Should Christian couples see divorce as one of the alternatives to resolving marital disputes?
I’ve been mulling your question over, and this re-framing of the it keeps coming to mind:
- Does divorce actually resolve marital disputes?
Sure, divorce in many countries is a legal option, but what, if anything, does it actually fix? It usually just works to cut off the environment in which the dispute takes place: the relationship. But, by doing that, the dispute is not actually resolved; it’s just ignored.
I do believe that there are cases where divorce is necessary, but those cases need to be handled with great care.
Was there some specific circumstance that brought this question to mind?
Within the church we see various responses to tough marital struggles. Some may counsel for divorce too hastily, advising couples to forgo the difficult peaks and valleys that are part of any marriage and, in essence, ignoring the high value the Bible places on the marriage commitment. Meanwhile others may respond with legalism, pressuring fellow Christians to stay in marriages that are clearly destructive and unsafe.
There are no cookie-cutter answers to some of these difficult questions. The tension remains: Marriage is a lifelong commitment that is only broken for the most severe reasons. When a Christian is wrestling with a marriage that may be irreparable, sometimes the best we can do is seek God’s guidance in Scripture, talk with trusted friends who know the situation well, and pray together for the Spirit’s guidance.
@Terviks I am divorced. Both my marriage and divorce happened in a period of my life where I had gradually slipped away from Christianity. It was in the brokenness of that marriage and the desperateness of my own brokenness that God reached out for me in the deep despair of a long night to call me back to himself. At the time when I felt the most unloved AND the most unlovable, God Almighty spoke to me and said, “I still love you, and I always have.”
The man I was divorcing did not believe in forgiveness, extreme penance–yes, but forgiveness–no. The sin I had committed was becoming overweight. There were certainly extreme esteem issues involved.
That said, God in His graciousness, not only called me back but over time brought me great healing and restoration. Praise God and Hallelujah!
From my own experience I’ve come to see that often “marital disputes” are just the symptom of unaddressed individual brokenness. And when you’re broken it’s always easy to point to someone else’s rather than your own. You know, all the…why don’t you just…woulda-coulda-shoulda type issues. So we’re just looking at the outer flaws of an internal struggle and thinking if I just get out of this marriage I’ll be better off. And the addage “hurting people hurt people” is all too true and it often exacerbates marital struggles.
It’s certainly possible that I could have experienced that same healing from within the marriage, but it’s also quite likely I would have sunk deeper into despair. But we can be very hasty in stepping away from that marriage covenant. Perhaps my outcome would have been very different is we had been walking in faith and from within a Christian community.
My hope is that churches and clergy will all help struggling couples see hope in finding paths to individual wholeness in Christ as an antidote to breaking up marriages. A man who is whole in Christ will become a Godly husband. A woman who is whole in Christ will become a Godly wife. Under those circumstances I believe love may flourish.
No. Been there, done that with a self-identified Christian counselor. Messed up my children and not the future I knew God had planned. Just bad, bad advice that cratered my family and a once happily married couple.
@Brian10c I am deeply sorry to hear of your experience friend. Praying that Jesus’ grace and mercy would permeate your situation. Have you considered that others may be in situations where their spouse is abusive or unfaithful or both and there is no means of reconciliation? Would you then council they separate and remain single to wait for the possible return of a spouse? Curious to hear your thoughts
I am so very sorry, Brian, that you and your family have been in so much pain. I am praying that God would heal each one of you and meet you in your place of greatest need.
Thank you so much Jennifer. God bless you my sister
Great thought! I love your response! Blessings.
Yes! In Nigeria, there are cases of murder and suicide among evangelical christian couples. Most times, you hear the surviving partner tell the police, we wanted a divorce when things moved from bad to worse, there were life threatening situations but our pastor told us NEVER to file for divorce because it was against God’s will…
I hesitate to say this because I know that there are two side to every story and there are situation were the health and life of one of the partners is at stake but as my Dad always said it takes to Tango. Put me down for a no. I have seen this happen twice in a loved one life. All that I see now is a man who lost everything he had except the love of his immediate family. I know this sound strange but I would trade this love for his happiness any day. By that I mean that if his happiness meant that I would never get to see him again or my grandchildren then so be it. I am crying as I type this but I do love my son. Divorce is not the answer.
Reading your reply one thought popped into my mind: there is difference between separation and divorce.
By separation I mean being physically separated in case of life-threatening situations, while still staying married to each other. It gives space and time for the parties to find and solve the root issues with help from pastors, counsellors, and of course God.
And these root issues can be personal ones for either or both parties, not an issue of the marriage itself - that’s why we need God’s guidance.
I like how Jennifer phrased it - and I can testify, we had countless of these disputes because of my brokennes
I pray for wisdom and peace into those heartbreaking situations.
Jimmy u are so brave to share this, God bless you brother.
I agree with your view. Great!
When Jesus was asked in Matthew 19 if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason, he said,
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
When then asked why Moses allowed it, Jesus told them it was because their hearts were hard, and that anyone who divorces for any reason except sexual immorality and then marries another commits adultery.
Divorce was not God’s plan. God’s plan was that a man marry a woman and cherish her and love her as Christ loves the Church. God’s plan was that a woman respect and honor her husband. (Ephesians 5:21-30.) But our hearts are hard. Men do not cherish their wives or love them as Christ loves the Church. Women do not respect and honor their husbands. That is where it starts. From there it can get worse–much worse.
SeanO’s quote is a good point: there are no easy answers to tough marital struggles. Divorce is never a good thing, and should be the absolute last resort because it is not a good option. But sometimes we have no good options.
When God figuratively divorces Israel in Jeremiah 3 and 4, He has waited and waited for generations of rotten kings for them to change. He sent them prophets, whom they ignored or persecuted. He calls again and again for their repentance. He holds off and holds off on their exile (divorce.) But when they refuse to be faithful to Him time and time again, He finally does allow them to go into exile. But even after that, in Jeremiah 4, He longs that they return to Him.
Oh that we would have patience like that: that we would love someone when we do not feel loved back! That we would patiently reach out in love again and again! That I would love my husband with a love like God’s! But my heart is hard. So often I love conditionally, not unconditionally as God does. So often we love in order to be fulfilled, not to pour into another. I must let God give me a heart of flesh so I can truly love. How can I love if I harden my heart until it is stone? And how can I know God’s direction and obey if I cannot love?
@Terviks my understanding is that sexual immorality is the only biblical grounds for divorce. I come from a ‘‘broken home’’ and the effects that my parents divorce had on me were terrible at the time. Although my dad was violent, I believe that had my parents been believers they could have worked it out. My wife and I have an agreement that we never even mention the word divorce. It is just not an option, due to our understanding of God’s heart. Now had a difficult situation arisen back when I was going to church every Sunday and not born again, I would have divorced, no problem. Also should I ever walk away from the Lord, I am almost sure I would be open to divorce again.
All comes back to the heart, I believe.
I guess we have a similar background in terms of brokenness in our parents home. God strengthen you my brother as you continue to overcome daily challenges of that effect.
Before discussing the question, let’s consider the foundations first.
Part A. Purposes
- In the first chapters of Genesis we find two critical keys to this:
- to rule His creation as He would (serve it) and
- to walk with Him.
- What is a goal for our Christian Life:
Rom 8:29 KJV … [to be] conformed to the image of his Son,…
- What is a primary characteristic of His Son?
Phl 2:8 KJV … as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death,…
- How did He learn this obedience?
Heb 5:8 KJV Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
If it was necessary for Him to learn obedience by the things which He suffered, how much more would it be necessary for us to learn in the same manner?
Is our Father more concerned with our comfort or our character?
Part B. He give us opportunities for us to be conformed to the image of His Son
Several times through out His Word, He compares our relationship with Him to a marriage or uses the terms wife or bride. Because of this, we are taught that our marriages are to reflect His Love for us, that this is a goal for us to work towards. It seems to be even deeper. He reveals what we truly believe and how we are treating Him. He exposes lies and unbelief that we might grow in His Truth, to be conformed to the image of His Son.
- I have seen His people act out their deepest beliefs about Him in their marriages. One who would not accept forgiveness from their spouse because, in their heart of hearts, they could not believe the Father was able to forgive them. They were aware enough of this lie that they could put it into words, but could not let it go, refusing to accept the Truth of His Word and Love for them. Another ruled over their spouse and family with an iron fist because that is what they believe He would have them do, based on Rev 19:15. Too often, I think the root of challenges in a marriage is far deeper than the marriage itself. The difficulties in marriage may often be the symptom of the strongholds and the lies of our lives. The challenge is a call to dig deep, discover and deal with the root. Too often, we get irritated by the symptoms rather than looking to Him, seeking the root and learning to treat it effectively.
Idolatry is one of the most subtle of these. This can happen in a marriage when one gets their definition of who they are or their purpose from their marriage, family or spouse rather than from their Creator. I have seen this be so subtle that the church actually encourages the one who is doing this as the “perfect” Christian spouse, while tending to shun the spouse who is buckling, for it is a weight that only the Almighty Himself can carry.
- I have also seen Him use a spouse to bring one’s relationship with our Father and Savior to the forefront. For instance, if one feels that a spouse is not spending enough time with them, it may be that, if they go to the Father, He will show them that they are not spending enough time with Him. When they correct their relationship with the Almighty by spending more time with Him, their spouse nearly immediately started spending more time with them. (The spouse was unaware of any of this until much later. From their point of view, their work load had just been especially heavy during that time.) Sometimes, when we are too busy to listen, He provides opportunities for us to come to Him with listening ears and hearts that are ready to understand His Truth and His point of view, at least in part.
Part C He teaches us to walk with Him, to rule, reign and to become who He created us to be.
A spouse can reach into our hearts and lives in ways no other human can. Hurting people tend to hurt people, especially those closest to them. Sometimes, especially when they feel secure in the relationship or have a need to feel secure by frequent testing. The more fortified the stronghold or the deeper the roots of the lie, the longer it may take to resolve. When they are struggling, we hurt, we suffer, and we hopefully learn obedience as He did. He knew this struggle would come. He is able to use it to our benefit. He is teaching us to rule, to reign over our flesh, our own will, to be who He created us to be in the midst of this situation. To see Him regardless of our circumstances, and thank Him and praise Him, for He does not change. Do not get discouraged or quickly abandon what He is doing in your life through your marriage. It is soooo worth it.
Rom 8:18 KJV 18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time [are] not worthy [to be compared] with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Part D He Drives us to dig, to search the depths of His Word and counsel.
If you still have questions about divorce, there are at least two major principles which apply:
He clearly states that He hates divorce in Malachi 2:16.
He understands our fallen world and offers escapes when necessary. 1 Corinthians 10:13
And Isaiah 50 is puzzling.
The question, then, is one of wisdom. How does one apply these in a specific situation?
When I needed to understand more of His thoughts on marriage and divorce, I read His Word from cover to cover. As I read, I asked the Only One Who truly knew our hearts to reveal His thoughts. Each person, each couple, each marriage and situation is different, so I will not share what He shared with me. However, if one is willing to do His will, no matter what it may be, I found this to be a reliable method to research a difficult topic that considered His whole counsel and did not risk taking one verse or applying a principle out of context or inappropriately.
Pro 25:2 KJV [It is] the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings [is] to search out a matter.
If this relates to a personal matter, I pray that you will know His peace, His comfort, His will, and have the courage to do whatever He has for you to do. May He be with you as you grow in Him.
Unfortunately, our social and American allowances accept “no-fault divorce” and it is an option exercised as degrading the covenant nature of a Christian marriage. Reconciliation is necessary to do many things: demonstrate the power of God to work in changing and redeeming lives and marriages. It is also necessary to demonstrate the love of parents to their children that dad or mom or both can make mistakes and they can be forgiven. It also demonstrates to children that parents don’t take marriage lightly and neither should they.
Marriages are broken by divorce. Lives of men and women and children are broken. Homes are broken. Futures are broken. The contemporary rules of western society are driving the church, not the church driving the society. The Kingdom of God should prevail.
God can and does redeem lives after divorce. It just has shown the likelihood that divorced people, I have been told, have twice the likely chance of remarriage and divorce again. I don’t see God making divorce a viable option. It is only for preventing the murder of spouses or extreme grievous sin that isn’t repented.