A friend e-mailed me with some questions about divorce. Here are their questions in quotes, with my responses in bullets.
"For those of us who are Christians and have been divorced (either initiated by us or not) how would you respond to someone who says, "Does God hate me because I have been through a divorce?""
• The answer to this is: No. God loves you. God’s love does not go up and down with our performance.
• Does God hate divorce? Yes. And it is good that he does. A divorce is not only a failure, but also a breaking of a covenant made before God. One promises to stay together for all of life, until one dies, through better or worse. The results of the ripping apart of what God has “welded” together are devastating. See Mark 10:9, where the word for “joined together” is, literally, “welded together.” (A Wedding is a Welding.)Tear it apart and there’s damage to both welded pieces. And, there’s damage to the children. Anyone who thinks “The kids will be OK” is living in denial-la-la-land. See, e.g., Judith Wallenstein’s The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. No wonder God hates divorce!
• “Worse” times happen in every marriage. Every marriage has conflict. Every marriage faces stress and struggle and pain and misunderstanding and setbacks and letdowns and so on.
• In premarital counseling I use the FOCCUS material. I think it’s excellent, providing a premarital MRI of the relationship’s areas of strength and weakness, agreement and disagreement. As long as a person doesn’t lie on the FOCCUS inventory (which has happened), I feel we can greatly strengthen and prepare premarital couples for both better and worse.
“My first wife filed for divorce and I am now married to another woman. It seems when I hear people speak of divorce, they mention it in the negative. I am not in agreement with divorce; however, one spouse can't make another spouse remain in the marriage. My first wife chose to leave because we clashed or butted heads all the time. While I was willing to work it out, she was not. I think there are situations like mine where one person wants to stay but the other chooses to leave and they become marked with the "divorce" tag.”
• If one person chooses to divorce there’s not much the other can do about it. It was good that you tried to save the marriage. There was nothing intrinsically unsavable about your first marriage. It is a given that, in marriage, husband and wife will “butt heads.” Opposites, which first attracted, now repel and come against each other. You will never find a marriage where this does not happen.
• I think divorce is always negative. As a divorcee you can agree with that. It was painful for you. But, as I said above, God has not ceased loving you, and his plans and purposes have not been stripped away from you.
“One problem I have with that label is that in some cases it can't be fixed. If I cheat on my wife, I can stop doing that. If I lie and steal, I can stop doing that. I can't stop being a divorced person if my spouse refuses to be married to me. As a Christian, when we talk about grace and mercy for sins, doesn't that apply to divorce also?”
• I have never seen a troubled marriage that cannot be fixed. Ever. I’m talking about, probably, a thousand or so over my forty-four years of ministry. Surely one doesn’t want to say there are marriages God is powerless to repair? But it does take two persons to agree to get help. Usually both persons are 100% responsible for the marital problems. I suggest viewing it that way. If husband and wife are broken by their own failures that contribute to the marriage mess, then I feel we have a marriage that can be saved.
• Yes, of course, grace and mercy applies to divorce. I don’t know what it would mean to say that they do not apply.
"If everyone in your congregation who was divorced came up to you and asked how could they rectify it, what would you say?"
• If persons are contemplating divorce, see some things I have written here.
• If they are legally divorced and want to correct the relationship, I am all for doing that, with God’s help. I think God is pleased when that happens.
• And, finally, we have seen some divorced couples get remarried with wonderful results! To study this, one of the best resources is Remarriage after Divorce in Today's Church: Three Views (one of which is by Craig Keener).