What comes to mind when I say the word Divorce?
Some people quickly jump to Malachi 2:16, “‘For I hate divorce!’ says the Lord, the God of Israel.”
Others may throw out the word adultery. “For example, a man who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery. And anyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” (Luke 16:18).
Almost every Christian thinks of sin, knowing divorce is not God’s perfect plan. God designed marriage to be one man, one woman for life.
But maybe there are some things you don’t know about divorce, things that only a divorced Christian can completely understand.
And, as a divorced Christian, I would like to share some of those things with you.
Most divorced Christians entered marriage with the proper mindset. I know I did. Divorce was never a word that was allowed in my home; it simply was not an option. We did everything we could to safeguard our marriage: rules preventing time alone with people of the opposite sex, making time for each other, walking with God. If there was ever a couple who entered marriage with the right mindset, it was us.
And, I’ve heard stories of so many others. Couples who went to very conservative churches that courted instead of dated, always chaperoned until marriage. So many couples in ministry who lived their faith out loud. Couples who served together at their church, working together as lay people.
I have learned there is not one single formula that guarantees a marriage will last a lifetime.
While it takes two people to make a marriage work, it only takes one person to cause divorce. All my life I thought it took two people to cause a divorce. Adultery only happened when one spouse wasn’t meeting the needs of the other, causing the hurting spouse to look to someone else to get his/her needs met. Divorce only happened to those who were not putting time and energy into their marriage.
It simply is not true! “Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended’” (Matthew 19:8). Divorce is about a hard heart. If one spouse in a marriage develops a hard heart and turns away from God’s plan, it can lead to divorce.
I have listened to many spouses, aching from the pain of divorce, admitting they were not perfect but they gave their all to the marriage. And yet, their spouses have chosen pornography, alcohol, drugs, or adultery. Somewhere along the way, one spouse has chosen to walk away from God, to allow his/her heart to harden. And, in so doing, he/she has destroyed a marriage.
Divorce can happen after decades of marriage. My marriage lasted almost 17 years. I have spoken to people who have been married more than 40 years when their spouse suddenly announced he wanted out.
Hearts harden. People choose to walk away. Divorce is no respecter of age.
Divorce is one of the most painful experiences in this life. There were days I didn’t think I would survive. I contemplated suicide, just driving my car off the road into a deep ravine. I hid in shame. I felt rejected, unloved, unlovable. I thought God had failed me even though I had done everything right, following Him, serving Him. My life was over. My ministry was over. There was simply no reason to keep living.
And, honestly, I believe that’s why God hates divorce. He looks down with His great big Daddy’s heart of love and weeps over the pain heaped upon His children. He mourns over the widespread devastation and destruction. He knows the pain, and He doesn’t want His children to endure the destruction caused by divorce.
And when you read all of Malachi 2:16, you see this sentiment. “‘For I hate divorce!’ says the Lord, the God of Israel. ‘To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,’ says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. ‘So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.’”
Divorce does not have to end your life or your ministry. God is a God of resurrection! He is the God of new beginnings! He is the God who makes all things work for good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28)
Walking through the pain of divorce has also given me a deeper love for my Savior, an intimacy I had never experienced before. I can relate to others walking through the painful trials of this life, others who have experienced the storms that inevitably rock our lives. And I can comfort them with the comfort I have received (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Divorce has actually created a ministry for me, a ministry far greater than anything I could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). It has given me a voice, an opportunity to share God’s love with many more people than I ever did as a pastor’s wife.
I am forever changed because of my divorce, changed in a way I am eternally grateful for.
Emotional and mental abuse are real and dangerous. We all agree that physical abuse is dangerous and damaging to the victim. We would never recommend someone stay in a situation where their very life is at risk.
But what about emotional abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse? Have you ever talked to a woman trapped in a marriage where her husband is constantly demeaning her? Have you ever talked to a man whose wife is an alcoholic, who is consistent only about being drunk? Have you ever talked to a woman whose husband holds Scripture over her head, demanding that she submit to him in all of his whims, no matter how sinful those whims may be?
Emotional and mental abuse destroy lives. They slowly suck the life out of their victims, causing them to believe they are not worthy of love—from God or anyone else. Mental abuse causes victims to lose all meaning and purpose. Victims become a shell of the person God created them to be, and they will never fulfill the purpose for which God created them until they escape the abuse.
An individual trapped in a marriage filled with emotional and mental abuse is in danger of losing their identity, their value, their purpose. And what a sad and dangerous place to live.
Sometimes walking away from a marriage is the best—and most God-honoring—thing one can do. I walked away from my marriage after several years of adultery. I had become a shell, void of meaning and purpose. And, I believe with all my heart that God gave me permission to walk away.
What have I experienced since walking away? More life than I ever dreamed possible! The joy of watching my kids grow and blossom into resilient, strong Christians. Intimacy with my Savior I never knew before. The freedom that Christ came to give His children!
While God’s perfect will is for marriages to last—to be strong and mutually encouraging—sometimes marriages become so painful and dysfunctional that the only option becomes walking away. Sometimes divorce is the only way to save lives, to give life.
God is a God of holiness, a God who desires us to walk perfectly before Him. But He is also a God of freedom, a God who came to set the captives free. When we become hostages in our own marriages, sometimes God chooses to set us free, to give us freedom to walk away from the bondage.
Maybe you have never walked through the pain of divorce. Praise God that you have been spared the pain! And, I encourage you to look at those of us who have walked through the pain of divorce with fresh eyes, with eyes of compassion rather than judgement.
And to those who have (or are currently) being rocked by the storm of divorce? Cling to the Savior. Believe that you are deeply and intimately loved, that you still have a beautiful life ahead of you. Know that God sees your pain, feels it deeply, and weeps with you over the devastation you are experiencing. God’s love and forgiveness is deeper than anything we could ever imagine, and that love and forgiveness are yours. There is no shame, no condemnation. There is only a sea of love so deep, so wide, that you could never fully explore it.
Hold tight, my friend. God has great plans for you!
Dena Johnson is a busy single mom of three kids who loves God passionately. She delights in taking the everyday events of life, finding God in them, and impressing them on her children as they sit at home or walk along the way (Deuteronomy 6:7). Her greatest desire is to be a channel of God’s comfort and encouragement. You can read more of Dena’s experiences with her Great I AM on her blog Dena's Devos.
Publication date: October 18, 2016