AM I FAILING GOD BY GETTING DIVORCED?
By Sue Schlesman
If this is what you’re thinking—breathe. And let’s re-examine your theology. You can’t fail God, and He can’t fail you.
Isn’t that great news? But hold on, because you should know more than that about God and His position on divorce. The church has really screwed up this theology over the centuries. Divorce is a complicated and devastating situation, involving grief, guilt, regret, and heartache. The question “Am I failing God by getting a divorce?” oversimplifies your decision and misinterprets the character of God. Let’s ask and answer a few other questions first.
Will God’s love for me change if I get a divorce?
If you’ve grown up in traditional church, you may have the opinion that divorce is a modern rendering of Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter. Once you’re divorced, you’re marked forever. You’re less than desirable.
But that’s not true. You’re cherished. You’ve already been chosen to receive God’s love. You’re a child of God if you want to be one. Remember this—
1. God doesn’t love you less if you get divorced.
God loves everyone, regardless of what they do (John 3:16) or why they do it. However, once we accept God’s love and forgiveness, we bear His likeness, which means what we do matters to God, although it never affects His love for us (1 John 3:1-10).
2. God doesn’t shame people for getting divorced.
He actually doesn’t shame us for anything we do—that’s the devil’s game. Yes, God designed marriage to last, and His plan is for believers to remain married (Matthew 19:7-8). But when His children suffer from the devastation of divorce, God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
3. God desires abundant life for us.
Although the Bible reminds us that we will experience suffering and pain during our lives, Jesus reiterates that He came to make abundant life possible (John 10:10). Abundance happens when we remain in fellowship with God and worship Him with our lives (Romans 12:1-2), even when we go through suffering. God expects us to be in relationship with one another (Matthew 22:34-40). Married and divorced parents alike have to work on getting along. Remember the verse “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:43-48)? Divorce is where that gets hard.
4. God values us equally.
God values singles and marrieds equally, just as He does any other social grouping (Colossians 3:1). Prophets and prophetesses in the Old and New Testaments often appear to be single. Paul was single; Jesus was single; many widows who touched the heart of God were single. Jesus and Elijah in particular, made a point to meet widows’ needs and save their children. Singleness, according to Paul, actually benefits ministry because a single person can focus more clearly on God’s work (1 Corinthians 7:7-9). Singles are no less important or successful in God’s kingdom than married people.
5. God is not annoyed by you.
He describes Himself as patient and wanting your repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He eagerly seeks to heal your brokenness. He doesn’t hold grudges for the mistakes you’ve made; He’s not bitter when He pursues you and you avoid Him. Instead, He chooses to forget your confessed sins (Psalm 103:12). He considers you His masterpiece, not a failure (Ephesians 2:10). The whole of Scripture is dedicated to communicating God’s unending determination to be in relationship with mankind, regardless of the cost to Himself. That doesn’t seem like the attitude of an annoyed person.
However, we cannot accept God’s love if we avoid His righteousness. Righteous living—right living—is not broken. It does not hurt or destroy. We must ask the following question: What does God say about divorce?
1. In actuality, the Bible doesn’t say a lot about divorce.
It does, however, mention our responsibility to orphans and widows a ton. We are instructed to remember them, encourage them, and provide for them if they cannot provide for themselves. Divorcees are modern-day widows, and children of divorce feel like modern-day orphans. Yes, the fathers or mothers without full custody still exist and may actually be involved in family life. But many single parents fend for themselves. God expects His people to help them when they need it (Psalm 68:5).
2. God values marriage, so He gives us a lot of advice about how to have good marriages.
Ephesians 5:21-33 lays out simple rules for maintaining holiness in our families. In addition, the Bible is not sparse concerning stories of men and women who desecrated the institution of marriage by taking multiple wives, committing adultery, or seeing prostitutes. Their actions are deemed sinful, and God’s punishment is severe, even affecting their children and grandchildren.
3. God never downplays divorce.
1 Corinthians 7 unpacks the importance of fidelity in marriage and allows for divorce in cases of adultery or an unbelieving spouse who wants to leave a believing spouse. These are not get-out-of-jail-free cards. These are allowances for when one spouse shows determined rebellion against God and the marital covenant. God’s allowance offers protection for the God-honoring spouse to survive emotionally and spiritually on his/her own. The assumption here is that the departing spouse is unrepentant.
4. Marriage is a covenant, not a contract.
It’s no secret that Scripture uses marriage as an illustration of God’s love for us. The book of Hosea serves as an interesting metaphor for explaining God’s covenant of love. God commands Hosea to take a prostitute for a wife, and to keep loving her and bringing her back every time she leaves him and returns to prostitution or adultery (Hosea 3:1). Hosea is called to demonstrate the extent of God’s love for Israel by modeling God’s covenant of love to Gomer, his wife. Even though Jewish law allows for Gomer to be stoned to death for her sins, Hosea keeps loving her and taking her back. This story serves as a reminder of the grace in God’s love.
Of course, God calls adultery a sin by including it as one of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17 and punishing those who committed adultery, including King David in 2 Samuel 11-12. However, don’t forget that David repented of his sin, and God restored him to fellowship (but his family still suffered because of his sin). Adultery is no more sinful than any other sin, but it often has more devastating consequences.
What does this mean for you?
It means that God’s nature is love, grace, hope, peace, holiness, and justice. He never considers quitting on you. You may sometimes feel that God has failed you, forgotten you, or left you. David, Job, Moses, Jonah, Elijah, and Peter questioned God about His absence when they needed Him. All of them realized later that they had misunderstood God’s silence—that He had been present the whole time. Even Jesus’ statement, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was a rhetorical question—a statement that God would have to turn away from Jesus at the very moment that Jesus took our sins on Himself (Matthew 27:46).
It also means that divorce is not a “right” held by married people with bad marriages (Matthew 19:3-8). Christians who are cheating, hating, abusing, abandoning, or doing any number of unkind things should repent and ask God’s forgiveness. And then they need to change.
Maybe you’re living with the pain of an unrepentant, unchanging spouse. Maybe you’ve felt the neglect, the cruelty, the abuse, the collateral damage of someone else’s choices. Don’t despair—God will champion you. He will protect you (God can also use the law to protect you, so don’t stay in a dangerous environment). He will heal you. Redemption is God’s specialty—for married, single, and divorced people. He heals our brokenness.
Take a deep breath.
You will not fail God if you get a divorce. Whatever your circumstances are, God will use them to woo you into a closer relationship with Himself. He is loving you and calling you. He is waiting for you. Your faithful response is your spiritual act of worship.