This coming Sunday my “Practical Christianity” discipleship class is scheduled to read Matthew 19. It’s one of those Bible passages where Jesus has some harsh words about divorce.
But if I look around me here in the United States, pretty much anywhere, divorce is a fact of life. In the community, in the neighborhood, in the church, in the family; grab a roomful of people, and often as many as half have been through the termination of a marriage.
So what do we make of divorce? And what can be said in response to blanket statements where we are told that divorce is – irrefutably, unequivocally, unquestionably – a complete abomination in the sight of God?
When I posted my first version of this article, my WordPress account had less than 100 followers. So there’s a good change that today – if you’re one of the 6,200 people signed up to read this blog – you haven’t seen this before.
If you have, take another look. I’ve made a few changes when it comes to style, but none in terms of substance.
DOES GOD HATE DIVORCE?
First, listen to this very helpful scripture:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
I’m writing in response to a series of conversations I’ve been involved in over the past several years, and with probably scores of different people; and, also, because we’re talking about divorce in my discipleship class. All I can guarantee is that my thoughts will be incomplete, my reasoning flawed, and my scholarship limited. But my heart – I promise – is open, and compassionate, and committed to learning truth.
The particular idea I want to discuss is the oft quoted declaration that, “God hates divorce.”
- Saying “God hates divorce” is – typically – introduced as a kind of discussion circuit breaker; not about using scripture to start a conversation so much as to conclude it, along the lines of: “Well, God hates divorce so there’s really nothing else to say.”
- Or it’s used to beat someone into submission – as in: “You can’t leave this marriage, because the Bible says that God hates divorce.”
- Or it’s employed as a manipulation: “If you were living as a faithful Christian you would reconcile without question, because God hates divorce.”
- Or to justify: “I may have acted improperly, but being in favor of the divorce puts you at odds with God. Now it’s me who is being wronged, because God hates divorce.”
I guess the real question, here in the year 2017, is this: Are we talking about a kind of legal checkmate, where God has no choice but to condemn every divorce, because that’s how “Pastor Righteous” interprets scripture? Or, is there something a little deeper in the equation that gets God all fired up?
Another important question is the following: So what exactly is it that grieves God’s heart? Is it the piece of paper that legally ends the marriage? Or is it the whole ball of wax, the long-term disintegration and failure of our intention for a faithful, committed, God-blessed relationship?
FOR THE RECORD:
I’d like to go on record as saying that I believe the majority of divorces are avoidable and unnecessary. I believe that, yes, the dissolution of a marriage does break God’s heart. I believe that reconciliation is almost always a possibility. And I believe that the restoration of a broken relationship is a beautiful testimony.
This viewpoint is predicated on the understanding that marriage is a relationship, an ongoing dance between two people that requires the hard work of continual maintenance. And I believe that marriage is well worth the effort. Marriage is also an equal partnership, where the heavy-lifting of: encouragement, respect, applied kindness, deliberate care, constant affirmation, compromise, mutual submission, self-discipline, self-giving love, faithfulness, the application of creativity, and a boatload of other intentional effort is shared in equal measure.
THE IMPERATIVE OF LOVE:
But I also believe that what God hates more than anything – and especially more than the legal punctuation mark at the end of it all – are relationships that fail to honor and to care for that which God loves above all else – and that is one another.
I honestly feel that, in many cases, the formal conclusion of a marriage is simply a sad recognition of what has already happened. I’m not sure that the document covered in legalese is what really burns God up. Because when it’s over is probably the wrong time to be saying, “God hates divorce.” How about saying it earlier, much earlier, and saying it like this:
- God hates my cutting remarks,
- God hates the way I disrespect her feelings,
- God hates the ease with which I lie,
- God hates the way I spend time with pornography but neglect the marriage,
- God hates the neglect,
- God hates the way I cut him off in mid-sentence,
- God hates the way I ignore her needs,
- God hates the way I turn away from him when he wants to embrace me,
- God hates the way I come home drunk and yell at her,
- God hates the way I dominate our leisure time,
- God hates the way I intimidate her physically when I’m angry,
- God hates the way I turn cold rather than share my concerns,
- God hates the way I belittle his ideas,
- God hates the way I scorn her values,
- God hates the way I discredit his best efforts,
- God hates the way I fail to consult her regarding decisions,
- God hates the way I have to be right in every little disagreement….
That’s what God hates.
I believe that what God hates more than anything – and especially more than the legal punctuation mark at the end of it all – are relationships that fail to honor and to care for that which God loves above all else – and that is one another.
THE SAD CONCLUSION:
By the time one person has left, and the other one brings up the, “God hates divorce” thing, well, all God has left to hate is the punctuation mark that divorce is, the period at the end of a – long, long – sentence.
But I still don’t think “God hates” so much as that “God hurts.” God is broken by our pain, and God is so deeply wounded by our failure to love. God’s invitation is to love, to love eloquently and to love in the transformational power of knowing that we are forgiven and free.
Saying “God hates divorce” is not going to stop the conclusion of what has often been a long, difficult, run-on, sentence. But saying, “God is teaching me how to love with the self-giving, other-affirming, sacrificial faithfulness of Jesus…” Well that, good Jesus-following people, is the only road to the possibility of reconciliation.
The Jesus kind of love is not a stick to wave at or over others; it is an invitation to life-charged transformation and peace.
I don’t think “God hates” so much as that “God hurts.” God is broken by our pain, and God is so deeply wounded by our failure to love.
In love, and because of love – DEREK
(This article – and others on our relationship with God – is featured in Derek Maul’s collection of essays: “Pilgrim in Progress: notes from the journey“)
I’m not sure I can reconcile the words “God” and “hate” in the same sentence. To me, I’d rather see “God hurts when…”
Also, while I agree that it is a good idea to think of actions that may be causing a relationship to falter, it’s always wholly possible that free will led two people to make the wrong choice from the beginning. Maybe God was saying “don’t do it, that’s not the right person!” but free will said “nah, I got this” (but didn’t)?
Exactly. That’s why I wrote: “I don’t think God hates so much as that God hurts. God is broken by our pain, and God is so deeply wounded by our failure to love.”
…. maybe hurts would have been better in the long list too….
I also have a problem with “hate” and “God” in the same sentence; thank you Derek for addressing this claim. I would like to comment at a deeper level. Perhaps a different question to ponder is “How does one who has experienced divorce ~ no matter the reason ~ read this text and others in the Bible, feeling the forgiveness that Jesus brings to his followers?” Not only is this a personal struggle, but a divorced person is judged constantly by other “Christians” and those who have stayed in bad relationships; because that is what the Bible says to do. What I have found to be true … divorced Jesus followers remove themselves from the “flock” and hide; NOT from God, but from others. People of faith have little problem finding forgiveness from Jesus, but brothers and sisters of Christ and those of secular righteousness definitely proclaim and demonstrate that “God hates.”
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Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Greg.
Yes, this is just scratching the surface, and there is a lot more to talk about here.
To be honest, I am both gratified and shocked at how many people at our church have experienced divorce. Gratified that they are active and involved and loved and accepted… and shocked at how many marriages do fail. We have much to learn about relationships, and about how to support one another with both accountability and grace.