Divorce has long been a difficult topic in the church. In our culture today, nearly everyone has been affected by it in one way or another. We all know someone, whether it be a family member or close friend, who has experienced the pain of a broken marriage. Or maybe you have experienced divorce first-hand. If so, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how messy and hurtful it can be.
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Divorce and the church have a long and complicated history. The Bible is pretty clear that in most cases, divorce is a sin, but it does offer a couple of exceptions. The first is unfaithfulness, (Matthew 5:31-32) and the second is in the case of an unbelieving spouse who wants to leave (1 Corinthians 7:10-15).
Marriage is a covenant relationship designed by God. His purpose from the very beginning was for it to be permanent and life-long. Jesus taught this truth in the gospel of Matthew:
Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 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’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 19:3-9 (emphasis added)
Jesus’ teaching is clear. Divorce was never part of God’s plan. It was allowed because of sinful man. We find the same teaching in the book of Malachi:
Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” – Malachi 2:15-16 (NLT)
These verses (along with many others) have made the church quite legalistic when it comes to marriage and divorce. Yes, there are many today who just throw away their marriages – many who leave for all the wrong reasons. The Bible is clear that this type of divorce is a sin. But does that give us the right as believers to condemn divorced individuals for life? What about repentance and forgiveness?
I have a close friend – let’s call him “John.” John had a wife who was unfaithful… more than once during their time together. Finally, he had to make the difficult decision to walk away. After multiple chances and broken promises, his heart simply couldn’t take any more. Biblically speaking, he had every right to leave. Unfortunately, John received a great deal of judgment from the church and some of his Christian friends. They treated divorce like the unpardonable sin. They made him feel condemned – like he would never be able to move forward. Only in his young twenties, many made him feel like his life was over and that he could do nothing for God. And he certainly couldn’t get married again or have a family.
John’s story is not that uncommon. Divorce is often treated this way in the church. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make light of divorce. But is it really unforgivable? In John’s case, he had biblical grounds to divorce, yet many in the church still condemned him as damaged goods.
And what about the person who didn’t have biblical grounds? I have another friend who was divorced long before he became a Christian. Once saved, many in the church made him feel like less of a Christian because of his past. They even condemned his current marriage as a sin. Should he be allowed to repent and move forward? Or should he forever be the “man who was divorced”?
Is divorce the unpardonable sin?
God’s hates divorce, just like He hates all sin. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be forgiven if we repent and change our ways. God’s grace covers all sin – even divorce.
As I said before, divorce is a very sensitive topic within the church. Many come from a place of hurt and abuse in this area. While I don’t pretend to have all of the answers concerning individual circumstances surrounding divorce, I do know one thing to be true. If God forgives those who repent, shouldn’t we as Believers do the same?
In the end, not every divorce is a sin. But even when it is… even if you left for improper reasons… there is grace and forgiveness that comes through repentance.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 (ESV)
There is hope after divorce. God can and will restore us if we let Him. In the meantime, we need to be careful as the church not to judge those who have been divorced. Only God knows the hearts and motivations of those involved.
To be completely honest, this post was not written to address whether or not divorce is a sin, but rather as a challenge. I want to challenge you to love and forgive the way God has forgiven you. Be careful not to judge and treat divorce like an unpardonable sin that can’t be forgiven by God.
John 8:1-11 tells the story of a woman who was caught in adultery. She was literally caught in the act, and a crowd gathered around her to stone her to death. Jesus intervened. When her life was spared, He told her to go and sin no more. Her past no longer mattered. He was only concerned about her future.
God extends this grace and mercy to all who repent – even to those who are divorced.
*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
**Photo by Ben White at ChristianPics.co