We live in a time when Christian values and practices are not only challenged but made obsolete. Divorce is becoming one of the major challenges to the existence of family concept all over the world. People from all walks of life, including Christian ministers, become involved in divorce episodes. The recent divorce laws have made the dissolution of marriage so easy that some lawyers advertise divorce services for meager cost. Samuele Bacchiocchi laments, “What a sad commentary on the cheapness of marriage today! What God has united, many will put asunder for less than the price of a good pair of shoes.”
India is not listed among the top fifty countries where high divorce rate exists, but this dangerous phenomenon is becoming more and more prevalent. Every now and then we hear of divorces happening within the Church too. A recent survey conducted by George Barna research group in the US shows that born again Christians are just as likely to divorce as are non-Christians. Christian marriage wows are being changed from “till death do part us” to “as long as we both love, like and do not hurt each other.” The values of the world is thrusting its influence on us. John Stott points out, “…the Church is in danger of giving into the world.” Therefore, this subject of divorce cannot be simply ignored.
Several reasons have been put forward to explain why divorce in the contemporary society is so common. Some of the them include women’s liberation, masculine shortcomings, economic issues, genetics, lack of commitment, peer pressure, escapism, lack of role models and easy legislative procedures. In India, abuse of women, childlessness and dowry issues form prominent reasons for divorce. Andrew Cornes observes some of the changing sociological changes which influence divorce rate. Moreover, Gary Collins writes, “There is no one cause for divorce. Every marriage is different, and each divorce comes because of a unique combination of causes and circumstances.” However, the prominent reason for the increase in divorce among Christians is attributed to the decline in religious convictions. John Stott comments, “Undoubtedly, the greatest single reason is the decline of Christian faith in the West, together with the loss of commitment to a Christian understanding of the sanctity and permanence of marriage, and the growing non-Christian assault on traditional concepts of sex, marriage and family.” This is true not only with the West but also with Indian Christian community.
The legislative laws have made divorce procedures easy. Nevertheless, the consequences are distressing. Divorce can affect people physically, psychologically and spiritually. Stanley Grenz comments that divorce affects the person involved in it more than anyone else because the pain associated with divorce involves loss of innocence and dashing of dreams. Moreover, divorce leads to emotional struggles, purposeless decisions and inter personal conflicts. It affects the two people involved, but its influence can extend to children, parents and other family members. In a research done in US by psychologist Judith Wallerstein, “Thirty seven percent of the children claim to be consciously and intensely unhappy and dissatisfied with their life in post-divorce family.” Divorce on the whole disrupts society. Stott, beautifully summarises the effect of divorce. He states, “Divorce contradicts God’s will; frustrates his purpose; brings to husband and wife the acute pains of alienation, dissolution, recrimination and guilt and precipitates in children a crises of bewilderment, insecurity and often anger.
There is no end to the number of excuses by which individuals divorce their spouses in this post modern world. Some excuses are silly and even funny. On the other hand, there are excuses which seem to be valid and invoke our sympathy. For instance, there are wives who live under abusive and intimidating husbands. Moreover, people in their marriage, come across circumstances like incompatibility, childlessness, physical abuse, terminal sickness and “death of real love.” Even some Christians, in situations like this, seek divorce. Unfortunately, there are Christian scholars who encourage divorce on certain issues, which though seem practical, contradict the biblical teaching on divorce. They base their arguments on human logic and pragmatic reasons. Robert J. Plekker lists some of the popular excuses or reasons people bring about to justify divorce. Although some of them sounds reasonable, the mandate of the Scripture should precede all decisions.
In most Western nations, there are approximately 16 distinct reasons for which divorces are granted. In India, however, there are approximately ten main reasons are generally accepted as sufficient grounds for divorce. Although the civil laws of various nations permit divorce legally on many grounds, the Bible does not permit a Christian to practice it apart from the exceptions discussed in the paper. Some argue that the exceptions given in the Bible are not exhaustive and they are time bound. Hence, they claim that God would approve divorce if it is for right reasons, though not categorised in the Bible. It is true that the Bible teaching did not anticipate and address all the modern family problems, but that does not nullify the overarching teaching of the Bible on divorce. For example, today, incompatibility is seen as a major reason for divorce. While Paul addresses the same issue in Corinth, he does not permit divorce (I Cor.7:10-16). Therefore, I believe that apart from the exceptions given in the Bible, no other excuse can be justified.
Divorce, as discussed in the introduction, has become a commonplace event. Christians including pastors are no exceptions. Further disturbing is the fact of remarriages and repeated divorces. The Church cannot remain silent and witness the people of God swirling in sin. I would like to suggest a few points for perusal and implementation within the Christian community. First, the biblical teaching should be upheld over all matters regarding marriage and divorce. Divorce is sometimes seen as a natural development of modern world system. However, this worldly thought should not be allowed to take over the Church. The ministers of God must recognise divorce as a sin against God and preach condemning it. The fact that many in the Church are divorced should not hinder the condemnation of this sin. Moreover, we sometimes come across reputed Evangelical scholars trying to justify the practice of divorce in order to gain acceptance among people. A causal look at the books that come from the West shows this. The researcher feels that this is the major reason for the decline of biblical pattern of marriage in the West. The Church, should therefore, return to the Bible and its mandate. Cornes suggests that the Church should teach the believers the New Testament teaching on marriage, singleness, family, sex, roles of spouses and prepare them for life-long marriages.
Second, the Church should involve more and more in serving its people by giving right kind of pastoral care. Educating and seeking to change public perceptions are not enough. Married couples today undergo tremendous pressures because of the fast paced world and its demands on them. Moreover, there is a constant pull from the world outside to compromise on Christian values. Therefore, caring fellowship groups should be initiated; elderly and matured Christians should be allowed to mentor young married couples. When friction and difficulties arise within marriages, the Church should be in a position to minister to them and bring about reconciliation between partners. Moreover, when a married couple begin to contemplate on divorce, the Church should appoint qualified counsellors to help them evaluate their marital situation realistically and if needed help them to admit and confess each other’s mistakes. The researcher is convinced that when the Church begins to give right kind of pastoral care, divorces would become gradually extinct.
Third, divorce should not be viewed as an unpardonable sin. Like any other sin God does forgive the sin of divorce if a divorcee genuinely asks God for forgiveness. Therefore, divorced people should not be viewed as untouchables or eternally condemned sinners. The innocent partner of the divorce must be helped to overcome the pain of divorce and failure. Divorcees would need compassion, guidance and support to cope with post divorce emotional turmoil. We should not forget that although God hates sin, he loves the sinner. The same attitude is expected from us towards the divorced.
What does the Bible say about this important subject? Are there grounds for divorce? If yes, what are they? These are some of the imperative questions which need our attention. Related articles are found here in this blog.
By Sam K John