This week both the men’s groups I meet with are scheduled to read some of Christ’s comments regarding divorce (from Matthew 5 and Matthew 19).
Here in the United States and Europe, divorce is a fact of life. Look around, and – typically – half the people you see have been through the termination of a marriage.Here in the United States and Europe, divorce is a fact of life. Look around, and – typically – half the people you see have been through the termination of a marriage.
So, what can be said in response to blanket statements where we are told that divorce is – unquestionably – something God stands against?
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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
It is important to remember that Jesus is all about God’s amazing grace, God’s wide mercy, and God’s unconditional love. And that is true if you are divorced or still married. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set [us all] free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).
This is my response to many conversations I’ve had over the years. I can guarantee my thoughts will be incomplete, my reasoning flawed, and my scholarship limited. But my heart is wide open, and compassionate, and committed to learning truth.
I want to discuss the declaration that, “God hates divorce.” I have heard all of the following:
- Saying “God hates divorce” is often introduced as a discussion ender. Goes like this: “Well, God hates divorce so there’s really nothing else to say.”
- Or it’s used to beat someone down – as in: “You can’t leave this marriage, because the Bible says that God hates divorce.”
- Or 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’s being wronged, because God hates divorce.”
The real question is this: Are we talking about a kind of legal checkmate, where God has no choice but to condemn divorce because that’s how “Pastor so-and-so” interprets scripture? Or is there something deeper in the equation that gets God all fired up?
What does get God all fired up?
What exactly is it that grieves God’s heart? Is it the piece of paper that legally ends 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?
Marriage is primarily a relationship, an ongoing dance between two people that requires the hard work of continual maintenance. 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:
I believe that what God hates more than anything – especially more than the legal punctuation mark at the end of it all – is any relationship that fails to honor and to care for that which God loves above all else; and that is one-another.
In most cases the formal conclusion of a marriage is simply a sad recognition of what has already happened. So I’m not sure it’s the legal document that burns God up. When the marriage is 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 my wife’s 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 my husband off in mid-sentence,
- God hates the way I ignore my wife’s needs,
- God hates the way I turn away from my husband when he wants to embrace me,
- God hates the way I come home drunk and yell at my wife,
- God hates the way I intimidate when I’m angry,
- God hates the way I turn cold rather than share my concerns,
- God hates the way I belittle my husband’s ideas,
- God hates the way I scorn my wife’s values,
- God hates the way I discredit my husband’s best efforts,
- God hates the way I fail to consult my wife regarding decisions,
- God hates the way I have to be right in every little disagreement….
This is the brokenness God hates.I believe that what God hates more than anything – and especially more than the legal punctuation marks 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 partner 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 sentence.
I don’t think “God hates” so much as “God hurts.” God is broken by our pain, God is 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 a long, painful, broken relationship. But saying, “God is teaching me how to love with the self-giving, other-affirming, sacrificial faithfulness of Jesus…” Well, that is the road to possibility and 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.
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 took my wedding vows very seriously; I intended my vows to be forever. My spouse & I had difficulties after 16 years but we reconciled 6 months later & enjoyed 15 more years. My spouse (we) went through some life threatening situations; I guess he re-thought his life & marriage & decided he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. That was 15 years ago. I thank God we had a wonderful son together & many happy years of marriage; only a couple of painful years. God hurts with divorce; so did I. I’ve forgiven my spouse & reconciled to this situation. I realized that he probably did us a favor in forcing the divorcing. I will always love him but realize we are both happier living apart. It takes two to be married but only 1 of those 2 to get a divorce.
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Thanks, Colleen –
You certainly had to deal with a lot over the years! It turns out you are a person of grace and God has blessed you.
A great marriage is absolutely a lot of hard work – from both people>
Peace – Derek
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Very well stated – once, again, my friend. In the end, God Loves – always and forever. If only we could do that.
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