This week marks four years since my divorce was finalized. Some guys when they divorce look at that day as freedom day, a reason to celebrate, a release from whatever was holding them down. I don’t look at it that way. My life definitely changed that day, a change that started years before the divorce actually happened. The day of divorce was not a day of freedom — because it’s going to be a part of me for the rest of my life.
She used to say that I really never should have been married, an excuse, an attempt to place the failing marriage on my shoulders, a statement she began to repeat early in our marriage and continued to repeat it to the very end. As I remember those words, I wonder if she had given up even before it began. We held on 25 years, two people who had made a commitment to each other before God, the God part the biggest reason (besides our children) we held on so long.
Divorce is tough for anyone. I am a Christian, a Christ follower, serious about my relationship with God, and I want to honor God. I believe the Bible is one way God communicates with me and I want to listen to him. I believe the Bible is true, every word. In the years leading up to my divorce, I looked up every scripture verse I could find that talks about divorce. There really aren’t that many. As I read them, over and over, I prayed over them, asked God to help me understand. Divorce is tough for anyone, but as a Christian, the decision to divorce is agonizing, no matter the reason for the divorce. After all, God hates divorce, part of a verse from Malachi 2:16 that many well meaning people have quoted to me. I understood that then and really understand it now. No one needs to tell me that God hates divorce. It wasn’t an epiphany, as divorce would be contrary to what God intended for man when woman was created. Separation is contrary to the way God created us.
It took me a while to understand that God hates divorce, but he would not hate me if divorce happened to me.
OK. God is not going to hate me for wanting a divorce. However, there is the matter of sin. If a divorce isn’t due to marital unfaithfulness, then remarriage is adultery.
Matthew 19:9 (NIV) – “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Jesus had been asked about divorce as a test, an attempt by Pharisees (teachers of Jewish law) to trap him, to discredit him. There were two schools of thought regarding the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which says “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house….”. One school of thought held that ‘something indecent’ meant marital unfaithfulness, the only allowable cause for divorce. The other school of thought emphasized the words ‘who becomes displeasing to him’. That would allow a man to divorce his wife if she did anything he disliked, even if she burned his food while cooking it. Jesus first pointed to God with his response, as the creator who made them male and female, in a way that unites them as one flesh. When the Pharisees responded by asking Jesus why Moses commanded that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away, Jesus replied as he did in verse 9, first saying that Moses permitted divorce because their hearts were hard.
I don’t know how many times I read that passage, each time asking God to help me understand it. Was I looking for a loophole? Justification? Honestly, I wanted peace that if I did make the decision to ask my wife for divorce, I would not be sinning and worse, be committing another sin if some time later I remarried. The last 8-10 years of my marriage was a time of wrestling with that realization, especially as things became worse, as it became painfully clear that our relationship was not going to get better. The last 12 years (or more) of our marriage, at my estimation, was devoid of any physical affection. I knew that was a sign of something unforgiven that made her not to be with me, even before a counselor volunteered that information, a forgiveness she refused to give, with insistence that forgiveness was something I had never asked for. I had. I did even as I didn’t know what I had done. As the struggle with the thought to divorce grew to the point of being unbearable, I asked her to talk about it. I was tired of her refusal to honor me, asked why. The only thing she told me was that she couldn’t honor a man she thought was wrong. Wrong? What did that mean? She couldn’t explain it. Desperate, I went to her father, asked him to tell me what his relationship was like with his wife. Maybe that would tell me something. He graciously met with me, was very transparent and open with me, and I discovered a few things I didn’t know during that conversation. I left him that evening with the news that things between his daughter and I were not good, that my intention was not to divorce, but was not confident that we would survive. He prayed with me… and when the divorce did happen, I am the only one of the three ex son-in-laws that he did not condemn. I did not hear from him at all after the divorce.
I sought out my church pastor, hoping for an understanding ear. He refused to talk to me. I went to a counselor, who listened. I found friends who also gave me a kind ear. No loopholes. No justification. No one blamed me if I did make the decision. Some didn’t think the decision would be a sin, even if I remarried.
When I made the decision to ask for divorce, despite my attempts to understand what the Bible says about divorce and to reconcile Jesus’ words in Matthew 19, I was afraid of what the decision was doing to my relationship to God. I felt a darkness, a separation, a wall that kept me from being able to approach God in the way I knew I needed to. I was angry to the point of screaming at God. WHY? WHY DO I FEEL THIS WAY? Only when I was able to trust God, to trust in his grace despite what was happening, was I able to find some peace. I asked her for a divorce, yet stayed for another two years until she finally said she too wanted a divorce. Ironically, she told me a few hours following the Cubs’ World Series win. As a Cardinal fan, that night will hurt forever for more than one reason.
Then there is the question of remarriage. One of my brothers, Mark, is divorced and remarried. His wife is a true blessing to him, something I looked to as my relationship with Lisa (now my fiance) grew. When he was going through his divorce, even though there was suspected unfaithfulness on his wife’s part, he agonized about divorcing. He couldn’t reconcile divorce as a Christian. I have thought about the conversations I had with him, and it affects my thoughts about divorce and remarriage.
There are also the words of Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. In I Corinthians 7:10-11, Paul tells them —
“To the married I give this command (not I but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.”
I laugh a little, as just a few verses previous, Paul had warned “Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time,…Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of control”. Corinth was a very worldly place, with pagan temples that included prostitutes and many other forms of temptation. There were many opportunities to stray. Times now are no different and a strong commitment to the marriage bed is just as necessary now as it was then.
She must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.
This past Tuesday night, two elders came to my home to interview me as part of the process of becoming a member of the church I attend with Lisa. Lisa and I have been dating 2.5 years and I have been attending her church for at least two years. I waited to join the church until I was sure that our relationship was going to be permanent. I welcomed the opportunity, like a church with sound leadership that is dedicated to communicating the core values of the church as well as maintaining them by accountability. My faith and beliefs are solid. I know they align with the church as well. However, before the elders arrived, Lisa texted me and let me know that a church staff member had asked her to warn me that the elders had been requested to ask me about my response to a question on the survey Lisa and I completed last week for our upcoming premarital counseling. It was a question that asked about the circumstances of my divorce.
When the interview with the elders reached the point where they asked about my divorce, the first question they asked was if I had gone to my wife to seek forgiveness and to reconcile with my wife. They said that if the church pastor was asked to perform the wedding between Lisa and I, he would not agree to perform the wedding if I had not made an attempt to reconcile with my ex wife. Even then, since my divorce was not due to adultery, remarriage would be something that would be considered adultery according to scripture. It was an uncomfortable thing for them, something they did not want to say. Oddly, I was perfectly comfortable. I knew that the answer I had given to the survey question was short (there was only space enough for a few sentences). The staff member and the elders didn’t know the full story. I shared the divorce story with the elders, filled in the gaps. I told them that many of the years, in my opinion, were an attempt at reconciliation and forgiveness. My decision was based on trust in God’s grace. Even then, I didn’t leave until months after she asked for a divorce.
I could have asked if they had considered the context of Jesus’ words to the Pharisees (or Malachi’s or Paul’s), but there was no reason for an argument. These guys had approached me with love and concern. They don’t want me to expose myself to sin as much as I also don’t want to expose myself to sin.
But I did ask this question — what if I could look Jesus in the eyes and ask him to talk to me about my divorce? Would he answer the same way he answered the Pharisees? I think he might, but maybe not. He recognized the sin when he looked in their hearts. What would Jesus see when he looked in my heart? I told them that I had felt the peace of God when I prayed over that passage, as if God was telling me it was alright.
After all, God hates divorce. God does not hate me.
Lisa is a blessing to me, encourages me and stands beside me as we worship God together. My ex wife did not do that. God has blessed me with Lisa and our relationship with him will grow together. I am thankful for his faithfulness to me, despite my sin… and even if my decision to remarry is a sin.