“For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” Malachi 2:16 (NLT)
Along the journey I have come to perceive that I and my fellow Jesus followers are prone to what I call “misapplied emphasis.” We see a nugget of truth, pull it out of the overarching context of God’s Message, hold it up into the spotlight, and place so much emphasis on it that it no longer fits into the landscape of truth from which we plucked it. We love, in particular, to do this with sin.
In my never ending sojourn through God’s Message I have learned that there are some foundational concepts about sin:
- Sin breaks things.
- In God’s economy, if you commit just one small sin, you are as guilty as if you broke every rule in the entire book.
- No one can earn salvation by being good enough. You can’t wholly fix yourself.
- We are all, every one of us, broken.
- God redeems what is broken.
Our modern culture can scarcely imagine what life was like in the days of Malachi. Divorce was not just a moral issue but an issue of social justice. In the culture of that day women were treated more or less like livestock. Jewish men ritually prayed “God, I thank you that I am not a gentile (a non-Jew) and I thank you that I am not a woman.” If a man wanted to divorce a woman, he just simply presented her with a certificate of divorce. It was a cultural death sentence and she immediately became a societal problem. She had no social standing with which to get a job, get an education, or make a living. Often, the only options for divorced women were begging or prostitution. That’s why God followed up the statement “I hate divorce” with the explanation that a man of that day divorcing his wife was to “overwhelm her with cruelty.” Through the prophet Malachi, God is listing out some of the ways that the priests of that day had been dishonorable. The problem of men callously casting off their wives to become society’s problem was up at the top of the list. It was a matter of fidelity and honor, but it was also a matter of justice.
So, of course God hates divorce. Divorce was not in the original plan. Divorce is not the ideal. However, we are broken people. We lead broken lives. We experience broken relationships. The fact that Malachi spotlights divorce as an example of how the priests of his day were dishonoring God does not elevate divorce as a greater or more heinous sin than any other sin. Write “God hates” on a piece of paper and you can fill in the blank after those words with any and every wrongdoing you can think of. You can aptly say that God hates gluttony, but I’ve noticed there appears to be little concern nor stigma attached to this behavior at church potlucks. At the same time, as a broken person who is divorced I can share specific instances of being treated with suspicion and contempt by my fellow believers because of the scarlet “D” they seem to see indelibly stitched on my chest. Misapplied emphasis. Lord, have mercy on us.
I am divorced. The story of my journey did not end on Friday, May 13, 2005 when a judge signed the divorce decree. My story is still being written as day-by-day I struggle with the consequences of my past mistakes as well as my continued brokenness which daily reveals itself in my pride, arrogance, ingratitude, greed, laziness, indulgence of appetites and a host of other behaviors that God hates just was much as He hates divorce. But my story does not end with divorce any more than Jesus’ story ended at the cross. I am in process and am experiencing a greater fullness of love, life, joy, peace, and goodness than at any other time of my entire life.
Good news: Jesus came to redeem what is broken, and that includes me.