It hasn’t been that long ago that someone told me our church’s position on divorce was wrong. We acknowledge that God permits divorce for habitual, unrepentant, hard-hearted violation of the marriage vows. Sexual unfaithfulness, failure to love and provide for, desertion, and abuse (a kind of desertion) are, we maintain, biblical grounds for divorce. In fact, these violations are what destroy the marriage, not the victim who files the legal paperwork. My caller however, insisted upon her rendition of Malachi 2 – claiming that it says God hates divorce. What she meant by this, of course, was that God hates ALL divorce and thus divorce is never permissible. She is wrong. Very, very wrong. And her words do great hurt and harm to abuse victims. Christians need to stop saying “God hates divorce.”
Why? Because the Bible does not say this! At least it does not say what people so often want to claim it says when they use their slogan “God hates divorce.” Have you read the English Standard Version for example (emphasis is mine) –
Malachai 2:14-16, But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. (15) Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. (16) “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.“
What is lacking? “God hates divorce.” Why? Because the translators realize (and this is certainly not the only Bible translation that does this) that what is obnoxious to God is not ALL divorce. Unjust, wicked, faithless treatment of one’s wife in divorcing her without cause. That is what God hates, and that is what He describes through Malachi as a man (or woman) “covering his garment with violence.” Sinful, hateful, treachery in divorce is the evil here, not divorce in itself. If all divorce were hated by God, He would have to hate Himself because He would be guilty of sin in that He divorced Israel (Jer 3).
Divorce was not God’s original intention for marriage. The destruction of a marriage is always sinful. Always. But that does not mean that God holds an abuse victim guilty if she divorces her abuser. He condemns the abuser and permits her to go free.
And so, we say again to all Christians – stop saying God hates divorce. And especially stop saying it to abuse victims. So often, Christians who say this to victims have absolutely no idea what abuse is. They don’t know. And whenever we couple our ignorance with our arrogance, we do great, great harm.