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God Hates Divorce, But Should We?

divorce heart sxc hu smallLiving, as Americans, in a culture of divorce makes any dialogue on divorce and the Christian difficult. Indeed, any teaching set forward on divorce and remarriage will no longer be a marginal issue affecting only a small fraction of the Church, but will be tested in every conceivable way in every possible combination of circumstances by new converts and long-standing Christians alike. It is essential, therefore, that one’s position on this issue be as closely aligned with Scripture as possible, lest he either cheapen the institution of marriage, or unnecessarily bind earnest believers in a life of misery.

The most important statement concerning divorce in the Bible is, simply, “’For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord.” (Malachi 2:16) This is the starting point, without which divorce and remarriage becomes a hunt for a legal loophole.[1] God hates divorce, and so should every Christian.

Marriage is both a legal contract, and a covenant.

On one level, marriage is an institution of the state by which the legal responsibilities of its smallest recognized social unit are evaluated. Here, viable members of society who can legally validate the establishment of the relationship witness it. The state recognizes the dissolution of these relationships, and permits the establishment of new legal ties by each partner according to legally prescribed patterns. On this level, even in the Mosaic Law, the hardened hearts of unregenerate men are accommodated by the allowance of divorce for all. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 19:8-9)

On another level, marriage is a covenant, an agreement by oath in the presence of divine witness, who will bless fulfillment, and curse betrayal according to prescribed patterns. God takes such acts very seriously and will back them. (Malachi 2:14; Jeremiah 33:1ff) The witnesses of the covenant may, also, recognize the dissolution of the covenant according to pre-established expectations. A tension is created between these two levels of marriage when the state permits a divorce according to one standard, while God holds a man to his commitments by another standard.

Divorce and remarriage are, or at least should be, a single issue. In ancient Israel, the purpose of a divorce certificate was the legal entrance into another marriage. Those who deny remarriage as though biblical restrictions are intended as punishment for failure often ignore this point. Remarriage is forbidden only when God continues to hold each party to covenantal commitment.

The marriage covenant is a life-long, one-flesh covenant designed to responsibly answer the physical and emotional needs of people, and to provide the God-ordained environment for the propagation, and rearing of children. It is the one-flesh nature of a marriage covenant that provides the standard for its establishment and its dissolution. The marriage is consummated in sexual intercourse, and may be dissolved through a break of this trust—sexual infidelity. Jesus’ denial of divorce and remarriage excepts sexual immorality, because, it dissolves the one-flesh covenant in God’s eyes. This includes, I believe, the remarriage, or sexual sin, of an ex-spouse after a divinely unsanctioned divorce.

Historically, the issue grew more confusing when new converts to Christ were being abandoned by their spouses, or else were being pressured to abandon unsaved and unresponsive spouses by other Christians during the New Testament era. Paul declares that those abandoned by unbelievers are free to remarry, but they should not seek such freedom if their spouses are willing to remain with them. In response to this, some have “worked over” the idea of “unbelieving” to encompass any party who is uncooperative in reconciliation.[2] This is a great loophole… in fact, metaphorically speaking, I could drive a National Park through it.

While issues of character should be raised in all Church situations, a justly dissolved marriage allows remarriage to both parties. In a divinely unsanctioned divorce, it is a waste of time hunting down an innocent party, so as to pronounce only one party free to remarry.[3] The issue is not punishment, but is covenant. If a covenant may be reasonably said to stand, then remarriage by either party is an adulterous act, and one should labor only for restoration. If a covenant may not be reasonably said to stand, then remarriage is permitted to either party, though, I suppose, restoration should be sought if possible. I certainly would not, however, blame anyone who refused to seek reconciliation with an unfaithful spouse.

This understanding of divorce and remarriage is, in my opinion, the most in keeping with biblical teaching and is the simplest criteria for evaluating difficult situations. Thus, it should be the standard for counseling those in marital turmoil concerning divorce and remarriage. The minister should emphasize God’s hatred for divorce and the proper perspective on the marriage union in his preaching, counseling, and, especially, in pre-marital counseling. It is impossible to be more biblical than the Bible, and those who “one-up” scriptural teaching, by intensifying their demands on struggling souls, do as much harm as those who fail to regard Scripture at all.

What do you think?


[1] This is evidenced in the Catholic practice of forbidding divorce, yet permitting annulment for up to sixteen offenses. Guy Duty, Divorce & Remarriage (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, Inc., 1968), 118-119. John Jefferson Davis, Evangelical Ethics: Issues Facing the Church Today, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 1993), 83.

[2] Jay Adams, Marriage Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 90. Why should one not simply label anyone who would want a divorce an “unbeliever”? Is this not the same level of rebellion as a refusal to reconcile?

 [3] It is certainly not a waste of time concerning issues of repentance, however.

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