Legal Myth #5

Those who find themselves the sole caretaker of a dead marriage almost always struggle to overcome feelings of guilt for even considering divorce. And should they actually follow through with divorce, they typically struggle with shame for the rest of their lives. Moreover, these feelings of guilt and self-doubt are often reinforced by family, friends, and church leaders, who sincerely share a strong aversion to the divorce decree. That’s because myth #5 is perhaps the most compelling of all.

Myth #5: A legal decree of divorce separates “what God has joined together.”

 

The truth is, a divorce decree doesn’t end a marriage any more than a death certificate kills a person. Unrepentant sin renders a marriage null and void. The decree is merely a formal declaration in writing of what has already occurred in life.

Consider this letter received from “Karen.” (Naturally, I have altered her name and masked any details that would identify her.)

A little more than two years ago, my husband left me and our two small children Luke and Joy. He moved to a family member’s house in the same town while he continues to see his mistress, who lives in a nearby state. He helps to support her but he doesn’t provide financial support for our children.

What should I do? The people in my church family say that I should be patient and let the Lord convict him of his sin. They have discouraged me from going to court. Should I file for child support? Should I file for divorce?

Please help me pray. I need the Lord’s help. My husband needs to do what is right. Please pray that his mistress will realize what she’s doing to our family. My children deserve a normal life instead of this.

Karen

In truth, Karen is divorced in every respect except in the eyes of the government. In the eyes of God, she has been abandoned and is, therefore, “not under bondage” (1 Corinthians 7:15). That is to say, she is morally free to move on with her life and to remarry if she chooses, just as a widow is no longer “bound” to her husband and “free to remarry” (1 Corinthians 7:39).

Filing for divorce does nothing more than inform the state, “This marriage is over because at least one person, by virtue of his or her actions, has decided to end it.” This document also helps to protect the upright spouse from the consequences of the wayward spouse’s immoral or illegal behavior. Furthermore, it safeguards the interests of the children, who have the least control of anyone involved.

In most cases, and by most standards, the marriage is “over” long before anyone declares it to the state. The mystical union has been treated with contempt, and the covenant has been run through the shredder. Unfortunately, we place such significance on the divorce decree that, if we are not careful, we can allow it to become an instrument of denial instead of a possible means of redemption. Imagine how absurd it would be for a community to refuse a death certificate merely because no one wanted to accept that a person is dead. Meanwhile, the family of the deceased cannot move forward, feeling guilty for “giving up,” yet left alone to care for a corpse as though it were alive. How much better it would be if the community could surround the upright spouse and affirm the reality that the marriage is over, and then commit themselves to helping their wounded brother or sister face the future.

Let us set aside the myth that a divorce degree separates what “God has joined together.” A marriage license does not make a marriage. God joins people together, not the State. Likewise, a divorce decree does not end a marriage; unrepentant sin does that.

Why do you think this myth remains so persuasive in the body of Christ? What can we do to dispel such myths? Until we do, local church bodies will remain powerless to deal with the real problems of people. Let me know what you think.

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