they do not (as must happen sometimes) I will endeavor to be someone who will transparently admit my failure.


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“Love Yourself”: an Existential Meditation Inspired by Gabriel Marcel


“…to have a self, to be a self, is the greatest concession made to man, but at the same time it is eternity’s demand upon him.”
Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

This morning my dearling Carol read to me from a book by William Backus, Christian psychologist and faithful friend until his passing last year. The book’s title, Telling Yourself the Truth, promises a lot. Even though it is someone close who wrote it, I found myself skeptical as my wife began reading.

Backus’ thoughts suddenly intersected with thoughts of quite another stripe coming from writers he’d probably not have had much affinity with, but whom I’ve increasingly read as a starving man might wolf a loaf of freshly baked bread. These writers – Kierkegaard, Gabriel Marcel, Pascal, Walker Percy, Dostoevsky, Mauriac, even Dietrich Bonhoeffer – deal with self-anxiety (dread) in the only way that resonates for me truly. They are, to varying degrees, known as “existential” writers, though less often quoted as existentialists than are their non-christian counterparts, Jean Sarte, Jaspers, and such.

The point of intersection came as my wife read. To love yourself, Backus bluntly asserted, is a necessity, not a sin. He explores the Christian ideas on self-denial (which have real merit) and explodes the idea that self-denial and self-hatred are the same thing. As Carol read, I agreed heartily with what he was saying.

But my mind, the undisciplined thing, smelled a rabbit trail and before I could stop it was running down it. And I “heard” the words of Gabriel Marcel in particular…

It suddenly occurred to me that Backus was saying (or at least implying) that “Love yourself” is a command. And two thoughts arrested me at this.

First, before one can obey the command, one has to know what both words in it actually mean. And second, to obey a command is to recognize that the one issuing the command has authority to issue it.


I consider the first point central in my attraction to existential thought. (And remember, please, that my mind-heart is a very little dog functioning mostly on the level of tenacity rather than strength, and yip more than bite.) The issue of what “love” means is important enough… but before one can even get there, the topic of “self” must be settled.

Gabriel Marcel emphasizes that a self has, in a real “concrete” sense, two selves to cope with. There is the self that is, and the self that attempts to identify the self that is. My terms: a present self and a perceiving self. Marcel is said to have had folks hold their two hands out in front of themselves, and then had them “touch your hand.” Which hand is touching? And which is being touched? The issue quickly becomes ambiguous. Of course, the analogy being an analogy breaks down. Both hands are doing both, a wag might answer. Ah. But in the case of the self, is it that simple? Another way of seeing it is to look at one’s body as “myself” and yet “other.” It is my body, my self. And yet it is an object, a “thing” which I can tattoo or bathe or injure. When I love my body, am I loving myself? When we say we have a soul (providing we believe such a thing), is this “soul” also myself? Am I loving my soul, or spirit, when I love myself?

Marcel’s refusal to let things be reduced to the abstract is central in this thinking. As the coiner of the word “existential” to describe this way of seeing, Marcel called his own path the philosophy of the concrete. That is, a way that emphasized the reality of personal consciousness, and the anxiety produced by this personal consciousness, was to him and those like him the only place where philosophy could or would make any real difference. Of the self he wrote:

“If the self that I am is construed as a subject, a subjective reality, if the ‘I’ in ‘I exist’ is identified with this subjective reality, then the assertion cannot stand up under scrutiny. What justifies the assertion, the criteria of validity, cannot be determined. The assertion ‘I exist’ is valid only if it signifies, in an admittedly loose and inadequate way, an original datum which is not ‘I think’ nor even ‘I am alive,’ but rather ‘I experience,’ and this expression must be accepted in its maximal range of indefiniteness.” [Creative Fidelity, “Incarnate Being.”]

Marcel’s answer in defining the self, I admit, is vague. This is annoying, but understandable, since he admitted early on that such answers are mysteries. But he doesn’t leave us in some sort of philosophical cul-de-sac. At least, I don’t think he does. Rather, he leaves us in a place where rationalism fails, as it most transparently has in our day though less so transparently in his. What is left is antinomy – apparent contradiction – and a conception of self that needs existence, that is, the world as it is, in order to be true (or rather, to truly be).


Where, then, is love left in this rather squishy (rationally speaking) conception of self? There are at least two conditions my small-dog mind-heart finds in Marcel that greatly help me in comprehending love, and self-love.

First, the problem of identifying the ‘I’ self is not unique to itself. That is, identifying the ‘thou’ self is also a search that cannot be answered with abstractions. It, too, needs the “concrete” treatment. Marcel speaks of objectifying the other by failing to existentially know him. The only way to make the unnamed other into a “thou” is in an act rather than abstractions:

“…[W]hat does it mean to say that the thou as such, is or is not, real? …. What is relevant rather, is the act by which I expose myself to the other person instead of protecting myself from him, which makes him penetrable for me at the same time as I become penetrable for him.” [Creative Fidelity, “Incarnate Being.”]

Marcel understands that the self’s relating to this “thou” (as opposed to the rationalist “him” or unnamed other) is similar to how the ‘I’ must relate to self. In a real sense, then, loving one’s neighbor is not only similar to loving oneself… it actually overlaps with the latter.

“As to self-love, it is easy to discern the complete opposition which exists between an idolatrous love, a heauto [self]-centrism—and a charity toward oneself which, far from treating the self as a plenary reality sufficing to itself, considers it as a seed which must be cultivated, as a ground which must be readied for the spiritual or even for the divine in this world. To love oneself in this second sense is not the same as self-complacency, but is rather an attitude toward the self which permits its maximum development; it is clear that there is an infatuation which is in itself unfavorable to the development of any truly creative activity whatever; I do not limit myself in this context to artistic or scientific creation since I speak also of the radiance shed by any generous soul. On the other hand, it can be assumed that a harshness or an excessive malice towards oneself can also be paralyzing although for inverse reasons; hence there is need for patience towards oneself, a patience that may be reconciled with complete lucidity and which has been recommended by several teachers of the spiritual life, by a St. Francois de Sales, if I am not mistaken. However this is possible and meaningful only when the distance from and nearness to the self which define the act of charity, are realized in and relative to, oneself. In practice we usually sin because of our inability to see ourselves, or—less often if we have managed to reach such objectivity—through our failure to maintain that contact with ourselves that we should always have with our fellow-man.” [Creative Fidelity, “Incarnate Being.”]

Living in an intentional community of Christians, I deeply feel this strange overlap between my own ‘self,’ the ‘thou’ selves of others, my temptation to make them into objects (the ‘him’ or even ‘it’). What Marcel is getting at is the need for me to cease the objectification of others, because as I objectify them, I also end up objectifying myself. There is, I most strongly suspect, an undeniably, indissoluble linkage between loving myself and loving my neighbor, yes, even loving my enemy. Each feeds into and is nurtured by its corollary; the two are often indistinguishable.

Marriage is a perfect existential referent here. I and my ‘thou’ – my wife – are one flesh. Yet I am myself, and she is herself. We are each to love our neighbor as ourselves. And as we love one another, we learn how to further love ourselves. As we love ourselves, we further learn to love our neighbor….


I believe that in Marcel’s formulation – if one can call an existential ‘concrete’ philosophy a formulation! – love’s definition becomes transparent. Like his mentor Francois Mauriac, Marcel never forced his Christian faith into what he was, or said, or wrote; it simply was there to be taken with the rest or dropped by the wayside.

But in his attempts to make of the self more than a proposition, an ‘it,’ he finds in Christianity the ultimate source:

“If what I have said is true, a philosophy of transcendence must never divorce itself even in principle from a type of reflection which is directed on the hierarchy of the various modes of adoration, culminating not in a theory, to be sure, but rather in an understanding of saintliness; a saintliness apprehended not as a way of being, but as something given in the purest form in its intention. The fact is that it is here and here alone that the problematic is overcome, and that in such a life the imminent presence of death is abolished in the fullness of being itself. The fact that this saintliness, realized in some individuals, in some witnesses spread out over the centuries, is not felt to be an unnatural and outrageous anomaly by a weak humanity; that it evokes certain echoes in our hearts, that it is for the indecisive mind a permanent stimulus to judge oneself and to hope—this certainly is the second datum which allows us to perceive in the saint—just as we perceive in the inspired creative individual on another level—the mediator of Him who no advance in technique, in knowledge or in what is called morality, will ever bring nearer to the individual who appeals to Him from the depths of his suffering.” [Creative Fidelity, “The Transcendent as Metaproblematic.”]

That last sentence, which echoes non-christian (to my knowledge) post-modern authors such as Richard Rorty, reverberates for me as one the identifying marks of a Christian. To the degree I fail at understanding suffering – both my own and others’ – I fail to allow He Who is Love to continue in the work of conforming my ‘I’ to His ‘I.’

[This is no completed set of thoughts, but rather very much a work in progress. Comments from my philosophical and existential elders are welcome, as are comments from anyone else.]

© 2006, By Jon Trott