It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.Matthew 5:31-32
Marriage is not a legal contract. Marriage – Biblical marriage – is a covenant between one man, one woman, and one Triune God. Marriage, from the beginning, was always designed to be a picture of the intimate relationship that God desires between His creation and Himself. In the beginning, God took a rib from Adam, and created Eve. Adam’s response was “This is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” These words iterated the unity and covenant nature of marriage.
Several years ago, I conducted a demonstration before a church audience that illustrated this covenant unity. I stood before the congregation, and I poured super glue onto my hands and then placed them together. This was to demonstrate the joining together of man and wife in the bonds of matrimony and the intimacy that unity is designed to inspire.
However, I also explained that because my hands were now fused together, if I were to rip them apart, pieces of the palms of my hands and fingers would end up ripping off and remain stuck to one another. Yes, the hands would be separated, but the separation would be intensely painful and those torn pieces would forever be stuck on each hand. That is unless I used some acetone or fingernail polish remover to dissolve the glue.
This is the picture of what happens spiritually and emotionally to two people who go through a divorce. Divorce is ugly. It’s messy. It’s painful. And for years, people who have gone through divorce will carry the baggage of that torn relationship with them. It will impact future relationships in ways that are difficult to predict. And as far as God is concerned, divorce is a sin. Jesus speaks to the issue of divorce more than once in His ministry, and each time He does, He speaks to the sobering reality of that divorce is sin.
“For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with violence,” says the Lord of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” (Malachi 2:16)
God Himself through the prophet Malachi equates divorce with an act of violence against one another. In Jewish society, however, only men had the right to pursue divorce. The original intent was that there would not be any divorce within a marriage covenant, but under the law of Moses, it was permitted, but only in cases of adultery. Over time, the interpretation was that in the case of adultery of the wife. Eventually it evolved to the point that men could divorce their wives for any reason they chose in their hearts, but to get around the law, they would accuse the wife of adultery. The problem is that for the charges to stick, there had to be at least two witnesses to the act of adultery, but this aspect of the law was often overlooked (as demonstrated in John 8:1-11 with the woman who was “caught in the act of adultery.”)
Yes, divorce is a sin, but divorce is not an unforgivable sin. While it is the hope of God that divorced couples would reconcile, that is not always possible. Paul speaks to this in his first letter to the Corinthian church:
To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?1 Corinthians 7:12-16
I am blessed to say that my wife and I have been married for over 22 years now. It has not been easy. There have been times that both of us had wanted to call it quits. But there have been times of tremendous grace that has sustained us and kept us together, mutually submitting to one another. It doesn’t mean that the feelings of love are always there. Marriage is more than a feeling, it’s the willful act of choosing to honor one another, even when we are at odds with one another.
I use the term “covenant” to reference marriage because it’s something much deeper than a mere legal contract. A covenant in Scripture, within the Old Testament, is initiated between two parties and then is sealed with a blood oath or sacrifice. The blood oath or sacrifice is intended to be offered by both parties as a statement that essentially means “May it be done to me what is done here if I should ever break this covenant.” And the breaking of a covenant is serious business. In many cases, the breaking of a covenant would even lead to war. In Biblical marriage, this same principle applies. A bride and groom come together and they make covenant vows to one another, forsaking all others, until death do they part.
If you have been through a divorce, there is grace enough for you at the foot of the cross of Jesus. In the case of the woman “caught in the act of adultery” that I mentioned earlier, Jesus did not condemn her, but He did not excuse her either as He encouraged her to “go and sin no more.” The blood of Christ is sufficient to cleanse you of the stain of divorce. The grace of Christ is sufficient to make you new again.
If you have not experienced divorce, I urge you do whatever is necessary to avoid it. While divorce is indeed forgivable, the consequences of divorce are still far reaching and will linger with you for years to come. It will surface in ways you can’t possibly predict. It will magnify your insecurities and even embolden your arrogance if not dealt with. Repentance doesn’t necessarily mean reconciliation, although I can recall many different cases of couples who have divorced and then remarried again after reconciling, and with much counseling.
If you have not yet been married, I encourage you to not be frightened by the statistics. Nearly 60% of all marriages today end in divorce. The statistics within the church – sadly – aren’t much better. But you do not have to be another statistic. Go into your relationship with your eyes opened. Honor one another and treat each other with the respect and dignity that is becoming of God’s creation. And when you find your “one”, I would encourage you to go through pre-marital counseling to make sure you are both aware of what awaits you beyond the wedding altar. A wedding is just a ritual ceremony, but it is a sacred ceremony that demonstrates the unity of man and woman before God. But a wedding is not a marriage. A wedding can take months to prepare and execute, a marriage takes a lifetime to get it right.