He finally got down on his knees and asked the big question, “Will you marry me?” The ring sparkled on her finger, the church was booked and both of their mothers were trying to decide what to wear. Everything appears perfect, like the dream is about to begin, but somewhere at the back of the bride and groom’s mind is the question, “Will we make it or will our marriage end in divorce?”
This is a valid question since it is estimated by the Americans for Divorce Reform that 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Sweden, followed closely by the United States, has the highest divorce rate of any with 54 percent of marriages ending in divorce. On the opposite end of the scale, less than 2 percent of marriages in Japan, Sri Lanka, and India end in divorce. In recent years, divorce rates have dropped in many countries. Researchers have attributed this to the fact that more people now live together without getting married, and when these relationships dissolve there is no record of them ending.
God’s Perspective on Marriage
Perhaps the best place to start looking at what God thinks about divorce is to first look at how God sees marriage. Christian couples especially place a special significance on marriage perhaps because it is one of the pictures God used to describe his relationship to us (Ephesians 5:23-32). Marriage is also described in Genesis 2:24 as his desire for human unity, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” From this we can understand that marriage was intended by God for intimacy and companionship. 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 discusses how marriage can help to overcome sexual immorality:
Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Marriage also has the potential to inspire spiritual growth and to lead us towards holiness. Perhaps this point is most eloquently posed by Gary Thomas, in his book Sacred Marriage, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” Many married couples will say that marriage takes work, sacrifice, selflessness, commitment, and having to look to your flaws in more detail and see qualities and strengths in another. God can and does work on individuals through marriage in unique ways.
The Bible is not silent on the subject of divorce either. But what does it say in terms of the seriousness of marriage and the sometimes subsequent divorce?
God’s Opinion of Divorce
In Malachi 2:15-16 we read, “Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. ‘I hate divorce,’ says the LORD God of Israel, and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty.”
Without a doubt God hates divorce as stated in the scriptures. So it stands to reason that Christians would desire to avoid divorce because of their care of and love for God. Even though God hates divorce, does it happen? Yes. Are there some circumstances where divorce is allowed by God? Yes. But God’s ultimate heart and desire is for those that he unites in marriage to be joined together for eternity; marriage is sacred. In Matthew 19:3-6 it is written:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
(Read our article on Saving Sex For Marriage in our Spring 2010 issue for more insight into the seriousness of marriage.)
Is Divorce & Remarriage Ever Permissible In God’s Eyes?
In legal terms, a divorce is defined as the final termination of a marital union which dissolves all the bonds of matrimony between the parties. While some countries allow divorces to occur without one or both partners being required to claim the fault of their partner, most countries do have a waiting or cooling off period before the divorce can be finalized. Many couples use this period of separation to re-evaluate their marriage and make a decision about whether to go through with the divorce or reconcile to their mate. However, for many young couples entering into marriage, the goal is to avoid separation and ultimately divorce completely. God makes it clear in Deuteronomy that some form or certificate of divorce is needed to separate in this way. God does not take divorce lightly. Moses says in Deuteronomy 24:1-4:
If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.
If this scripture sounds confusing to you, you’re not alone. It was equally confusing to the people of Jesus’ day.
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Matthew 19:7-9
Jesus explained that because the Israelites’ hearts were hard, Moses allowed divorce. What does it mean to have a hardened heart? Some interpretations say a hardened heart is a person who “cannot forgive or live in proper relation to other believers” (Intervarsity Press). Essentially someone with a hardened heart is one turned away from God, not in tune with God’s ways or has any desire to live with God in mind.
Why Does God Allow For Divorce When He Hates It?
We live in a damaged world and we are all damaged people. God knows this and has grace for us, even in our mistakes. As we discussed before, God hates divorce, but it happens. The Bible tells us if at all possible, do not divorce:
“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” 1 Corinthians 7:10-11
Nonetheless, people get divorced for many reasons, citing irreconcilable differences, financial issues, child welfare, job situations and others. However, if one does get divorced, remarrying constitutes committing adultery.
Remarrying After Divorce = Adultery
Luke 16:18 says, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” It says again in Mark 10:2-12 (NLT), “Later, when he was alone with his disciples in the house, they brought up the subject again. He told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.”
One of The Ten Commandments is “You shall not commit adultery” (Deuteronomy 5:18) What exactly is the sin of adultery? It is an unlawful, inappropriate extramarital affair of great moral and social wrong. Not only does adultery destroy the purity of the marriage bed, but also the sacred covenant between God when He originally joined the two individuals into one.
When Is Remarrying After A Divorce Not Adultery?
The only ways to get a divorce and get remarried and not be committing adultery are the following situations:
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew 5:31-32
Now this may seem confusing. If adultery is marital unfaithfulness, why is marital unfaithfulness the only exception of labeling a remarriage after a divorce as adultery? It depends on the party involved. The victim of infidelity is spared from becoming an adulterer through remarriage. But the spouse who committed infidelity in the first place does indeed commit adultery and sins against God. The hope is, however, it should never happen in the first place for a follower of Christ. The question remains; does adultery of the mind (such as pornography) constitute infidelity and offer a valid reason for divorce and remarriage? The Bible does not speak to this kind of act specifically.
Romans 7:2-3 says, “For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.”
1 Corinthians 7:39, “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.”
God is clear that in the event of tragedy and death, a spouse is released of their marriage bond under God and can freely remarry, as long as the new spouse is also a follower of God.
Is Divorce Ever Encouraged?
An Unbelievers Voluntary Desertion
Throughout the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 7 Paul speaks about marriage and divorce. He cites desertion as grounds for divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16:
To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
It is the desire of God that His followers act in love and not by force. That’s why He recommends not fighting unbelievers who want to leave a marriage voluntarily. It is most likely for those new to the Christian faith that Paul talks to in this passage. Though it may be more challenging to have a spouse with a different belief system, it is not grounds for divorce. But the unbeliever in the partnership does have the right to leave if they so desire.
Consequences & Difficulties Of Divorce
It’s been one year since his divorce was finalized but two and a half since the separation. Since then, the anguish, guilt and disappointment have given way to growth, maturity and a second chance at marriage. Having to reflect on the circumstances that led to his marriage and subsequent divorce was not easy for Juan Galvez. The aftermath of having to separate from his wife and the mother of his children has been the biggest moral dilemma for the now 26-year-old man.
“Being young and immature, we rushed into it and it contributed to us failing and not making it work,” Galvez said. “When you’re talking about faith, marriage is something sacred and irreversible: once married you get married; that’s it. They are your partner in faith for life.”
Still, the tension and conflict that engulfed his marriage became overwhelming enough for Galvez to go against the teachings of his Catholic faith, but not without painstaking consideration.
“That’s (divorce) the biggest conflict when it comes to religion: before I did anything I talked to my priest; the one that married us,” Galvez said. “I talked to him about the situation. We also went to counseling to try to see if we could get our marriage salvaged and try to make it work again.”
Galvez’s efforts to salvage his marriage also led him to seek help outside the spiritual realm.
“We did it (counseling) and we saw no improvement at all,” Galvez, who after six months of counseling decided nothing was working, said. “Maybe it would have worked but it takes two people in a marriage; it is a team and when the team is working together, you move on and continue to move forward with life together.”
Attempts to end the fighting fell short every time, according to Galvez. Making the situation harder to handle were all arguments that he and his former wife would have in front of their children.
“Every time we argued we would go to the room but the kids would follow to where we were at and hear us screaming at each other,” Galvez said. “I just knew it was the best thing for my kids not to grow up in that environment.”
Despite acting in what he believed to be the best interest of his children, the clash between his adamant belief in the sanctity of marriage and walking away from a destructive relationship would be a burden he would have to deal with in the years following the divorce.
“During that time I did a lot of reflecting because of my background and my religious point of view,” Galvez said. “It (divorce) was never supposed to happen. But I experienced the biggest growth when we separated, right before the divorce.”
As time went on, Galvez was able to accept the mistakes he made which led to the failure of his marriage. Furthermore, the guilt and blame associated with ending one of the most sacred traditions in his faith became the foundation of his learning experience and ability to gain peace with himself and God.
“I was trying to think about what didn’t make it work. Where did I fail? It wasn’t just me or her: we both failed. A lot had to do with poor communication; a lot had to do with being young and immature.”
For Those Who Want To Marry Someday
Remember to respect marriage and the seriousness of divorce and go into marriage aware and prepared. Don’t assume you will or won’t have challenges in your marriage that may make you contemplate divorce. Know that God will be with you every step of the way. God will be with you every day of your life, whether you are married or not, whether your issues are personal or involve another person. If you put your faith in God, He will see you through whatever obstacles come up.
Preparations To Consider
Les and Leslie Parrot authors of the best-selling book, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, point out that divorce proofing your marriage requires more than just laying a strong foundation; it requires recognizing that you are embarking on a new journey in life and preparing for the ride. Part of preparing for the commitment of marriage for many couples involves pre-marital counseling, often offered by your church. A good pre-marital counseling course should look at some misconceptions and myths you might have about marriage, how you give and receive love, communication skills, domestic roles, conflict resolution and finally look at the spiritual dimension of marriage. Many marital problems can be avoided if discussed prior to marriage and with someone who can act as a mediator between varying perspectives. A lot of things can be brought out in the open and lovingly discussed.
Once you are married, early on it is a good idea to take time away to spend with your new spouse. Many people use their honeymoon for this. But busier schedules, taking work with you or other problems can muddle this special time. In Deuteronomy 24:5 we read, “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.” If at all possible, take some time off or make fewer additional commitments to spend more time adjusting to married life with your new spouse and working things out as they come.
Living Together For Fear Of Divorce?
If you’re worried about the possibility of divorce and remarriage, unfortunately that’s not license to live together. God calls us to be united in marriage, so taking a risk in marriage is not more of a risk than living together.
For Those Coming From A Childhood of Divorced Parents
Everyone brings positives and negatives into a new marriage. We all have some sort of baggage, bad habits, or bad history. Having divorced parents or a history of divorce in your family, does not mean you will carry that same fate into your marriage. Together you can work towards a greater life together and please God with every new step.
Perhaps your parents weren’t the picture of marital bliss–few couples are. But there are additional role models that you can look up to, in your church, in your neighborhood, and elsewhere that might imitate God’s design for marriage.
Even if you have low expectations of the longevity of marriage, through God you can change that. With determination to love God and love each other, you can grow above and beyond your family past.
For Those Who Are Married And Considering Getting a Divorce
Examining your own expectations of marriage and getting an outside perspective can be very helpful–this usually comes in the form of marriage counseling. Also as we mentioned before, getting some devoted time together in this day in age is often tough, so having a getaway from work and other duties to dedicate that time with your spouse may be just what you need to rekindle some of what you’ve lost. When counseling and time together doesn’t work, temporary time apart might be the next step (separation in lieu of divorce). Some couples are able to re-appreciate their spouse when they are separated for a period of time, allowing God to not only work on them individually, but rekindle their marriage bond as well.
Remember not to put your marriage on a pedestal of perfectness but always put God first. Try not to hide your problems from God or the world, but bring them out into the open. No marriage is perfect. Find someone to talk to and pray with about your marriage or personal life.
For Those Who Are Divorced And Looking To Remarry
While we cannot belittle Jesus’ teachings about the seriousness of divorce and remarriage, we cannot forget his forgiveness and ability to heal situations either. If you’re having a difficulty coming to terms with your divorce there are often divorce care classes offered at many churches. Don’t be afraid to talk to a pastor or counselor about resources in your area. Don’t be embarrassed of your past or afraid to confront your feelings. God wants to heal you and you can live right with God again no matter what happened in your past.
For Those In Abusive Relationships
Though the Bible doesn’t speak directly to the issue of abuse in marriage as a reason for divorce, God is clear that abuse is not the way spouses should treat one other. It says in 1 Peter 3:4-7 (The Message):
“Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way, and were good, loyal wives to their husbands. Sarah, for instance, taking care of Abraham, would address him as ‘my dear husband.’ You’ll be true daughters of Sarah if you do the same, unanxious and unintimidated. The same goes for you husbands: Be good husbands to your wives. Honor them, delight in them. As women they lack some of your advantages. But in the new life of God’s grace, you’re equals. Treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don’t run aground.”
Abuse (emotional or physical) is obviously not inner nor outer beauty and not endorsed by God. But whether being in such a relationship can release someone from the bond of marriage without committing adultery is uncertain. For sure one should not stay in an abusive relationship, so perhaps separation is the best option, allowing escape from the situation, while still honoring the spiritual union of marriage. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship be sure to find help and support from family, friends and professionals.
A Final Word About Marriage and Divorce
What about forgiveness? As has been discussed, the topic of divorce is a tricky one. Besides God despising it, much of the Bible’s words related to divorce seem to be hard to relate to in our modern society, especially when there are so many issues, diverse relationships, and specifics not mentioned in the Bible. It’s easy to see divorce as a dilemma and marriage as an ideal concept, when in actuality we are talking about real people, with real hardships and difficult situations. In all instances, though, we have to give God the credit of being our savior and use his words for encouragement and not just condemnation. Even though he hates divorce, divorce exists because there is sin in the world and God hates sin most of all. Divorce is just a repercussion of the sin of the human race as a whole. So it stands to reason that since Jesus’ death on the cross enabled God to forgive the sins of those who claim Jesus as the son of God, His forgiveness also extends to the sin of adultery and the disappointment of divorce.
We must also remember that despite all the statistics and stories about marriage and divorce, as John and Stasi Eldredge say in their book, Love and War, it can be done. And it is worth it. Of all the things a young man or woman needs to hear about marriage, this is perhaps the most important of all. It can be done. And it is worth it.