Malachi 2:16 is the quoted passage that tells how God feels about divorce. “’I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel.”
But this passage says much more than that. If we back up to verse 13, we read: “You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favour from your hand. But you say, ‘Why does He not?’ “
“Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
Did He not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.”
Don’t let your prayers be hindered
We learn several things from this passage. First, God does not listen to the pleas for blessing from those who have broken the covenant of marriage. 1Peter 3:7 says: “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
Marriage is God’s design
God clearly explains His reasons for esteeming marriage so highly. He says it was He who “made them one.” Mal 2:15.
Marriage was God’s idea. If He designed it, then He gets to define it. Any deviation from His design is abhorrent to Him. Marriage is not a contract; it is a covenant. Divorce destroys the whole concept of covenant that is so important to God.
The perfect covenant
In the Bible, God often provides illustrations to teach spiritual realities. When Abraham offered his son Isaac on the altar, it was a picture of the day, hundreds of years later, that the Lord God would offer His only Son on that same mountain (Gen 22:9; Rom 8:32). When God required blood sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin, He was painting a picture of the perfect sacrifice He Himself would make on the Cross (Heb 10:10).
The greatest example
Marriage is a picture of the covenant God has with His people (Heb 9:15). A covenant is an unbreakable commitment, and He wants us to understand how serious it is. When we divorce someone with whom we made a covenant, it makes a mockery of the God-created concept of covenant relationship.
The Church is presented in Scripture as the “Bride of Christ” (2 Cor 11:2; Rev 19:7-9).
We, as His people, are “married” to Him through a covenant that He established. A similar illustration is used in Isaiah 54:5 of God and Israel.
Making a mockery
When God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden, He created it as a picture of the greatest unity human beings can know (Gen 2:24). He wanted us to understand the unity we can have with Him through Redemption (1 Cor 6:17). When a husband or wife chooses to violate that covenant of marriage, it mars the picture of God’s
covenant with us.
Malachi 2:15 gives us another reason that God hates divorce. He says He is “seeking godly offspring.” God’s design for the family was that one man and one woman commit themselves to each other for life and rear children to understand the concept of covenant as well.
Children reared in a healthy, two-parent home have a far greater likelihood of establishing successful marriages themselves, later in life.
When Jesus was asked why the Law permitted divorce, He responded that God had only allowed it “because of the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning it was not so.” Matt 19:8.
God never intended divorce to be a part of human experience, and it grieves Him when we harden our hearts and break a covenant that He created.
ARE THERE ANY BIBLICAL GROUND FOR DIVORCE?
The Bible gives two clear grounds for
Sexual immorality (Matt 5:32;19:9)
Abandonment (1 Cor 7:15)
A last resort, not a requirement
Even in these two instances, though, divorce is not required or even encouraged. The most that can be said is that sexual immorality and abandonment are grounds (an allowance) for divorce. Confession, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration are always the first steps. Divorce should only be viewed as a last resort.
Are there grounds for divorce beyond what the Bible says?
Perhaps, but we do not presume upon the Word of God. It is very dangerous to go beyond what the Bible says (1 Cor 4:6).
The most frequent additional grounds for divorce that people inquire about are spousal abuse (emotional or physical), child abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual), addiction to pornography, drug/alcohol use, crime/imprisonment, and mismanagement of finances (such as through a gambling addiction.)
Have a goal of restoration
That does not necessarily mean, though, that none of them are grounds for divorce of which God would not approve. For example, we cannot imagine that it would be God’s desire for a wife to remain with a husband who physically abuses her and/or their children.
In such an instance, the wife should definitely separate herself and the children from the abusive husband. However, even in such a situation, a time of separation with the goal of repentance and restoration should be the ideal, not necessarily immediately beginning divorce proceedings.
Please understand, we are definitely not saying that a man/woman whose spouse is engaging in such activities should remain in the situation. If there is any risk to self or children, separation is a good and appropriate step.
How do I know divorce is right?
Another way to look at this issue is to differentiate between Biblical grounds for divorce and grounds for divorce and remarriage.
Some interpret the two Biblical grounds for divorce mentioned above as the only grounds for remarriage after a divorce, but allow for divorce with no remarriage in other instances. While this is a plausible interpretation, it seems to come too close to presuming upon the Word of God.
God brings healing
In summary, what are the Biblical grounds for divorce? The answer is sexual immorality and abandonment. Are there additional grounds for divorce beyond these two? Possibly. Is divorce ever to be treated lightly or employed as the first recourse? Absolutely not.
Our God is capable of changing and reforming any person. The Lord is capable of healing and renewing any marriage. Divorce should only occur in instances of repeated and unrepentant heinous sin.
Rather than asking “is ______ a grounds for divorce,” often the question should be “is _______ grounds for forgiveness, restoration, or counselling?”
IS ABUSE AN ACCEPTABLE GROUND FOR DIVORCE?
Is abuse forgivable?
The Bible is silent on the issue of spousal abuse as a reason for divorce, although it is obvious that God expects us to love one another and to submit to one another in love (John 13:34, Eph 5:21).
Physical violence is illegal and should not be tolerated. No one should have to live in an unsafe environment, whether it involves a family member, friend, employer, caregiver, or stranger. Physical abuse is against the law, and the authorities should be the first ones contacted if this occurs.
A spouse who is being abused should seek a safe place. If there are children involved, they should be protected and removed from the situation immediately. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that separation (not divorce) in this instance would be wrong. Although friends and family will likely suggest divorce as the only answer, God places a much higher value on marriage, so reconciliation should be the goal.
Seek help and repent
Once a separation has been enforced, the abuser has the responsibility to seek help. First and foremost, he should seek God. “For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks” Matt 7:8.
No one has more power to heal individuals and relationships than God. He must be the Lord of our lives, the Master of our assets, and the Head of our households.
Both husband and wife must commit themselves to God and then develop a relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.
“And this is the way to have eternal life – to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the One You sent to earth.” John 17:3. This commitment to God should be accompanied by intensive Biblical counselling from a trusted pastor or equipped believer, first individually, then as a couple, and finally for the entire family to help heal the trauma all have endured.
Change is possible for people who truly repent and humbly surrender to the Lord. (2 Cor 3:18).
Obey the Lord always
Divorce is not the only option for a happy ending if both spouses are seeking the Lord. Together, the couple should then commit to serving and obeying God. They should spend individual time with God daily, attend a Bible-believing church, begin serving God through a ministry, and get involved in small Bible study groups.
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
2 Cor 5:17.
The best way to prevent an abusive marriage is to get to know a potential spouse before making the commitment to marry. The “red flags” are always there, but are often overlooked when attraction and infatuation take over.
These signs can include: irrational jealousy, the need to be in control, a quick temper, attempts to isolate the other person from friends and family, drug/alcohol abuse, and disrespect for boundaries, privacy, personal space, or moral values.
WHAT ABOUT REMARRIAGE, ADULTERY AND THE EXCEPTION CLAUSE?
God realises that since marriages involve two sinful human beings, divorces are going to occur. In the Old Testament, He laid down some laws in order to protect the rights of divorcees, especially women (Deut 24:1-4).
Jesus pointed out that these laws were given because of the hardness of people’s hearts, not because they were God’s desire (Matt 19:8).
The exception clause
The controversy over whether divorce and remarriage is allowed according to the Bible revolves primarily around Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. The phrase “except for marital unfaithfulness” is the only thing in Scripture that possibly gives God’s permission for divorce and remarriage. This is often referred to as the ‘exception’ clause.
It gives an “exception” for remarriage after a divorce being considered as adultery. Matthew 5:32 reads: “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”
Similarly, Matthew 19:9 reads: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
So, what precisely is “marital unfaithfulness,” and why is it an exception to Jesus’ statement that remarriage after a divorce is adultery?
The meaning of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is clear. If a person gets a divorce and then remarries, it is considered adultery unless the exception clause is in effect.
The phrase “marital unfaithfulness” is a translation of the Greek word ‘porneia’, the word from which we get our modern word “pornography.” (The essential meaning of porneia is “sexual perversion.” In Greek literature around the same time as the New Testament, porneia was used to refer to adultery, fornication, prostitution, incest, and idolatry. It is used 25 times in the New Testament, most often translated “fornication.”)
Other Greek words are used to refer to specific forms of sexual perversion, such as adultery.
With this meaning in mind, according to the exception clause, any participation in sexual perversion/misconduct is an exception to Jesus’ statement that remarriage after a divorce is adultery.
If one spouse commits adultery, or any act of sexual perversion, and a divorce results, the “innocent” spouse is free to remarry without it being considered adulterous.
God can heal our damaged union
Please understand, though, that the exception clause is not a command for divorce and/or remarriage. Jesus is not saying that if marital unfaithfulness occurs a couple should divorce. Jesus is not saying that if a divorce occurs due to marital unfaithfulness, the innocent spouse should remarry.
At most, Jesus is giving allowance for divorce and remarriage to occur. In no sense is Jesus declaring divorce and remarriage to be the best, or only, option.
God can, and will, heal any marriage in which both spouses are committed to Him and willing to follow His Word.
An unbelieving spouse
Some understand 1 Corinthians 7:15 as another “exception,” allowing remarriage if an unbelieving spouse divorces a believer.
However, the context does not mention remarriage, but only says a believer is not bound to continue a marriage if an unbelieving spouse wants to leave. Others would say that abuse (spousal or child) is covered by unfaithfulness and abandonment.
Sometimes lost in the debate over the exception clause is the fact that whatever “marital unfaithfulness” means, it is an allowance for divorce, not a requirement for it.
Even when adultery is committed, a couple can, through God’s grace, learn to forgive and begin rebuilding their marriage. God has forgiven us of so much more. Surely we can follow His example and even forgive the sin of adultery (Eph 4:32). However, in many instances, a spouse is unrepentant and continues in sexual immorality. That is where Matthew 19:9 can possibly be applied. Many also look to quickly remarry after a divorce, when God might desire them to remain single.
God sometimes calls people to be single so that their attention is not divided (1 Cor 7:32-35). Remarriage after a divorce may be an option in some circumstances, but that does not mean it is the only option.
God recognises that divorce will occur and seeks to help and heal us fully
It is distressing that the divorce rate among professing Christians is nearly as high as that of the unbelieving world. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and that reconciliation and forgiveness should be the marks of a believer’s life (Luke 11:4; Eph 4:32).
However, God recognises that divorce will occur, even among His children. A divorced or remarried believer should not feel any less loved by God, even if the divorce or remarriage is not covered under the possible exception clause of Matthew 19:9.
God often uses even the sinful disobedience of Christians to accomplish some good.
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