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Dealing with Divorce Created 12 December 2014

I am well advised not to write about divorce while I'm going through one. Three days ago from today represents the three month mark since I heard the news.

Here's why I'm doing it: a) If there's biblical error in my thinking, then I want to know it before the legal process is concluded, and b) I do feel a certain sense if unease about the way husbands in particular may be advised in this area.

Whilst I believe that what I have written here is correct, I cannot say with a clear conscience that, however much I have wished that I had, I have at all times adhered to it.

Divorce and Law picture

I say from the onset that I believe the Bible is a relevant and updated book, and that it is God's word on practical issues pertaining to this life. Obviously that includes marriage. I think it should be the pinacle of advice in terms of marriage problems and the first place to go to for guidance. Without addressing the fundamental principles - as recorded in Scripture - all other advice serves to confuse the issue. The pastors and friends I reference in this piece possibly feel the same way - we probably only differ in the pre-eminance, relevance and application of certain passages.

This is my view on marriage:

Whilst Marriage should be upheld - especially by professing Christians - here are Ten Principles to keep in mind during Divorce

First, separation and divorce is a life event that regrettably happens to Christians and non-Christians almost by equal measure. It should not be like this but it is. These types of statistics say one of two things: 1) a significant number of those who call themselves Christian are really not at all Christian at heart, and 2) a significant number of genuine Christians are either soulish or carnal in their thinking (see a related article here).

Christian divorce statistics image

People who proclaim the Christian faith today are almost just as likely to divorce than Atheists.

Where Christians should be setting the tone for good, healthy, strong family lives, my marriage has not done that. It is a shame. A sad statistic that seems to show that being Christian makes you no different to the rest of the world. Whilst it has not had tumult or improprieties, it has been dissolved - an acknowledgement of the failure of the two parties.

Second, no-matter how great the differences between marriage partners, the thing that should hold the two together should not be a legal contract but the real commitment they once proclaimed. That is the security of marriage - it is not based on a contract or on feelings alone but on a heart's commitment of faithfulness and dedication to becoming one with her or him. This brings about a covenant, which sits at the core of human integrity. It is significant that so serious and so practical does the Holy Spirit see the marriage covenant - the solemn commitment of one to another - that neither a wife nor a husband is to assume charge over their own bodies[12] , let alone their own tastes and preferences. The Holy Spirit sees a covenant as meaning, 'mine is yours and yours is mine' in even the most personal thing we have - our natural bodies.

Without keeping in-tact the integrity of one's commitment to dedication and faithfulness towards a life partner, what integrity is left to be relied on in any other life circumstance or commitment? If you cannot uphold a covenant it is not possible to guarantee that you will uphold any lesser commitment. Those who are not faithful in that which is important cannot be faithful in that which is not.

Third, by the time the marriage covenant is annulled - as has been the case with mine - then you will have already needed to have grounded yourself in God and in Scripture to deal with the pressures which you will need to deal with. It is a most confusing and troublesome experience. Thus, you will need to have already built a relationship with God so that He can show you the way. There is no 'my way' in this - certainly not for the born again Christian. The key is to hear Him speak and to do what He says, even if your emotions say differently[13]. God already knew the divorce would take place. He was not surprised. What then makes you think you have a better perspective on the issue than Him ? So, why would you want to follow your way? Doing what God says is the very definition of knowing Him[14]. This is the time to prove (or disprove) both to Him and to yourself where you stand on this issue.

Fourth, there is hope. Even in divorce. Hope is at the centre of everyday life. And it is key to going through trauma, even if you are the one who initiated the divorce. Or even if you are the one who messed up. Further still, if you carry no blame at all. There is hope.

But hope should be in God, not in the outcome that you would like to see. He is able to help. And He will. He will do what is good - always. It may not be what you would have liked Him to do. But He will do good - always.

God does not expose you to stuff that you are simply unable to handle[15]. What you're going through in divorce carried His approval before it started. He is in control. He is sovereign. He has your best interest at heart, even if He feels really distant.

Remember, God is not remote or indifferent[16]. But He does resist the proud and He does give grace to the humble[17]; know the Bible, search your heart, forgive the other party. Forgive yourself. Repent if you need to. Do not be bitter[18]. Change your ways as He shows you. Be thankful. Yes - be thankful[19]. He is being good to you[20]. Really.

In obedience is rest (see a related article here). In obedience is hope.

Fifth, when trauma comes around it is part of life. There are seasons in life[21]. Trauma is one such a season. But it is a season. It will pass. Do not wish for it to be over. Do not wish for it to be gone. Wish for God to do the work in you which He had intended to do. Use the 'winter' to 'stay put' and get work done 'inside the cabin'. Spring and Summer will come when there will be no opportunity for it. There is a time to laugh and there is a time to 'cry'. Life is practical. Without having truly experienced the downs, how can you appreciate the up's?

Sixth, when - not if - trauma comes you will want to have already cultivated a close relationship with genuine, born again believers who clearly hear the Lord[22]. As things turn upside down - often overnight - you need godly council. Hearing the Lord for yourself is good. In fact, it is absolutely essential. But also, confirm what you've heard through those who hear God as well, if not better, than what you do. It is key to making sense of it all. Such people will bring you relevant Scripture at the right time. Not the 'here's something sweet to make you feel better' type of Scripture (I mean no disrespect), but the 'God wants you to have this particular passage' Scripture. That is a word in due season. That is guidance. That is comfort. If you have people like that in your life you are blessed. If you don't, well, you ought to do something about it, very quickly. Hang with those who are genuinely born again. Hang with those who hear the Lord.

Seventh, as Job had well-meaning but erroneous friends, so do you. Face it, so do you! Knowing the 'Job friends' from your born again, Spirit-filled ones makes all the difference. It has been amazing to me to see the response when friends have offered their support. In my case I have been fortunate that I have not needed too much logistical or emotional support (although I have made use of it at times). As such, I have always only asked for two things: 1) PRAYER that both parents would hear the Lord clearly and that both would have the courage to do exactly what He says[30], and 2) PRAYER that the young children caught up in this 'failure of adults' would have "a soft landing". Then, I would wait for the response. Some would say, 'okay, thank you, I'll pray for that'. And then they would. Some would be faithful to their offer and pray for it all the time (these are few but you are really blessed when they're around). Don't forget to bless these people and to thank God for them.

It is remarkable, however, how others would respond: "Sure, .... but let me share with you what I think you ought to do; you ought to ....."[23]. Did you see that? People who profess the Christian faith show virtually no confidence (no faith, no trust) in prayer and in asking God for His wisdom so that His will be done. People who - through their advice, in place of prayer - presume to know better than God.

Job's friends.

I have sat with Christians - even ministers of faith - who have graciously offered their time to help remedy the situation. We would speak about the origin of the problems, the impact of the divorce on the children, the need to fulfill one's Christian duties, the reality that we are all equal before the Lord, the need to not be stubborn but to relent, the need to accept the other, the need to tolerate the other, the need to cry, the need to have faith, the need to try again, the need to hope, the Scripture that says God hates 'divorce', the idea that a promise is a promise, which great books to read, whose wonderful advice to follow, and, of course, the fact that they - the concerned friends and pastors - are there to help.

But, what are the things that I have seldom heard my advisors talk about:

Advice about these things? No, not so much!

Sad.

Eighth, divorce is a good opportunity to think just about yourself for a change! But not in the way you may think. No, it is not a time to see how much you can get out of property settlement, or in the way of sharing parenting duties - although you may have no choice but to make a strong case for it - but it is a time to consider what in you needs fixing. It is a time when you can stop thinking what God needs to change in the other person and focus exclusively on what God wants to change in you. It is a time when the best possible opportunity presents itself to go to God's workshop for 'repairs'.

Are you perfect? Have you already finished the race? If not, then what about you does God want to work on next? No, its not about Him working on your marriage - although that may be part if it - but it is about the stuff that He has for some time already had on His To Do list for you. What does He want to change in you?[24] Ask Him. He already knows.

Ninth, divorce is a time to show grace[25] when grace - seemingly - is not due. It is a time to 'bless and do good to your enemies'. To do good works. No, it is not a sell-out or an acknowledgement of guilt. If nothing else, it is an opportunity in which 'general Christian living' comes into play; to do unto another as you would have them do unto you.

Give honour where honour is due. If he is a good father, acknowledge that. If he is not, don't lie about it. If she turns out not to be the spend thrift that you once made her out to be, then acknowledge that. If she is, then don't lie about it. But have grace. It is not for us to allocate a sentence. It is not for us to take revenge. The Lord will take vengeance where vengeance needs to be taken[26]. He will repay. Have faith in that.

If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever - the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:15-18)

Divorce hurts children image

Tenth, mourn. Mourn the loss of a relationship. Mourn the loss of a friend. Mourn the loss of dreams, ambitions and plans. And mourn the predicament in which your kids now find themselves. Mourn when you need to mourn, and rejoice when you need to rejoice. He will deliver. He will save. He will succeed. Rejoice.

There is a thing which is not covered in any if these ten principles. It is guilt. Guilt assumed by yourself and guilt assumed by friends. One way to judge you and to put guilt on you is to suggest that you have not tried hard enough, even if you have. I have had friends - good people - say this to me: "She would not have done that if she didn't have good reason for it".

Do you see it? It is an argument that suggests that people always make rational - A-emotional - decisions. That, simply, is not correct. "The heart is deceitful above all things" says Jeremiah, "who can know it?" Who knows what exactly drove her or him to their decision?

Who knows if they themselves truly know what hurt, unforgiveness or bitterness lurks within the deep recesses of their own heart? If that is so, then how can you or I assume we know exactly what the situation is all about, or that we would have done it differently if we had inherited exactly the same life? So, to suggest that the party on the receiving end automatically deserved it, or that the party on the giving end had no justification for it is short sighted at best. I am not excusing a decision to divorce without biblical consent. I am against it. But we cannot assume we know another person's life well enough to pass judgement on it.

Best husband ever image

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her (Ephessians 5:25)

'Good husbands Lay down their lives - they do what their wives tell them to do'

- Really?

At another time a good friend suggested to me that I need to love my (ex)-wife like Jesus loves the church, and that that means that I - the husband - will accept, tolerate and approve of all things on which my (ex)-wife insists, even if I didn't agree. The inference was that I needed to prove my love for her by a limitless acceptance of her wants. It was said that if I truly loved my wife - like Jesus loves the church - I will "lay down" my life for her.

Mmm, now that sounds right, doesn't it!? But, it isn't.

Jesus never compromised truth. He never compromised holiness. And he never compromised adherence to God's sovereign order. Yet, He did not spend one minute on earth without total agape love. What that means is that agape love does not compromise God's truth. It does not compromise God's holiness. And it does not compromise God's sovereign order. In total love He always pointed to truth. He always was holy. And He never did or say anything which did not carry the approval of the Father. Jesus honoured God first before He honoured any human being, including His own mother. And He honoured God by honouring His divine way.

In laying down His life for the church - by loving the church with agape, self-sacrificial love - He, Jesus, laid down His position in society. He laid down His status. He laid down His worldly possessions. His health. His relationships. His comfort. His time. His safety. His energy. His hobbies. His interests. His popularity. His opportunities. He laid down His life. What He did not lay down were the things that were not His to lay down: God's truth[27], God's holiness[29], God's sovereign order[28]. These He upheld because He loved God first - with all His heart, soul and mind - just as the greatest commandment said He should.

Pastor 'With-the-times' and Pastor 'Lot's-of-Experience', a husband who lays down his life for his wife is no different to how Jesus loves the church; he does not compromise God's truth[27], he does not compromise God's holiness[29] and he does not compromise God divine order[28].

Footnotes:

[1] Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2) [back]

[2] 4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6) [back]

[3] 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24) [back]

[4] Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been witness Between you and the wife of your youth, With whom you have dealt treacherously; Yet she is your companion And your wife by covenant. (Malachi 2:14) [back]

[5] Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 14) [back]

[6] 12 But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. 15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:12-16) [back]

[7] 10 Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from herhusband.  11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to herhusband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:10-11) [back]

[8] 18 “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery. (Luke 16:17-19) [back]

[9] This question, interestingly, relates to the question of "eternal security" through the question as to whether or not a persona may lose their salvation. Thus, may the "new covenant" between them and God be annulled? The answer, contrary to popular teaching is Yes, a personal may lose their salvation. This happens not because God somehow lost control or protection of the person in question, but because they made a conscious, willfull decision to turn from God. In such cases the Bible says, 4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6). It is surethat the Holy Spirit did not write things in the Bible which are irrelevant. As such, it is entirely poiible that a genuine believer - like Adam - may turn away from God in rebellion - exactly like Adam did.

It follows that if the covenant between God and man can be annulled a conscious, willful decision, the covenant between husband and wife can also be annulled. [back]

[10] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27) [back]

[11] 3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3) [back]

[12] 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. (1 Corinthians 7:4) [back]

[13] 3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. (1 John 2:3) [back]

[14] 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Romans 8:14) [back]

[15] 13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13) [back]

[16] 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. (Matthew 10:29) [back]

[17] Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists theproud, But gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5) [back]

[18] ... looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest anyroot of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled (Hebrews 12:15) [back]

[19] 16 Rejoice always,  17 pray without ceasing,  18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) [back]

[20] your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:8) [back]

[21] To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
2 A time to be born, And a time to die;
A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted;
3 A time to kill, And a time to heal;
A time to break down, And a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, And a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to gain, And a time to lose;
A time to keep, And a time to throw away;
7 A time to tear, And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, And a time to speak;
8 A time to love, And a time to hate;
A time of war, And a time of peace.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) [back]

[22] Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14) [back]

[23] 39 And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?  40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.  41 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye?  42 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:39-42) [back]

[24] 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.  32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:31-32) [back]

[25] 37 “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  38 Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:37-38) [back]

[26] Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19) [back]

[27] For whoever iashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8:38) [back]

[28] Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as MyFather taught Me, I speak these things. (John 8:28) [back]

[29] 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  16 because it is written,“Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16) [back]

[30] 15 “If you love Me, keep My commandments.  16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—  17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.  18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:15-18) [back]

[31] So He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands.14 Yet you say, “For what reason? Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; Yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. (Malachi 2:13-14) (back)

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Please consult the Bible and test what is written here. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom in this area. Keep that which is good and reject that which is not Scriptural. Should you come to a different understanding than I please let me know - perhaps I can learn from you.

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