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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

God-Honoring Divorce?

I've made comments on my Facebook wall and in other places that give way to the fact that I believe we can honor God with things like sin.  Typically my Christian friends and acquaintances will grimace when I do that.  After all, the traditional Christian view is that divorce is unacceptable.  One will often hear born-again believers espousing the Biblical wisdom that "God hates divorce."  It's true, God does hate divorce.  But He allowed Moses to implement provisions for the Israelites to practice it because God knew that sometimes hardened hearts make marriage rather ungodly.

Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-2 allowed a man to divorce his wife and for her to be married to another. When Jesus was questioned about this in Mark 10:1-9, He made it clear that divorce was not in God’s order in the beginning, but was allowed because of the hardness of the people’s hearts.  Knowing the nature and character of God, it isn't a stretch to conclude that divorce isn't God's plan for His children.  One can readily imagine that divorce saddens our Lord.  Nevertheless, our human experience ... applied against Scripture and prayer ... sometimes reveals that divorce is inevitable.

Let's face it, some of the marriages that Christians find themselves in are just plain ungodly.  The respective spouses loathe each other.  They don't like each other.  They don't respect each other.  They don't enjoy spending time with each other.  Even being civil to each other can be quite stressful. 

I've counseled couples where the wife would sheepishly admit that she'd told her daughters things like, "I hope you don't grow up and marry someone like your father."  Or the husband would admit that he felt guilty for sometimes wishing his wife would just disappear --- so his life wouldn't have to be so complicated. 

Mind you, I don't advocate divorce.  But if the two have made every possible effort to salvage the relationship ... it may be time to face the inevitable.  Instead of staying together "for the sake of the children," might it be time to divorce for the sake of everyone involved.  If you can't give your kids two healthy parents, can you give them one?  There may come a time when you must submit yourself and your marriage to the Lord, and seek His counsel.  And when you do, you might not be the first person I've ever heard say that the Lord released you from this marriage.  (I think He actually can do that!)

So what happens when you come to the conclusion that the marriage is without a future.  You've prayed and waited on the Lord's leading.  You're now confident that the Lord is giving you permission to exit this marriage.  What then?  Enter my concept of a "God-honoring divorce."  To be clear, I still think divorce is the very last resort.  One should never take it lightly.  It breaks God's hear to see two people get to this regrettable place in their relationship.  But when one or more hearts is so hardened, it's time to talk about how we might go about honoring God with our divorce.

An acquaintance of mine recently sought my counsel on his own divorce.  Experiencing much pain, he asked for my opinion about how he should respond to the hurtful things he was experiencing.  It seemed from the circumstances that his wife wasn't pursuing a very Christ-like response to the situation (despite the fact that she agreed the divorce was the appropriate course of action).  What should he do?  How should he respond to his divorce and his wife's unfair attacks?  Let me share what I told him:
  1. Examine your ways and test them (Lamentations 3:40).  Make sure that you've owned your part in the conflict.  Be sure that you've taken responsibility for what is your responsibility.
  2. Your pain can speak louder than your true beliefs.  Take every thought and word captive to God's truth (Proverbs 4:23 & Proverbs 13:3).
  3. If you think your spouse isn't being fair with you, look no further than Jesus' own example.  He was accused unfairly: 
           - He made no statements on His own behalf.
           - He made no accusations against His accusers.
           - He kept no account of the wrongs of His accusers.
           - He answered questions with as few words as possible.
           - He went into the conflict trusting in the Lord.
           - He went into the conflict planning to forgive His accusers.
While Jesus clearly had no sin, had done no wrong, and knew how right He really was, it's clear from His example and His teaching that if He had done any wrong, He would have readily owned up to it, made whatever amends for it He could possibly make, and accepted the consequences of His own poor choices with humility and graciousness ... and not anger, frustration, fear, or retaliation.
If you are going to walk through your divorce in any way that honors God, you must start now to forgive your spouse for everything that he did and didn't do.  You must expect and plan to forgive or for everything that he will and won't do. 
For men, you committed to love her as Christ loved the church.  That would be the church that accused Him unfairly, spit on Him, beat Him, tortured Him, mocked Him, lied about Him, unfairly and wrongly accused Him, cheated Him, crucified Him, and continued to reject Him even after His human life ended.  Yes, that would be the church that He died for.  And that's the same commitment you've made to your ex-wife or soon-to-be ex-wife.  Now that the marriage is ending, your commitment to God continues.  You will still have to love her like Christ loved His church --- even after your marriage ends.
You will never be allowed to list for anyone, even for yourself, all the things she's done wrong.  You will never be allowed to explain to anyone, or even think to yourself, how right you are or how unjust the situation has been to you.  You will have to hang on the proverbial cross, forgiving her and asking God to forgive her --- even as she drives away with your kids, your money, your reputation, your heart, your sacrifice, your antiques, your family keepsakes, and maybe even your lawnmower.  (I know the lawnmower is a stretch ... but I'm trying to make a point here.)
For women, it's the same.  You love your husband as you love Christ.  You made that same commitment before God.  And divorce doesn't let you off the hook.  You promised to love and honor him - sacrificially.  If you have to sue him to get him to pay his child support, you do so without bad-mouthing him.  If he remarries a 25 year old blond, you sit with them at your daughter's graduation with love and forgiveness in your heart and eyes.  You have anything bad to say about him, you say it to the Lord in prayer.
It's a tall order.  If you're about to divorce, examine your heart and make sure you're up for this.  If the Lord gave you permission to exit this marriage, He gave it with these conditions.  Make sure that you're ready and willing to call on Jesus to help you pull this off.  My guess is you're going to need His supernatural power to do this.
If you're already divorced, even if it's ugly, it's not too late.  Get on your knees and commit your divorce to the Lord.  Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in your responses to your ex-spouse.  Plan to forgive.  Plan to obey.  And plan to walk in the confidence that the Lord has given you everything you need to honor Him with your divorce, the pain of your divorce, the losses of your divorce, and even the scars of your divorce. 
I can't say it too much, divorce is NOT the Lord's plan for His people.  But when it is inevitable, His people can still walk through it in ways that give honor and glory to their Lord and Savior.  The only question is whether you really want to.

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