The Reconciliation of Faith and Divorce
Every religion has their views and dictates regarding marriage, divorce and custody matters. Addressing them all might require a novel so; this article focuses on Christianity.
Christianity can be a broad term that encompasses many religious factions but, regardless of the differences, some situations offer very similar struggles and conundrums. None, more so than divorce.
“a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh"? So, they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate."
- Matthew 19:4-6
According to the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, marriage, in traditional Christianity, is defined as “a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God," "intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given to one another in prosperity and adversity.”
Few things within Christianity are more important. The binding of two persons together with the intention that it be for their lifetimes. There are of course arguments as to what marriage is and for whom it should or should not be allowable but, regardless of your position on those matters, marriage is or should be, one of, if not the single most important decision in your life.
Things have changed a lot since biblical times; life expectancies expanded; interactions with others more frequent, worldwide and accessible; women in the workplace; the roles each are expected to play and, most critically, the scope and purpose or marriage. But, none of these changes have altered the definition or depth of marriage in Christianity and, therefore divorce is frowned upon, if not downright forbidden, depending on your beliefs.
There are any number of reasons for seeking a divorce, from the seemingly innocuous to the more substantive.
Sometimes hearts harden. Sometimes one party makes choices that forever change a covenant relationship. Maybe there’s adultery. Maybe there’s abandonment. Maybe there’s abuse. Maybe you tried everything. You begged God, night and day, to save your marriage. You tried marriage counseling. You gave your all for years and years, and you never saw any change.
Or, maybe you were the guilty party. Maybe you had an indiscretion. Maybe your selfishness pushed your spouse away. Maybe you were so caught up in your career that you neglected your spouse until he/she couldn’t take it any longer. Maybe it was an addiction that made life with you unbearable.
No one can define for another what does or does not justify divorcing. No one is living your life, in your skin, beside you so, they can offer views but those views are without full context of the feeling, emotions and battles that are and have been involved in reaching this point.
Matthew 19:4-6 is pretty cut and dry “therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate." So, how can divorce be allowable for a Christian? How can it be overseen and assisted by a Christian?
There would seem no room for the allowance of a divorce. This is an issue not only for the parties getting a divorce but the lawyers and judges involved in the process.
However, many marriages today are not performed in a church or by clergy so, they were not ordained in the name of God or under religious doctrine. Under this scenario, the parties were not bound together through a faith but, simply by legal contract. So, being dissolved in the same manner is less tied to belief and, generally, more natural to the end of a legal contract. For these parties, a crisis of faith is mostly not a factor for consideration.
For those that did marry in faith or those that are part of an afore-mentioned marriage but, who nonetheless are strong in their faith, there can be fewer more critical matters than divorce.
Are you being unfaithful to God? Turning on your beliefs? Being weak in the face of God’s test? Breaking your covenant? Committing a sin?
In general, these are very much personal and individual questions for you to answer. Family, friends and your church will have opinions and suggestions but, you alone, with God’s guidance, must make the decision. This is true whether you are getting divorced or hold a position that assists others in doing so.
Ultimately, we all see couples that we know would be healthier, happier, and better separated rather than together. Maybe you are one of those couples. Are you stuck between a decision of remaining in a self-made purgatory or a sin in leaving? Would God truly mandate that you stay in a bad or even harmful situation or be confined to a life of condemning sin? To me, the answer is absolutely not. No father would. However, others will say differently.
If you do obtain a divorce or assist in one, there are those well-meaning Christians who want you to know that you have failed Christ by your divorce or assistance. They tell you that “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16). They tell you that if you remarry one day, you will forever be living in an adulterous relationship.
It seems as if people everywhere want you to wear a large, scarlet letter “D” around your neck. Every form you complete asks if you are divorced or widowed, not just single or married. You are often scorned by the church because of your past. You feel as if you are a total and complete failure.
I am not saying to discount anything sincerely offered by anyone but, no matter what scripture they cite, it is critical to remember that any interpretation is exactly that: a human interpretation. Only the scripture itself is a divinely inspired Word of God. We have to be very cautious about taking a human interpretation and giving it the divine power of the word of God.
But what if the scripture they are citing seems clear, how can I come to peace with my decision or the position that has been forced upon me?
Reconciliation with faith
The truth is, God doesn’t hate divorce, God hates the actions that lead to divorce!
You see Malachi 2:16 does not end with “God hates divorce,” it goes on to state that “to divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” and advises to “guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”
Unfaithful as used here is not confined to our contemporary definition revolving around adultery but, to be unfaithful to our vows, our covenant, to our spouse though unkind or hurtful words and actions.
None among us can know if our union is truly ordained by God or a part of his ultimate plan for our lives – who and why we marry is a part of God’s gift of free will. So, in a very real sense, a marriage could be a deviation from God’s plan and a divorce could be a course correction. If you truly believe in your heart that your decision is what brings you closer to God and his plan for you, we are in fact taught that such a true-hearted path will be rewarded:
"I tell you the truth," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life."
— Luke 18:29–30
In fact, scripture repeatedly tells us that all things work together for the good of those who love God. That God will repay two blessings for each of our troubles (Zechariah 9:12); that Jesus is the resurrection and the life; he will take you from the death and breathe new life into you (John 11); and that the suffering won’t last forever but one day he will have you put together and on your feet again (1 Peter 5:10).
The words of a loving father concerned for his child, not a condemning judgement of your acts. Only you and God can and will know the plans he has for you so, any judgement by man is a blind assertion and nothing more.
Divorce is never a first option nor the preference of most but, it is sometimes a necessity or, forced upon us.
Remember that there is none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10). We need to remember that Christ died for our divorces as much as for our pride and our lies.
Believe, with Job, that the second half of my life will be more blessed than the first (Job 42:10).