God Hates Divorce (Malachi 2:16)


EVANGELICAL ETHICS: ISSUES FACING THE CHURCH TODAY

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A Book Analysis of:

Davis, John Jefferson. Evangelical Ethics: Issues Facing the Church Today 3rd Edition. New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004. 227 pp. $17.99.

Summary

John Jefferson Davis has written a formidable text on the ethical issues facing Western Culture today. All of the topics he addresses, from human reproduction to genetic advances all speak to the same point. That point is how mankind is or is not living up to the original order that God the Father created at the dawn of time. Mankind is made in God’s image with the ability to worship, reason, think and make decisions all under God’s sovereignty, but also with the capacity to follow or not follow God’s created order. The rebellion mankind exhibits when making ethical decisions is evidence of the desire to make decisions that set mankind above God. This is the root of sin from Genesis 3. Adam and Eve, by following the deceit of the Serpent, questioned God. Genesis 3:1 speaks of the Serpent’s guile, “He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” This uncertainty was the first seedbed of sin, setting mankind on the path of self-determination away from God’s presence. Throughout scripture mankind’s decline has shown to become further and further away from God’s desire.

Thus the ethical questions Western culture is forced to wrestle with today are numerous. With thousands of years passing since that first doubt, mankind has taken their God given creativity to expand their lifestyle in many good ways, but also in wrong ways. God’s original plan for Adam and Eve was to have them live together in a marriage bond that remained
unbroken. In the created order without sin, this would have been possible because they both lived with God without sin.

However, when sin first began, when Adam and Eve first questioned what God said, the possibility to distort the idea of one man and one woman living as one flesh in Gen 2:24 became reality. As mankind has enlightened himself with self-knowledge, he has also made arguments against the goodness of the marriage covenant to become the norm. Divorce in Western society is rampant. Davis presents compelling insight into what has caused the decline in marriage and how Christianity should address it.

The importance of the ethical decisions about divorce within the Church can be seen in the rapid rise of the divorce rate in the United States. In 1870 only 0.3% of marriages ended by divorce, in 1900, 0.7% and in 1960, 2.4%. Since then, the divorce rate has exploded by 700%! Today, nearly one in two marriages will end in divorce (100). At one time, it was uncommon for one to be affected by divorce. Now it is uncommon for one NOT to be affected by divorce. Everyone in America either is the child of a divorce (as am I), or a family member or friend is divorced, or they are divorced themselves. No one in America, or the church, is immune. As a result, the arguments in favor of divorce have increased. How the church responds to divorce and the victims of divorce is critical in order for Christ to be glorified in Western culture.

Justification for Divorce

There is no such thing as a good divorce. The discussion that follows must be understood from this starting point, as Western society today is numb to the harsh realities of the breaking of the marriage covenant. Augustine argued that divorce was permissible only because of adultery and even then the marriage bond was not eliminated. The Reformer Martin Luther saw marriage as a worldly thing and not a sacrament of the church. He supported full divorce after adultery or willful desertion (100). If Luther, Calvin and other Reformers opened up a more moderate view on divorce and remarriage, how should contemporary Evangelicals approach this hotly debated topic? There are no clear answers, but by looking at the biblical references on marriage and the ending of the marriage bond, as the Reformers most surely did, we can conclude that God intends for one man and one woman to be as one for their lifetime. However, due to the seriousness of God’s intended plan for marriage, the separation of that bond cannot be taken lightly. God is very clear in Malachi 2:16 when he states, “I hate divorce.” The exception clauses for divorce given by Jesus in Matthew 5:32 and 19:3-9 are in response to liberal interpretations of the Mosaic Law. The Teachers of the Law who questioned Jesus were merely trying to either trap Jesus in a false charge or were trying to justify their own sinful attitudes toward marriage (and attitudes toward women as inferior).

Jesus’ response speaks to his understanding of God’s original intent. In Matthew 19:6, Jesus reminds his questioners that God intended for man and woman to live together as one. What God has made one man cannot separate. However, the Mosaic Law does allow divorce because of sinful hearts. Jesus recognizes this reality, but does not condone it. At the heart of marriage is something Godly….something holy. On this note, one must disagree with the Reformers position that marriage is not a sacrament of the church. If God ordains it, then it must be holy. Marriage is part of the church. It is critical within the body of believers that the marriage bond be tied closely with the ordinances of God. Otherwise, marriage is simply a man made institution that can come or go with societal trends and Jesus would not have been so forceful in his statements on the holiness of the marriage bond.

On the issue of justifiable divorce, Jesus brings out in Matthew 19 that the Mosaic Law did permit divorce. God saw that sin could disrupt what he made holy and set clear guidelines for what he found to be so offensive as to disrupt his holy sanction. Mankind distorted this permission to include offenses as trivial as the wife burning the husband’s food (102). So at the heart of the debate on justifiable divorce lies the definition of what offenses in the marriage relationship are offensive enough to God’s Law to warrant the breaking of the holy covenant between a man and wife.

Justifiable Remarriage

If both parties in the marriage seek the divorce due to selfish reasons, then both parties are at fault and have forfeited their rights to remarry. The bond between the two is ended, but not negated. God sees their union as eternal. With the rise of no-fault divorce came the explosion of divorce and the justifications for it. This is the heart of the debate within the Western Church today. We justify our sin and claim redemption from God so that we can go on and remarry. As already argued, God does not take this lightly. The only justifiable cause for divorce is the act of adultery and/or desertion. There is compassion here for the victimized party. If the husband commits adultery and then abandons his family (as is most often the case) the wife could be left vulnerable and alone. She then suffers the consequences of his sinful behavior and is then considered a widow although her ex-husband remains alive. Yes, there is always the possibility of redemption on the adulterer’s part, but when desertion also plays a part in the adultery; the victimized spouse is left as a widow to carry on and in most cases to raise the children alone. God cannot be happy about this and I do not see that he would hold the victim accountable for the sin of the adulterer. Now, it is very possible for the divorce widow to live as a single person. And I think it is the responsibility of the church body to take care of this divorcee just as they would a widow. But there must be a clear distinction between the divorcee who chooses a no-fault divorce over the one who is forced to divorce because of their spouse’s unfaithfulness and abandonment.

With the explosion of divorce in Western society, it is also very reasonable and right to be wary of claims of victimization in a divorce situation. Scripture is clear that only in cases of adultery or abandonment is divorce permissible and that God does not hold the believing victim accountable. It is also correct that the church must be discerning in cases of divorce widows as to how they help and how they council a remarriage situation. Remarriage after divorce should be an ethically allowable situation. However, these should be the exception rather than the norm. What makes ethical decisions difficult is the vastness of the divorce culture in Western society today. There are most definitely too many adulterous affairs that lead to the breaking of the marriage bond. There are too many women (and men) left to raise children alone because of the sinful habits of their spouse.

A divorce widow should not immediately seek to remarry. There should be ample time for healing and reflection as to whether God desires this individual to remain single. Just as a surviving spouse must carry on after the death of their marriage partner, so must the victimized divorcee who had nothing to do with the sin of their adulterous spouse who then abandons his or her family, including the children. This sinful rebellion towards the marriage responsibility most surely breaks the bonds of the marriage covenant.

God hates divorce. But he also comforts the widows and the orphans. In our over divorced society today, there are a plethora of victims in divorces including both children and a spouse. The church must be compassionate toward these victims as Jesus would be compassionate. However, it is necessary to discern whether the divorce is genuinely abandonment or a decision not to be together any more. This requires a lengthy investigation as well as familial commitments within the church body to intervene in a marriage before the divorce. If the adulterer is a non-believer, then Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 7:10-15 that the believing spouse is not bound to the marriage bond. However, the only way for the church to know this for certain is to be involved in the lives of this family before the break up.

In conclusion, divorce is a bad thing and should never be encouraged in the Church. However, men and women sin and God realizes that sin distorts his perfect plan. There is a delicate balance between restorative redemption that leads to remarriage and condemnation of the unrepentant heart. Too many in our culture today take the greasy grace attitude toward their divorce. They think, “God will forgive me because I cannot live with this person any more.” This is the wrong attitude and dissolves any right for remarriage. In the end, divorce is a bad thing. God said so. Divorce is rampant in our culture, which leaves plenty of ministry opportunities for the church. To blindly condemn anyone because of divorce is itself ethically wrong. To be bold and call sin sin is totally biblical and justifiable. Yet, in that proclamation, there is compassion and if the Church would find that balance between boldness and compassion, then divorce culture in our society would eventually fade away.

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11 Comments

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  1. Shannon,Please let me point you to a very crucial statement I made in this post.On the issue of justifiable divorce, Jesus brings out in Matthew 19 that the Mosaic Law did permit divorce. God saw that sin could disrupt what he made holy and set clear guidelines for what he found to be so offensive as to disrupt his holy sanction. Mankind distorted this permission to include offenses as trivial as the wife burning the husband’s food (102). So at the heart of the debate on justifiable divorce lies the definition of what offenses in the marriage relationship are offensive enough to God’s Law to warrant the breaking of the holy covenant between a man and wife.NO wife should tolerate an abusive husband. No husband should tolerate an abusive wife.My point is that divorce should not be the first option, or the only option. Our Lord instructs in Matthew 18 the steps to take in confronting a sinful brother in the faith. This includes the abusive husband.I do not condemn those who are divorced. My current wife sought divorce from her first husband after he fell into an adulterous relationship and then abandoned the family. I was widowed years prior to meeting Rhonda and I felt that her divorce was biblical. Let me point to another key point of my post about divorce widows.”God hates divorce. But he also comforts the widows and the orphans. In our over divorced society today, there are a plethora of victims in divorces including both children and a spouse. The church must be compassionate toward these victims as Jesus would be compassionate.”And then I add…”Just as a surviving spouse must carry on after the death of their marriage partner, so must the victimized divorcee who had nothing to do with the sin of their adulterous spouse who then abandons his or her family, including the children. This sinful rebellion towards the marriage responsibility most surely breaks the bonds of the marriage covenant.God hates divorce. But he also comforts the widows and the orphans.”I do not condemn you for leaving an abusive husband. Thank you for your thoughtful addition to this discussion.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful blog on this sensitive issue. I have to say I’m sorely dissapointed you never quoted the end of Malachi 2:16. For ten years I stayed with an alcholic, abusive husband because I thought I had made my bed proverbally… I thought God had to fix it because divorce was not an option. I have never, NEVER heard the second half of that verse preached. Mine says that God hates both divorce and a man who covers himself (or his wife) with violence as with a garment. I ‘ve read my Bible through, yet I just saw that verse 8 and a 1/2 years into my marriage. It was that verse and Deut:30 that finally gave me peace to leave. He refused to choose life, I refuse not to. After pastoral counciling and YEARS of prayer for my marriage and eventually for peace to be set free if God would be my husband I recently divorced my husband. I really do appreciate your comments, I just wish for the familys like mine that suffered in danger for years, that people like you would speak on the other half of the verse. and by the way I told my church what was going on, you can’t make a man choose life. Many blessings in Christ Jesus, Shannon Clark

  3. Christians don’t single out divorce. It just so happens that the divorce issue in our culture is so strong that it stirs so much debate.Scripture uses harsh language about divorce.Deut 24:1-4Malachi 2:10-16Jesus addresses the issue in Mattew 19. His “exception clauses” do offer hope for the divorced spouse who is the victim in the divorce.I hold to the “exception clauses” position. Adultery and abandonment are obviously not the fault of the spouse left alone.But, please know anonymous. I too face similar criticism as you among Christian circles. I was a widower and married a divorced woman. We have had to face many awkward questions from pastor search committees.

  4. SO if all sin is bad then why do Christians single out divorce as one God hates. If i were divorced and seeking a pastorite and the reason i was denied was my pasted sin of divorce based on the premise that i was not above reproch or that my witness was somehow forever tarnished then would’nt all of us be disqualified to serve in a pastoral position based on our pass sin?

  5. I would say that all sin is bad sin. But the apostle Paul addresses various sins with various degrees of harshness in his epistles. The most heinous were sexually related sins among the believers.Sin among the nonbelievers is most often addressed with understanding, but without condoning. Christians receive the harshest rebuke for sin, regardless of the “level” of offense. Matthew 18 covers how to address a sinful brother of sister.

  6. which sin is worse, He that sows discord among brethern or divorce?gossip or divorce?pride or divorce?

  7. Anonymous…Please let me give you counsel from one more biblical passage…1 Corinthians 7:12-1612 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife? Both men and women are called to remain with their unbelieving spouses if at all possible. Allow the nonbeliever end the marriage. Not the believer.

  8. Anonymous…Let me first say that no woman should have to suffer abuse from her husband. No one.But the question is should “Christian” men and women ever divorce?Here is what the apostle Paul says in Ephesians 5:33..”However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”If you are part of a Church, then go to your leadership and tell them what is going on. They can help you confront your husband. The other men in the Church should intervene for you and hold your husband accountable.The church leadership can also help determine if the abuse warrants separation or divorce.I pray this advise helps you.Know that I will be praying for you as well.

  9. What about divorce based on an abusive relationship? Is that justified? My husband has ceased to be physically abusive, but still is verbally and emotionally. Is that justified?

  10. Anonymous…Allow me to repeat a key sentence in my most.”To blindly condemn anyone because of divorce is itself ethically wrong…there is compassion and if the Church would find that balance between boldness and compassion, then divorce culture in our society would eventually fade away.”If the divorce culture in our society was not as rampant as it is, then my position would not be as strong. My statements are a direct response to the blatant attitude that commitment is not necessary.I might also ad that if the Scarlett letter were to be applied to anyone, it would most often be applied to the men who leave their wives and children. Too many mothers are raising their children alone because their husbands fail to live up to their commitments and responsibilities.I also address the need for the church to be compassionate toward the divorce widow. The one who is the victim.

  11. So are you saying that if you divorce for reasons outside of these then you can never remarried. Sort of the Scarlet letter in effect?

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