God Hates Divorce, or Does He?
“God hates divorce!” A statement which has rung clearly from pulpit to pulpit across the western church. Scripturally, Malachi 2:16 is the predominant reference given for this statement:
For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously. – Malachi 2:16, KJV
Notice I’ve used the KJV for every reader that is still under the impression that this particular translation of the Bible is the best, and in some circles, the only version usable to the modern follower of Jesus. I jest, of course, but the reality remains that we here in America like our idols to be formed in the image of biblical translations and fundamental paradigms. These are the overwhelming thoughts that bring us peace of mind, and also help us to delineate between the “sheep and the goats” of our culture. Without our trust in a literal translation of one verse, from one book, of a mass collection of books covering thousands of years, then the whole edifice we’ve built our faith upon might come crumbling to the ground. That would be terrible, or would it?
I must point out, for posterity if nothing else, that even the verse above, which is so often trumpeted to persuade us to remain in marriage, and some cases abusive marriages, doesn’t exactly say that “God hates divorce.” Yes, I understand that the fact that God hates “putting away” is essentially referencing divorce, and that in this particular portion of scripture there is a general overtone regarding marriage and divorce. Before you decide to stop reading this post, let me share my personal opinion on how God feels about divorce:
I believe that: GOD. HATES. DIVORCE. Shocked?
However, I don’t say this because I’ve decided to quote this from a scripture which I’ve taken out of context to meet my own ends. No! I say this because it’s the truth.
It’s not because I can find one scripture which references this, and even at that, the reference is rather a weak one. Even in Malachi, God isn’t addressing married couples in Chapter 2, but rather priests who have been charged to teach and oversee the well-being, and spiritual growth of his people. In this passage of scripture, and when taken into its full context, you will see that God is rebuking his spiritual leaders of that day because they have failed in doing their jobs. They have presented false teaching, false living and false leading, which has resulted in marriages ending in divorce due to infidelity and various other reasons. In Chapter 2, God blames the lack of faithfulness of the priests in their commitment to him, as the reason for the rampant onslaught of infidelity and divorce in the culture of that day.
As Julius Campbell said to Gerry Bertier in the movie Remember the Titans, “Attitude reflects leadership.” Imagine God saying that to Malachi, and asking him to deliver that message to the priests of Israel. Not to over simplify the matter, or to reduce one’s personal responsibility in a marriage, but that’s basically what God was saying to his people in Malachi Chapter 2. The general attitude that had been created in the culture was one that was complacent toward divorce. Infidelity and divorce had become widely accepted as normal during that day. Sound familiar? The attitude of the culture was a reflection of the leadership of that culture.
I find it interesting that God wasn’t taking this moment to point his finger at the people who were experiencing the pain and agony of divorce, and judging them for their actions. Rather, he was judging the actions of those charged with helping to equip them with the tools they needed in order to thrive in a marriage relationship.
When we recognize divorce as being the fruit of unreconciled hurt in a marriage, compounded over time, then we can easily see the reason why God would have mercy and grace for a divorcee. I have not personally experienced divorce, but too many close to me have, and it’s ugly! Even when you see a couple who mutually agree that it’s the “best” decision for them at that time, there remains a process that is filled with pain, shame and a lot of other human emotions we’d rather not experience.
The truth of God hating divorce has so much less to do with us making right or wrong decisions, and more to do with the fact that He despises the ruin that the war of divorce leaves in its wake. Distrust, hurt, bitterness, hatred, offense and confusion are just some of the fruits of divorce that God hates because he knows the tremendous amount of fear and hurt that we will deal with during the course of that season of our lives.
The countless lives that have been lost to this killer are staggering. I say lost lives, not in the sense of physical death, but it’s the suicide of our hopes and dreams that can sometime occur because of the guilt or shame of divorce. I’ve seen too many people suffer the loss of their passions because their self-esteem was trampled upon due to the relational pains caused by a failed relationship. Unfortunately, the western church with our “God hates divorce” rhetoric has only served to increase the dosage of shame one might experience throughout the course of this tragedy in their lives. And make no mistake, it is just that. A tragedy!
What I hope to display in this short, rambling piece, is that God loves you unconditionally. No matter what’s happened in your life he does not hate you, or even your actions. He may have a passionate abhorrence for the circumstances that have caused you to suffer, as any good father would, but this is because no good parent would desire to see their children suffer in any way. It is in this way, and only this way, that God hates divorce. There is no shame found in God. He doesn’t project it, intend it, or allow it. If shame exists, then we can remain confident that it did not come from God.
He knows divorce isn’t the best. Heck! We know divorce isn’t the best for our lives, but it still happens. The real question is, what are we as the church, going to tell people about these kind of circumstances? Are we going to continue yelling from our pulpits that “God hates divorce?” Or, are we going to take responsibility for loving each other, forgiving each other, and growing together through all the seasons of our lives, no matter how good or bad?