'For I hate divorce,' says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'and him who covers his garment with wrong,' says the Lord of hosts. 'So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.' (Malachi 2:16)
Any pastor or Christian marriage counsellor will tell you that eventually the Christian seeking a divorce will say these three things — 'My spouse will understand. Our children will understand. And God will understand.' First of all, there is no question that God allows divorce in certain situations. Clearly Jesus allows for it on the grounds of unchastity (Matt. 5:32, 19:9), or as the Greek New Testament has it, porneia, the word from which we get our word pornography. Any kind of sexual immorality or perversion may be a ground for divorce. God is not mandating divorce under such a situation, but he does permit it because of the hardness of the unrepentant adulterer’s heart (Matt. 19:3ff) if the innocent party cannot take the abuse any longer. And most of the evangelical church also acknowledges another ground for divorce (1 Cor. 7:15), what we may call desertion. 'If an unbelieving spouse leaves,' then Paul says, 'Let him leave; the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.' So, not every divorce is a violation of God’s Word.
But God charges his post-exilic people, those who have returned from the Babylonian captivity, with hating him (Mal. 1:6), with dealing treacherously with their brothers and the wife of their youth (Mal. 2:10, 14), and with robbing him of his tithe (Mal. 3:8). He calls them to repent, proclaiming that a day of judgment is coming (Mal. 4:1); but for those who fear his name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and they will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall (Mal. 4:2). In the context of charging Judah with dealing treacherously with their wives, God says, 'I hate divorce.' What does it mean for a man to deal treacherously with his wife, and why does God hate divorce, especially if he allows it under certain circumstances?
First, dealing treacherously with the wife of one’s youth — what does this mean? If a man deals treacherously with a business partner then we typically think of deception. He is not straight-forward. He is not reporting all of his income, his expenses. He is bad mouthing his partner to others within or without their company. He humiliates him in front of others to put himself in a better light. You get the picture. His intent is subterfuge in order to gain an advantage, to get his own way. Put that within the context of marriage. A man is dealing treacherously with his wife when he carries on a continual text messaging relationship with a woman he met at a conference. He may think it merely platonic, and perhaps it is at first, though men have an amazing ability to deceive themselves in this regard; but soon enough he will begin thinking constantly of this woman, longing to see her next response to his latest text message. A man is dealing treacherously with his wife when he fantasizes about another woman, when he allows his fleshly mind to dream of a sexual relationship with this other woman. A man is dealing treacherously with his wife when he neglects her - after all, he is to nourish her and cherish her, just as he does his own body (Eph. 5:28-29) - when he allows her to languish emotionally, financially, and spiritually, when he demands things of her that she is unable to deliver. I have in mind a man expecting or demanding his wife to contribute to their financial picture by working outside the home. If the woman enjoys working and this does not interfere with her responsibilities as a wife and mother, then great, no problem. But too many have bought into the world’s idea that women ought to make their mark in the world, forgetting all the while that women are preserved through child bearing, if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint (1 Tim. 2:15). By this Paul means what we have much later said, 'The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world.' As one example, think of Condoleezza Rice’s stay-at-home mother who poured her life into her daughter.
But why does God hate divorce? Because he knows what it does to people! When a married couple becomes one flesh through sexual intercourse a remarkable bonding takes place. This is true of both the man and the woman, but men tend to be more calloused, and can easily dismiss this intimacy as the marriage breaks down. A woman, on the other hand, regardless of how cruel, treacherous, or adulterous her husband has been, still has a strong sense of emotional oneness that is almost unbreakable. She can despise her husband for what he has done to her, but this oneness is not easily broken. Therefore there is unmitigated heartache in her divorce. She feels as though her heart has been ripped out of her, as though one of her arms has been severed, as though she has lost the most precious possession in the world. It is not uncommon for women who have borne the brunt of spousal treachery to fall into severe depression, to be unable to function for weeks, months, maybe even years. God hates divorce because he loves the crown of his creation and he hates to see us suffer, to bring such hardship on ourselves. Even more importantly it dishonors him. And when a man comes home from work, telling his wife that he is leaving her for another woman, telling her that eventually she will understand, be sure of this — she will never understand. She was bound heart and soul to him. How can she weather such severity! And when a divorcing couple sits their children down, even if they are forty years old with children of their own, saying, 'I hope you will understand one of these days why your mother and I are getting a divorce,' be sure of this, they will never understand, no matter the turmoil and fighting they saw in the marriage. They will be ashamed, embarrassed, hurt. After all, their parents brought them into the world. How can this happen? And when a woman, who does not have biblical grounds for divorce, decides to leave her husband, saying, 'God will understand,' then she is terribly mistaken. God has placed that couple into a covenant relationship, a picture of his covenant with his people (Exod. 19:8). She thinks her life will be easier, that she is now free to do as she pleases, that she can soar like an eagle, but if she is in Christ, then she can expect thorns and thistles (Num. 33:55), chastisement from the lover of her soul (Heb. 12:9-10), for God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). And if she is not in Christ she has put herself in the place of greater judgment for God will deal out retribution to those who do not know God, to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 1:8-9); they are storing up wrath for themselves in the day of the wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God who will render to every man according to their deeds (Rom. 2:5-6).
So, think long and hard before you contemplate a divorce. But what if you have divorced, even if you had biblical grounds? What now? Surely you already know the grief and sorrow of which I write, even if you are happily and biblically remarried. Many of my friends have testified, 'The grief of divorce never ends.' What should you do now? Make sure you have done all you can to be reconciled to your former spouse (Matt. 5:23-24). Have you asked for forgiveness for the trouble and heartache you caused her? Have you made restitution financially or in other practical ways? And by all means, warn others of the trouble divorce will bring their children. Be an advocate for the sanctity of marriage. And for the rest of you, cling to Jesus daily for his holiness so that you may fulfil your God given roles as husband and wife in your own marriage.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011. His weekly devotional, 'Forget None of His Benefits', can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at email@example.com.