How Should a Christian View Marriage and Divorce?
God, the Creator of humanity and of marriage itself, has laid out His plan for marriage as a lifelong union.
God, the Creator of humanity and of marriage itself, has laid out His plan for marriage as a lifelong union. God knows this design is the best. When we stray from His plan, as we have seen in the studies mentioned above, the results are damaging on many levels.
Unfortunately, the divorce rate in the church is comparable to that of the culture at large. Many Christians see nothing wrong with divorce, at least in their own particular situation. But the Bible clearly addresses marriage and divorce.
Marriage is the first institution created by God. God made the first man, Adam, but declared that it was not good for Adam to be alone. He then brought to Adam all the animals, which Adam named, but "no companion suitable for him" was found (Genesis 2:20, NLT). God was revealing to Adam his incomplete nature. God then created a woman, Eve, for Adam. He blessed them and their union and gave them the earth to rule over. (See Genesis 1:27-28.) The creation of marriage occurred prior to sin's entrance into the world. It was a part of God's perfect design for mankind.
Through the prophets, God emphasized three principles:
- Marriage is sacred
- God hates divorce
- Marriage is designed to produce children of good character. (See Malachi 2:13-16)
Jesus underscored the importance and sacredness of lifelong marriage in His own teachings. (See Matthew 19:6.)
The apostle Paul further taught that the marital relationship is to be an ongoing demonstration of the sacrificial love that Christ showed His church. (See Ephesians 5:21-33.)
Let's look at this issue more closely. Specifically, what does the Bible tell us about divorce? Malachi 2:13-16 gives us a clear look into God's heart for marriage:
Another thing you do: You flood the Lord's altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, "Why?" It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. 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.
Jesus Christ reiterated the importance and permanence of marriage. Matthew 19:3-6 (NIV) says, "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."
Because, as an attorney, I've represented many people going through divorce, I understand why God says, "I hate [it]!" Divorce is the tearing apart of the foundation of all stable societies – the family. Sometimes, it's necessary. Sometimes, it's even unavoidable. (In Colorado, for example, if one spouse files for divorce, the other cannot stop it from occurring.) Nonetheless, it's important that we in the Body of Christ encourage those in troubled marriages to seek counseling and restoration – because most divorces are neither necessary nor unavoidable.
But are there any cases in which the Bible allows divorce? Many Christians disagree about whether the Bible allows divorce and/or remarriage. If you are concerned about whether you have biblical grounds for divorce, you will need to commit the matter to prayer and study. You should also seek out counsel from your own pastor and, ideally, a licensed Christian counselor. The question of sin cannot be taken lightly. But biblical grounds may exist:
- When one's mate is guilty of sexual immorality and is unwilling to repent and live faithfully with the marriage partner. Jesus' words in Matthew 19:8-9 indicate that divorce (and remarriage) in this circumstance is acceptable. That passage reads:
"Why then," [the Pharisees] 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 [or, 'in order to marry'] another woman commits adultery." (Emphasis added)
However, divorce is not required. If your spouse has committed adultery, divorce is morally allowed, but not required. Many couples have been able to rebuild their marriages even after such a devastating blow.
- When one spouse is not a Christian, and that spouse willfully and permanently deserts the Christian spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15).
Dr. James Dobson's position is that divorce and remarriage appear to be justified in Scripture only in a few instances.1
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, please pray carefully about your decision to divorce, and be open to God's leading. (God's heart is to heal marriages.)
If your spouse is the one deciding on divorce, you may not be able to stop him or her through current divorce laws. However, you can try to persuade your spouse to consider a legal separation first, which would give you both more time to consider the issue.
Pray that God will open the lines of communication between you and your spouse and that He will restore the love in your relationship. And pray for patience and a forgiving spirit. Try to resist the temptation to say angry words to your spouse or do things that would push him or her further away. Restoration does occur even in the most hostile circumstances, but it is more difficult when harsh words have passed between you.
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