Growing up, I was taught that marriage is forever. Adultery was the only reason divorce should even be considered, and adultery only happened when one spouse wandered because he/she wasn’t having needs met at home.
I have learned so much in the last decade.
Adultery and divorce are not always the result of one spouse not getting his/her needs met at home; adultery and divorce can be the result of one hardened heart wandering away from the covenant made with God and a spouse. And there’s often absolutely nothing the faithful spouse can do to stop it.
As I’ve walked this path, I’ve had to look deeply into scripture to understand how divorce and remarriage fit into God’s plan. We know God created us male and female, to become one flesh, fully committed until death do us part.
But we also know that we are human, living in a fallen world where sin is rampant. We know God’s perfect will is not always possible because there is none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10).
Even when we face the consequences for sins—our own or those of someone we love—we can be assured that God’s grace is enough. His grace is enough to bring something beautiful out of the mess. His grace is enough to redeem the pain and make something new. His grace is enough to wipe out our past and give us a fresh start. His grace is enough to resurrect us from the grave—even the grave of divorce.
When I first walked through my divorce, I spent many hours wrestling with how it fit into my life, into my relationship with God. It was not something I wanted, but it was something forced upon me by an unrepentant spouse. I thought my testimony, my opportunities to serve God were over.
Instead of casting me to the side because of my divorce, I’ve watched as God has resurrected my life, my ministry. He’s helped me forget the past and perceive the new thing He is doing in me and through me (Isaiah 43:18-19). He has used the very thing some would say disqualifies me from serving Him to mold me into His image and give me a platform from which to share His love.
As I wrestled with God over divorce, I turned to scripture to see what He has to say about divorce and remarriage. While there are a small number of verses often used to keep people in abusive marriages or to force them to live a celibate life if they divorce, I couldn’t understand how this theology fit with God’s heart toward His people.
As I’ve prayed and studied, God has shown me a few things to consider when it comes to divorce.
The truth about sin. As scripture states, we have all sinned. Greed. Pride. Lust. Sexual immorality of any type. Whether it’s the little white lie to keep us out of trouble or divorce, it is all sin. And, in God’s eyes, there’s no difference between the lack of integrity in your life and the divorce in my life.
But by God’s grace, He sent His son Jesus Christ to shed blood so that my divorce and your sins could be wiped away. He has removed all of our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) and He remembers them no more (Hebrews 8:12, Jeremiah 32:34).
If God has removed my sins (including divorce) and remembers them no more, isn’t it as if I had never sinned? Haven’t I been made white as snow, washed in the robes of righteousness? Haven’t I been made right with Him?
If a person who was once greedy and prideful has his sin wiped away, if he is made as if he had never sinned, isn’t my divorce also wiped away as if I had never been married? After all, wasn’t Rahab—the prostitute—made right with God when she turned to Him? Wasn’t her sexual immorality wiped away and she was given a new chance at life—including marriage? Why would my divorce be treated any differently by the forgiving God whose entire purpose in sending His son was to make us right with Him?
The history of divorce and remarriage in the Bible. While God’s plan was always for the man to leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, He also knew hearts harden. He knew mankind would wander from their commitments. To prevent women from being mistreated, from being left with no way to provide for themselves and their children, Moses allowed divorce and remarriage as a kindness to women who had no rights in their culture.
Suppose a man marries a woman but she does not please him. Having discovered something wrong with her, he writes a document of divorce, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house. When she leaves his house, she is free to marry another man. Deuteronomy 24:1-2
And if you look at Malachi 2, the famous and frequently quoted God hates divorce passage, you actually find a very different tone.
Yet you ask, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have acted treacherously against her, though she was your marriage partner and your wife by covenant. Didn’t the one God make us with a remnant of His life-breath? And what does the One seek? A godly offspring. So watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously against the wife of your youth.
“If he hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with injustice,” says the Lord of Hosts. Therefore, watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously. Malachi 2:14-16
Can’t you hear God’s heart? His heart is not that divorce is some horrible sin. His heart is broken when you treat your wife, your spouse, poorly, when you abuse (mentally, physically, emotionally) your spouse, when you commit adultery against your spouse. He calls out the breaking of the covenant by any type of mistreatment of a spouse. It’s the actions that lead to divorce that break God’s heart.
God’s heart toward us. God loves us! We are the apple of His eye, His treasured possession, His royal priesthood. He delights in us, rejoicing over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). Nothing makes Him happier than to see His children walking in His ways.
But it’s far less about our outward actions and far more about our hearts. Sure, when our hearts are right with Him, we desire to walk with Him. But I don’t have to follow any certain set of rules to earn God’s favor.
I have been saved by His grace and His grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9)! Nothing I do can make Him love me more—or love me less! Anyone who demands that I must follow a certain way of living (i.e., stay in an abusive marriage or remain single following divorce) is saying I must earn my salvation, a direct violation of God’s Word.
Jesus Christ was a master of bestowing grace on the lowliest of sinners. Whether it was the woman caught in adultery or the greedy tax collector, He always offered grace and forgiveness. He wiped their past clean and made them as if they had never sinned before. And when they left His presence overwhelmed by grace, they wanted nothing more than to walk in His ways, to share the story of this man who gave them new life.
And it’s the same with us who have walked through divorce. We’ve seen God take our past, wipe it clean, give us new life. Nothing brings us more delight than to walk with Him, to share His love with others.
Divorce is a painful experience, one I wouldn’t wish on my greatest enemy. Despite the pain, it is also an opportunity to experience the lavish love, the powerful healing of the Father who loves us so. It can be the end of one chapter and the beginning of a beautiful new future filled with blessings and gifts from the Father.
Ultimately, this side of heaven we will never fully understand God’s ways.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. …For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:9-10,12.
But, I will always choose to err on the side of love and grace, just as my Savior does.
But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes. 1 Corinthians 8:1b-3