Christians and Divorce

Christians who fear that ending their marriage would conflict with God’s will should consider the Scriptural recognition that some marital conditions are worse than divorce.

John McKindles

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Mesa Arizona Divorce Attorney John McKindlesMany people stay in an ineffective marriage for years, needlessly and dysfunctionally living in a fantasy world of enabling, distracting, justifying and rationalizing. These unhappy souls will maintain this love-impoverished status until they decide to act or they die. To paraphrase Dr. Phil, they are already divorced; they just have not yet signed the paperwork.

While there are many reasons that people persist in tolerating this depressing existence, the causes ultimately boil down to the fact that they simply choose to do so.

My purpose – as a seminary-trained evangelical Christian, an attorney, and a strong advocate of marriage – in compiling some observations from over 35 years of advocating in family law settings is to address the theological aversion of many unhappily married Christians to considering divorce.

I agree with the noted psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck (in A World Waiting to Be Born: Civility Rediscovered) that there are two good reasons for marriage: (1) for the care and raising of children, and (2) the “friction” (i.e., the smoothing out of each others’ rough edges). However, all too often, a bad marriage stops the resulting environment from being the best one in which to raise children, and/or the friction becomes fracturing.

Many unhappily married individuals come to me professing to be (and, I believe, are) Christians, who are miserable in their marriages but are struggling with the thought of divorcing solely on the grounds of their misery. In our consultation, I first discuss less egregious options, such as effective counseling or pursuing some “tough love” boundary setting. If these and other such options have been tried without success, or if dramatic circumstances (such as actual or threatened physical abuse) exist, we talk about any reasons they can think of to stay with their spouse.

Let me be clear: I do not encourage divorce. That is a decision to be made only by my client and their spouse. However, after they recount to me the litany of horrific incidents that drove them to my office, I ask simply: “If your child were sitting where you are, revealing this same scenario, what would you want your child to do: divorce or continue along the same path?” Then I ask that they view their own plight through the same perspective of love and compassion.

Some Christians struggle with an interpretation of a biblical passage or two that may appear to prohibit divorce. Usually, after reviewing specifically what the passages state, in context, a balanced perspective allows them to make a more informed and supportable decision. In multiple passages, Moses, Jesus and Paul acknowledge that some marital conditions – such as infidelity and abuse – are worse than divorce. (See Exodus 21:7-11; Deut. 24:1-4; Matthew 5:28; 1 Corinthians 7 and the surrounding biblical context.) Further, one could reasonably conclude that the flagrant failure of either spouse to “be subject to one another” or to have a right relationship with the Lord (see Ephesians 5:21-32) could undermine the Lord's purpose in joining the couple together.

Ultimately, each person must decide whether a loving God would prefer for them to divorce over continuing the marital circumstances they currently occupy, bearing in mind that God doesn’t always confirm the right direction prior to a person taking action. In other words, God cannot steer what is not moving forward.

I can say this: Of those Christians whom I have assisted with divorce, I have had none profess regret for divorcing. More often than not, I hear comments such as, “I should have done this a long time ago.”

This article is not meant to encourage thoughts of divorce but, rather, to suggest that, under grave circumstances, after reasonable remedies have been exhausted, divorce is not inherently non-Christian.