What God Says About Divorce
Divorce was never God’s plan. He created marriage to be a refuge of love and intimacy where a man and woman join together to physically and spiritually become “one.” However, in this fallen world divorce is a reality for many and the body of Christ must be equipped to understand and minister to those who are experiencing this devastating event. While it’s true that God hates divorce because of the pain it inflicts on us, he does have a lot of personal experience with it and actually has a lot to say about it in the Bible, including when he allows it in order to protect us, to sanctify us, or to free us up for his purposes.
1. Divorce is not the unforgiveable sin. While upholding marriage is important, we do need to understand that divorce is not the ultimate sin that condemns or disqualifies someone from having a life that matters for God. In God’s eyes, sin is sin, and as with any other sin or failure, God’s grace is sufficient to cover a divorce and redeem it.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” –Romans 3:23-24
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” –Ephesians 1:7
“But the Lord will redeem those who serve him. No one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.” –Psalm 34:22
2. God understands how much divorce hurts because he’s been there. God knows the pain of having to initiate divorce, for he had to divorce his people on multiple occasions due to their sin! He also understands what it feels like to be rejected by his chosen people, who he loved and invested everything in.
“She saw that I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery.” –Jeremiah 3:8
“He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.” –John 1:11
3. God wants to comfort and restore divorcees, not punish or shame them. He desperately wants to offer you his comfort, kindness and reassurance through your painful season of divorce and give you hope that he still has great plans for your life. Sadly, the church where God’s love and grace could be spilled out the most beautifully to hurting divorcees sometimes becomes the place where they end up feeling the most shamed and marginalized. If you are feeling this way, know that this is not a reflection of God’s heart! Do not stay in a church that punishes divorcees or excludes them from ministry. Go and find a church that is willing to love, honor and minister to you through this difficult season.
“I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.” –Ruth 2:13
“Their insults have broken my heart, and I am in despair. If only one person would show some pity; if only one would turn and comfort me.” –Psalm 69:20
“You will restore me to even greater honor and comfort me once again.” –Psalm 71:21
4. God allows and even provides a model for divorce where one spouse has a persistent “hardness of heart”. Did you know that God actually lays out a plan for divorce in the Bible? Study the book of Exodus. Pharaoh was a man with a hard heart who oppressed God’s bride, Israel. Through Moses, Pharaoh was given clear instructions of what God expected of him, with boundaries and consequences of increasing severity if he did not comply. God proceeded to give him 12 opportunities to repent and free Israel before destroying him. This demonstrates that our God has both a heart of mercy, desiring none to perish, but also a heart of justice, which means ultimately there is an end to chances and papers get served.
“But Pharoah’s heart remained hard. He wouldn’t listen to them, just as the Lord had predicted.” –Exodus 8:19
“’Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?’ they asked. Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended.” –Matthew 19:7-8
5. In some circumstances, divorce is the most loving thing to do. If your spouse is engaging in harmful activities that threaten the welfare or safety of you or your children, God does not expect you to stay in harm’s way. Being loving does not mean being a doormat. Sometimes the most loving and God-honoring thing we can do is confront people about their sin, expose it and step out of the way so God can work in that person’s life without our interference. Making excuses, covering up or lying to protect people only helps them avoid consequences and enables the behavior to continue. Spouses who are engaged in ongoing sin patterns often do not acknowledge or begin to change this behavior until confronted with boundaries and consequences like getting their behavior publicly exposed, having their family move out, or facing a divorce action.
“Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them.” –Ephesians 5:11-13
6. God considers cruelty and unfaithfulness toward one’s spouse the same as divorce. If you have felt compelled to stay in a marriage marked by addiction, abandonment or abuse because you’ve been told that adultery is the only biblical grounds for divorce, that is a misinterpretation of scripture and of God’s heart. When God spoke about divorce in the Bible, he was usually speaking to men with a heart to protect women, warning men to not do anything cruel or harsh toward their wives.
“Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.” –Colossians 2:19
“For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” –Malachi 2:16
“And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful.” –Matthew 19:9
7. Sometimes God’s redemption means saving the marriage and sometimes it doesn’t. It is actually more important to God for us to know Jesus and be redeemed than to be married. He wants whatever will bring him the most glory. God knows that when one spouse is a follower of Jesus and the other isn’t there is going to be disunity at a core level. Sometimes he brings a wayward spouse to repentance and restores the marriage to something better than it ever was and sometimes he rescues a believer through divorce from an unholy alliance that has them stuck in a dangerous or unblessable position so they are free to fulfill his purposes.
“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.” -Luke 12:51-52
“But I am not like that; I live with integrity. So redeem me and show me mercy.” –Psalm 26:11
8. God may separate people through divorce for their sanctification. God uses marriage to sanctify, but he also uses divorce. If we are married to an unbeliever who is blocking or stunting our spiritual growth and impact for the Kingdom, don’t you think our loving God will intervene?
“Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:
‘I will live in them
and walk among them.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
Therefore, come out from among unbelievers,
and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.
Don’t touch their filthy things,
and I will welcome you.
And I will be your Father,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.’
Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God. -2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
9. Divorce might be the repentence step for an unauthorized marriage. God says what he joins together, man is not to separate. However, what man has joined together without God’s authorization, God has every right to separate. The truth is, many people enter into marriages outside of God’s will and direction. Some of them become believers and remain married. But some don’t. In the book of Ezra, the Israelite men were convicted about marrying wives who weren’t believers and in a step of humility and repentence, actually made a covenant with God to divorce them.
“So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” –Matthew 19:6
“They vowed to divorce their wives, and they each acknowledged their guilt by offering a ram as a guilt offering.” –Ezra 10:19
“Let us now make a covenant with our God to divorce our pagan wives and to send them away with their children. We will follow the advice given by you and by the others who respect the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law of God.” –Ezra 10:30
10. Divorce is not the end of your story. Often, it can even be the catalyst that will turn your heart fully to God and bring about a new purpose and calling in your life. When you let the brokenness of your divorce draw you closer to Jesus, he can work miracles in your heart and in your life that will blow your mind.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” –Romans 5:3-5
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” –Matthew 19:29