Different Christians believe different things about divorce. Like homosexuality, it is an issue on which those who sincerely seek to follow the way of Jesus have not yet come to one mind.
Some Christians believe that marriage vows are unbreakable. These are Christians with a more ‘conservative’ view of life (such as Roman Catholics and others for whom traditional beliefs are compelling). The conclusion they come to is that even in the distressing circumstances in which a couple separates, they are still married from God’s point of view. (Very occasionally they recognise that a marriage never really was a marriage and it can be annulled – for instance, if the couple have never had sex.)
There are other Christians who accept that divorce is the best thing in some circumstances – for example, to relieve one partner of intolerable oppression, unfaithfulness or desertion. These Christians have come to the conclusion that God would prefer that men and women separate formally, because his heart is set on people coming to a point at which life is fulfilling and good. This would be the view of people with a more ‘liberal’ understanding of the Christian faith.
However, in both cases Christians view marriage as very important indeed. It begins with vows that it will last for an entire lifetime. Divorce is never taken lightly, and is certainly not regarded as merely a way of moving into a new phase of life.
Church leaders (even those who recognise divorce as sometimes the best way forward) do not unquestioningly marry those who have previously been married if the former partners are still alive. Before doing so they want to talk about why the previous marriage came to an end and help those involved come to a point at which the things that went wrong have been forgiven. They want to be sure that a new marriage is not going to cause grief to former husbands or wives who have been ill-treated. At heart, they want all the people involved to thrive as men and women loved by God.
An alternative that is frequently offered to divorced couples embarking on a second marriage is to marry each other formally in a secular ceremony (in a registry office) and subsequently to have a service of blessing in a church, in which prayers are said and promises repeated.
There is rarely divorce without pain. Even when divorce comes as a relief, it follows the pain of broken relationships and dreams, and great anxiety about the impact on children. Christians seek to help create a stable society in which everyone has the best chance of a good life. So they uphold the seriousness of wedding vows. But they also respond with compassion to deep hurts by recognising that separation is sometimes necessary.
Words from the Bible which declare that God hates divorce are often quoted. These words do not imply that God has a hateful attitude toward those who are seeking divorce. Rather they mean that God grieves alongside the people for whom this separation is taking place, and his heart breaks over the pain it involves.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘because the man who divorces his wife covers his garment with violence … So be on your guard and do not be unfaithful.’
Where to find it:
About these words:
Written about 500 years before Jesus, these words suggest God’s sadness at the pain involved in divorce.
And they said…
Robert Anderson, North American church leader:
In every marriage more than a week old there are grounds for divorce. The trick is to find, and continue to find, grounds for marriage.
Robin Williams, comedian and actor:
Ah yes, divorce! From the Latin word meaning to rip out a man’s genitals through his wallet.
Pope Benedict XVI, explaining Roman Catholic provision for divorced people:
The divorced and remarried continue to belong to the Church, which accompanies them with special concern and encourages them to live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion – listening to the word of God, prayer, participation in the life of the community … dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children.