Divorce: What It Is

Question: If you had just 2-3 minutes to offer advice to a couple seeking divorce, what would you say?

Michael: “If I had a choice, I would say do not get divorced. I would have done anything to save my marriage. She was unwilling to. It was by far the hardest thing I ever went though.”

Robert: “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE find a good counselor that wants to save your marriage. (There are bad ones who basically lead you thru the steps of divorce.)

There is no such thing as “IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES.”

Mark: “The consequences are long lasting, and in some cases irreversible.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking “not in my case” or “my situation is different”.  Many relationships beyond the marriage will be either damaged, permanently altered, or lost altogether.  Divorce is a destructive force!

Understand that marriage is not about your happiness, but is about loving another person through sacrifice and service to them.  Marriage is a covenant, not a contract.  Breaking a contact has legal implications, but breaking a covenant has life-long spiritual implications.”

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A few weeks ago we wrote a brief introduction to this series we wanted to write on the subject of divorce. While the subject of Divorce can be a sensitive one, we believe it’s worth addressing, as the subject is often glossed over by society as a whole.  Be honest – when is the last time you read anything or heard a message at a church that was fully focused on the subject of divorce?  Yeah, we don’t hear about it often either. But with an average of 2.3 million couples getting married annually, and 1.2 million getting divorced¹, how can we remain silent?

Throughout the series there are three aspects of divorce we would like to focus on. They include:

  1. Divorce: What It Is
  2. Divorce: What It Isn’t
  3. Divorce: What It Does

As you can tell from the opening comments, we’ve reached out to a number of friends who have experienced divorce and asked them some questions. Many were gracious and took an opportunity to respond. We won’t share their actual names throughout the series, but some of the comments you’ll read in each part of this series come directly from those who have experienced divorce, and it’s our hope that you, and others are able to learn from their experience. With that said, let’s take a short opportunity to understand this subject of divorce.

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Divorce: What It Is

In his book, “The Meaning of Marriage”, Timothy Keller writes a great chapter on the marriage covenant. He notes that throughout the Old Testament we read about two different kinds of covenants. There are horizontal covenants made between two individuals, and there are vertical covenants made between an individual and God.

The marriage covenant, is perhaps the most unique of all, because it incorporates both the horizontal and the vertical aspects of the covenant. Two people make a binding agreement with one another, and they do so before God. Obviously, this is of far greater significance than two people signing a contract with one another.

Think of it this way. Today we live in a world of contracts. Buy a house, sign a contract. Buy a car, sign a contract. Get insurance, sign a contract. Cell phones…sign a contract. With every other major purchase or agreement requiring the signing of a contract, it’s no wonder Marriage is often treated as a contractual agreement between two parties. If something goes wrong, just pay the early termination fee and move on to another carrier, right?

Wrong. Marriage isn’t a simple contract. It’s a covenant. And a covenant is to be seen as a binding promise.

Here’s a picture of what a covenant between two people looked like in the ancient near-east. Two people would make a binding promise with one another, and to affirm their agreement they would slaughter an animal, lock arms, and walk between the pieces. There was blood all over their feet and clothes. Essentially this was their way of saying, “You will hold up to your end of this agreement, or may you become like this animal.”

Sounds graphic, right? It was. Very graphic. But here’s the thing, exchanging rings isn’t any less significant of a covenant today. It’s just as meaningful. Just as powerful. And just as messy. Two people are making a binding agreement. A horizontal covenant to their spouse, and a vertical covenant to God. It’s serious stuff.

A very basic understanding of divorce, then, would be this:

What is Divorce? – A husband and/or wife breaking a binding promise with their spouse and God.

Some may be reading this and thinking to themselves, “That’s right! Divorce can never be an option! I mean, God hates divorce no matter what, right? It’s right in the Bible!”

Well, yes it’s in there. God’s hates divorce. It was never his intention.

But divorce is permissible in some circumstances.

Take a quick opportunity to read some additional responses we received from others who have experienced divorce.

Question:If you could pin it down to just one thing, what ultimately led to your divorce?

Chris: “Her habitual, repeated, unrepentant abuse of our covenant vows and our relationship.  She treated me not as someone to love, honor and cherish, but as someone to use, abuse, dishonor, and inflict with deep wounds.”

Rebekah: “Abuse. I lived for 20 years with an abusive spouse who never repented, never asked for forgiveness and constantly blamed me for all that was wrong with our marriage.”

Outside of these responses, we’ve known others who have experienced physical abuse, emotional abuse, multiple affairs and even polygamy. While we’ve never recommended divorce to those experiencing such awful circumstances, the Bible does make it clear that divorce is permissible in such circumstances. In these situations, it is the abuser who has broken the marriage covenant. They are the one who has already declared divorce. The abusee will certainly need counseling (as many will blame them for the divorce.) But in these drastic circumstances, their divorce is permissible. God, indeed hates divorce. But He does not at all hate those who have been the recipients of abuse, nor does He expect them to continually live in it.

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We realize this post is fairly short for such a big topic. Truth is, it’s not a topic we study in depth as much as some others have. That said, we wanted to close out this first post by sharing some additional thoughts from some friends who have experienced divorce.. If you or someone you know is considering divorce, please read these words and learn from their experiences. Professional counseling can do wonders for a seemingly broken marriage. And if you think divorce is an easy way out…well, we’ll cover that in our next post.

Question: Did you attempt to get marital counseling?

Michael: “Yes, we did go to counseling in the beginning, but she was not completely honest with the counselor or me about everything that was going on. Once all of the truth came out, I suggested it again with nothing coming of it.”

Mark: Yes, after the first time my wife confessed an affair. I found it very helpful. But…she had made up her mind long before our counseling.

Rebekah: “Yes. I begged for years for him to go with me to see someone so we could try to save the marriage.  My ex agreed one time in 20 years to see a counselor.”

Chris: “Yes, we sought marriage counseling…multiple times with multiple counselors across multiple years.  The counseling was beneficial in that it helped me learn a lot about myself and helped me learn to communicate and listen better.  It also seemed, for a time, to help the marriage relationship.  However, ultimately, she used the tools learned in counseling to hone her skills of manipulation and deceit.  Ultimately, counseling can only help to the degree that BOTH partners WANT help.”

If you or someone you know is considering divorce but is not a recipient of abuse, take an opportunity to re-read the statements at the beginning of this post, and we urge you to seek counsel and reconciliation for your marriage. If you believe you are experiencing abuse, seek professional counsel at your earliest convenience.

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 Footnote: (1) Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot – marriagementoring.com

 

2 thoughts on “Divorce: What It Is

  1. Justin, I appreciate your tackling such a difficult topic with balance and integrity. Overall, you’ve done a good job with this post.

    I like how you point out that divorce is, in some cases, permissible. I would like to add to that divorce is also, in some cases, the most godly course of action.

    I know this may seem like a trivial difference, but the nuance is significant to devoted Christians facing divorce. Devoted Christians are not usually pursuing what is ‘permissible.’ They are pursuing what is best and what is godly. The word ‘permissible,’ as used in our everyday language, does not convey this sense of excellence and godliness.

    God said, “And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also” (Jeremiah 3:8). In this situation, God’s chosen action was divorce. Since God never acts outside His perfect will, we can be confident divorce is God’s perfect will for some situations.

    Blessings to you, as you continue to study and share God’s word!

    • Hi Joseph, and thanks for the reply! I appreciate your wisdom there, and that you use scripture to defend that in rare circumstances, divorce may be the most godly action. I’m sure those currently living through terrible circumstances will find your wisdom very helpful.

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