March 27, 2019

The Ongoing Sin of Divorce

Gary Thomas — 

Heather married a Christian man who seemed zealous to serve God. He gave generous amounts of money to God’s work and even dreamed of eventually doing a reverse tithe—giving away ninety percent of his income and keeping ten percent for himself.

Today he’s still involved in missions work, still gives away a lot of money, but he sins against God in a particularly painful way every single day of his life. I don’t think he realizes it, but he does.

You see, he had an affair fifteen years ago, divorced Heather, and married the woman with whom he had the affair. Over a decade later, he and his new wife look like a model Christian couple and command a lot of respect, at least from humans. No one wants to judge them because the divorce happened so long ago.

From God’s perspective, things might look a little different.

Heather lives in a modest apartment and now must keep working well into her sixties. Understandably wary because she thought she already had married a “solid Christian man,” she has lost confidence in dating guys that seem fine on the outside because who knows what’s within?

Every day that she is alone in that apartment the sin of divorce hits her afresh. Every day she has to keep working into her sixties, the sin of divorce is renewed. Every day she tries to navigate the pain of adult children who have to “split” time between their parents—meaning she sees them about half as much as she otherwise might—the sin of divorce keeps hurting.

Heather is God’s daughter. Do you think God looks at what has happened and keeps happening to his daughter on a daily basis without anger? This is not to suggest that divorced women are helpless, weak, or unable to fend for themselves. Many do quite well for themselves and even thrive. In other instances, however, divorce can essentially create a “social widow” who becomes newly vulnerable. Her financial options are limited. Her ability to remarry may be compromised.

In the cases of these “social widows,” ex-husbands should take note: according to Scripture there are two demographic groups you don’t want to mess with or oppress, and one of those groups is widows. “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan.  If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.  My anger will be aroused…” (Ex. 22:22-24a)

When a divorced woman, a social widow, cries out to God, “He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice” (Deut. 10:18).

Society has changed quite a bit in the past four thousand years, often for the better, so not all women feel so vulnerable in the face of divorce. But God isn’t just about his daughters surviving; he wants them to thrive and anyone who stands in the way of his plans can expect appropriate discipline and opposition.

Men, when we marry a woman when she is at her youngest, strongest, and healthiest, and then pursue a divorce because we’ve gotten bored with her or think we’ve found someone more compatible, or younger, or any frivolous reason, it’s not one sin. It’s a daily ongoing sin. Every day you leave your ex-wife in less than cherishing circumstances is a day you have reneged on your vows and newly offend not just your Heavenly Father, but your Heavenly Father in Law.

Women, the same is true for you, as you’re married to one of God’s sons. The man may have disappointed you, but he’s still God’s son. He may have earned less than you thought he would or had more baggage than you realized, but there is no unbiblical divorce that’s a single sin; it’s a daily, on-going sin. While the Bible doesn’t have the same verses about widowers as it does about widows, it does paint Christian husbands as “dearly loved” by God and therefore under His watchful eye.

I mention “unbiblical divorce” because I’m not talking about those forced into divorce to flee abuse and behavior that was slowly destroying them. In those cases, divorce is a cure, not a weapon. In my upcoming book When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom From Toxic Relationships my friend Megan Cox describes her divorce from an abusive and unfaithful husband as a “gift from God.” I don’t want this post to add to the hurt divorced women and men already feel when God has given them refuge. This post addresses a particular kind of divorce, when divorce is used as a weapon instead of a cure.

It’s like chemotherapy: I hate that anyone has to undergo such drastic treatment, but I thank God for the lives chemotherapy has lengthened. It would be the height of cruelty, however, to give chemotherapy to someone who didn’t have cancer and who didn’t need it. Divorce is just like that: terrible, but sometimes necessary, and outright reprehensible if used when not needed.

We live in a culture of binary thinking—when I challenge divorce, I’m going to get pushback from those who feel I’m challenging them because of their own divorce. I’m not. I’ve spoken plenty about the church standing up for women in abusive marriages, in my books and several blog posts such as Enough is Enough. But sometimes, to be honest, anti-abuse advocates are so (understandably) sensitive about defending divorced women they become angry when I mention that most divorces are still a sin, as if I’m judging them. I’m not.

What I am saying here is that unbiblical divorce isn’t just a sin—it’s an ongoing sin. It’s the difference between an unmarried couple that gives into passion one night and has sex and the couple that decides to live together. Spiritually speaking, those are two different situations. Divorce is like the latter.

So, just as I advocated for those who have needed to find refuge in divorce, let’s remember that unbiblical divorce isn’t without consequences. I hate seeing women (and some men) left lonely and aching while some other spouse has “moved on” and finds full acceptance and respect without honestly considering not just the harm they’ve done, but the harm they keep on doing.

Ann Wilson, co-author with her husband of The Vertical Marriage, mentions several conversations with people who got divorced rather young, remarried, and now, looking back, realize they could have and should have made the first marriage work. They were just frustrated and disappointed, and the second marriage convinced them that no marriage is easy. We need to find a way to gently encourage such couples to hang in there and make it work. Without shaming abused women to stay in a destructive marriage, we also have to remind couples that the marriage covenant is a serious one that is designed by God to be broken only by death. We’re in a new phase of the church where, in order to avoid appearing judgmental, we may be becoming too lax and too “tolerant” of divorce for reasons that could and should be fixed. This grieves the heart of God and makes us weaker people while creating a weaker church and hurting children who grow up in broken homes.

So what if you’re that guy or that woman, who divorced your spouse when you know you shouldn’t have? If reconciliation is possible (i.e., if remarriage hasn’t occurred), you work your way back, as much as your ex is willing. If they’re not, you wait. How long? I can’t answer that in this blog, but any responsible answer is measured in years, not months (again, I’m not talking about those who escaped abusive marriage or sexually unfaithful marriages when it might be unwise and unsafe to ever return).

Men, if remarriage isn’t possible, I believe you owe it to your ex to make sure you’re not living better than she is. If someone has a bigger house (or a house instead of an apartment), it should be her. If someone drives a newer car, it should be her. If one of you has to keep working later in life, it should be you. You made a pledge that was between you, your wife, and God. The state’s legal dissolution doesn’t negate a covenant made in the sight of God. Repentance isn’t just about feeling sorry; it involves making things right, as much as it is in your power to do so.

I still stand by my blog post “Enough is Enough,” on not shaming women to stay in abusive marriages. In rare circumstances divorce can be a cure, but far more often it is used as a weapon without considering the ongoing sin that such a divorce represents. As people who made our pledge before a God whose memory is long and whose passion for his children is fierce, let’s live our lives accordingly.

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111 responses to The Ongoing Sin of Divorce

  1. Is un repented adultery, no matter how long ago, and lying to your husband (spouse) about it, grounds for divorce?

  2. I feel like all of your blog posts are directed right at me. This one hits home in a lot of ways. Thank you for writing about things that many other people feel uncomfortable with.

  3. I read this blog with tears in my heart. Some of us divorced women are made to feel shame, even we are not the one who instigated the divorce, we are looked upon as soiled goods, when our ex-husbands are the pillar of society. Thank you Gary for this posting. I live outside the USA, how/where can I obtain a copy of your that has been mentioned. May you continue to deal with issues others hide away from tackling. Gods blessings be upon you and your family.

  4. DeAnna Ramirez March 29, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    My husband is a porn addict. There was always extra people in our marriage. I let things go on this way for too long. We have been married 37 years. He has tried many times to push me away from him. Sex was non-existent and still is today some 10 years later. I’m tired. So tired. But I was taught that marriage is forever so here I still am. unwanted and miserable. Now he decides he may want to leave because I stopped just letting it go. Now that he has wasted my love and life. Yet, had I divorced him it would have been “unbiblical”. Christianity is a cruel mistress.

  5. Thank you Mr. Thomas for your helpful articles and blog. Hearing other stories is so helpful. I am currently going through a divorce. I am the one who filed. It was the most difficult decision I have ever made. I know there are two sides to every story and I know I am not a perfect wife, but I have never done the things my husband has done that led me to my decision to divorce. He is not disabled in any way, but has not helped me pay bills in 6 years because he has not had a full time job in 6 years. He got fired from his last full time job. He says he can’t find a job, and it’s not his fault, he says because no one will hire him for anything. He is doing drugs, but denies it, even though I have found the paraphernalia & drugs. He doesn’t think he has a problem with drugs because he “maintains”. The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was finding out about an affair. He denies that sex ever happened, but that is not what text messages say. I found out about this other woman 10-2-2017, confronted him and demanded he stop contact with her. He kept telling me he had stopped contact with her, but I continued to find evidence that he had not. In the beginning of August of 2018, I had enough of all of it and filed. He refused any kind of marriage counseling and every book I read (there were several) about how to save a marriage where all considered trash to him. Since I filed, he still has no full time job, (and it’s not his fault according to him) and he is still involved in drugs. I don’t know if he is still in contact with the other woman, but at this point I really don’t care. He is vehemently opposed to this divorce and is saying I need to quit being childish and uphold the vow I made with him in front of God. What about abandoning his responsibility as a husband to financially support his family? What about the drug use and infidelity? Aren’t those things a type of abuse, even if he’s not beating me up every night? I know God hates divorce, ( I hate this too) but what other choice do you have when your spouse’s behaviors are destroying you emotionally and financially? I pray the one thing that comes out of this mess is my husband’s conversion. If God was his focus, he would be acting differently.

    • You absolutely have biblical grounds for divorce, and I am so sorry you are going through this. Be sure that God is not finished with you, or him, and that restoration and reconciliation ate still possible. You keep praying. But as long as he is being unfaithful, using drugs and bringing it into your home, and not fulfilling his role to take care of you, you have biblical backing. Many prayers for you, sister.

  6. I married my husband not knowing he had a sexual addiction. He didn’t tell me until 15 years into the marriage. I am just now realizing that he stood on the altar and lied through our vows to all the friends and family that were there.

    I spent the first15 years of our marriage trying to figure out why we weren’t like other couples–no affection, intimacy or fun. I was so busy doing that I neglected my daughters and lost out on a relationship with them.

    When he finally confessed his sin, my first emotion was relief. It wasn’t me after all. But then other emotions came flooding. Betrayal, anger, lack of self worth. Now that we have separated (not sure why I didn’t the unhealthy and sinful relationship leave sooner) I am feeling resentful. I “wasted” my life and lost relationship with my daughters because of his sin.

    I spent a lot of money on counseling. He wasn’t interested but went a couple times. A few years ago (before we separated) I asked him if he was still struggling with the addiction. His reply? “You don’t have the right to ask me that.”

    He is sending me just under $2000/month–1/2 of his pension and SSDN. We just had our taxes done and I found out that he made $62k last year. He is going to fulfill his dream this summer. He has always want to ride his bike across country. He even had to buy a new bike (making it his 3rd one) and exrtra “stuff” for the trip. Meanwhile I’m practically living from month to month.

    He was extremely sick from 2011-2014 resulting in a liver transplant. I had to quit working to care for him. I lost my volunteer position as well. Someone in our church died and my supervisor from the pregnancy center I volunteered at was at the funeral. My husband got up to leave the room (from the front row) and passed out and fell to the floor right in front of the casket. My supervisor said I needed to stay home and care for him. I had surgery for breast cancer a couple years ago and he did nothing to take care of me.

    He is unrepentant and I am done.

    Pray for me that I can forgive him and not feel angry for the rest of my life.

    • Forgiveness is a choice. Read Matthew 6-9-15
      Wake up everyday, thank God that you did, ask God to help you.

    • Sue, my ex is a serial cheater and porn addict, plus abusive (emotionally, financially, gaslighting, etc.) I filed for divorce 4 years ago. Our 3 children were young. It was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do and yet God has been so faithful. He has answered so many prayers. My children and I live in a safe home. I am teaching them about good boundaries, manipulation and such, so hopefully they can grow up emotionally healthy despite their very unhealthy father.
      I don’t receive much child support from him (when he chooses to work) so I pray, trust God and work very hard to take care of my kids. I am thankful for my good job. It will not always be this hard for you. Trust God, seek healing, surround yourself with others who care and support you. You can do it. You can thrive after his horrendous treatment of you and the divorce. God has not abandoned you.

  7. “Unbiblical divorce” implies there is a biblical divorce. How strange. Perhaps in some circumstances a physical separation might be in order, but no remarriages, because Jesus said:

    Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

    • It also says that if an unbeliever leaves, let them go and the believer is not bound in such circumstances. 1 cor. 7:15. There are also scriptures on abandonment, indecency and lack of provision Duet. 24 and Exodus 21. When we think about what marriage IS (a covenant of promises) we can see often that the covenant is often broken years ago and sometimes beyond repair, then a divorce is merely the paperwork which recognizes there really isn’t a covenant.

  8. Monica Manning March 28, 2019 at 9:19 pm

    For all of us that fled a psychological and emotional abuse marriage thank you thank you thank you for recognizing us and the difficult decision to leave for our own safety and mental health and that if our children. Many of us stayed for years ( 30 for me) to honor our vows and reading every “how to be a better christian wife” book that drug us into more abuse and added to our shame. Thank you for being a light for us and not another hammer. Blessings

  9. I don’t know, but I think there is a real danger of judging here. There are so many stories of tragic proportions here, and not surprisingly, they almost all speak of the wife being the victim.

    I hesitate to speak out because I am all to aware of my own past sins. I have been an adulterer, and I have been a porn addict. I had an anger problem that I can hardly describe in words. Lets just say that I saw the world in red.

    I was everything that Gary listed as the worst examples. The only thing I was not guilty of was striking my wife.

    That is one side of my story. The other side is what I endured at the hands of my wife. I won’t go into it all because it is not my intent to speak poorly of her, or drag her thru the mud.

    The thing is, I won’t try to make excuses for my sins other than to say I was perpetually alone, and I was completely crushed in more ways than I can count. I did what I did to ease my own pain, or to lash out at the world like an injured animal.

    I was also the only one in my marriage to ever try to fix things, the only one to ever apologize, and despite all my failures, I was the one who never entertained the idea of divorce. My wife always had one foot out the door, tho I strongly doubt that she would ever re-marry. I would never have divorced her, but I have to confess that at times I hoped she would take that step. I’m not sure if that is completely true, because on occasion it would seem like it was inevitable, and I would always convince her to stay.

    If we had ever divorced, my guilt was out there for the whole world to see. Her sins were well concealed.

    The point is, there is a very real danger of looking at what is visible and assuming you know the entire story.

    I agree wholeheartedly that divorcing ones spouse to “trade up” would be a wrong of the highest sort. I know it happens. I also know that by far, most of the time, all of the time, there is more to the story than meets the eye.

    As a recovering porn addict, I correspond regularly with other men who are overcoming. There is a large number of men who share stories of emotional/physical abandonment, constant rejection, controlling wives, and any number of other hurts. That does not excuse their sins, but it goes a long ways towards explaining how they found themselves there. As soon as their sin is exposed, then the wives have cover for almost any behavior. Angry wives are not likely to suddenly feel compassion and have a heart change, so things snowball from there.

    I have learned enough in recovery to know that behind almost every sin is a hurt. Even totally selfish and shallow behavior has a hurt behind it. Very often, that hurt was dealt by the “victim”.

  10. Psalm 86.

    • Kristen, If that was directed towards me, I find myself leaning heavily on Gods word these days, and I know my wife does as well.

      I should have included it in my post, but we are happily married and strong in a way that those who have not endured can understand. We both have to overcome our memories from time to time, to keep moving forward, but we don’t stay there. We overcame much, and celebrate that. We cherish and celebrate each other.

  11. Oh my! You are saying what so many do not have the courage to say. I agree with you. I have never met an adult child that said “Gee! I am so happy my parents divorced and I got shuffled around for years. I’m so excited that I left my homework at dads and my hockey skates and moms. I loved alternating Christmas each year at a different parent home.” No one says that!
    I am proud of you for sticking up for God’s most intimate and ultimate union!
    I suffered infidelity and believe me, I thought about ending the marriage.
    So happy that we did the very hard work, cried the necessary tears, humbled ourselves before God and our pastor and made the marriage stronger in the end. #StrongerThanBroken