When it comes to Hollywood romances most of us are cynics -perhaps with good reason.The high profile marriages of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore;Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid;Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin; Courteney Cox and David Arquette along with many more have ended in the divorce courts,where often the finer points of the pre-nuptial agreement (tantamount to the acknowledgement that the couple didn ’t wholeheartedly expect it to last in the first place)have been argued out.Several leading bookmakers will already offer you odds on how long Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt will last together.
The world has learnt to take the constant round of Hollywood bust-ups in its stride.Except for one that is –that of the crowned King and Queen of Tinsel Town,Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Tom and Nicole were the golden couple of the silver screen -successful, intelligent and deeply in love.“We have so much in common it ’s almost like we ’re the same person,” claimed Nicole in happier days,adding an echo of her husband ’s assertion that theirs was a marriage made in heaven.Committed to each other and to their two adopted children,whenever they appeared in public together the world looked on with envy. They seemed inseparable,untouchable, and unstoppable.That was until Tuesday,February 6th 2001 (the day they announced their separation).
Not just in Hollywood terms,but com- pared to many marriages nowadays,Tom and Nicole enjoyed a long relationship. They had been together for well over 10 years after meeting on the set of the film Days of Thunder in 1989 and marrying in a fairy tale ceremony,for which they had written their own vows,on Christmas Eve 1990.Their first child Isabella,now eight, was adopted by them in 1993,followed by Conner,six,in 1995.At the time,the gracious act of adopting Isabella and Conner only added to the persona that here was a loving,caring and committed couple.And Tom and Nicole seemed to take very seri- ously the task of parenting,famously insisting that they would never be parted from each other for more than two weeks despite the demands of film schedules.If any Hollywood couple appeared to have sorted out the difficult balancing act of work/family/fame,it was Tom and Nicole.
And as subsequent events have proved, they had no ‘pre-nup’ deal –perhaps yet more evidence that this marriage was originally intended to go the distance.So where did it all go wrong?And if a woman can go off someone as good looking, wealthy and successful as Tom Cruise –is there much chance for the rest of us? The press were left bemused,scratching around in the dirt for clues to the most talked about marriage-breakdown of the new century,after the briefest of official statements.A “Regrettable ”but “amicable separation ”which was “best for both of them ”and an “ongoing personal and professional respect ”.Was that it!?Surely there must be something more?Endless columnists,‘close sources ’and ‘insiders ’ were left feverishly working overtime as they took their very well paid guesses at the heart of the problem.Popular theories ranged from extra-marital affairs to Tom ’s alleged impotence or ambivalent sexuality and differences over religion and how to bring up the kids to Nicole ’s supposed resentment being seen as ‘Mrs Tom Cruise ’ and the pressure of work.. Without doubt both Cruise,38 and Kidman,34 are very ambitious and both possess huge appetites for work.
In the past two years he has made four movies and she five.“Okay,I ’ve got two kids and I ’ve got a husband.But I still want to work,”commented Nicole recently. Maybe their focus had eventually drifted from their family to their own fame and fortune. However you didn ’t need particularly great amounts of insight to suspect that there were more than a few media ‘crocodile tears ’being shed.Beneath the veneer of journalistic concern there was a fair amount of gloating going on.It ’s always tempting to be secretly pleased,if we are honest when the wheels come off someone else ’s wagon.Filthy rich,gorgeous, successful,famous AND happy is just too much!It ’s not fair!Big stars are supposed to be miserable,lonely and lost –like Marilyn Monroe,James Dean,Judy Garland and Kurt Cobain. And if the press ’s regret came with a smidgen of smugness it was also thoroughly coated with self-righteousness. ‘It ’s those poor children who are the real victims.’‘The dream of being adopted by rich and famous parents has ended in the emotional nightmare of the instability of a dysfunctional family.’‘They ’d have been better off with their real parents ’.
‘ All that money Tom Cruise gives to the Church of Scientology every year should have been donated to their [the children ’s ]biological families to end their poverty so they could have stayed with them.That would have shown genuine love,rather than the ultimately selfish act of taking possession of them just because they [Cruise and Kidman ] had the money..’ However it was a comment from a Christian spokesman that for me was most stinging.Perhaps it was always too much to ask that this high profile break-up would be allowed to pass without being used to flag up the old chestnut about the sin of divorce.‘The Bible is unequivocal about God ’s attitude to what this privi- leged couple have opted for.“I hate divorce,”says the Lord God of Israel, (Malachi 2:16).The Church ’s job is to clearly articulate God ’s standards.Divorce is a plague on the land of which a Holy God and his Church can never approve.’
But in a culture,which is already pretty confused about the Church ’s message,do such statements really convey the mind of Christ?Is this really the attitude that Jesus would demonstrate to this struggling couple?As the old saying goes,‘a verse out of context is a pretext not a proof text ’.Is not our biggest responsibility as the Church to work harder at understanding what ‘God ’s standards ’are before we attempt to ‘articulate ’ them on his behalf?? What does God mean when he states that he hates divorce?Hate is strong word, easily conjuring up images of rage,anger, rejection and the absence of any feelings of love or compassion.So when the Bible talks of God ‘hating ’divorce,we have to place such a statement in the context of all else that we know of his character and response to us.Should we therefore not be very careful to articulate some ‘clear- blue water ’between the act and the individuals involved?He weeps rather than rages over the tragedy of divorce because he sees it for the catastrophe it is both for the individuals concerned and for wider society.Is not what God really hates,the knowledge that Tom and Nicole,(not to mention their children), will inevitably walk away from this broken marriage with emotional scars that even their giant-sized wallets and enormous popularity cannot ever heal or overcome.
Likewise,for God,the term ‘divorce ’is more about the process than the announcement;the slow death of the relationship rather than the certificate.Every vintage car collector must hate the thought of ever seeing a valuable car scrapped.However,even the most passionate of car lovers has to face the awful fact that sometimes a vehicle (which could have had such a glorious future)has been so badly neglected,abused or wrecked that there is now nothing else to be done with it than to send it to the scrap yard. Was God shocked by the news of Tom and Nicole ’s separation?
Or was his heart broken long before as he watched a life- pattern develop that drifted ever further from the promises of loving commitment that were originally made and which eventually were to lead to breakdown? And for us,is it really the primary task of the Church to ‘approve ’or to ‘disapprove ’ of this tragedy,or rather to stretch out a hand to demonstrate redemptive God ’s love?Jesus ’approach was always to accept people first;to work to win their friendship and trust,and then to inspire them to live life differently rather than order them to do so,(e.g.Zacchaeus,the woman at the well,the crowd at the Sermon on the Mount,etc.).His sharpness was saved for the religious leaders -though even then careful analysis shows that his main bone of contention with them was simply their hypocrisy,or ‘mask wearing ’.In Jesus book it was the act of claiming to be one thing whilst in reality you were another that was so unacceptable.That is why the vast majority of his ‘negative ’teaching is aimed at the Pharisees. Their primary sin was not that their lives were not as clean and well managed as they should be,but that they refused to acknowledge the reality of their own struggle.Instead they lived out a huge lie -the deception that they had life sorted and that all those who failed to make the grade (theirs!)were therefore unacceptable to God.
It was this hypocrisy that made Jesus blood boil over,“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees,you hypocrites!You shut the Kingdom of Heaven in men ’s faces.” So what would Jesus say to Tom and Nicole?Well perhaps he would begin by turning his attention to us,‘If any one of you is without sin,let him be the first to throw a stone ’.What about our relationships?We all save our worst behaviour for indoors. If you are married and your partner was given the choice and the economic freedom to be able to begin again, would they still chose to do so with you?Is your partner surviving rather than thriving on life with you?And,if so what are you intending to do about it? But as for Tom and Nicole,is not Jesus way always to first demonstrate grace and acceptance and only then to call for change?Would he not,with eyes filled with tears,having rescued them from their ‘mask-wearing ’tormentors, sit and talk privately about their needs, their hopes,their sins and their future? Lostness is a wonderful gift of God ’s grace;it can become the beginning of the journey home.