The Cruelty of Divorce

13 Here is another thing you do. You cover the Lord's altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn't accept them with pleasure. 14 You cry out, "Why doesn't the Lord accept my worship?" I'll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows.

15 Didn't the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. 16 "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." (NLT)
Malachi 2:13-16

This week is typical in for me and many pastors all over the world.  I have the honor of participating in the union of a man and a woman in a lifetime bond, where the two will become one.  This mysterious union in which God created after his own bond and union with humanity, is seen as the central relationship in families and was to be an impenetrable bond inwhich to experience life and love.

However, like my fellow pastors, I have the displeasure of witnessing the literal destruction of marriages.  Couples, where one or both partners decided that their desires were more important than the commitment they made to their spouse, and ultimately to God.  While divorce is not a sin, and provisions are made in the Bible for divorce (Matthew 19:3-9, I Corinthians 7), it is always a result of sin.  Jesus says that the only reason that God even allows divorce is because of humanity's sinfulfness.  Even with that being said, God takes divorce personally.  He states that he actually hates divorce.  I do not believe we have a true understanding of how God grieves divorce.

Now, I do not believe that marriage scriptures should be used to keep women or men in abusive relationships.  Scripture speaks of honoring our bodies as God's temple.  Scripture is also clear that the believer can divorce when their spouse has been unfaithful and abandons them.  While these are provisions for divorce, they are not commands for divorce.  God has, and God is quite capable of providing healing and wholeness to marriages where there has been incredible wounding.  

In our day, when over 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce, I believe that we need to take heed to the following principles:

1. Never, never, never get married unless you and your spouse are committed to a lifetime together, for better or worse,for richer or poorer, and sickness and health.  As Christian Author Gary Thomas states: Marriage is not to make you happy, but to make you holy.  The purpose of marriage is not only union but spiritual formation or character formation that comes with living and sharing with another.

2. Understand that your marriage matters deeply to God.  God was the witness to your vows and according to the scripture in Malachi, expects that you will stand by your vows as a sign of respect towards Him. 

3. Divorce has destructive realities and should only be entertained when the covenantal relationship is beyond repair.  This means that the Biblical conditions for divorce (abuse, abandonment, affairs) cause significant emotional and physical pain.  Yet, God also understands divorce itself (particularly when the conditions for divorce are not present) is also a form of violence.  Jesus describes it as an overwhelming act of cruelty to your spouse
(Mal 2:16, see above).  Divorcing because you are simply unhappy or no longer "love" your spouse, in the absence of their abuse, abandonment, or infidelity, is an act of cruelty in which you are held responsible.

4. The Goal of marriage is the expression of love and faithfulness, not for your partner to "fulfill you".  Sociologist Andrew Cherlin of John Hopkins University, does a wonderful study in his book,  "Marry Go Round".  His study looks at how different generations understand marriage, and our generation understands marriage as something that "fulfills" us.  In our consumerism, we even see marriage as something that is for us, to be used by us for our happiness, pleasure, and meaning.  This is not to say that a healthy marriage should not provide incredible happiness, pleasure and a deepened sense of meaning.  It is to say, that no person can ever singlehandedly make us happy, continually give us pleasure, and be responsible for your identity or social standing.  It is not what marriage is for.  In our consumer culture, when our marriages do not fulfill us, we simply go shopping again.

I am sharing this with you because I am honestly overwhelmed.  As I pray daily for couples, I sense the pain of marriages gone bad.  I feel the cruelty unleashed upon one another through the abuse, abandonment, and affairs.  I also mourn the cruelty of a spouse who says to his or her spouse "I never loved you" which really means "You are unloveable".  It hurts too much and is too devastating for the families and friends.

If you are experiencing marriage problems, please consider the Word of God and apply these truths to your situation.  Even more importantly, consider the God of the Word and your relationship with him in light of marriage (notice that our relationships with our spouse affects our relationship with God in the Malachi scripture above).  I pray that you will experience the love of God and the peace that transcends all understanding.

May God bless you all,

Pastor M Traylor