Divorce was not on my to-do list. It was never something I planned or wanted to happen. Growing up in a conservative Christian church I was always taught divorce was sinful, on par with murder, robbery, and speaking profanities. It was something that happened to other people, not us good Christians.
The biblical text is clear about how God views divorce. Matthew chapter 5 tells us divorce for any reason other than infidelity makes the divorced party an adulterer. In chapter 19 Jesus says that a man and woman are united by God in marriage and no one should ever separate them. When asked why the Law of Moses allowed divorce, Jesus answered, "Because of your hardness of heart."
From this exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders, we get the inclination that the only reason divorce exists is because our hearts are hard.
Because we are stubborn.
Yet even in those passages, Jesus provides an acceptable reason for divorce: an unfaithful spouse. In Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he confirms Jesus' instruction to avoid divorce, but he provides an additional out: abandonment.
But to truly understand how God feels about divorce, you have to go back a little further in scripture. When addressing the topic of marriage and separation, the prophet Malachi used blunt language: "The LORD God of Israel says, 'I hate divorce.'"
God hates divorce. You cannot find any clearer expression of God's heart toward marital relationships. Keep it together because God hates divorce.
As a fairly recent divorcee, I sometimes wish that verse did not exist. I wish that God's desires were more nebulous, more open to interpretation.
Perhaps that is due to being raised with a harsh judgment toward divorce. Perhaps it is because I misinterpreted the scripture, falsely assuming that if God hates divorce then he must also hate divorcees.
When my wife left me, I had a trusted friend encouraging reconciliation. He challenged me to fix some things that I had done wrong and encouraged me to view the situation through my ex's eyes to the extent that I was capable. At the time, we were only legally separated. The decree for divorce had not yet been filed; as far as the courts were concerned, she and I were still married; reconciling was still an option.
During this time, my friend asked me a tough question: why does God hate divorce?. I cannot remember the exact answer that I provided, but I can guarantee I was incorrect. I said something about how marriage was supposed to be a reflection of God sacrificially loving the church and that divorce insulted the way God designed us to function. My answer was super spiritual and overly wordy. In response, he provided one word: interesting.
I was still wrestling with the idea that divorce was sin - something that would separate me from God.
Looking back now, I think I was misinformed.
After that conversation with my friend, I received the email from my wife notifying me that she was not interested in making it work. Since then, papers were filed, lawyers were hired. We have been through court appearances and mediation and I have watched the toll it has taken on our kids. I have endured harassment from her friends, rearranged my schedule to maximize the time I have with our kids, and waded through discouraging text message interactions that I wish never happened.
After these experiences I have two words to describe divorce. It sucks.
As a married man, I wrapped so much of my identity in being a husband that I have been forced to rediscover who I am. Since losing my marriage, I have been walking wounded. It has been a season of trials, growth, and healing.
I still believe God hates divorce, but not for the same reasons I once held. I now believe that God hates divorce because it sucks. I believe in a God whose plans for us are to prosper and not disaster, who provides for our needs, wants us to soar like eagles.
I believe that God wants what is best for us - that he has our best interests in mind. God hates divorce because it is devastating. The emotional turmoil, the financial stress, the strained relationships. If God wants the best for us, this is not it.
One other false belief I have abandoned: the notion that God would hate me if I got divorced. Instead, my new-found singleness has brought me closer to God. Even in the least ideal situations our God is still a God who works in everything for the good of those who love him.