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  • Writer's pictureLaurie Larsen

Divorce and the Modern Christian

Malachi 2:16 reads, “’I hate divorce!’ says the Lord God of Israel.”

(New International Version)

Wow.  That’s really straightforward. Many sections I read during my journey through the Bible caused me to scratch my head and say, “What is this meaning to say? I need help figuring it out.”  But this one? There’s only one way to interpret it.

God hates divorce.

I was curious how many times in the Bible God admitted to hating something.  So, I Googled it. Curiously, Proverbs 6:16 – 19 provides a list of seven things God hates but excludes divorce! 

1.        Haughty eyes

2.        A lying tongue

3.        Hands that shed innocent blood

4.        A heart that devices wicked schemes

5.        Feet that are quick to rush into evil

6.        A false witness who pours out lies

7.        And a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.  Oh, and if you add Malachi’s …

8.        Divorce.

The Proverbs Seven look to be a very reasonable list of actions to avoid in your life. They also appear to be things that a person has power over avoiding.

Except that divorce thing!  Divorce is the breaking up of two wedded people, so at the very least, two people’s actions and thoughts and problems enter into the decision to end it.

What does God say before that frequently-quoted (and isolated) verse about divorce? Maybe that will help us know the perspective.

In verse 13 of Malachi 2, we read: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is acting as the 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 seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. (NIV)

Marriage was created by design by God Almighty and he has high standards for it. Sure, it’s a fairly easy process to take a partner to the courthouse for a civil union or to a church for a wedding. But God holds marriage in high esteem and has high expectations for the people who take the vows of marriage. In this section of Malachi we see that God made the couple one, and so in flesh and spirit, the husband and wife are his.

Remember the verse often read during wedding ceremonies, “What God put together, let no man put asunder?” (Matthew 19:6).

Here’s my interpretation: God doesn’t want divorce to be an option considered lightly.  As in, this marriage thing isn’t fun anymore.  I’m not as happy as I was on our wedding day.  It’s getting, you know, hard. Let’s get a divorce.

No.  Marriage isn’t something we can get flippantly in and out of like we’re changing socks.  On the website, GotQuestions (dot) org, we read: “Marriage is a picture of the covenant God has with His people (Hebrews 9:15). A covenant is an unbreakable commitment, and God wants us to understand how serious it is. When we divorce someone with whom we made a covenant, it makes a mockery of the God-created concept of covenant relationship.”

Reading through the Proverbs list of the things God hates, it strikes me that if a married person keeps those seven types of actions out of the marriage, there would be far fewer divorces to begin with! 

Okay, so God sees marriage as a sacred covenant between people, that includes He himself as a witness or partner. But people often make mistakes and sometimes, divorce seems the only option instead of a lifetime of misery for one or both spouses.  Does the Bible give us any exceptions to the divorce dictate?

Yes. Matthew 5:31 – 32 reads (Jesus is speaking): It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.” But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. (NIV)

When Jesus says “It has been said,” he’s referring to a law or dictate in the Old Testament, but what he goes on to say actually provides a higher standard on marriage and divorce than what was in practice before.  Marital unfaithfulness was mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments as reasons accepted by God for two believers to divorce. But other than that, marriage should remain a lifelong commitment.

That’s very disheartening news for Christians and Jews who have found themselves on the receiving end of very harmful behavior by their spouse. People who have entered a marriage with a person they loved, approached the relationship with the commitment required, and when they faced troubles, did their absolute best to solve the problems, leaving dissolution of the marriage as the last resort.

One year in the last decade, there seemed to be a divorce cavalcade among my friend group. In a twelve-month period, thirteen of my friends or co-workers announced they were getting a divorce. It was uncanny! Each and every one had a specific problem at the heart of the decision.  Infidelity; a drug, alcohol or gambling addiction; overspending the couple’s money without consulting the partner; the loss of interest in parenting the couple’s children; physical and/or mental abuse at the hands of the spouse.

In each case, the relationship had strayed far from the sacred covenant between spouses that God had created and intended. In some cases, the couple attempted to improve their relationship through counseling. In others, one spouse or the other was determined to throw in the towel without listening to alternatives.

Living in a marriage with this extent of problems pays a toll on all the members of the household. The spouses could be miserable and bitter and angry. The children could be confused and sad for the loss of their loving parental team.  Does God want believers to live like that in order to avoid divorce at all costs as the scripture says?

I don’t believe so.  God may “hate divorce,” but he certainly doesn’t hate his beloved children who have pursued divorce after trying with all their hearts to work it out.  God loves us and wants us to live fulfilling, happy, peaceful lives. And if we can’t live that kind of life under the negative constraints of a broken and unfixable marriage, then what can a believer do?

Pray to God to watch over you and make sure that you’re not acting in haste. Ask for forgiveness for the action, knowing how strongly He feels about it.  And ask Him to walk with you as you move on and recover from the harm you endured (or caused) within your marriage.

Danita Huie, a writer for the organization Women of Joy, gives us this encouraging message about God’s love: “There is no fine print when it comes to God’s love for you. He never says, “I’ll love you if…” He never says, “I’ll love you as long as you don’t …” Your actions, good or bad, do not determine His affection for you. There is nothing you can do that will cause Him to love you more or less.  You don’t have to earn it, and you can’t lose it. The measure of God’s love for you was unfathomable before you were formed in your mother’s womb. It’s not conditional. Immovable. Unwavering. Unconditional. That is God’s steadfast love.”

These words give me a great sense of peace. And relief.  Of course, we’re going to mess up and not deserve the immense love God has for us. But we don’t have to deserve it.  We just have to accept it.  And try to do better the next time to avoid making the same mistakes we made today.

CNBC recently performed a study of divorced people at least eight years after their marriage ended.  Interestingly, 63% of the focus group said there was one key factor that would have prevented the dissolution of their marriage. Here is a list of those key factors:

·        A better understanding of the commitment of marriage prior to marrying

·        A better understanding of the values and morals of their partner

·        Waiting longer to start a family 

·        Seeking professional help from a therapist or couples' counselor 

·        Waiting longer to get married 

Although the study didn’t break out believers from non-religiously affiliated people, my opinion when looking at all these factors is that they are all commonsense items that could’ve (and should've) been taken into account when approaching the marriage decision.  Communication about these topics between the pre-married partners would go a long way toward weeding out potentially future problems.

I recently spoke to one of my friends who is a) a strong and inspirational Christian, b) the nicest woman you would ever want to meet and c) divorced from an abusive spouse.  She has now moved on and enjoyed a long-term successful marriage with a man who is a great fit for her.  I asked her how she felt about the Malachi 2:6 verse.  Her response?  “I feel guilty.”

“Guilty? Why?” I asked. “Because you divorced your husband?”

“No, I had to divorce him because of the damage he was inflicting on me and my children.  The guilt is because divorces have long repercussions. Broken families and damaged relationships prevent the happy holidays and family dinners that non-divorced families enjoy. I should’ve never married him in the first place, as opposed to marrying him and having to end it.”

Please leave me a comment with your thoughts and experiences on this timely topic. Have you worked through problems in your marriage and gone through broken to repaired? Have you had to end a marriage due to the damaging environment the marriage provided for you and/or your family? What do you think of that list of actions that would’ve prevented a divorce? 

I look forward to your feedback.

Prayer: We thank you for sharing with us your vision and plan for the sacred covenant of marriage. We are sorry that as humans, we don't live up to your expectations all the time. Thank you for loving us through our problems and our faults.  Let us call on you and rely on you when we need help. And help us to be diligent in selecting a mate who will last a lifetime.  Amen.

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