Divorce and the Goodness of God
“I really, really like this book. John helps us see and live in the relentless grace and sure direction of the Father in the face of our trials. He writes wisely, from fire-tested experience."
– Glenn Stanton, Focus on the Family
“Filled with wisdom, this is the overflow of a painful personal struggle that resulted in a life full of authenticity and hope."
– Phil Tuttle, President and CEO, Walk Thru the Bible
Also William Barcley (RTS), Bob Bevington, more…
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About the Author
John Greco is a freelance writer living in the Atlanta area. He holds a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has served in a variety of local church positions, and has been a staff writer for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Crown Financial Ministries. His website is BlogInMyOwnEye.com.
endorsements & reviews..SHARE..
“I really, really like this book, for it is much larger than it appears. John helps us see and live in the relentless grace and sure direction of the Father in the face of our seemingly unbearable real-life trials. He writes wisely, not from untried theory, but fire-tested experience.”
Glenn T. Stanton, author, speaker and Director of Family Formation Studies, Focus on the Family
“I’ve always marveled at Joseph’s perspective in Genesis 50:20. He acknowledged the deep pain his brothers had inflicted on him, but also recognized God’s sovereign ability to transform his personal pain into something beautiful. I had the same feeling as I read Broken Vows. John Greco does a beautiful job making it clear that though he never wanted his marriage to end, he would never trade the intimacy he now enjoys with his Heavenly Father. This book is filled with wisdom from cover to cover. It’s the overflow of a painful personal struggle that resulted in a life full of authenticity and hope.”
Phil Tuttle, President and CEO, Walk Thru the Bible
“Sadly, divorced Christians are often treated as damaged goods and second-class believers. I’ve felt that sting because, like John Greco, I too am a member of the Scarlet D Club. But there is good news—yes, even for the divorced—and in Broken Vows John shows us the gospel-based path to true forgiveness, personal healing, and life after divorce. When betrayal, rejection, and regret threatened to make John Greco a life-long victim he eventually learned to look beyond the offender to the sovereign God who never stops loving. If you’ve been divorced—or know a Christian who has—you need to get this book!
Bob Bevington is co-author with Jerry Bridges of The Bookends of the Christian Life and The Great Exchange, and co-author with Joe Coffey of Red Like Blood. He blogs at RedLikeBlood.com.
“Few are willing to share their experience of divorce in print. My friend, John Greco, did—and we should be thankful. This book can be helpful for those recovering from divorce, not by giving them superficial or sentimental answers to dealing with their pain, anger and sense of abandonment, but by taking them back to the gospel truth of God’s sacrificial love, absolute sovereignty and transforming power. And it can assist those who minister to others in their broken state by alerting them to hurtful misconceptions and guiding them to biblical truths that truly help and heal. John reminds all of us—single, married and divorced—that God should be our deepest desire, and that our greatest delight and joy is found in Him alone.”
William B. Barcley, Senior Pastor, Sovereign Grace Presbyterian Church, Charlotte, NC; Adjunct Professor, Reformed Theological Seminary; author of The Secret of Contentment and several other books and articles.
“John Greco’s first-hand account of coping with the trauma of broken vows offers straightforward and biblical insight into the complicated subject of Christians and divorce. Broken Vows provides a lifeline of hope laced with empathy, practical guidance, and non-judgmental biblical wisdom. Greco compassionately reveals how Christ can heal anyone from the devastation of divorce and how to handle those who believe otherwise.”
Laura Petherbridge, Speaker, and author of When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t” (David C. Cook, 2008) LauraPetherbridge.com
“an honest account of one man’s struggle with the brokenness that we all face while living in this world, a world in need of redemption”
Life happens, and Christians are not immune to the difficulties that it holds. John Greco can attest to this, and he has in his book Broken Vows. Greco was married and moving towards his dream job of becoming a discipleship pastor when everything fell apart. He tells his story and manages to describe the positive results of a very negative situation, reminiscent of the place that Joseph found himself when he told his older brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Greco describes his story with raw honesty, fully disclosing his own responsibilities in the midst of the pain that he was going through. His tone is always humble, never coming across as arrogant or pious, just being himself. He speaks of the hurts that he experienced at the hands of “church people” who may once have experienced the grace of Jesus Christ but seem to have forgotten that it extends beyond themselves.
John does a good job of building a solid foundation on Scripture as he lays out his own story and talks about the fact that divorce is sin, but not something that puts us beyond the reach of a God whose ultimate plan is redemption and restoration. He reminds the reader that, as much as we might like to, we cannot tidy things up with pretty bows and neat packages when sometimes, they are just dirty and ugly and force us to reconcile with them or even live with their tension and discomfort. I’m reminded of the words of Derek Webb in his song “Nobody Loves Me” when he says, “The truth is never sexy, So it’s not an easy sell. You can dress her like the culture, but she’ll shock `em just as well.” There is no attempt on Greco’s part to dress up his situation and make it look like something other than what it is: hard, difficult, and painful.
Through it all, God accomplished something miraculous through Greco’s situation. His experience drove him to a full reliance on God, dropping all idols and distractions. Greco shares with the reader the six steps or movements that he found helpful to move forward through the pain and hurt of a situation. He does not attempt to downplay the pain and hurt, but also acknowledges the power of the Gospel which, as Paul wrote in Romans 1, brings salvation.
Greco fully admits and acknowledges that his view had become distorted and he had, “let my desire for the good overshadow my desire for Jesus.” Despite the cloudy vision, the restoration that he experienced led him to conclude that, “There is no limit to what God can do with a life yielded to him.” Broken Vows is an honest account of one man’s struggle with the brokenness that we all face while living in this world, a world in need of redemption. I appreciate his honesty and candidness. While Greco’s subject is divorce, his experience and God’s wisdom to him through it can be helpful to those who struggle through all of life’s difficulties.
Jonathan Gibson, in a 5-star review on Amazon
“Regardless of whether you’ve experienced divorce or not, Broken Vows will surely be a valuable addition to your bookshelf.”
If you want to kill a conversation, bring up divorce. Even though our culture treats it as no big deal, divorce is weighty. Something breaks within us when we hear that a friend or family member’s marriage is ending. And with good reason: Instinctively, we know divorce “shouldn’t” happen. It’s not remotely what God designed for marriage.
But, as John Greco puts it in his new book, Broken Vows, “If marriage is two people becoming one flesh, as the Bible says, then divorce is like that flesh being torn in two without anesthetic.”
This was certainly Greco’s experience, when he learned his wife wanted a divorce and had no interest in pursuing counseling. Not only did her decision end their marriage, it ended his career—the church he was called to pastor rescinded the call and he was left broke, unemployed, and bearing the mark of the “scarlet D” (to borrow a phrase).
And yet, despite all the hardship he experienced, despite all the pain and emotional anguish he suffered, he can look back and say, God was good in this. And this is what he wants readers to learn. He wants us all to see “a gospel-centered life learns to recognize everything—even seemingly bad things—as being the very best from the hand of a loving God and Father.”
In all honesty, this is a difficult book to review. I’ve never been divorced, nor do I plan to be, Lord willing. But I am a child of divorce and I’ve seen multiple family members divorce. And friends, too. So it’s hard to say, “this particular point really spoke to me and here’s how I’m applying it.” I’m just not in that place.
Despite the book not speaking to my specific experiences, there are still a couple of important things I’ve been able to glean from the book:
First, this book will be extremely beneficial for those counseling divorced believers. If you’re a lay counsellor, pastor, small group leader or if you’ve got friends, you’re going to have to deal with divorce sooner or later. And what divorced men and women in our churches in our congregations is not guilt and shame over having their marriages end; they need love and support from people who care about them.
Greco candidly shares his experience of finding hope and healing on the other side of divorce, and manages describe the wrongs done to him without painting himself as the innocent victim. This is especially helpful because this is the kind of mindset we need to help others model, not just those who are divorced, but all of us—we must clearly acknowledge the sins committed against us, but we must be honest about our own sins, as well. Greco’s example in this book will surely help others do likewise.
Second, this book reminded me why marriage is constantly under attack. Why? Because marriage is not only a wonderful gift from God, but it is meant to be a picture of the gospel. When a marriage is functioning as God intended, it’s a living illustration to all the world—it screams, “This is what our Savior does for His bride!” This is a wonderful and glorious thing. Witnessing a healthy marriage, where a wife is submitting to her husband and her husband is sacrificially loving her, says more about the gospel’s power than many a sermon.
But a broken marriage, a marriage where sin has torn apart what God has united, mars this reality. This isn’t to say that there aren’t biblical reasons to get divorced (see Matt 5:32), but when divorce occurs, it’s an ugly, painful thing. It subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) tells the world that maybe Christ isn’t sufficient after all.
Regardless of whether you’ve experienced divorce or not, Broken Vows will surely be a valuable addition to your bookshelf. For those who’ve experienced divorce, I pray that you’d see God’s work in you reflected in His work in its author. For those who haven’t, I pray it gives you a greater sense of compassion for those who have been divorced and allows you to better love and serve them to the glory of God.
Aaron Armstrong, Blogging Theologically
“Clearly shows the power of the gospel, even in situations like a divorce”
What would you say to someone who’s undergoing or who has already went through a divorce?
Is the gospel powerful enough to handle a divorce? The answer is a resounding yes, and John Greco seeks to show that in his book.
The book is split into 5 short chapters, and each of them was very readable.
The first chapter sets the context of the book, it talks about the author’s experience in divorce, mainly about how his ex-wife had an affair and wants now to undergo a divorce. Not only so, the divorce had a domino effect and he lost his job as a pastor, but it then introduces the wonder of the gospel, with an eager expectation that one day, we will be free of all such effects of sin in this world that we currently live in.
Chapter 2 talks about how God works in mysterious and unexpected ways and how sometimes God does things for reasons known only to Him. Then it proceeds about the danger one faces when undergoing such situations, like a belief in a better circumstances in the future, or we begin to trust ourselves. The chapter ends with a clear call to trust in God in everything and for everything
Chapter 3 deals with the situation where one has to undergo ‘unjust’ suffering through no apparent fault of their own – “What is God doing?” – one will struggle with the question “Why I am made to got through this when I am not in the wrong?”. The truth is, as the author points out, there is no one who’s innocent, we are all sinners. In these situations we might be better than the other party, but hey, even our most righteous deeds are filthy rags, we too need Jesus to carry all our guilt.
Chapter 4 is the gem of this book, the author gives 6 steps for us to think through when we undergo such situations,
- Leave vengeance to God
- Be wronged to the glory of God
- Help the one who’s hurt you
- Move forward
Why are they the gems? It is full of scripture, each is explained and backed with scripture, and one that particularly struck me was the fifth one, where he chose to help pay for the car payment of his ex-wife days before the divorce was finalized because he was still, technically her husband and as Christians we’re called to love those who are unlovable, and this is just one demonstration of it.
Chapter 5 ends with how others have tried to deal with martial affairs but these may not be gospel-centric, and again drives us back to the word and the gospel, to be centred onto it no matter what. And Christ when He saved us, has secured everything for us and that nothing can change that, no matter what situation or trials come our way.
The book clearly shows the power of the gospel, even in situations like a divorce, I would certainly recommend this book especially to those who are in a similar situation like the authors' but also to anyone undergoing “unjust” suffering in his/her life. The gospel is truly sufficient for all things.
Two quotes in the book which I think summarizes it “A gospel-centred life learns to recognize everything – even the seemingly bad things – as being the very best from the hand of a loving God and Father.” “Life is good, because God is good.”
Chris Ho, in a 4-star review on Amazon
“Refreshingly biblical and honest”
The topic of divorce in the Christian world is one that elicits a wide range of emotions. We have all encountered people who are dogmatic in their beliefs that divorce for any reason is unbiblical, and automatically disqualifies you for serving in any ministry capacity. Most of the time, those people don’t even care to know the details about what led to the divorce. They simply brand you with the giant letter “D” (for divorce) on your chest (much like Hester’s letter “A” in The Scarlet Letter), and cast you to disqualified Pastor/Deacon purgatory. However, even the Catholics who believe purgatory, give their people a chance to pay their penalty one day, and to “enter the joy of heaven.” The people who hold to the view that all divorce is unbiblical seemingly do not want to extend a similar type of mercy to those who gave their all to make their marriages work, but their spouse either had an affair and violated the marriage covenant, or are not true born-again believers themselves and therefore have no desire to stay married to the person whose heart has been regenerated by the Spirit of God. After studying divorce myself, and reading/listening to countless sermons about the issue, I think we make a grave error in broad-brushing all divorce as unbiblical and that it automatically disqualifies you to serve in any ministry capacity in the church.
John Greco’s book, Broken Vows: Divorce and the Goodness of God, is a short but refreshingly biblical and honest look at divorce through the eyes of a man who was days away from moving to Ohio to take over as the Associate Pastor of a church (his dream job) when he was confronted by a wife who confessed to an affair and wanted a divorce. The raw emotions that John experienced when his wife told him that she had had an affair with another man, and she wasn’t sorry about having the affair, wanted to file for divorce, and had no desire whatsoever to reconcile their marriage, are literally felt by the readers in the early pages of the book. It truly broke my heart not only for John but also for his wife. This quote by John spoke volumes to the pain that he was experiencing and I am sure put into words what most people who have experienced divorce, or who are currently going through a divorce, have felt at one time or another:
Officially it took another eight months for my marriage to end on paper, but that morning as I paced through our California apartment amidst shouting, crying, praying, and doors slamming, my marriage ended. I felt broken-no longer whole-like an arm or leg had been ripped from my body. If marriage is two people becoming one flesh, as the Bible says, then divorce is like that flesh being torn in two without anesthetic.
I felt like John’s book was very strong in trying to exhort its readers to really examine how we as Christians look at both of the parties going through a divorce. There are times that we are very hostile to those that we feel should bare the blame for the marriage failing, but John does a pretty good job of trying to lay claim to his shortcomings and failures in his marriage as well (more on this a little later). Also, John was very gracious towards the church that ultimately rescinded its offer to John to become their Associate Pastor because of his impending divorce. He doesn’t blame them one bit, and does everything he can to make sure that readers don’t come away from this book thinking that the church was not very merciful in their dealings with John. I also think John was successful in challenging his readers to not see divorce as an automatic disqualification to the ministry, even though that really wasn’t the aim of his book. The main focus is on Christ, and how the Gospel should be the center of our lives and that we should not be defined by who we are in this world (Pastor of such-and-such a church, husband to this person, etc.). We should be defined by the fact that we have been made new in Christ, and that Christ is sufficient to meet all of our needs (in the good times and bad).
There were only a few things that I thought that this book could have done a better job explaining:
I would have loved to know a little bit more detail about why John and his wife had to go to counseling in the first place. For instance, what were her main “gripes” about John in the marriage and what were some of the things that John saw in his wife that caused strains in their marriage. I understand that John was trying to be very careful in what he did and did not say about his previous wife in this book so as not to disparage her, but I think a little bit more detail about the things that his former wife was upset about would have helped the book some.
I think it would have been interesting for John to go back to the church that rescinded their Associate Pastor offer and give them a chance to write an Appendix in the book on why they felt it was necessary to rescind the offer so quickly instead of waiting till the divorce was final. I understand why they did it, as does John, but as I was reading the book I found myself wanting to know a little bit more about the churches point of view on the matter. For instance, did they offer John counseling help? Did they ever reach back out to him to see how he was doing? Things like that.
All in all, this was a very good book and one that I will recommend to others who are going through divorce.
Kicker, in a 4-star review on Amazon
“Shows us how finding the bigger picture God has written helps us think through specific, yet messy things.”
Broken Vows walks us through the story of John Greco’s divorce. That word alone stirs up opinion, hurt, and confusion. Greco learned his wife committed adultery and had no interest in saving the marriage. Not too long after she left him, he lost his job and seemingly everything else you could build an identity and vision of life on. Greco’s experiences, contemplation, and applications provide more than just insight, but draw out God’s goodness in the deepest and broadest aspects of such a difficult time.
Most people immediately look for two things to affirm if someone is qualified to touch a topic: expertise and/or experience. More than ever, people want to see battle wounds rather than a PhD.
What makes him qualified to write a book about divorce?
“A few years ago my marriage came crashing down around me…”
What makes his considerations worth a read?
“…and I’m thankful.”
My face probably looked the same as yours right now. To some, this may sound bombastic. For others, it may sound so hostile, you wonder what the heck happened. John Greco takes neither route. He explains why you might be interested in what he has to say…
“I wasn’t glad to see my marriage end….And I would never again want to experience the almost-unbearable pain of separation and divorce. But I’m thankful. I’m thankful because, after walking through everything that’s happened, I now know—in a way I simply couldn’t before—that God is good.”
Those last three words set this book apart from others that trend toward self-esteemism, finger-pointing, or burden-heaping with truckloads of “You should have done better” and “It’s all your fault.” It’s a provocative way to begin. I commend him for his honesty. As he shows, the only thing more provocative than his statement is the goodness of God.
John shows how the Gospel gives a “bigger picture” that doesn’t rule out real pain, hurt, and “this doesn’t make sense” accusations. Rather, it provides space for it all. John shows how his story (and yours) occurs in a larger story. This is important because hurt seems to bring blinders with it. A desperate focus begins as thoughts zero in on
The focus, wherever it falls, makes the event so particular it’s impossible to imagine it happened for any good reason. This ejects it from a bigger picture. It makes it go from sub-plot to a story in and of itself. Hurt and pain seem to come from nowhere and lead nowhere, but even there is an assumption of a “bigger picture.”
What would it mean to consider the difficult story of a divorce occurring in the midst of a greater one? A story that God both wrote and wrote Himself into:
“The cross loudly declares that God is for us, not against us… When life grinds to a halt and it seems our worst fears have come true, we can begin to believe the lie that God is not really all that good or that he’s not really in control of the universe. But the cross reminds us that God is, in fact, so good he has taken the full brunt of his own righteous anger in our place. And because of the decisive battle on at Calvary, we can have assurance that the war has already been won, the end of the story written.”
Jesus' death shows us that pain, sin, questions and suffering are real. If we think these are abstract concepts, we make the cross just as abstract. The cross brings to us the reality of pain’s volume. Not only does the Gospel show us how real this brokenness and pain is, but also how real God’s resolve is to mend and redeem what seems lost. By pointing us to the Gospel, we look ahead to what is happening:
“God wins. Good triumphs over evil. And it’s the happiest-ever-after of endings. God is still on his throne, and our stories—no matter how difficult they may be to live through—are being woven with delicate grace into the tapestry of his larger story.”
What Greco seems to belabor is how panning out does more than help you cope. It helps you understand. If a divorce is the only story, then it’s on those involved to find ways to think through and cope. If a divorce (or any hurt) is one that occurs in a bigger story where God Himself has dealt with the tragedy of our sin and pain, then consider honestly how He can relate and comfort:
“When the pain of divorce is more than you can carry, he is able to carry it. He is able to grieve with you as a brother-in-arms. He too was betrayed. He too was abandoned by those who were closest to him. He too was cast aside and rejected by those whom he loved. He is able to sympathize and console because, no matter how deep or personal the pain, he has experienced it. The passion of Jesus—his suffering and the cross—makes him a worthy comforter and a wonderful friend.”
This may seem like grandiose and unrealistic way to deal with the “in the weeds” issues. As you read the different layers of his story, Greco shows us again how finding the bigger picture God has written helps us think through specific, yet messy things.
God’s will has been made clear regarding marriage, but drawing lines doesn’t mean there aren’t layers. Greco shows how God’s will is both clear, but in the same breath there are complexities, messiness and muddiness in divorce that don’t make things easy to shove everything into the “sin” category:
“This oversimplification of a complicated issue like divorce is all too common. It’s human nature to classify, organize, and move on. We want to know where to stand and then rest. It’s uncomfortable to have tension, and we like to have neat lines drawn.”
For the heresy hunters out there, he offers a helpful clarification:
“Even in writing this, I realize I run the risk of appearing soft on sin and morality Some will read this chapter and conclude that I don’t believe there are lines that can be crossed at all or that I believe in all truth is relative. (For the record in absolute truth, that sin is real and has consequences, and that there are indeed lines not to be crossed.) This very danger illustrates the point I’m trying to make: in our desire to understand and organize complex issues, we sum things up simply and neatly—but too often we clean things up the way a tsunami washes a beach clean, destroying people in our wake.”
One of the biggest difficulties in being hurt is welling up with bitterness.
In divorce, it could be awhile (or indefinitely) to ever consider the former spouse in anything other than a negative light. The Gospel brings more than hope to cope, but to consider how both parties need Christ. Doing this doesn’t soften or numb where someone was truly wronged or is feeling real guilt, but it does show an honest view of both sides because neither one is the real problem or enemy, nor is either person the real Savior.
This book is worth sticking it out through. It’s not very long. In areas where it feels like it repeats itself, consider for a moment whether it’s worth repeating. For those who feel old wounds are being re-opened, consider how it could be an opportunity for real healing with the Gospel. For those who can’t relate, the reality is we all know someone who’s walked through divorce. It’s not pretty. It can get really dark. It’s not what we want and it’s not the way things ought to be.
The Gospel does its best work though in the messiest and darkest corners of our hearts and lives and is the way God is getting things from the way things are to the way things ought to be.
Ben Riggs, A Pile of Gold Leaves
“As a divorce survivor, I appreciate the courage it took to write this book.”
The subtitle of Broken Vows is Divorce and the Goodness of God. Does that sound like a contradiction? Is it possible to discover the goodness of God in the tragedy of divorce? Author John Greco’s answer would be “Yes.”
In Broken Vows, he shares the story of his wife’s adultery and the subsequent failure of their marriage. A promising ministry opportunity to serve as an associate pastor came crashing down as well. Yet through this heartbreak, Greco found comfort in the sovereignty of God and discovered that Christ is able to heal the painful wounds of divorce. In addition, he gives thoughtful counsel regarding the prejudice that a divorced Christian may face, the issue of forgiveness, and how to move forward in a gospel identity.
As a divorce survivor, I appreciate the courage it took to write this book. It couldn’t have been easy. I’m also glad the author discusses divorce within the framework of God’s sovereignty. It seems that this doctrine is easily forgotten when it is implied that the wronged party somehow could have saved the marriage. (Perhaps this is what leads to the prejudice?) But without His sovereignty, the outcome of our lives rests on our shoulders alone, which is an absolutely terrifying and hopeless prospect. How we need this doctrine as our anchor for all of life, including divorce.
I also loved how Greco deals honestly with the loss of identity as a husband or wife. He encourages us to move forward, not banking our hope in changed circumstances but finding our identity in Christ alone. “Who I am because of the gospel became the most precious thing in the world to me. Sadly, it took me losing almost every thing to see this clearly, but I am thankful that God in his mercy took me to a place where I had nothing left to grasp but him.” (pg. 79)
In regard to interactions with an ex-spouse, the circumstances of each divorce are different. Also, it would be impossible for the author to anticipate every reader’s situation. But I would suggest there is a healthy place for boundaries and consequences where domestic abuse has occurred. This is not to seek vengeance, for that belongs to the Lord, but to prevent abuse from continuing post divorce. Regarding forgiveness, I agree that we must not harbor bitterness but let it go to God. However, repentance does have a crucial place, not in wanting to see the ex-spouse grovel, but with the desire to see him/her reconciled to God first and foremost. Then reconciliation may be possible in Christ even if the marriage is not saved.
But aside from these aspects, I highly recommend Broken Vows. My copy is liberally marked with “Yes!” on many of the pages. If you are a pastor, counselor, or friend/family who is walking alongside a divorced believer, this would be a great resource. For the believer who is facing or recovering from divorce, this is not theoretical speculation but the words of someone who can empathize with you in your trial and point you to your only hope, Jesus Christ.
Persis, Tried by Fire