“What God has joined together let no man separate” (Matt 19:6) is Jesus’ response to the Pharisee that asked about divorce.
“I hate divorce…” (Malachi 2:16) is God’s other response to divorce.
But I constantly find it necessary to remind people “God hates divorce, but still love divorced people. This is a message that needs to be heard. John’s wife left him after 11 years of marriage and took the two children to another state. He cannot see them but once every few months when he makes the thousand mile drive. He is angry with her, with the system, and even God for allowing this to happen.
There are many reasons why people divorce and break the marriage covenant against the will of God. The statistics are cold and clear. 1)50% of those who marry today will divorce. 2)On the stress scale, divorce and separation are ranked 2nd and 3rd. Only the death of a spouse is rated higher. 3) More than 80% of those who are divorced will remarry within three years and 65% of those marriages will fail again. 4)More than a million children each year are involved in divorce and more than 13 million children under 18 live with one parent so that single parent families are growing at a rate twenty times faster than two parent families. Divorce profoundly affects children, in-laws, friends, businesses, churches and even society itself. The stories of tragedy are many. The pain is real.
DIVORCE AMONG CHRISTIANS
Divorce among Christians is getting higher and higher, with many feeling rejected and inadequate and feeling alienated from their church. The common complaint is that churches are focusing on the needs of intact families and ignoring the divorced.
This is tragically realistic for two reasons. 1)We have simply not learned how to offer ministry to those going through the emotional, financial and physical pain of divorce. 2)Those experiencing divorce often mistakenly assume the church will only judge them and therefore avoid any contact with their church family.
To offer support to families going through divorce, the church should offer the following:
Offer Forgiving Love! When a couple separates we really do not know what to do. There is no ritual. We don’t visit for fear of taking sides. Divorced people receive few cards and little food. There is no visitation or funeral. There is only silence and silence condemns us! A shoulder to cry on, listening ear, call them regularly, offer food, offers to baby-sit and most of all prayers. It’s often the simplest gestures that offer the most reassurance. We can extend our forgiving love.
Offer Understanding Patience! Most experts list four basic stages of recovery for divorce:
- Survival: There are more responsibilities but less income: more demands but less energy. The pace is often frantic and filled with the anxieties of learning to cope alone.
- Grief: A precious relationship has died and divorced people must grieve. We can’t sleep. We lose weight. It is often difficult to concentrate.
- Identity: Trying to find your identity again such as redecorating the house to buying a new car, going back to school or diving into a new relationship can be an exciting but dangerous time of discovery.
- Directions: We are becoming more comfortable with who we are as single adults and beginning to think about our future.
All of these stages take time and it is so important for us to be patient and ready to offer help.
Offer Continuing Guidance! Divorce is clearly a sin against God and the sacred covenant of marriage, but it is not an unforgivable sin. Your church has a unique opportunity to become a source of healing and encouragement for the separated and divorced. Many churches sponsor divorce recovery workshops each year. I don’t completely understand why the workshops work so well, but I am certain God is wonderfully present amidst the stories of intense loneliness and suffering providing comfort, strength and hope for the future.
No matter what causes marriages to end in divorce, it is not the end of the world for families. God specializes in loss causes and people who feel they have no hope. Jesus said to the crowd: “If you had one hundred sheep, and one of them strayed away and was lost in the wilderness, wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine others to go and search for the lost one until you found it? And then you would joyfully carry it home on your shoulders. When you arrived, you would call together your friends and neighbors to rejoice with you because your lost sheep was found. In the same way, heaven will be happier over one lost sinner who returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15:4-7)
Like a sheep lost in the wilderness, the divorced among us need to know about the loving God who is willing to go out and actively search for them and will joyfully celebrate when they are found. Bible says faith without works is dead, let’s be our brother’s keepers. ***
Larry Davis & Dee Adekugbe