God hates divorce. He says so in Malachi 2:16. Jesus is pretty clear in Mark 10 that God made men and women for love and unity, but human sin forced God to make an allowance for separation, a very narrow allowance. Paul tells the Corinthians that only death can release them from their marriage vows, even if they separate.
With such a clear and confining biblical mandate, it’s no wonder that Christian marriages can be so problematic. What do we do when we struggle? Hide? Strap a smile on? What do we do when the Bible is basically forcing us to choose between a lifetime of frustration and arguing and separate beds, or living the rest of our lives with private, social and spiritual shame?
Historically, the Church has not been kind to couples that suffer in marriage, especially when they’re ready to wave the white flag. The very brutal, very public divorce of Amy Grant comes to mind. Christians were ruthless, eager to explore controversies of seduction and adultery posed by Gill and Grant’s ex-spouses despite Gill and Grant’s adamant denials.
Did they do it? Was Amy using her looks and celebrity status to explore a crush at the expense of her Christian witness? Was she too distracted by her pursuit of wealth and fame to really focus on her family?
I don’t know if you’ve struggled in your marriage or lived alongside people that have, but it can be nasty and painful and grueling. This excerpt from Amy’s 1999 CCM interview sums it up well:
“If people say that I was leaning on a man emotionally that I wasn’t married to, that I developed a friendship that was inappropriate,’ I want to go, ‘You know, if you’re gonna list my faults, let’s get to the real meat. You ain’t even scratched the surface with that stuff. Let’s get real. Humanity is humanity. You want to know what my real black ugly stuff is? Go look in a mirror and everything that’s black and ugly about you, it’s the same about me.’ That’s what Jesus died for. This should not be a surprise to any of us.”
Is God insensitive to our human struggles? Doesn’t he know what will happen when two fallen human beings make a binding oath in the throes of infatuated bliss? Why make it so difficult to escape when reality turns bliss into heartache?
Take comfort in this: The story of the Bible is the story of God’s first and second marriages. That’s right. God had a wife, struggled for a long time, got divorced, then re-married. And he still struggles with his marriage today.
‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘and you became mine.’ Ezekiel 16:8
For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. Isaiah 54:5
‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown.’ Jeremiah 2:2
‘But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,’ declares the Lord. Jeremiah 3:20
‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband. All prostitutes receive gifts, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. So in your prostitution you are the opposite of others. No one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you.” Ezekiel 16:32-34
‘All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people.’ Isaiah 65:2
This is what the Lord says: ‘Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce with which I sent her away? Or to which of my creditors did I sell you? Because of your sins you were sold, because of your transgressions your mother was sent away.’ Isaiah 50:1
‘I will make you envious by those who are not a nation. I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.’ Deuteronomy 32:21
‘I was found by those who did not seek me. I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.’ Isaiah 65:1
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless . . . ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:25-27, 31-32
You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. Romans 10:19–22
You have left your first love. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. Revelation 2:4-5
If you lose this story, you lose the heart of God. If you think God simply rules everything from a lofty throne, spinning some cosmic chess game for his own glory, glowering down at all the sinners with a raised gavel, you have missed the Biblical story, promoting a God that looks more like Zeus than the crucified Christ.
Why does God hate divorce? For the same reason that we do. It hurts. It distorts. It’s not what he wanted when he called Adam and Eve “one flesh.” Why does God make it so difficult to break our marital vows? He wants us to work as hard as he did to try to fix it. Healing requires honesty, self-sacrifice, forgiveness and perseverance. It forces us to abandon our warped, self-oriented selves for the sake of another. If we had an easy out, we’d probably take it every time.
But sometimes it doesn’t work out. Just ask God. He’s still working on his second marriage. And this one’s just about as problematic as the first.