Did Joshua Harris just kiss marriage goodbye?
If you haven’t already heard: Joshua Harris, author of dating bestseller I Kissed Dating Goodbye, has split from his wife after 19 years of marriage.
I remember his book being widely circulated among my Christian friends during a time when modern literature tackling purity and dating was lacking (the alternative was Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity; this was also clearly pre-Thir.st days).
So influential was this “relationship bible” that I, too, pored through its pages, hoping to find answers to why my previous relationships failed and how I could date better.
In fact, I was so convicted by the counter-cultural ideas he shared that I went on to implement some of these principles in my relationship with the next guy I dated, whom turned out to be the man I would marry.
For those who might not have read the book before, the title refers to Harris’ stance of discouraging recreational dating and advocating biblical courtship.
As we now know, Harris himself has withdrawn the book from publication after facing years of fierce criticism over whether his advice has done more harm than good to a generation of Christians who walked away with a fear of dating.
All this, however, pales in comparison with the latest development in Harris’ personal life: The announcement of his separation from his wife.
Here are a few thoughts on this heartbreaking news:
1. Let’s not rush to throw away our books
Yes, Harris’ marriage might have failed. But this is not the time to kick a man when he’s down. Let’s also not be quick to discount the good intentions behind his book.
If I were to recall three ways the book impacted me, they would be:
- Going on group dates instead of one-on-one dates when getting to know someone is a good idea.
- Entering into courtship with marriage in mind, while involving your parents in the process.
- Abstaining from pre-marital sex before your wedding day.
These are guidelines that I still stand by today.
2. You can date well, but that doesn’t guarantee a successful marriage
Ironically, this was one of the critiques of Harris’ book.
In an official statement released last year after a process of re-evaluating his book, Harris said: “The book also gave some the impression that a certain methodology of relationships would deliver a happy ever-after ending – a great marriage, a great sex life – even though this is not promised by scripture.”
I’m celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary this year, and I can attest to the fact that while my husband and I might have gotten dating right, marriage comes with a new set of challenges, children being a key one.
And even after you think you’ve known everything there is to know about your potential spouse while dating (six years in my case), personalities and interests can change over the years.
When announcing his split in a Instagram post, Harris said: “In recent years, some significant changes have taken place in both of us.” It’s a statement that sounds eerily familiar.
Just a month ago, we heard that Descendants of the Sun stars Song Joong Ki and Song Hye Kyo were seeking to end their 20-month marriage because of “irreconcilable differences”. Their divorce was finalised today.
No one is susceptible to a breakdown in marriage – even if you’re a renowned pastor/dating author or a celebrity couple whom everyone thought was an OTP (One True Pairing).
3. When is divorce okay?
This question was posed by the Pharisees to Jesus. They had asked: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
Matthew 19:3-9 reads:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
From Jesus’ reply, we know that God designed marriage to be a life-long commitment. Although divorce was later permitted on the grounds of adultery, it was a concession, not a commandment.
In fact, Bible commentators have said that the practice of having to formalise this process through a certificate was, in fact, Moses’ way of discouraging divorce.
Warren Wiersbe writes in his New Testament commentary that this was a wise law because “it would have taken time to find a scribe (not everyone could write legal documents), and during that time the two estranged people might have been reconciled”.
Let’s also be clear: While divorce was permitted in the case of sexual immorality, it was not required.
Even if there has been unfaithfulness in the marriage, a couple can choose to stick together and work things out. This was what happened in the case of another high-profile couple: We saw the power of forgiveness and reconciliation in the marriage of Sammi Cheng and Andy Hui.
There’s another exception where divorce is allowed in the Bible:
“But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.” (1 Corinthians 7:15 ESV)
In other words: When a non-Christian spouse insists on ending the marriage and there’s no hope for reconciliation.
The union between two very different individuals can be the breeding ground for conflict, but divorce is not to be pursued because of incompatibility or a lack of passion.
4. Marriage takes lots of effort
Even after a decade, my husband and I still experience tensions as we navigate changing careers, differences in opinion over parenting, new-found hobbies, etc.
We’ve found that maintaining a marriage is sheer hard work, and that our wedding day was just the beginning of a lifetime of saying “yes” to dying to self and putting the needs of each other above ourselves.
Love is passion – but it’s also very much about sacrifice.
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
The verse we picked for our wedding was from this same passage: We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
And inscribed on our wedding rings are these initials: YNWA. It’s a reminder to each other that “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as we remain committed to fulfilling our marriage covenant.
THINK + TALK
- What principles have you adopted when it comes to dating?
- What are your views on divorce?
- How can you love unselfishly?