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Vol 4 No 24 October 3, 1999

The Sin of Divorce

Gary Henry

To the faithless men of Israel who had divorced their wives without divine approval, God's warning through the prophet Malachi was clear and strong: "For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one's garments with violence,'says the Lord of hosts. 'Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously'" (Mal 2:16).

It goes without saying that divorce is a problem for us today, just as it was for Israel then. While the statistics seem to indicate a slight decline in our divorce rate, none can deny that Americans still have a strong tendency to dissolve their marriages rather than work them out. We live in a "disposable" society, where marriages, like paper plates, can be thrown away conveniently when we are finished with them.

But the text from Malachi indicates what God's attitude has always been toward the severing of marriages. He said that to divorce is to "deal treacherously." At the very least, the marriage vow involves a promise of trustworthiness and commitment.

Spouses ought to be able to rest their complete confidence in the other's constancy. When one betrays that confidence by divorce, he commits the sin of betrayal and treachery. Not only that, but God said divorce "covers one's garments with violence." To divorce is to perpetuate an act of injustice and violence against one's mate. It is an injurious harm inflicted on one who has a right to expect safety and support. To divorce one's mate is nothing less than to back out of a God-honored covenant, to show oneself false-hearted, and to commit cruelty in the pursuit of one's own will. Nothing that one human being can do to another is more hurtfully selfish.

It may well be that the prevalence of divorce is but one symptom of a breakdown of our willingness to show fidelity to our commitments in general. Truth, integrity, and steadfast loyalty are in short supply among us, period. We are no longer imbued with a strong sense of allegiance to anything! We make commitments casually, and break them just as casually. Long gone are the days when the homespun virtue of "keeping one's word" was embroidered on our samplers. The "man whose word is his bond" is probably our grandfather, not our husband.

Even among those who profess to be Christians, there is a slackening of commitment to marriage. In circles where once divorce would not even be considered thinkable, today the attitude is more likely to be : Divorce is unfortunate, but it is an available option in seriously troubled marriages, so long as one does not unscripturally remarry. And thus begins the "waiting game" in which each spouse waits for the other to remarry. As soon as that happens, the "innocent" party then retroactively "puts away" the other for adultery and remarries, citing Matthew 19:1-12 as the scriptural warrant.

But the main point of what Jesus taught in that critical text is that divorce per se is sinful. The Pharisees' question which Jesus was answering concerned the lawfulness not of divorce and remarriage, but of divorce itself. They had asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?" (Matt 19:3). Now hear the text and let it sink in. "And he answered and said to them, 'Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning "made them male and female," and said, "For this reaosn a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two of them shall be one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (Matt 19:4-6).

Sin is committed anytime one spouse divorces another for any cause other than fornication, the solitary allowance made by God. If we do what Jesus point-blank commanded not to be done, could the act be anything other than sin? The very attitude that God doesn't mean what He says is a dangerous mockery of God. "What God has joined together, let not man separate" is a clearly worded command that was meant to be obeyed! To disobey it is to commit selfish, treacherous sin. In Malachi 2:16, God said he hates divorce. Can we afford to adopt any different view of the sin of divorce?


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