Is It OK for Christians to Divorce?
There was a time when statistics supported that concept, but it’s no longer true. The Barna Research Group (a respected Christian polling organization) has found that the divorce rate among professing Christians is approximately identical to that of the population at large. Surprisingly, it is actually HIGHER than it is among non-christians! Whoa! What’s going on here?
The following comment is not Barna’s statement, but is based on their data. A higher percentage of Christians than of atheists marry, so it may follow that cohabitation outside of marriage is less common among Christians – and that believers rush into marriage because they are unwilling to wait to develop their relationships fully. Whatever the cause, about 1/3 of Christian marriages end in divorce. Should Christians accept this as “normal” ? Can you be a good Christian and divorce your spouse?
Moses – The Lawgiver – actually gave specific instructions for “how to divorce your wife”. (He gave no such instructions for wives divorcing their husbands!) That means that if you are male, and you do it right, it’s OK with God – right?
The prophet Malachi apparently didn’t think so. Look at his words, as recorded in Malachi 2:16 (the Good News Bible): “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel. “I hate it when one of you does such a cruel thing to his wife. Make sure that you do not break your promise to be faithful to your wife.”
But Moses was the Lawgiver, so his word takes precedence, right? If we claim to be followers of the Christ, we should probably see whether the Lord Jesus had anything to say on that topic. Oh, yes – He DID! Let’s take a look at His statements on the subject of divorce, as reported by the Apostle Matthew. To get the full picture, you should read Matthew 19:1-9. For this discussion, we’ll consider just verses 8-9 from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not like that from the beginning.And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Wow! That doesn’t leave much “wiggle room”, does it? Not a word about “mutual incompatibility”, or most of the other reasons for divorce which are cited in the 21st century. This actually means that a substantial portion of “Christian Divorces” DO NOT MEET THE LORD’S REQUIREMENT FOR DIVORCE! In His sight, if a Christian divorces for any reason other than spousal infidelity, he/she is disobeying the instruction of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This raises another issue: Is divorce an unforgivable sin? The answer is a plain and clear NO! – But – we must not deny that God hates divorce, and that He clearly says, Divorce for any other cause is not acceptable to God. Fortunately, if we sin in ignorance, God recognizes that fact, and even if we sin willfully, we CAN be forgiven. The key is confession, repentance, and acceptance of His Grace. (By the way, confession / repentance are mutually incompatible with making excuses, blaming someone else.) We can’t “confess” that our sin is somebody else’s fault!
If you or someone that you love has been through divorce, and is now struggling with a sense of guilt or a feeling of rejection, consider/believe/accept this section of scripture.1 John 1:8-10 (KJV) If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
The key to peace with God, and with God’s people, then, is to agree with God, claim His promise of forgiveness, put it behind us and move on.If God has cleansed you from all unrighteousness, other scriptures state that He “remembers our sins no more” – and if God has forgotten our sins, we should forget them too! Forgiven sins are gone, and the guilt should be gone with them.
Unfortunately, where the topic of divorce is concerned, Christians seem to be divided between two equally ungodly camps. Some ignore God’s prohibition against divorce and act exactly like the rest of the society. Others treat divorce as “the unforgivable sin”, and to them, a person who has ever been through divorce for any reason – even if they have asked God’s forgiveness – can never be accepted as a Christian in good standing. It is safe to say that God deplores both positions equally. To borrow a phrase from Acts 10:15b, (the Good News Bible): “Do not consider anything unclean that God has declared clean.”
Whether you are divorced or have never been married, be assured that it is God’s will that most of His children be married. Take a quick look at Genesis 2:18 (KJV), “And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone…”.
It isn’t good for us to be alone – nor is it good to be stuck in a “bad” marriage – and yet God hates divorce. That sounds somewhat like the proverbial “between a rock and a hard place”! What’s a Christian supposed to do? We can’t answer that question in this article, because it has become much too long. Visit our companion article, “Building a Strong Marriage” for some suggestions on being married – the right way.
Johnathan Hines, M.A.