A Redemptive Perspective on Divorce

Divorce may be the most broken experience in the fallen world.  It certainly ranks high if not the highest.  I say this because it is such a reversal of God’s creative intent.

God created oneness, shalom and mutuality between male and female in marriage–it is not good for humans to be alone.  Humans are created for community–even when marriage is not chosen, community is still necessary for human beings since we were created as social beings.  Community is necessary to fully image the relational community of God’s own life. We cannot be the image of God if we are not also beings-in-relation just as God is being-in-relation.

Divorce is the total deconstruction of this divine intent; it is the opposite of imaging God and living missionally in the world as the iconic representation of God’s life through imaging what is really real (that is, God’s own life).  The brokenness of divorce is contrary to the divine intent at so many levels.

But God does not intend for his creation to remain broken or for his people to continue to live in broken conditions that bar them from experiencing his creative intent.  God’s redemptive intent entails mending the brokenness–not just in some future reality, but even in the present. A theology that leaves divorced people to a permanent brokenness or even forces them to live in that brokenness by community pressure/threats fails to embrace the redemptive purpose of God in the world.

At one level, God intends to heal the wounds of divorce–not merely in the future, but in the present. Healing does not have to await the new heaven and new earth but can be experienced in the alreadiness of communion with God through his Spirit. The wounds of resentment, guilt, hurt, and shame–among others–can find resolution through the grace of God and his community. The divorced can once again experience shalom.

At another level, God intends to redeem the brokenness by renewing community among the divorced. I understand that this community can be renewed through living in community with the people of God, but I also believe this redemption may come through remarriage.  God may renew his original intent among divorced people–it is not good for them to be alone.  The joy, initmacy, fellowship, mutuality and relationship of a man and woman is still something God yearns for his creation though he offers relationship in other ways as well for those who so choose or by circumstance find themselves without choice.  His creative intent is still operative and it is redemptive for those who have experienced the brokenness of divorce.

I do not intend to engage in any kind of exegetical debate in this post or focus on particular texts.  I have previously recommended Rubel Shelly’s book Divorce & Remarriage: A Redemptive Theology for detailed discussions. My concern here is at the macro-level–the flow, tenor and goal of God’s actions in the world.

At bottom, do we embrace a redemptive orientation toward the divorced or do we deny them by our particular constructions of texts, theories, inferences, etc. the redemptive purposes of God for their lives? God does not, I think, intend to leave the divorced with the name “Abandoned” or “Shamed,” but he intends to rename them “Chosen” and “Beloved”–chosen and beloved by the ecclesial community as well as a potential future spouse should they so choose. The redeemed people of God should act redemptively toward broken people, including the divorced.

For those interested, my three sermon series on this topic is available at the Sycamore View Church of Christ website. Look under the September date. The teaching statement by the Sycamore View elders is a good example of a redemptive approach to those who have been hurt by divorce. It is available here.

Thus concludes my short–and all too brief–series on divorce. It is painful to remember and reflect on the topic, but it is so pervasive in our culture and churches that we must address it redemptively as we seek to embody the life of our Redeemer.

13 Responses to “A Redemptive Perspective on Divorce”

  1.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    John Mark I have believed this perspective on divorce for a long time. MDR was the first “traditional” tenant that I came to have a different point of view on. Holding that pov has not removed or softened any of the shock, denial, anger or any other emotion. You said,

    “Divorce is the total deconstruction of this divine intent; it is the opposite of imaging God and living missionally in the world … The brokenness of divorce is contrary to the divine intent at so many levels.”

    What a painful thing to read. Even with the hope of renewal knowing that I participated in “the total deconstruction of [the] divine intent” is immense. You mentioned wearing the big “D” on our forehead, it comes even when you desperately did not want it.

    Still searching for that shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  2.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Yes, my brother, it is painful. I cringe in the face of that reality for myself and others. I just want to curl up into the fetal position and waste away. It is a horrendous feeling.

    God’s redemptive story is what brings hope and ultimately shalom–redemption for the widow as well as the divorced; redemption for the addict as well as the greedy.

    Shalom comes so easy for some, it seems. The facades we wear often give off that message. But in my life shalom is a long, painful process that comes and goes in my heart. I yearn for the day of redemption when shalom will fill the earth and fill my heart never to leave it again.

  3.   Nick Gill Says:

    The only things worse in terms of broken experiences and violating the divine intent seem to be sins perpetrated upon children. Sexual sin, abandonment, whatever.

    We who are adult, maturing Christians have some sort of framework to begin to cope with and seek grace for assaults of brokenness. Kids have no such framework; they depend on us to protect them.

    When the protector really does become the attacker…

  4.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    A broken or dysfunctional home tends to create those who mistreat children and divorce itself is an assault on children.

    All brokenness is horrendous and needs healing. Ranking is fruitless, I suppose. It all hurts.

    Perhaps the best we can do is sit with all who hurt and live in brokenness as fellow-sufferers.

  5.   Nick Gill Says:

    Christians have gotten in the business of pretending that since we’re Christians, we’re not broken anymore.

    It is a misunderstanding of redemption that leads to exclusivity and pretense as we “fake it ’til we make it” and leave a swath of pain in our wake.

    I realized as I hit “submit” that my wording in my previous comment sounded critical of your opening remarks about divorce. I agree that all aspects of brokenness work together in creating chaos and despair.

    “Who will rescue us…” indeed!

  6.   rich constant Says:

    john mark
    thanks again for posting
    i think?
    35 YEARS AGO

  7.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    Divorce is quite literally hell on earth. And it has only been since December for me and shalom seems a long way away.

    Your series has been providential … maybe in a while I will have the where with all to post my Dates that Changed My Life … it is too ugly at the moment.

    Bobby V

  8.   RICH CONSTANT Says:

    i have so much to say on this subject .looking back has put me into a funk for the last few days.
    i am still trying to formulate the words.
    i do not like the feelings.
    i need time to get this together.
    oh all the SHIT.

  9.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    I think that is an appropriate word actually for the “stuff” of divorce. I confess it has come off my tongue more than once …

    Bobby V

  10.   Trent Tanaro Says:

    When we lost my mother in 99′ to an auto accident, my Father said I can’t imagine, but divorce has to be “worse” than death. Was he even to how it feels perhaps?

    Love to you….

  11.   Trent Tanaro Says:

    was he even “close” to how it feels perhaps?

  12.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    It is all relative, of course. Everyone’s circumstance is different.

    But in my own experience divorce is “worse” in the sense that it is ongoing, involves some feelings that death does not (rejection, shame, etc.), and has a communal stigma.

    Ultimately, loss is loss, and the loss fills up the spaces of our experience so that we feel it as deeply as we feel another loss. Suffering is like a gas that fills up the space available, and in that sense there is no hierarchy of suffering.

  13.   Rick Dugan Says:

    Thanks for an insightful and compassionate post. As a pastor who went through a divorce myself, I’m grateful to see more redemptive conversations on this painful topic.



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