As Western society in particular has become more secularized during the 20th century, the religious stigma surrounding divorce has decreased some. Yet in some particular faith communities and traditions, divorce is still considered to be totally unacceptable. It’s sad, but true: even in our enlightened, supposedly more understanding age, families are still literally being asked to leave a church because of divorce proceedings.
For those holding such a view, God hates divorce, and anyone who would consider it a viable option does not have strong enough faith. As such, they are a danger to others in that faith community, and so must be expelled and left to their fate as divorcees. Since the whole family unit is tossed out, even children, who did nothing to cause the divorce, experience the bitter venom of exclusion. Of course, religious leaders in those communities would simply claim that they are relying on the authority of the Bible and its proclamations regarding divorce. But is this really true? Does God hate divorce?
This particular church ethos and general stance towards divorce has a few root causes and explanations. One cause is primarily sociological. If one were to examine the type of religious communities that espouse and practice such a strict stance toward divorce through the lens of anthropology and sociology, certain patterns might emerge. Many of these communities are very conservative politically and theologically. Though this is certainly a generalization, these communities often highly value uniformity of thinking and have strict, albeit unwritten, codes of behavioral conduct. There are a great deal of unspoken agreements, social contracts, if you will, that govern what is and is not appropriate to do and say.
In this type of social environment, divorce, as with other deviations from the norm, is extremely discouraged. One of the primary reasons for this is that an action such as divorce threatens the leadership because it represents a contrary view to what is taught to be the accepted norm. In more conservative churches, there is little room for differences in opinion and worldviews, because there is usually an established right and wrong way of viewing a particular matter. But how exactly did divorce come to be understood as wrong in these types of faith communities?
The main reason that divorce is considered to be wrong is because many in these communities are biblical literalists, which means they believe that the meaning of Scripture is plain and that the words of the Bible should be taken at face value. Biblical literalists usually don’t inquire into the meaning of Scripture in terms of how it relates to the particular historical or religious context to which various proclamations on divorce were directed. Nor do they accept various ranges of interpretation of phrases originally in Hebrew and Greek. For example, the Scripture cited suggesting that God declares that He hates divorce is Malachi 2:16. Yet translation of the Hebrew there varies widely among scholars. But even if the meaning was absolutely clear, most biblical scholars and theologians would urge extreme caution on drawing a one-to-one correlation between what the intent of that verse was in its original religious and historical context to our contemporary context.
But the question remains, in spite of how various religious communities interpret various passages of Scripture: Does God hate divorce? I propose that there is no one correct answer to this question, but that there are many that fall incredibly short. One way to address this question is to take it out of the debate regarding the meaning of marriage and divorce in Scripture and to look more generally at the whole arc of the Bible. Throughout all of the Old Testament, God wrestles with a people who are unfaithful to Him, but that He chooses to love in spite of their failings. In the New Testament, God comes to the world as Jesus and declares that the meaning of existence is reconciliation, to forgive and be forgiven.
But Scripture also acknowledges the extreme state of brokenness we find ourselves in as people and as inhabitants of a world filled with strife. The Bible does not sugarcoat the fact that relationships go sour, that people wrong other people in shocking ways. It doesn’t take a divorce attorney to tell you that the reasons people have for divorce are many and sensible by any reasonable standard. And in all that, from all I’ve studied, read, and thought about the person of Jesus, the God-man that Christians hold up as the definitive source on living and being acceptable to God, I can’t ever imagine him saying something like: Verily I say unto you, you must continue on in a soul crushing, abusive relationship that prevents you from living the life God intended you to have.
If your religious faith is important to you, you need to work out your own answer to this question. The important thing is that you come to terms with the meaning of divorce for you in your own life, which may or may not include what any particular religious tradition teaches. Seek out the counsel of an experienced divorce attorney to assist you with the legal aspects of divorce, and discuss your spiritual and religious concerns over divorce with friends you trust. In time you will discover your own answer, and that will be very valuable as you move forward in life.