“For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. Malachi 2:16
I’ve heard it quoted by so many people. It’s been thrown in my face, reminding me what a sinful person I am for walking away from my marriage. I’ve been told I am required to live a celibate life until my death, pining away for my ex-husband or risk the fires of hell for living in adultery.*
And yet, I know how hard I tried to save my marriage. I know how I chose forgiveness after learning of his adultery. I know how I prayed without ceasing, fully believing God would save my marriage. I know the hurt and pain I endured for the sake of doing the right thing, of keeping my marriage together.
I also know how I was losing my dignity and self-respect. I know how my very life was being chipped away, bit by bit. I know how I doubted myself, wondered what was so terribly wrong with me that I couldn’t keep my husband happy. I know how I began to hate myself, hate my life.
And my kids. Oh, how I feared for them! What if I divorced? Would it permanently destroy them? Wasn’t it always better to be raised in an in-tact home, a family with a mother and father?
So I stayed. I clung to my vows, to my covenant I made before God. I put myself aside for the sake of doing what I believed was right. I didn’t want to disappoint God.
Until the day God told me it was time to walk away.
Yes, God told me it was time, I had endured enough hurt, pain, and rejection. It was time for me, the captive, to be set free. It was time for me to fulfill the purposes for which He created me.
Staying in my marriage was destroying me. I wasn’t fulfilling God’s purpose for my life. I wasn’t even living.
I was sinning by staying in a marriage where sin was rampant.
Since that day over seven years ago, my life has changed dramatically. My children and I have found freedom. We have found joy. We have found purpose. We have found life.
And we have found our Savior!
But it’s not been easy. I have battled shame, guilt, and condemnation for years, and my fellow Christians have often chosen to add more guilt and shame on top of what I’ve already experienced. I’ve been told how much God hates divorce, how disappointed He is in me. I’ve been told I chose happiness over holiness.
But, if that’s true, why would God tell me to walk away?
Let’s take a closer look at Malachi 2:
You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows.
Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” Malachi 2:13-16
I don’t know about you, but what I see in this passage is an emphasis on hurting your wife, not an emphasis on divorce. God hates when men hurt their wives by being unfaithful to their vows. And what is unfaithful? Failing to love them as Christ loved the church. Failing to protect and nurture their hearts. Failing to treat them with love and respect. Failing to be the men God created them to be.
(Caveat: I want to recognize the reality of men who are abused by their wives through adultery, addiction, and abuse. I am simply writing from a feminine standpoint.)
Author Gary Thomas wrote a book, Sacred Marriage, in which he states marriage was designed to make us holy more than happy.
And, over the years, I have had many people use it to tell me I should have never walked away, I should have stuck it out and allowed God to use my marriage to make me holy rather than focusing on happiness.
Shame and guilt. Doubt and condemnation.
Last week, however, Thomas wrote a blog post entitled Enough is Enough. He talked about a recent marriage conference where he was confronted with story after story of women suffering through hellacious marriages, marriages fraught with all types of verbal, emotional, sexual, and mental abuse.
Did he say, “Hang in there. Marriage is designed to make you holy not happy”? Did he say, “You took a vow and you have to keep it no matter the cost”? Did he say, “If you love him well and pray enough your marriage will survive”?
NO! He said, “Enough is enough!” Enough of women suffering untold abuse in the name of keeping a marriage together! Enough of the church valuing an institution over a person! Enough of women sacrificing their God-given purpose for a man who doesn’t value them! Enough of this shame, guilt, and condemnation being heaped upon women for walking away from abusive marriages!
Thomas, the man who holds marriage in highest esteem and has dedicated his life to encouraging Christians to stay in their marriages, to encouraging Christians to allow marriage to make them holy, says enough is enough!
In his own words, [women need] to be protected from such grotesque abuse, and if divorce is the only weapon to protect her, then the church should thank God such a weapon exists.
Our loyalty to marriage is good and noble and true. But when loyalty to a relational structure allows evil to continue it is a false loyalty, even an evil loyalty.
Christian leaders and friends, we have to see that some evil men are using their wives’ Christian guilt and our teaching about the sanctity of marriage as a weapon to keep harming them.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to throw away the rags of shame and guilt, of doubt and condemnation! It is time to stand tall, to tell the world we walked away because we were following God’s instructions. It’s time we stand together and proclaim there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
It is time the church recognizes divorce is always caused by sin, but divorce itself is not always sinful.
*My husband has passed away, and therefore this statement no longer applies to me. However, I heard it many times while he was still living.