One of the perennial concerns that we as the Lord’s people ought to have is being deadened to the deceitfulness of sin (cf. Hebrews 3:13). When a given sin is seen so often and consistently in society, it is easy to rationalize it or to accommodate it in order to save face. We have seen this very thing happen with the issue of homosexuality: many a denomination, whose constituents not many generations before would have condemned homosexuality as the sin that it is, are now debating not whether to include homosexuals, but whether homosexuals should have positions of authority! Now the Biblical teachings regarding homosexuality are under attack, not the sin itself which God condemned.
Most Christians who come from a more conservative perspective and seek to uphold the integrity of the Christian faith as revealed in Scripture would agree with the above sentiment. And yet, when it comes to a matter of transgression which hits closer to home, which proves more heinous, destructive, and divisive, many have decided to capitulate and accommodate. That transgression is divorce.
Let us hear what God has said regarding this matter.
And did he not make one, although he had the residue of the spirit? And wherefore one? He sought a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For I hate putting away, saith the LORD, the God of Israel, and him that covereth his garment with violence, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously (Malachi 2:15-16).
“It was said also, ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:’ but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery,” (Matthew 5:31-32).
And he answered and said, “Have ye not read, that ;he which made them from the beginning made them male and female,; and said, ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the twain shall become one flesh?; So that they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:4-6).
“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery” (Matthew 19:9).
But unto the married I give charge, yea not I, but the Lord, That the wife depart not from her husband (but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband); and that the husband leave not his wife, (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
God in Christ has therefore not left us without instruction or guidance in terms of divorce and how He feels about it. God hates divorce. We recognize that God hates many transgressions, and most such transgressions are deemed serious: haughtiness, lying, murder, wicked hearts and actions, false witnesses, relationship wreckers (Proverbs 6:16-19). Who among us wishes to be guilty of commending a thing which God not merely disapproves of but actively hates?
Why does God hate divorce so? Divorce always represents the violation of God’s intention for marriage and it always represents the presence of sin. It represents the presence of faithlessness: most divorces themselves are the separation of what God joined, and divorce for the sexually deviant behavior of the offending spouse takes place on account of infidelity (Matthew 19:4-6, 9). There is nothing good about divorce. Divorce represents the failure and breakdown of a marriage.
God hates divorce, therefore, because divorce is so damaging to mankind. Society can live in denial all it wants: many of our social ills stem directly from houses torn apart by divorce. Children are not given the nurturing two-family home commended from the beginning. They feel responsible for a divorce that in reality probably had very little to do with them. They enter adulthood and the prospect of marriage themselves with all kinds of emotional baggage that leads to far higher levels of divorce than in other groups.
Divorce is a serious sin. God has never made a hierarchy of sin, and we run the risk of myopia in focusing on the difficulties of some sins over others, and yet divorce quantifiably leads to far more fallout than many other sins. Divorce means that two people tried to maintain an intimate exclusive union which has been broken; such will leave emotional scars for life. No one can fully recover from the kind of trauma that occurs when that which God established as one flesh is severed. When children are involved, the children will more likely than not have to not only shoulder their own emotional burdens but suffer the baggage of their parent(s). They will be forced to look wistfully at their peers who have both parents, and even if there is a remarriage, there will most likely always be some form of tension between the child and the step-parent. The child will grow up with scars from the problems of the parents’ failed marriage, and themselves will look for partners who are not as committed as they ought to be to a relationship and/or will themselves carry so much baggage that they will shun the idea of marriage or will soon find themselves as divorced as their parents were. Even if the divorce occurs and no children are involved, any future children that either spouse may have will grow up and will face some form of resentment or other emotional difficulty based on the parents’ previous divorce experiences. And this does not even begin to discuss the economic costs of divorce, both for each party in the divorce and society at large. In the end, there is nothing good about divorce whatsoever.
Yet divorce is an ever-present reality today. We all know plenty of people who have gone through divorces. Many have gone through two or three. Its prevalence in the world has meant that the issue has infected the church, and all of a sudden students of God’s Word are barraged by a rash of heart-wrenching yet true divorce scenarios. What should we do? The clear, obvious meaning of the texts are difficult to swallow; they make for difficult preaching and teaching. In every fiber of our being we want to assure all kinds of “good” and nice people that they have a way of being religious while enjoying the same marital privileges as we enjoy. While such an impulse is understandable, what happens if we actualize it? The disgusting face of divorce and its consequences are covered up.
We now often hear talk of the “innocent put-away party”, the “right” of marriage, and the immediate discussion of “what-if” scenarios the moment the word of Scripture is spoken. This terminology is often the “language of Ashdod,” not used in Scripture for good reason. Jesus does not speak of any “innocent” party: while the term is often used specifically in reference to the sin of sexually deviant behavior, it is loaded with value judgments in general, and does not always accurately assess the situation. One searches in vain to find a spouse who has not sinned against their spouse; while a person who commits sexually deviant behavior on account of the sexual withholding of their spouse is not justified thereby, such circumstances (which do exist) puts to lie the idea that one spouse is purely and truly “innocent” and the other purely and truly “guilty.” Likewise, marriage is a privilege, a blessing from God, a gift and something to be cherished; as a covenant, it is no more a right than our salvation. Just as faithlessness in our covenant with God will lead to our condemnation, thereby guaranteeing that salvation is by no means a right, faithlessness in marriage often leads to the inability to have a marriage and be right with God.
Are these truths hard? Yes. Do we ache and hurt for people in their circumstances? Absolutely. On the other hand, difficult scenarios akin to the Gordian knot are not God’s doing; they are man’s doing. Hard truths about divorce are only hard because men are freely engaging in such faithlessness without giving it a second thought. Awful divorce and remarriage situations only exist because of man’s propensity to not only sin but to become “inventors of evil” (Romans 1:30). Eternal consequences are of no importance in our selfish society.
Consider how God designed marriage. A man was to leave father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two were to become one flesh. Why did God establish marriage in this way? God tends to act in our best interest, and He designed marriage to be in our best interest. Marriage is set up the way it is for our protection, not our sentencing! The man is to become one flesh with his one wife so that she can be cherished and honored as she deserves, supported as is necessary, and her due conjugal rights maintained, her honor intact, and the opportunity to bear children given in a stable environment (1 Corinthians 7:2-4, Hebrews 13:4). The woman is to become one flesh with her one husband to provide him with his conjugal rights, to give to him offspring guaranteed to be his which can be his honor, and to maintain the household (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:2-4, Titus 2:4-5). If God had not established marriage in this way, but let men divorce women at a whim, you have what is visible under the Law: men divorcing women at a whim, often reducing them to shame and poverty, shouldering a burden she cannot bear on her own. If God had let women divorce men at a whim, men would likewise have to shoulder a burden he cannot bear on his own, and his sexual desire would likely lead him into sin. Marriage without the prospect of divorce is absolutely critical for the establishment of the spiritual, balanced, godly, respectable home. It is when this intention for marriage is violated that compromise is introduced, because the protection God intended is not there.
Marriage is there for our benefit, yet it is reviled and denigrated. In the eyes of many its commitment is next to worthless; many do not take their vows seriously, and our society has finally reached the idealism that inaugurated this country. Men and women are enlightened and free individuals, and behold, they are unsatisfied. People run into ill-conceived marriages that are doomed to fail, and no one bats an eye.
Marriage is too important, too holy and honorable, to be treated so (Hebrews 13:4). Divorce is too disgusting, too heart-wrenching, too absolutely destructive to be accepted with merely a shrug of the shoulders as if, “that’s life”. No, it’s not life. Look at societies throughout history: why is it that most all save America found divorce to be a greater social evil than allowing men to engage in extramarital sex? Sure, such adultery was wrong, and sure, it led to all kinds of problems in the home, yet the problems did not have nearly the social implications of rampant divorce. We have finally bested Rome; divorce is far more prevalent now than it was then. In a sick way, most societies have respected marriage more than America does.
Yet we, as Christians, are called to the higher path. It is not only possible to live in such a way as to have one spouse exclusively for life; it may even be found to be more enjoyable that way! God designed marriage for a man and a woman to have a special and intimate relationship, and sex was designed to cement that relationship. It is no accident nor chance that God said, “a man leaves father and mother and clings to his wife,” and only after the clinging does He say, “the two become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Marriage, especially today in our marriage-for-love culture, ought to be when two people who have become interconnected emotionally and mentally want to take the next step. Marriage can be the most fulfilling relationship that a man and a woman can have, something that they would never exchange for anything. Marriage can also be a sentence for life to misery. It’s all in the choices made.
Divorce is disgusting and marriage is honorable. This reality needs to be impressed upon all of us constantly, lest we become complacent and accommodate our culture’s views of divorce and remarriage, suggesting the “need” for sexual gratification is so strong that one must not live without it, and therefore to justify divorces which God has called evil.
Young people, please recognize that when it comes to selecting a mate, you are making the second most important decision of your life, and it is one to be taken extremely seriously. Never marry a non-Christian; you’re asking for the burden of being unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). Ask any a man or woman among the people of God whom you trust and who is married to one who is not a believer and see how they have suffered. Young men, while it is good to appreciate the beauty of a nice young woman, realize that such will fade and that her personality and character are going to define your relationship far more than her attractiveness (1 Timothy 2:9-11, 1 Peter 3:1-6).
Young women, do not buy into what feminists want you to think. Do not be deceived into thinking that you have been loosed and that you can stand equal to men in the sexual realm. You can’t. It’s a false delusion. It may be harsh-sounding to say this, but recognize that as a young Christian woman you are in a very prone situation. We are not far enough removed from the Austenian world where the big decision for the girl was which man she would marry to justify the utter carelessness too many girls now exhibit when it comes to their teenage and early twenty years. Remember that in the game of fornication, you as the young woman have everything to lose and nothing to gain. If you think that it is difficult to find a good husband, imagine not finding one and then trying to live as a single mother because of poor choices you made while younger. Think that feminism has gotten you anywhere in 50 years? Try being a poor single mother and see how far you can get. Desperation ought not enter into your factors, lest you end up miserable or divorced or both. Restraint and good thinking now can save you a lot of hassle later, and far too many women learn these lessons the hard way and too late.
And for all who are married: realize that it is for life. Mankind loves to have outs; the escape hatch always provides security. No one divorces because times are good; the option is only exercised during times of trial. The only way that trial can be overcome is by commitment: that is just as true in terms of spiritual trials we face as Christians as it is for spouses in marriage. Only when you’re committed to one another no matter what, as you promised, will you reach the end of the trials in the condition you ought. What does not kill you makes you stronger; thus, what does not kill your marriage makes it stronger. Thinking that the marriage can be made temporary will guarantee that it will become temporary.
No matter what we must recognize divorce for what it is. Divorce is a disgusting fester on our society. It is despicable, the presence of sin and unrighteousness and failure. Its scars are deep and lasting, and even though we are to have compassion on those who suffer from it, we must never compromise with society so as to approve of it. It’s hard to rationalize divorce when you know that God hates it. Hate divorce like God does.
Perhaps you, dear reader, have suffered through divorce. You know all too well the emotional trauma and devastation it causes. God has made provision for those who have divorced for reasons other than the sexually deviant behavior of the offending spouse: remain unmarried or reconcile (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). Such is the only way that the covenant vows of marriage can be upheld. May those who actively divorced their spouse for the latter’s sexually deviant behavior not feel condemned by what has been said here; Jesus has given you the ability to divorce and marry another (Matthew 19:9). Nevertheless, you also know the terrible trauma and pain of infidelity and the dissolution of what God had joined, and can testify to the awfulness which led to the divorce. You have suffered the faithlessness of your spouse, and because of that sin the divorce was made. The real divorce in that situation was when the two flesh was violently ripped apart when one part of said flesh decided to become one flesh with another.
God hates divorce. So should we. We should not presume it is light; it is always itself darkness or the consequence of darkness. Divorce is not to be celebrated but mourned. May we uphold God’s affirmation of the power of the covenant of marriage, and may man not separate what God has joined!
Ethan R. Longhenry