One of the young people in my church youth group is suffering in a number of ways because his parents have announced that they’re getting divorced. It is a very acrimonious split from what we understand, although he hasn’t opened up about the details. All he has said is that he remembers reading that ‘God hates divorce’, and so God must now hate his parents.
What do I say to him?
There can be few things more traumatic for a young person than to see his parents divorce. We feel as though they never should but they often do. Someone once asked me if grace meant that he was free to divorce his wife? I said that grace meant he was free to stay as well as to leave but to use grace to leave would be as sad as to use the law to make him stay.
We cannot truly love anyone we need. Although marriages sometimes fail it doesn’t mean that divorced people are failures. Even if the church writes them off God doesn’t. It’s hard enough for children to come to terms with the fact that their parents ‘hate’ one another let alone having to deal with the thought that now God ‘hates’ them too! He does not hate them never could and never will.
In Matthew’s gospel the Jews test Jesus on the subject of divorce. They hope to trap him on a point of law just as they did with the woman caught in adultery [John 8]. They asked him if it was lawful to divorce in any circumstances? [Matthew 19]. Jesus’ answer leaves not only his would be accusers wrong-footed but also throws the disciples of balance.
The plan was swift… If Jesus said “No” then he’d be contradicting Moses who had made legal provision for divorce in the law [Matthew 19:7] if he sanctioned it then he’d risk being accused of license.
Jesus’ answer underscores the main difference between law and grace. The Law is based on a contract grace is based on covenant. Jesus’ reply speaks about the mystery of the covenant of divine union. A covenant reflected so dimly in the mirror of earthly marriage.
The Jews protested. Moses made provision for divorce in the law… Indeed so but this reasoned Jesus was a concession made because of the hardness of our hearts. Men can and do break contracts but a covenant it represents cannot be broken and thus to attempt to set aside covenant by entering into another is adultery.
The disciples conclude that this standard is too high and it is better to be remain single. Jesus’ reply elevates the discussion once more – this is not given to everyone only the spiritual eunuch receive such a saying.
Now contracts require mutual undertakings covenants don’t. Marriage depicts the covenant God made with man. Even in remarriage the covenant remains unbroken. What if the person gets remarried – isn’t he or she an adulterer? Perhaps but even so let us not forget what Jesus said to the aforementioned adulterer “Neither do I condemn you”.
Christianity is based on a simple premise: God is love. Get that wrong and everything else is skewed. It seems like our young person has been given the wrong premise about God. The God of the Bible doesn’t hate his divorcing parents. God hates the damage that divorce will do to his parents and their loved ones.
In life we get punished by our decisions not for them; our actions have consequences here on earth not in heaven. God doesn’t even judge us, we judge ourselves and automatically assume he does too. We project our guilt and shame on him and so assume he is condemning and judging us when he’s not.
Now whilst this young person’s mother and father’s feelings for one another have obviously changed it is important to understand that God’s feelings towards them has not.
So let’s spell it out once more, this young person need have no fear that their parents might go to hell because they got divorced any more than he or she should harbour any hope that they’d go to heaven simply because they endured an unhappy marriage. Heaven forbid. Grace doesn’t work like that which is just as well since that would make God a hypocrite since by his own admission he is a divorcee or at least that is how he describes himself in Isaiah 50:1.
Article originally written for Youthwork Magazine.