In 1850, author Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a story called, “The Scarlet Letter”. It tells the story of a 17th century Puritan woman who gets pregnant after having an affair. As part of her punishment and penitence, she is forced to wear a large scarlet letter ‘A’ for ‘Adultery’ on her clothes. The letter served as a constant reminder of her sin and her shame.
As a Christian woman who has gone through a divorce, I have often felt like I was walking around with the capital letter ‘D’ tattooed on my forehead. Historically, divorce has been a huge ‘no-no’ in the Christian world. To this day, I still feel some shame and discomfort in revealing to other Christians that I have been divorced. I don’t think that we, who are divorced, should be made to feel that way.
I am writing this from my female perspective and from my own experience. After my husband left the marriage (I’ll just say – for unbiblical reasons) I joined a Christian support group. The majority of the group was made up of women whose husbands had had an affair and had then left them for another woman. We did have a couple of men in the group whose wives left them for another man. Others had to leave abusive relationships. Almost all of us were victims of divorce – meaning that being divorced was not what we wanted; it was not what we hoped for; it was not what we fought for.
God’s plan for marriage was that a husband and wife would become united as one body:
Mat 19:4-6 … Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, and said, For this cause a man shall leave father and mother and shall cling to his wife, and the two of them shall be one flesh? Therefore they are no longer two, but one flesh.
The marriage relationship is supposed to mirror the relationship that God wants us to have with Him, through Jesus Christ.
Joh 17:20 And I do not pray for these alone, but for those also who shall believe on Me through their word,
Joh 17:21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.
Joh 17:22 And I have given them the glory which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one,
Joh 17:23 I in them, and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.
Divorce was never in God’s perfect plan. In fact, the Bible says that God hates divorce (in some translations the term “putting away” or “sending away” is used to mean divorce.) :
Mal 2:14 … Because Jehovah has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your covenant wife.
Mal 2:15 And did He not make you one? Yet the vestige of the Spirit is in him. And what of the one? He was seeking a godly seed. Then guard your spirit, and do not act treacherously with the wife of your youth.
Mal 2:16 Jehovah, the God of Israel, says He hates sending away;
God told the men that they were acting treacherously against their wives when the men engaged in ‘sending away’ – divorcing – their wives.
The word “treacherous” comes from a word meaning ‘to deal deceitfully or unfaithfully’ and ‘to offend and transgress’.
This is not how God commanded husbands to treat their wives.
Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, …
Yes, God hates divorce, but we do read in His Word that He allowed it:
Deu 24:1 When a man has taken a wife and married her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes, because he has found some uncleanness in her, then let him write her a bill of divorce and put it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
Notice that the scripture gives the one condition upon which it was allowable for a husband to divorce his wife – “because he found some uncleanness in her”. The word “uncleanness” refers to something shameful or disgraceful. God did not grant a husband permission to divorce his wife because he was bored with her or no longer attracted to her or she was ill, or because he found someone else that caught his fancy.
To understand why God allowed divorce at all, we must understand that the ancient Jewish people, whom God wanted to be His special and separate people, had begun to stray from the teachings of God and had started to intermarry with unbelieving Gentiles. In order to preserve the intended purity of the bloodline of the nation of Israel, God permitted Moses to issue a certificate of divorce if the unbelieving Gentile wife behaved in a manner which was ‘unclean’ (indecent and shameful) in regards to the teachings of God. Divorce was to be a sort of ‘last resort’ exception rather than a rule.
In fact, when Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees about divorce, Jesus responded by saying that it had been allowed “because of the hardness of your hearts”.
Mat 19:8 He said to them, Because of your hard-heartedness Moses allowed you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so.
The term “hard-heartedness” means the lack of spiritual understanding or perception. The nation of Israel was “hard-hearted” or lacking in spiritual understanding when they inter-married with unbelievers.
Jesus goes on to clarify that the only reason that a husband could divorce his wife was if she committed some kind of fornication – such as adultery, incest, unnatural sexual acts, or idolatry.
Mat 19:9 And I say to you, Whoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery;
When God says that He hates divorce, He means that He hates the sinful hard-heartedness or spiritual darkness which leads to making such a decision. He hates how that decision destroys the wonderful plan of oneness for which He created marriage. He hates the pain, suffering, grief, loneliness, shame and even poverty which can result from divorce. BUT – HE DOES NOT HATE THE VICTIMS OF DIVORCE! And He is willing to forgive those, who, in sin, have caused the divorce to come about.
Being victims of divorce is bad enough without being additionally victimized by unkind, unloving, legalistic, judgmental Christians. Stop making those of us who have already suffered, suffer more by making us feel that we must walk around in penitent shame with a big “D” on our chest. Imagine what it would look like if we were all required to wear the first letter of one of our sins on our chest?? There would not be one single person who could walk around in a clean, plain white t-shirt!
Rom 3:23 for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, …
God is willing and able to grant mercy, grace, forgiveness, compassion, kindness and redemption to those involved in divorce; we as Christians must also follow His example.
1Jn 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
Update: as I was putting away one of my research books, I came across a teaching by the Apostle Paul in regards to the dissolution of a marriage between a non-believer and a believer. It is another case in which divorce is allowed.
1Co 7:15 But if the unbelieving one separates, let him be separated. A brother or a sister is not in bondage in such cases, but God has called us in peace.