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What God Teaches Us About Broken Marriage Vows

Feb 27 2014
May the church offer divorcees grace, not guilt-trips.

Many divorced Christians have felt they step into church wearing a scarlet D. Author Elisabeth Corcoran was one of these. After her marriage of almost 19 years unraveled, Corcoran grappled with pain, confusion, and shame. Those feelings were compounded when she was politely asked to step down from speaking at a church women's Christmas event soon after her divorce. Hush-hush, of course.

Following the recent release of her book, Unraveling: The End of a Christian Marriage, she moderates an online Facebook group for divorcees. She has heard hundreds of similar stories. Divorcees often hear the words "God hates divorce" from others. "I know," one woman wrote. "I'm not such a fan myself."

While research shows that marriages between actively practicing believers fare significantly better than others, the divorce rate within the church is still alarmingly high. Sadly, rather than experiencing the church as a place of comfort and restoration, divorcees often face a guilt-tripping response.

Differences in interpretation about when the Bible allows divorce (if ever) leaves some Christians feeling our hands are tied when we long to extend them in compassion. Plus, our deeply held belief that "it takes two" to make a marriage work mistakenly translates into a belief that "it takes two" to break a marriage up. We subconsciously assign blame accordingly.

However, the truth is that it only takes one to wreck a covenant, as we can learn from God's own relationship with the northern kingdom of Israel.

Our own understanding of marriage is modeled on the very covenant God made with his people. As David Instone-Brewer explains in Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, God was Israel's husband (Isa. 54:5), who took her to be his own and vowed to feed, clothe, cherish, and be faithful to her (Ezek. 16). In stark contrast to God's faithfulness and care, Israel and Judah shamelessly disregarded the covenant: neglecting, abusing and betraying him. The prophets repeatedly called their behavior out as the violation of the covenant it was: adultery (Ezek. 23:37, Jer. 5:7).

God's marital covenant with the northern kingdom of Israel had been wrecked by her hardhearted behavior, and in Jeremiah 3:8 we hear these words: "for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce." In Isaiah 50:1, he asks, "Where is your mother's certificate of divorce, with which I sent her away?"

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