Avoiding Unhappy Endings
Alex Enabnit – Research Editor
Finishing up our series on the phases of relationships, today we talked about how to avoid a painful stage.
Divorce is never a fun subject. For many it is all too real and very painful. And unfortunately that pain is not just limited to the divorced couple, but often extends to their children, relatives, and friends. Because of this and the fact that divorce is so widespread, we will all likely be impacted by the subject in one way or another. So what does the Bible say about divorce?
We read in Malachi 2:6 that God hates divorce – not divorced people, but divorce itself. He hates how divisive and damaging it is. But to understand the topic of divorce biblically, it is helpful to look at the complex debate from four perspectives: what the Old Testament says about it, how the Rabbis interpret that scripture, what Jesus says about it, and what Paul adds to the subject.
Reading from Deuteronomy 24:1-4, we see that divorce occurs when a certificate of divorce is given to a woman after she “becomes displeasing to [the man],” and that’s where the debate between Rabbis begins. One Rabbi (Shammai) argues that the only justifiable reason for divorce is adultery, while another (Hillel) interpreted the phrase as being literally any reason – even as trivial as burning or over seasoning dinner. These interpretations divide the Israelites into two camps, depending on which Rabbi they followed.
Then along comes Jesus, who the Pharisees desperately want to discredit. They ask Him a question on this unwinnable debate in Matthew 19:3, questioning Jesus if it is “lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason.” Jesus replies wisely, but the Pharisees continue to push the subject:
‘Why then,’ they asked, ‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’ Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’ Matthew 19:7-9
Later, Paul writes to the Corinthians to uphold Jesus’ stance, and then adds:
If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” 1 Corinthians 7:12-16
Okay, that’s a lot. What’s the gist? Essentially, just because you could divorce doesn’t mean you should. But there is also a time when too much harm has been or is currently being done – when the damage of staying exceeds the damage of leaving. Taken all together, nobody should ever come to the decision of divorce lightly or without much thought.
To close the sermon, Cal gave us his practical tips for avoiding divorce:
- Understand and reject the “right person” myth. There is not some magical pairing out there – everybody has their flaws that must be worked through.
- Seal up the back door. Don’t use or threaten the “D” word in a marriage.
- Learn to fight fairly. Disagreement and fights are a part of any marriage, but couples should never use words that “leave a mark”
- Drop all contempt. Contempt has been called the number one cause of divorce
- Address problems sooner rather than later.
- Attend church together.
- Get help (counseling) before hope dissipates.
Verses and quotes from the sermon:
Malachi 2:16; Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 19:3-9; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16; Isaiah 54:5-6; Jeremiah 3:14; Revelation 19:7-8;
“The scale of marital breakdown in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent …. At no time in history, with the possibility of Imperial Rome, has the institution of marriage been more problematic than today.” Lawrence Stone, historian
“My husband and I have never considered divorce… murder sometimes, but never divorce.” Joyce Brothers
The pain of divorce is never private and personal; all involved share in the suffering.Click to tweet
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