The Problem of Divorce

When speaking or writing on the topic of divorce, I inevitably encounter someone quoting Mal. 2:16, “For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel,” and usually with a kind of “so there!” attitude that settles a matter. This perplexed me at first. It’s like screaming at an oncologist, “Cancer is evil!”

Eventually, I came to realize that many Christians simply have no exposure to this terribly complex, deeply sorrowful issue. And to that, I say “Amen!” May nothing strip them of their innocence. Would to God the rest of us could return. Unfortunately, we must deal with life as it is.

The problem is evil. It’s terribly confusing for those who believe that God is all-powerful, sovereign over creation, and fundamentally good. God hates evil and He’s all-powerful, so why does He allow evil to continue? This “problem of evil,” as it is called by philosophers, also makes divorce difficult for believers to comprehend, especially as it relates to filing the necessary forms with the court.

Perhaps we struggle with the issue of divorce because it suggests we have given up on God.

I was three years into a four-year program, earning a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, when my wife suddenly left me for another man. The event came as a shock, not only emotionally but theologically. In addition to the heartache of losing a partner for life, I found myself struggling to understand how God could allow such a thing. So I began to pray for the restoration of my marriage and had every reason to believe my prayers would be answered. Jesus promised that if we prayed in His name—that is, according to His will—the Father would grant us anything (John 16:23). Certainly, God wanted my marriage to continue, I reasoned, so I diligently prayed for reconciliation while “believing I had received it” (Mark 11:24). I sincerely believed that restoration was only a matter of time. Meanwhile, I pursued every practical means of putting my marriage back together, including the redemptive divorce process.

Weeks turned to months, and it became clearer with each passing day that my wife was not going to return. In fact, she demonstrated very clearly that she was committed to her present course. Eventually, the state recognized her common-law union with the other man. In other words, they were legally married, which brought the “problem of evil” very close to home. If God were sovereign, how could He permit something so contrary to His will? What of the promises about prayer Jesus offered in the Upper Room? Had I not prayed fervently enough or with enough faith?

God originally crafted the world, fashioned man and woman in His own image, and declared His creation “good.” Every physical need of the couple found ample supply in the goodness of His handiwork, their one-flesh union sated their emotional needs, and they enjoyed spiritual abundance in regular communion with God. They were “naked and were not ashamed” because they had no reason for worry or shame or doubt or sadness (Gen. 2:25). But then they chose to disobey their Creator, subjecting all of creation to the consequences of their sin. The world then became a grotesque perversion of what God had created to be good. And ever since that horrific choice in the Garden, we have been living east of Eden, banished from the goodness that God desired—and still desires—for us. Collectively and individually, we are living with the consequences of sin in a creation that does not work like God wants it to.

Even so, God has not left us alone. He made the “problem of evil” His own by becoming one of us. In the person of Jesus Christ, God became a man to redeem the world, and He will eventually make it even more glorious than before. This universe will give way to “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). In the meantime, God has not promised that we will remain untouched by evil or escape death. Instead, He has promised that death will not be the end and that evil will not have the final victory in the cosmic battle that rages around us. Until Jesus returns to reclaim the world from the clutches of Satan, “the whole creation groans and suffers” (Rom. 8:22), we “groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23), and the Holy Spirit “intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).

God did not ordain marriage to end in divorce any more than He fashioned our bodies for death. Both divorce and death are an affront to His created order. Nevertheless, death is inevitable because of sin, and sometimes divorce cannot be avoided because at least one partner has chosen sin to become his or her new mate.

In time, I realized that my prayers had to change. Instead of praying for the resurrection of my dead marriage or for the revival of the future I thought should have been, I began to pray for the ability to accept the fact that my marriage had become a casualty of evil, a circumstance that God didn’t like any more than I did. I began to pray for a redeemed future in whatever form God saw fit to fashion.

He did not disappoint. If we rest in His grace, God will always have the last word over evil. When the time was right—and much sooner than I expected—the Lord intricately wove events together to give me a joyful future and an extraordinary mate to share it with. He gave me Charissa, my wife. And I don’t consider it any coincidence that her name is based on the Greek word charis, which means “grace.”

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