Theory of divorce

God hates divorce. I think the question should be asked, though, as to why. If God is not just some arbitrary sprite creating a disorganized maze for us to scramble through to reach the peanut-butter middle of eternal life, then there should be a compelling reason or two. Malachi hints that it has something to do with violence and breaking faith.

This makes sense, because divorces are typically nasty. Rarely do you get such open displays of hostility between two people who have loved (or claim to still love) each other — slander, blackmail, pushing the other near bankruptcy, using your own children as pawns, backbiting, malice, envy and so on. If you have the aforementioned children, the toll on them is usually negative. If you have a common social group, the result on them is typically negative as well; they, like the children, may feel forced to pick sides and cast blame, and thus grow distant from one or both parties. But at least they are not intrinsically tied to the parties; worst case in this mobile society, one or both parties could just move somewhere else to alleviate the awkwardness. Children are in it for the long haul.

But assume you manage an amicable divorce and there are no children. Does God still hate divorce? For Christians this should be a serious question. The Bible doesn’t give very broad permission to end marriage: the New Testament seems pretty clear that the only reason to legitimately end a Judeo-Christian marriage is adultery. Also, if you’re married to an unbeliever and the unbeliever leaves you, then you have not [necessarily] sinned.

This leaves out a lot of things: fraud, abuse, negligence, committing a serious felony and so on. In a quick search I did online, one pastor noted that if your spouse is doing something this evil, he/she isn’t really a Christian, so the married-to-an-unbeliever clause applies.

First of all, this isn’t true. People can be totally terrible, see their need for redemption, backslide 10 or 12 times a day, and still call themselves Christians. Given the command to forgive “70 times 7,” backsliding isn’t a legitimate reason to say people aren’t serious about their faith. They may not be, but then again, who are you to say? You’re supposed to forgive them. Second, even if your spouse is clearly the most evil [asexual] person to have walked the planet this side of the Rockies, if you’re not the one deserted, you’re supposed to stay. Biblically speaking. Yes, even if the spouse is beating you routinely, eating animals alive and raising your children to sacrifice to the river gods. Because by your example you may yet change this behavior!

Frankly, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you’re supposed to be raising children and reflecting to them, yourselves and the outside world a picture of Christ and the church with your marriage, what good does the blasphemy of terrible marriage/parenthood do to anyone, least of all the people in it? Maybe here something like the very general command “Have nothing to do with them” would apply. Avoid such people before they contribute to your progeny or further destruction.

At this point a few people are probably going to be vaguely thinking one of a few things: A) if you married someone that bad, you deserve the fruits of your stupidity, genius. B) I don’t care what examples you come up with; the Bible is still inerrant. The most direct route must be applied, too, so no jumping around with this “avoid such people” nonsense. That may sound harsh, but God’s ways are not our ways. No matter what, I’m going to side with the Bible. C) It’s all about sex. The Bible is just trying to protect the one-man/one-woman model. I’m sure abused women/men can separate from their husbands/wives, they just should never have sex with anyone again. D) Ok, fine. Get divorced if you feel like your life is in the balance or something. But you’d better prove to me that you had a good reason. Like maybe a printed-out police report.

Possibly just seeing such vague thoughts outlined renders them too uncomfortable to espouse, but if not, see the following responses:

A) bad marriages are not the result of stupidity/gullibility per se. And even if they are, stupidity/gullibility isn’t a sin. Thus, nobody should be doomed to be forever stuck its consequences on the grounds of moral outrage. This is grace, not hell. Or, at least, it should be.

B) Does this mean no matter what, you’re going to side with the Bible on everything, or just this point? The Bible is also OK with slavery — or at least doesn’t condemn it — and to deal with rape, the rapist is supposed to marry the [unpromised] girl he rapes. If you’re willing to be consistent to the point that you’ll suggest this biblical approach when you / your daughter / your sister is raped and/or enslaved, then I’d applaud your consistency, but not necessarily your sanity. I suspect that these laws on rape and marriage were in place to shelter women who otherwise had no protection… women had no standing to get a divorce in Biblical times; their husbands, on the other hand, could quite easily divorce them.

Also, if men saw that women they had sex with were then their responsibility, they may have engaged in less “no strings attached” sex at a period in history when a woman had no way of raising a child alone… but in times when women can support themselves, this is not such an imperative. In fact, most women now would probably prefer not to be supported by a guy who’s taken advantage of them, either in marriage or out of it.

And do you really disagree with this cultural model as strongly as you think you do? If you’re a strict Biblicist in the sense that you think culture should have no bearing whatsoever on the intent of the command, then please reconcile the fact that, in the event that a precious female is taken from you and sold to the highest bidder in Amsterdam or Nevada, you should be encourage her now, in the interest of instilling biblical virtues in her, to obey her pimp, particularly if he’s giving her food and shelter, rather than encouraging her to slit his throat/run. Both are highly unbiblical responses to subjugation, even by the heathen.

C) One man/one woman? The only place (that I am aware of) where this is held up as something to shoot for in all of scripture is if the man is a pastor/teacher. Polygamy was the norm in nearly all the instances of marriage mentioned in the Bible. The big thing here was raising up heirs, not making sure everyone in the world had one and only one sexual partner. A widow was passed to her husband’s next-of-kin; she could publicly humiliate him if he refused her. Solomon, the wisest guy on earth, had more concubines than the average NFL player. Granted, this was seen as leading to his downfall, but only rather incidentally.

D) Two words: slander/gossip. If someone isn’t willing to trash-talk their ex-spouse, that should be a good thing. As God is the judge, not you, don’t try to force out the dirty details, even to absolve someone in your mind. Maybe the divorce wasn’t for a good reason. On the other hand, maybe it was. And maybe it just isn’t your business.

In closing, let it be noted that this was something that even the disciples had trouble comprehending… and Jesus didn’t seem to push it.

Matthew 19:8-11
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given…”

Also, the point behind all Biblical commands is showing love, even, it appears, the command to submit to authority (be it to a master, lord or Caesar). This is not at all to say that all things done in the name of love are right (any more than all things done in the name of God are right), but it certainly should call for an attitude check.

Romans 13: 1-10
1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established….3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. …
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

10 thoughts on “Theory of divorce

  1. Depending on the particular denomination and congregation, there is nonadherence to a number of New Testament guidelines.

    The question of women’s head coverings, for example, comes to mind.

    Assemblies that hold to that ostensible precept in scripture quote the verse in I Cor. 11:16 that the churches of God have no other practice.

    Congregations which have abandoned this as a strict rule maintain that it was a cultural demand at the time the New Testament was written.

    There is grace and mercy from our Lord (and in most congregations) for terrible mistakes and sins we have all made. I think of friends (Christians) who have aborted their own children, committed adultery, and worse. God hates these things too. But He loves us. I’m so thankful.

  2. Good article. Another example you didn’t mention that seems particularly relevant these days is women who have men overseas fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Suppose the husband goes missing…M.I.A., missing in action…not to be heard from again. The Bible does not address this situation. Is she free to re-marry? Or must she remain single for the rest of her life?

  3. Katie,

    Whenever I see that someone has gone to great lengths to research this topic, I can bet that divorce is either an option being considered, or already happened. It is a difficult topic, and one that each party to a divorce has to grapple with before God.

    In answer to one of the questions you posed as to “why” God hates divorce, I have come to my own conclusion: He hates it because it hurts people, and He loves people.

    Having been through divorce myself, I can say that even if you do not have children, who are ALWAYS negatively affected, the adult parties to the divorce are forever changed, and not in a positive way. When we become “one” in marriage, the tearing apart of divorce is emotionally, and spiritually painful. The damage to our soul is difficult to put into words, and only God can do the healing.

    Whatever your circumstance, I pray that God will give you the answers you desire.

  4. @ the second anonymous:

    I don’t disagree. However, I think divorce is less soul-shattering than the alternative in some circumstances. You can live without comforts and even without friendship, but you can’t live without hope.

  5. Katie,

    As a Christian, my hope is in God, not man. He really is our only hope, divorce or not. God’s presence is sometimes the only hope we can cling to. I pray you sense His presence.

  6. “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:10-13)

  7. Another mentality, is that God blesses the faithful. I know a couple that was unhappily married and fighting for 30 years, but stuck through it and were faithful to god and their promise/committment to each other. They have now been married for 50 years, and they said the last 20 were the best of their lives. They are totally in love and blessed. “He never said it would be easy, but it would be worth it.”

  8. This:
    “You can live without comforts and even without friendship, but you can’t live without hope.”
    As a woman who went through divorce, I can testify to the utter truth of this statement. In my case, my first marriage was a mistake. Plain and simple. I was young and my husband did not love me, and married me as part of a pretty sophisticated selfish agenda (a bit of a sociopath, as it turns out). When I made the decision to divorce, I only made sure my parents would still love me before fleeing my house. I knew I couldn’t live without their support. But everything else? Kindling for the fire. I left a beautiful home I’d worked hard on, a church that I loved, and lots and lots of friends in our common circle. But I knew I could live without them, and I have lived without them.
    Making the marriage in the first place? A mistake. Staying in the marriage? Would have been an even bigger mistake. A mistake is a mistake is a mistake, and just because the mistake is a marriage doesn’t mean you should be bound eternally to it.
    I have always felt God’s hand of blessing upon me for rectifying my mistake. Indeed, I met my husband, my dearest love, not very long after leaving my mistake behind. We have two beautiful children and while life is not perfect, I am not miserable from dawn to dusk. Rather, I know I am blessed.
    However, there are still scores of people in my hometown who will never speak to me again, as I wear the scarlet “D” on my chest. Oh well. Better to live with that than to live with my mistake.
    Thanks for letting me share all that.

  9. When abuse has been involved (even if it’s emotional or spiritual, not physical), the children are better off when you leave. I’ve seen a drastic change for the better in my children. Yes, divorce is painful — but it is only the process of making legal (and thereby putting to an end) the tearing and heartbreak which was my daily life when I was married. He broke our marriage long before I left. I’m just making it official so I can be free of the slavery he kept me in. I forgive him — it’s myself I have a harder time forgiving, for ever getting into it in the first place.
    And let’s consider some adulteresses in the Bible: Bathsheba, mother of Solomon; Tamar, more righteous than Judah; Rahab, the only one saved in Jericho; the woman caught in adultery, who Jesus did not condemn; the sinful woman who anointed his feet.
    I believe the statements in the Bible were made to protect women from casual divorces which would leave them destitute. That they are now used to trap Christian women in destructive marriages is a travesty.
    And I think it’s great when people who are not considering divorce think these things through, because it will lead more people to say, as a Christian friend once said to me, “If you ever need a safe place to stay, you can come to my place.” This is what the church should be — the safe place where we can work out our issues before God, not the place where we are condemned or pitied for a label: divorced.
    So thanks for discussing.

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