My parents married just after World War I ended in 1918, and I was born on April 25, 1920, so my childhood was neatly tucked between World War I and World War II. Thus I had no worries about either war. Though the great drought/depression of the early 1930’s came during my childhood, my Daddy (that’s all I ever called him till he passed away at the age of 97) had a good railroad job and our family did very well the whole time. Other than the usual childhood diseases we were all very healthy.
I had a very tranquil and sheltered life. I only recall one incident that threatened my sense of security. When I was eight or so my parents had a disagreement, and not wanting to disturb my brother and me, they retired to another room. But the disagreement progressed to an argument and then to some shouting which we could hear. I was horrified. I had never heard them even raise their voices before (and never did afterwards). I ran off by myself, crying and making up my mind that if they divorced I would refuse to go with either of them, so there! I only had the vaguest idea about divorce and its ramifications. It was barely a ripple, and things were back to the normal good.
In my last year of high school my mother decided it was time to share some information about her family that she had not yet revealed (all the persons mentioned now are long gone and have no direct descendants):
- My mother’s mother, whom I knew as Nana, was my real grandmother. Her husband, Lyle Boyd, was not my real grandfather, but my step-grandfather. My real grandfather’s surname was Shriner, by whom Nana had three daughters. Grandpa Shriner had a drinking problem and was unfaithful to Nana, so she divorced him and married Lyle. Grandpa Shriner also remarried, and lived in San Fernando, California. My mother, her older sister, Verda, and her younger sister, Eileen, kept in secret touch with their father. I suspect that they felt that Nana’s personality drove Grandpa to drink and other women, for she was somewhat of a Turk (or is it Turkess?). She was a Christian Science Practitioner (authorized by the denomination to do religious counseling and “divine” healing for hire). She was a feminist before the term was invented, and had not an ounce of warm fuzziness like most grandmothers.
- Aunt Verda had gone through three husbands and was married to her fourth, and had no children by any of them. She was a very successful business woman and lived in Pasadena, California.
- Aunt Eileen, nicknamed Sim, also lived in Pasadena. She was the prettiest of the three pretty sisters (my evaluation). She was able to catch one of the handsomest men I have ever known, Elmer Slaalin. They had only one child, a son whom they (unfortunately) named Dare. My cousin was probably the handsomest and best-built adolescent I have ever known or seen a picture of! With his dare-devil (pun-intended) personality, trying to live up to his name, he drove the girls wild, in middle school yet! They chased him like the next generation of girls went after Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley – I kid you not! Of course he doted on this part of his life. But he was miserable underneath it all, for his parents had divorced, and Uncle Elmer took-up with another woman. Dare described this situation as “like hell,” though he certainly didn’t understand the religious significance.
- So Nana, Aunt Verda and Aunt Eileen all held a dim view of men. My mother was the only one of the four who had a successful marriage. The other three considered my father as an angel from heaven, not a man, and never let my mother forget how lucky she was.
Wow! I may have lived a sheltered childhood, but I got unsheltered in one fell swoop.
As it turned out, when I graduated from high school I enrolled in a College located in Glendale, California, next door to Pasadena, and not far from San Fernando. I had some kinfolks to help me adjust to being so far from Iowa and home.
Aunt Verda turned out to be a real buddy. I found out that my folks had visited California when I was an infant, and I had taken a shine to her and vice versa. We picked up right where we left off. She loaned her car to me every once in a while so I could go to the beach with my fellow students.
Soon after I arrived, cousin Dare contracted two diseases at the same time. If the doctors tried to treat one of them it would make the other worse. I visited him every time I could on the weekends, but he wasted away under the alternate treatments and passed away without even finishing high school. Both parents were devastated, but made arrangements for the funeral together. After the Christian Science service, which offered no solace, Aunt Eileen, Uncle Elmer, Aunt Verda and I were sitting in one of their homes in a cloud of desolation and despair. Mind you, I was not a Christian then, and didn’t know what to say. After a long, uneasy silence, one of them asked me to tell them about how college was going. My roommate at the boarding-house where I was living and I had been involved in several very funny situations. Since I didn’t have much else to say, and the atmosphere badly needed some lightening up, I told one of the funny stories. To my surprise, it cracked them up, and they wanted some more. Each one tickled their funny-bones more than the last. I guess it was nature’s way of ventilating the shock. It may be that this seemingly unfitting laughter broke the tension between Aunt Eileen and Uncle Elmer, for they decided that they needed each other to cope, and were reconciled. Uncle Elmer was a devoted husband for many years until Aunt Eileen died from breast cancer. I didn’t see Elmer again until after I became a Christian and was the Pastor of the Chapel in the Pines.
When Alva and I heard that he was in the hospital, seriously ill, we drove down to LA to visit him. He was so appreciative of our coming, and he and Alva really connected. Alva shared the Gospel with him as she held one of his hands while I held the other hand and prayed. He delighted to invite Jesus into his heart, and the joy of the Lord immediately enveloped him. I believe that he and Alva are grasping hands and hugging each time they meet up in heaven.
One time when I was down in LA visiting our folks, Aunt Verda said she wanted to take me out to meet Grandpa Shriner in San Fernando. I enjoyed getting acquainted and she enjoyed the visit with her father. On the way back I had Aunt Verda to myself and I was able to witness to her without interruption (it was dark and she was driving). When I finished I asked her what she thought. She replied that I had certainly made the Gospel clear, and she thanked me for sharing with her. Then she commented that she liked the Christian Science position better. Though she had been extensively exposed to Christian Science by her mother, she had never committed to any religion that I was aware of. I knew what she meant – Christian Science taught that “there is no sin, sickness, or death, all is infinite mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is all in all.” She did not want to admit that she was a sinner.
Back to Grandpa Shriner – He had married a Christian lady and took Christ as his Savior while listening to Christian radio, The Old Fashioned Revival Hour, I think. He got thoroughly saved, and though he was old and couldn’t get around, he became a prayer warrior for various missionary radio ministries and gave every cent of his income that wasn’t required for his frugal lifestyle to missions. Alva and I both loved him. He was a sweet, gentle man, and it was hard to believe he had ever been any other way.
When he passed away, his widow asked me if I would come down to conduct the funeral. I was happy to do so. At the time, Aunt Eileen was still alive, so all three of Grandpa’s daughters, none of them Christians at that time, were attending their Christian father’s funeral, with me behind the pulpit! Can you imagine the feelings of Grandpa Shriner’s daughters as I spoke about him in heaven and the need for all to respond to the Gospel? Can you imagine my feelings in such a weird situation?
Years later Aunt Verda had a stroke. I was in LA at the time and hastened to the hospital. She appeared to be in a coma, though she was sitting semi-upright in a chair in a dark corner. Her eyes were closed, she could not speak or move, but I didn’t think she could be so upright if she was unconscious. I went over and took her hand and told her who I was. I said that I wouldn’t talk much as I knew she was probably tired. She responded with sort of a moan of assent. So I proceeded, saying that I hoped she remembered the talk we had about Jesus, and that she would ask Him to be her Savior. She didn’t, or couldn’t, respond. All I could do was hope that she had done so in her heart. She passed away a few days later, still in the (apparent) coma.
So, after spending a sheltered childhood, I suddenly entered an unsheltered youth and adulthood – first within my own family, then for fifty eight years during which Alva and I ministered together in the Chapel.
The result of all this experience was the realization of the extreme importance God attaches to the family, the basic building block of all human existence, consisting of one man married to one woman and the children produced by their union. This importance is demonstrated in the creation account of mankind:
- Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
- Genesis 2:7, “And the LORD God formed man (his body) of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (his soul and spirit); and man became a living soul.”
- Genesis 2:18 (NIV), “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”
- Genesis 2:21, 22, “And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.”
- Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
- Note how much of the above is quoted in the New Testament, Mark 10;2-9 (NIV), “The Pharisees came and asked Him (Jesus), ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ testing Him. And He answered and said to them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.
Note that according to Jesus, when divorce is proposed between two of God’s children, hardness of heart is a factor in one or the other or both. The reason for this is that both parties have the promises and power of God available to them to rectify the problems:
- Both can get right with God by repenting of their sin, confessing it to Him and getting forgiveness from Him;
- Both can draw power from the Holy Spirit to correct their behavior;
- Both can forgive their spouse and are commanded to do so;
- Both can petition God to restore their love for and trust in their spouses.
Granted, there are situations so bad that there is no way back to normal. But most prospective divorces between Christian spouses could be prevented. A Christian spouse contemplating divorce ought to have a long conversation with themselves, something like this:
- I am a Christian. I am supposed to have an intimate relationship with Jesus my Savior. Do I?
- Jesus says in John 15:14, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” Do I obey Him? Is Jesus my friend?
- Friends talk things over with friends. Have I talked this over with Jesus?
- If a co-signer were required on a filing for divorce, would my friend, Jesus, co-sign for me
- How would this divorce affect Jesus’ reputation?
- What effect would this divorce have on ____________? Ask this question for each of your children, then grandchildren, putting their names in the blank space.
- What effect would this divorce have upon my spouse?
- What effect would this divorce have on my church?What effect would this divorce have on my neighbors and friends?
- What effect would this divorce have on ME? As life goes on will I be in anguish for what I have done to others? Will I be plagued with guilt? Will my intimacy with God be diminished?
Despite the fall, there somehow remained in the hearts of men the importance of marriage and the family:
- Pharaoh, the heathen king of Egypt, took Sarai, Abraham’s wife, thinking she was his sister. Genesis 12:17-19 tells what happened, “But the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. And Pharaoh called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? – – – – I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.’”
- A similar occurrence is recorded in Genesis 26:6-10, “So Isaac dwelt in Gerar (a city in Phylistia). And the men of the place asked about his wife. And he said, ‘She is my sister,’ for he was afraid to say, ‘She is my wife,’ because he thought, lest the men of the place kill me for Rebekah, because she is beautiful to behold. Now it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech, king of the Philistines, looked through a window and saw Isaac showing endearment to Rebekah his wife. Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, ‘Quite obviously she is your wife, so how could you say she is my sister?’ And Isaac said to him, ‘Because I said lest I die on account of her.’ And Abimelech said, ‘What is this you have done to us? One of the people might soon have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt on us.’”
More important, of course is God’s view. “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel! (Malachi 2:16a) If God hates divorce, we Christians should hate divorce also. I think God’s greatest sorrow about divorce is its effect on the children involved:
- The immediate damage to the children;
- The later damage on them as they try to raise children of their own;
- The damage to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The devil, on the other hand, loves divorce. He has had his sights on the family since Adam and Eve comprised the very first one. He is no doubt jubilant about his current success, and lusting for more.
Who do you think is winning the battle for control of our families?