Why God Hates Divorce
"I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate
a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his
garment," says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 2:16)
I've been going to church for years. I've heard thousands of
sermons, Bible studies, and Sunday school lessons. I've also
preached hundreds of sermons and done a great deal of teaching.
In all that time I can never remember a sermon, a study, or a
lesson on God's harsh words in Malachi 2:16: "I hate divorce."
"Hate" is strong language. Consider, for example, the rest
of the verse: "and I hate a man's covering himself with
violence." God makes divorce and blood-spattering violence
In Proverbs 6:16-19 we read:
There are six things the LORD hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.
No one would argue that the Proverbs list is exhaustive, but
in it we see the kind of company divorce keeps in God's
reckoning. He considers it a detestable thing.
It's also rampant in American culture and in the American
This may explain why Malachi 2:16 doesn't come up too often.
After all, if 34% of married evangelical Christians have
experienced divorce after they have come to faith in Christ, it
takes a combination of great bravery and extraordinary tact to
preach on a text that may to offend a third or more of any given
And besides, we ask ourselves, why would God hate divorce so
much? Good question. Why does God hate divorce?
One obvious answer might be the damage it does to the people
Economically divorce devastates most couples. There are
increased living expenses and legal bills (often ongoing legal
bills if children are involved). A 2002 study published in the
Journal of Marriage and Family indicated that being divorced
resulted in a 73 percent reduction in wealth relative to those
who are married.
This plays a part in emotional damage.
A friend and her husband who was a serial adulterer finally
divorced. In spite of his philandering and her hard work to
keep the marriage together, she said that more than anything
else she felt like a complete failure--a feeling that stayed
with her for years. And that's not a surprise. A US government
report notes that studies have "documented that increases in
depressive symptoms after divorce are long-lasting and that the
prevalence of these symptoms remains elevated years after the
The emotional damage is only exacerbated by so-called
"no-fault" divorce. No-fault divorce, as Jennifer Roback Morse
is a misnomer:
The more accurate, descriptive term would be "unilateral
divorce." One person can unilaterally end the marriage. If the
other person wants the marriage to continue, and is willing to
work to keep it alive, that doesn't matter. The legal
arrangement favors the person who wants to end the marriage, not
the person who wants to work at keeping it together.
Then spiritually, Christians who divorce have a need to
justify God's "leading" them to divorce the very person God
"led" them to marry in the first place. Of course, many unable
to tolerate the cognitive dissonance this creates drop out of
their churches and the faith altogether.
You would think, perhaps, that despite the emotional,
physical, and financial sacrifices those who leave unhappy
marriages would be happier in the end. You would be wrong. A
2002 study by the Institute on American Values stated:
Divorce was never associated with an increase in the
emotional well-being of unhappily married spouses. Divorce did
not make unhappily married spouses personally happier, or reduce
depression, or increase personal mastery, or self-esteem...
Divorce exacts a high price and returns little in long-term
wellbeing. It damages the two spouses. But that is not the
reason God hates divorce.
A second possible answer to why God hates divorce is the
damage it does to children. Children of divorce are more likely
to have behavioral problems and use illegal drugs. They are
less likely to complete high school or attend college, obtain
higher-status jobs, or report happiness as adults.
When compared to children whose parents remained married,
children whose parents divorced or separated were more likely to
engage in sexual intercourse before age seventeen.
 Girls whose
parents divorced or separated early in childhood were more
likely to get pregnant before age nineteen than girls whose
parents remained together.
Elizabeth Marquardt, herself a child of divorce, conducted a
study of the inner lives of children of divorce. Marquardt
Using hard data and a control group of young people from
intact families, we discovered that divorce causes deep and
lasting struggles for children even when they manage to survive
it and look "fine."
This is reflected in what becomes a negative feedback loop.
Women who had experienced parental divorce in childhood were 59%
more likely to divorce than women who had not experienced
parental divorce. 
The likelihood of divorce in marriages where both spouses come
from divorced homes was 189% higher than in marriages where
neither spouse had experienced a parental divorce. These divorces, in turn,
harm the next generation of children increasing the likelihood
that they too will divorce.
This is just a small sample of the vast body of findings on
how divorce harms children. But damage to children is not the
reason God hates divorce.
The reason God hates divorce has to do with God's character
and glory. Divorce tells an enormous lie about God. A couple
breaking their marriage covenant implies that God is or at least
may be a covenant breaker.
While marriage is important because it provides
companionship, an outlet for sexuality, and procreation,
marriage is preeminently a picture of God and his people.
Throughout the Bible God refers to his people as his bride.
Take for example the Old Testament book the Song of Solomon.
Is it a book celebrating erotic love between a man and a woman
or is it a book about God's love for his people? The answer is
it is a book celebrating erotic love between a man and a woman
precisely because it is a book about God's love for his people.
Hosea was called to enact God's relationship with his people
by marrying. His wife, Gomer, is described as "a woman of
adultery" who left Hosea for another man who apparently enslaved
her. God told Hosea to buy her back, that is, to redeem her the
way God redeems us.
In the same way, God says of Israel, his unfaithful,
idolatrous and, therefore, adulterous people:
"I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the
she decked herself with rings and jewelry, and went after her
but me she forgot," declares the LORD.
Those prospects are not good, but that, of course, is not the
end of the story.
"Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her….
"In that day," declares the LORD, "you will call me ‘my
you will no longer call me ‘my master'….
I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and
I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the
(Hosea 2:13, 16, 19, 20)
The relationship between God and Israel is described as a
marriage and we find the same marriage imagery in the New
Testament to describe Christ and his church.
In Ephesians 5, Paul launches into instructions for a
Christian household beginning with husbands and wives. Wives
are to be as the church is to Christ and husbands as Christ is
to the church. "‘For this reason a man will leave his father
and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become
one flesh.' This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about
Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:31-32).
The text so intermingles words about Christ and the church
with words about marriage, that it is difficult to pull the two
topics apart. I suspect that this was precisely what the
apostle intended. In his mind, formed as it was by the Hebrew
Scriptures, marriage between a man and a woman tells a truth
about God and his people. Any particular marriage may tell the
truth well or poorly, but every marriage tells the story.
Finally at the end of all things, when God's people are
gathered and the Kingdom is fully come, the Revelation describes
the celebration as a marriage supper.
"Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear."
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
This truth is touched upon in traditional marriage
ceremonies, but has been largely forgotten in an era where the
focus of weddings seems to be limited to the bride and groom and
their love for one another. The Book of Common Prayer wedding
ceremony begins by reminding the couple and the congregation,
"[Marriage] signifies to us the mystery of the union between
Christ and his Church…." Nothing more important or profound can be said
I believe this is one of the things that must be said if a
wedding is to be genuinely Christian in its character. Just as
each human is made in the image of God, every marriage is made
in the image of God's faithfulness to his people. Small wonder
it is "not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but
reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes
for which it was instituted by God."
There are times when we all wonder whether or not God is
faithful. We may know that he has made a covenant with us that
is sealed by the blood of Christ shed on the cross, but we
doubt. While we are unable to see his covenant faithfulness, we
can see the covenant faithfulness of husbands and wives. Their
fidelity and love--inconsistent and imperfect as they may
be--are intended to be a mirror for the rest of us of God's
perfect fidelity and love.
Divorce smashes the mirror and in doing so portrays God's
fidelity and love as fickle and changeable rather than immutable
and eternal. This lie that divorce tells about God's character
veils and distorts his glory. And that is the reason that God
Is divorce ever justified? Sadly, yes. The Westminster
Confession of Faith says that while our fallen nature wants to
divorce "for any and every reason" (Matthew 19:3), "nothing but
adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by
the Church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of
dissolving the bond of marriage." This criterion, the Confession goes on to say, is
not to be determined by the individuals involved, but is to go
through due process in both Church and state.
We live in a fallen, sinful, broken world and
tragedies--including the tragedy of failed marriages--happen.
We will never eliminate divorce even in the church. As
Christians we must offer help, healing, and the grace of God to
At the same time pastors can and must work diligently to reduce
the number of divorces. This is only possible by insisting on
careful and thorough preparation for marriage, by helping
couples understand the theological significance of marriage as a
witness to God's love for his people, and by reminding the
Church that God hates divorce for a very good reason.
 Janet Wilmoth and Gregor
Koso, "Does marital history matter? Marital status and
wealth outcomes among preretirement adults." Journal of
Marriage and Family Vol. 64, Number . February, 2002.
 Jennifer Roback Morse,
"Why Unilateral Divorce Has No Place in a Free Society"
in Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain, eds. The
Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, and
Morals. Dallas: Spence Publishing Company, 2006. Page
 Linda J. Waite, et. al.
Does Divorce Make People Happy?: Findings from a Study
of Unhappy Marriages. Institute for American Values,
2002. Page 11.
 F. L.Furstenberg and J.
O.Teitler, "Reconsidering the effects of marital
disruption: What happens to children of divorce in early
adulthood?" in Journal of Family Issues, Vol. 15, Number
2. , 1994. Page(s) 173-190.
 Paul R. Amato "Explaining
the Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce" in
Journal of Marriage and the Family August, 1996. Page(s)