“Well, when you get divorced, you should make sure your next husband has a shorter last name.”
I was stunned. Most likely the woman’s intention was not to be rude or crass, but I could hardly believe that she’d said those words to me.
I was about to cast my vote in the 2016 presidential election. In the small country town where I live, we still do things the old-school way. There was a lady writing down the names of all the voters by hand. When she asked me for my full name, I spouted out all eleven syllables of my first, middle, and last name. She paused for a moment, then said a little sheepishly, “I’m just going to put down your middle initial.” I laughed and told her not to worry because I know my name is long.
“It used to be ‘Jones,’” I told her, “but then I got married and picked up a couple of extra syllables.”
She laughed and responded jokingly, “Well, when you get divorced, you should make sure your next husband has a shorter last name.”
I blinked at her in disbelief. I did not know if she realized how offensive her comment was. Wanting to save her the embarrassment, I simply replied, “No ma’am, I am keeping him.”
I am not sure if the surprise on her face was from realizing how rude her comment sounded in contrast to mine, or from hearing such words come from a twenty-something young woman like me. With the same amount of surprise in her voice as was written on her face, she stuttered for a moment and said, “Well… good for you.” And I think she meant it.
It wasn’t until later that I fully realized just how tragic that incident was. “When you get divorced”? She had said it like it was inevitable. Yes, I know the statistics. Most authorities say that forty to fifty percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. But this used to be considered a tragedy in the secular world as well as the Church. Now it is just the norm? Why are we not grieved by this? I know that this woman is only one person with her own story and her own views on marriage and divorce. I have no idea whether she is a Christian or not. But I feel that her careless remark is consistent with the current attitude toward divorce in Western culture and even sometimes within the Church.
Let it be understood that, in this article, I will speak only of Christian marriage. Marriages in which one or neither spouse is a Christian are a topic for a different discussion. In current Western Christianity, I believe that Christians give up on marriage all too easily.
My study of Scripture compels me to believe that God does not condone divorce in Christian marriages. Nothing in either the Old Testament or the New ever instructs God’s people to seek divorce. The few places in which divorce is even mentioned always present it as an unfortunate and imperfect situation. Divorce is not a viable solution to marital problems. It is only a different kind of problem. Yet, I have heard it said that, statistically speaking, Christian marriages fare no better than non-Christian marriages. Why is this? Below are five unbiblical reasons why Christians I know have ended their marriages.
1. One spouse is not fulfilling his/her biblical responsibilities as a husband/wife.
As far as I can tell, Ephesians 5 offers no concession that your requirement to fulfill your marital responsibilities is contingent upon whether or not your spouse fulfills theirs. Paul instructs his readers to love their wives and respect their husbands regardless of what their spouse does or does not do. That is the nature of a covenant; both parties fulfill their obligations unconditionally.
2. Sexual immorality
Some would say that Scripture permits divorce in the case of sexual immorality (Dt. 24:1, Mt. 5:3). However, all these Scriptures are really saying is that, unless the wife has already committed an indecent act, the divorce itself causes her to commit adultery, in which case the husband is guilty of causing his wife to sin. That is not permission. It is a warning.
There are other places in Scripture that warn of the fine line between divorce and adultery (Mt. 19:9, for example). Various conflicting interpretations aside, at the very least this shows how serious the issue of divorce is in God’s eyes. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain caused by sexual sin within marriage. But if both spouses truly have a relationship with God, I believe that forgiveness and reconciliation are possible and always preferable to divorce.
3. God told you to get a divorce
There is no Scriptural precedent for this and God does not contradict Himself. In searching the Scriptures, I have found nothing that permits or instructs two Christians to obtain a divorce. Everywhere that it is mentioned, it is always spoken of as something that is displeasing to God.
God’s word always directs us to move toward relationship and reconciliation, especially in the Christian community. It is even more important in a covenant relationship such as marriage. If you think that God is telling you to get a divorce, you need to test that instruction against God’s word and the wisdom of the Christian community. It is not God’s voice that you are hearing.
4. Being unwilling to admit that you are struggling in your marriage
Some people give up simply because they have isolated themselves and have no one to turn to for help. Christians do this in more than just marriage. For some reason, we are afraid to admit to one another that we have flaws or that we are struggling, so we act as if nothing is wrong. This only leads to isolation and despair, which in turn causes us to make poor decisions. God created us for community.
As Christians, we need one another. There is no shame in that. If you are struggling, please seek the counsel of a wise Christian or group of Christians before you do anything that is contrary to God’s word. Then be humble enough to receive the instruction and encouragement that comes from your brothers and sisters in Christ.
5. Buying into the cultural lies about marriage
Modern Western culture has painted a picture of marriage that has nothing to do with God’s design. Songs, stories, movies, and other cultural texts portray marriage as a relationship that exists for the sole purpose of mutual happiness. When the marriage fails to meet our emotional needs, we are told that we have every right to quit. I hear Christians make excuses like these: “He can’t love me the way I need to be loved,” or “We had a good marriage while it lasted, but it ran its course.” These come from secular images of marriage that we accept all too readily in place of God’s intended design.
Glorifying God with your marriage
The biblical purpose of marriage is not personal happiness; it is God’s glory. That understanding should completely change the way that we approach marital difficulty. Divorce does not glorify God, so why do we treat it like it is an option should our marriages not turn out the way that we want?
For a more detailed description of God’s design for marriage, here is a study that I did on the topic of the biblical roles of husbands and wives: Becoming One – A Theology of Marriage
Friends, I am by no means condemning anyone who has been through a divorce. Nor am I saying that there are never any legitimate grounds for divorce. That is a different discussion entirely.
My intent is simply to encourage people to seek God when marriage becomes difficult. Do not believe the lie that you should just give up. I have seen many Christian marriages end for reasons that are contrary to God’s word. Brothers and sisters, we need to remember that God created marriage for His purposes and He defines its parameters, not us. We cannot trust our own desires or the culture’s voice on the purpose and conditions of marriage. Please do not close your ears to God’s word because what He asks of you is difficult. Instead, seek Him and commit your life to obedience regardless of the cost.
That is the heart of the Christian life.