Pretty much everyone who has ever been married, or found themselves in a hard marriage, or on the other side of divorce – in Christian culture – has heard someone tell them that “God hates divorce”, pulling from Malachi 2:16 (NLT) that says, “‘For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel.”
These words are typically used as a tool to keep someone from divorcing, or sadly, to point out why someone’s life is so difficult post-divorce, as in, Well, what did you expect? God hates divorce… (By the way, that’s called adding insult to injury. That’s called being mean. That’s called the opposite of showing grace and empathy. If that’s all you have to say to someone in my position as a divorced woman, please say nothing.)
One of the first rules of Scripture interpretation, though, is context. Why did God say those words? Who was he saying them to? What else did he say in that same passage?
This passage was written during a time when men, mostly leaders, were divorcing their wives without cause. And if you think women are a bit more vulnerable now and get the shaft post-divorce these days, women back then were pretty much done for if their husbands divorced them. So these words came at a specific time to address an issue that is actually opposite of what you might think. God wasn’t saying “I hate divorce” to address the abused woman in an effort to motivate her to buck up or to shame her into staying; he was actually addressing the throw-away-wife man and telling him what he was doing was wrong and that he despised it.
And again, context, because if anyone even looked up this verse, they’d see that the very next words in Malachi 2:16 (NLT) are, “‘And I hate the man who does wrong to his wife,’ says the Lord of All. ‘So be careful in your spirit, and be one who can be trusted.’”
And look at it in the New International Version, “'The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘does violence to the one he should protect,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
In other words, God hates the man who tosses out his wife, who hurts his wife, who mistreats her, who covers her with violence, especially so because the husband is supposed to be her protector.
God’s heart all across Scripture is towards the vulnerable. God’s heart all across Scripture is grace and mercy. God calls himself our strong tower, our refuge, our help in times of trouble.
Proverbs 6:16-19 lists off seven things that God hates: “A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.”
For some women, this is the description of their entire marriage. God’s clear intention for marriage is for it to be a representation of how Christ and the Church are in relationship together. There is love, mutuality, care. There is no violence, no unnecessary harshness, no power trips, no lying, no wickedness.
(Let me state for the gazillionth time: I am not a proponent of every woman just up and leaving her marriage for any reason. But I am saying that I believe God hates abuse of every kind, including – or perhaps especially – in marriage, and if the husband refuses to stop and get help, that’s where grace must step in and cover over when the husband won’t do what he’s supposed to be doing.)
I believe that applying “God hates divorce” to the case of the abused woman looking for biblical counsel on whether or not she can leave her marriage to an unrepentant, abusive man is similar to someone taking “Jesus wept” and saying that Jesus shows compassion on the teenager who broke curfew and now can’t have her phone for a week. (Okay, slight stretch, but hopefully you get my point.) That in and of itself is an abuse of Scripture and abusing the heart of an already-hurting woman.
Scripture is our guide, absolutely. It is God’s very word to us. But let’s be very careful that we don’t wield it as a weapon against those who are already in so much pain and are in desperate need of our help and support.
Article first appeared on elisabethklein.com. Used with permission.
Elisabeth Klein lives with her sweet husband, Richard, in Illinois. Together, they are parents to five children, fifteen through twenty-six. They attend Community Christian Church in Yorkville. She fills her time with writing, speaking and mentoring women. She has written several books, all of which are available on her website (www.elisabethklein.com). She also offers e-courses and private Facebook groups for women in difficult marriages or those going through divorce. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: ©Thinkstock