CONSIDERING DIVORCE?

Hello George, I have been married for some years…. But am pretty unhappy in the marriage and all I think is divorce every day. So I wanted to ask, what is your take on divorce. – Mrs Goodness (United States)

My dear. I understand your plights, I understand how it feels when one enters into a union that was supposed to last forever and all of a sudden realizes that the happiness she or he seeks for seems not to be there. Unhappiness in marriage is either a result of abuse, lack of understanding, care and intimacy. Perhaps, it is as a result of the lack of the characters you expected from him.

The question now is, is divorce the ideal?

Whatever our take on divorce is, we mustn’t do away with God’s view on divorce since we are believers in Christ Jesus. It’s good that you are a believer and God’s view takes preeminence. The Bible says in Malachi 2:16

“I hate divorce, says the LORD God of Israel.”

The question is, why does God hate divorce? Because it doesn’t portray his design. I explained all these in my newest book “Dedicated to Women”. By design, marriage is a lifetime commitment as Jesus said

“So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” ( Matthew 19:6 ).

However, God knows, that since marriages involve two human beings, divorce is likely to occur. As a result, there were laws in the Old Testament where the rights of the divorcees, especially the women are protected. Jesus, however, made it clear that the law such as those mentioned herein was given as a result of the hardness of the heart of men. So, even those laws were not there because it was God’s desire. God never desires that people who have been joined together should divorce. ( Matthew 19:8 ).

This doesn’t mean that God hates those who have divorced before, it doesn’t mean their salvation is questionable and it doesn’t even suggest that if after everything, you succumbed to divorce, how God feels about you changes. People may always end up divorcing when their heart is hardened on that decision! These are flaws of the human fallen nature. Some people have divorced four times but God still loves them! Nothing changes from God to them but they are the ones affected by it all. Statistics have shown that most divorce cases aren’t even as a result of abuse but because “the feeling is gone.” In the United States, divorce happens every thirty-six seconds! (Source: United State Government) In most cases, people don’t divorce because of problems that can’t be solved. I needed to say this before answering your question straight up.

Having said that it isn’t God’s desire, there is only one possibly permission for divorce. In Matthew 5:32, Jesus pointed out that it is except on the grounds of “marital unfaithfulness” that divorce and remarriage can be permitted. Divorce is permissible on the grounds of marital unfaithfulness because any sexual relationship outside marriage is a break of the covenant. Sexual relation is an integral part of the marriage. It is for the same reason why premarital sex is a sin that adultery is a sin too.

There is another instance where divorce may be permissible. But here, it is the unbeliever that may divorce the believer, the believer is not required to initiate divorce except on the grounds of infidelity. Paul wrote

“On the other hand, if the unbelieving spouse walks out, you’ve got to let him or her go. You don’t have to hold on desperately. God has called us to make the best of it, as peacefully as we can. You never know, wife: The way you handle this might bring your husband not only back to you but to God. You never know, husband: The way you handle this might bring your wife not only back to you but to God”. (1 Corinthians 7:15-16 MSG)

People also see marital abuse or child abuse as a concrete reason for divorce although such wasn’t mentioned in the bible. A secular counsellor might encourage you to go on with the divorce if that is what will make you happy but it is never wise to presume upon the word of God. Life-threatening issues would require separation and perhaps end up in divorce in the case of an unrepentant abuser. I see violence and life-threatening situations as unfaithfulness too.

But then, operating with the guidance of God’s word, except for the case of marital unfaithfulness, there is no other place the Bible encourages divorce. God hates divorce but may condone it in the case of infidelity or in the case where it is the unbelieving partner who walks away from the marriage.

This doesn’t mean that it pleases God that even in adultery the affected divorces the other. I believe Jesus was referring to the unrepentant adulterer. A couple can learn to forgive and rebuild their marriage. God has forgiven us of so much more. Surely, he should be our role model. Forgiveness of sins includes forgiveness of adultery. The Bible says

“Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you”.

(Ephesians 4:31-32 MSG)

Matthew 19:9 can be applied when the partner is unrepentant in his infidelity. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God hates divorce and that reconciliation and forgiveness should mark a believer’s life as we saw in Ephesians 4:32. God may not have used the word “hate” to express how He dislike stealing but we see every indication in the word that God hates the sin but loves the sinner!

Having said all of the above. Apart from being sexually unfaithful, if your partner has been constantly and unrepentant in abusing you without regrets, walking out might be a consideration. Not entirely walking out of the marriage but deciding to give him some space. If he repents, you can accept him back. Paul wrote

“You never know, wife: The way you handle this might bring your husband not only back to you but to God. You never know, husband: The way you handle this might bring your wife not only back to you but to God”.

(1 Corinthians 7:16 MSG)

When there are issues in marriage, the first thing to consider isn’t to quit! When it is so severe, you can walk away and stay apart for a time even as you pray and extend your love towards your partner. This can win your spouse back to you and God!

I urge that you consider rebuilding the marriage other than considering divorce. The more you consider divorce, you magnify it in your thoughts. It is not easy if you should do it on your own, you need to rest on the ever-abiding strength of God and His word. The secular world and theories may have made divorce so easy and so attractive but as believers in Christ Jesus, the self isn’t usually a major factor in making decisions.

When it seems we have tried all, we can also seek God’s intervention by submitting to Him in prayers always. We can’t overemphasis the power of prayer. I hope this helps.

Update:

Over the years, my understanding on this subject has greatly changed. The word of the Lord “I hate divorce” may not have been correctly explained in this answer. You may consider reading: What does God hate about divorce? And Can an abused spouse divorce and remarry?