The Morality & Likelihood of Divorce

The Morality of Divorce

Getting legally bound to someone is something that is hard to undo. Yes, you can undo it, but many governments intentionally make this difficult in order to discourage people from treating marriage casually. That said, many marriages are mistakes, and many others turn into messes. Despite what kind of guilt trip your religious community might be laying on you about divorce being a terrible sin, the reality is that God does not want us to abuse each other and treat each other like dirt. So when a marriage (or any relationship) reaches a point where people are abusing and being abused, things need to end. Often in a toxic marriage, obtaining a legal divorce is a very necessary and appropriate step to take. Of course it is true that many people give up too easily, but as is always the case with humans, there is never one simple explanation that fits all situations. What this means is that looking down your nose at someone because their previous marriage fell apart is a case of you passing judgment without knowing all of the facts. God isn’t a fan of people assuming the worst about each other, either, so if we’re going to talk about God’s view of divorce, we need to first understand how God judges people.

Divine Judgment

God uses a very different system of judgment than humans do. Humans are heavily influenced by labels, external actions, stereotypes, and their personal experiences in life.

The only Chinese man Joe ever met was a jerk, so when Joe meets a second Chinese man ten years later, he immediately assumes the second man is also a jerk. When Clara hears the title “Pastor”, she immediately assumes Tom is a trustworthy fellow who always makes moral choices in his personal life. When Rick sees a teenager slipping a hand into his pocket in a store, Rick immediately assumes that the kid is shoplifting because he has formed a belief that all the teens in his area are brazen little thieves.

In all of the examples I just gave, judgments were being formed without any personal knowledge of the person being judged. Such a system is not only unfair and unpredictable, it also gets quite dangerous when the person casting such impulsive, uninformed judgments is given great power to harm anyone who he labels as “bad.”

So what about you? If you have a negative view of divorce, it’s a useful exercise to think about what your view is actually based on. Perhaps you’ve heard it said that “God hates divorce,” and you love God, therefore you figure you ought to hate what He hates. The problem with this popular theory is that it wasn’t God who told you He hated divorce–you heard that theory about God being promoted by humans. If you’re a Christian, here is where you might whip out a Bible verse (likely Malachi 2:16 or Matthew 19:8). And as a Bible teacher, I’d come right back at you with a challenge that you explain the context of those verses. You see, a single quote from God can’t be yanked out of an ancient document and treated as a general instruction for all of humanity. People do this with their religious tomes all of the time, but there isn’t any religious book that you can pluck off a shelf in which the Deity being quoted is talking to you. In books where God is quoted, He is always talking to someone else (such as the person who is jotting down His words). The point is that until you talk to God today and wait for Him to answer you, you really have no basis for claiming that you understand His personal view of divorce.

Just as you might dislike dogs in general but really like one particular canine, God’s general moral code can differ quite a bit from His personal instruction to you. This is especially important to understand when you are lugging around moral guilt over the fact that you got a divorce in the past. Let’s assume for a moment that God isn’t a fan of divorce in general. Well, how does He feel about your personal situation? God is far more merciful and compassionate than humans are, and He always considers context when judging a situation. When you judge someone in context, it’s like you stand in their shoes and see the situation from their point of view: feeling what they felt, understanding what resources they did and didn’t have available at the time they made their decisions, and being able to see the difference between what the person wanted to do and what they actually did. Humans simply aren’t capable of judging like this because we can never get inside each other’s heads, and we can’t travel back in time to relive the experience from all perspectives. Even if we could clearly communicate our inner worlds to each other (which we can’t) most of us aren’t very well acquainted with ourselves so we’re consciously unaware of much of what drives our own behavior. Happily God has none of these struggles. While you might look back at your messy marriage and grossly oversimplify what happened and condemn yourself for not doing things which you did not have the resources to do at the time, God sees what really went on. God sees all of the information: He sees exactly where you were at, exactly where your spouse was at, and He effortlessly comprehends the many complex dynamics that drove you two into the marriage and back out again. The point is that if you want to resolve your guilt about getting a divorce, you need to start by talking to God for yourself. And when you talk to Him, you need to have an open mind and be willing to hear Him give you feedback that you aren’t expecting. God is simply much easier to succeed with than humans are.

The Likelihood of Divorce

Now maybe you weren’t the one to get a divorce. Maybe it was someone you knew–someone whose divorce impacted you very negatively. Many people hate divorce because they got nailed with the fallout from their parents divorcing when they were young. In fact, witnessing someone else’s ugly divorce is a common reason why people resist the idea of getting married themselves. “It will never last,” is a common belief among those who have seen friends and family members go through the devastation of a marriage turning sour. But again, is this a reasonable conclusion to draw? Is it really fair to say that you have no shot at a happy marriage just because someone you knew had a bad experience? Other people’s choices don’t dictate what your choices will be. Your life story isn’t destined to repeat the miserable story of someone else’s life.

There’s a strong psychological principle among humans that causes them to attach more significance to what happens to people who they feel personally connected to. For example, Jen’s mom died an ugly death from ovarian cancer, so now Jen is terrified that she will also die that way. There are many women who get ovarian cancer in the world but Jen didn’t think much about them until her own mother got the disease. Now Jen feels like there’s some unwritten rule in the universe that daughters are destined to be plagued with the same problems that their mothers have. But of course this is just nonsense. While Jen obsesses over statistics of mothers and daughters who contracted the same form of cancer, she is ignoring how many daughters don’t experience their mothers’ health problems.

Humans are a rather nervous bunch, and they are very uncomfortable with how little control they have over the world around them. They instinctively try to ease this discomfort by searching for patterns that will give them the illusion of understanding what will happen when. The problem is that humans are so desperate for understanding that they start seeing patterns where none exist. Soon we’re making up rules like “alcoholism runs in families” even though in countless families where someone regularly gets drunk, there are plenty of members who don’t ever develop a problem with alcohol. Or we say things like: “In my family, marriage never lasts.” The problem here comes down to not understanding how humans were designed. We simply aren’t bound by the choices of other humans. Rather than be destined to suffer the same miseries as those we are close to, we’re actually destined to differ from each other in significant ways. This is because the God who made us all is a huge fan of variation and He has intentionally designed humans to respond to the same situations in different ways.

By nature, war is highly prone to traumatize humans. Yet while many soldiers do develop psychological trauma from participating in battlefield situations, many others do not. How do we explain this difference? It has to do with core variation. Every soldier who goes into battle is carrying a different set of resources and his own combination of mental defenses and soul beliefs. Every soldier also has a different personal background. All of these factors significantly impact how the soldier will handle his experience of war.

The same could be said of marriage. Okay, so maybe your parents, siblings, and friends have all gotten divorced. But you are not them. You are your own unique little package of mental resources, soul beliefs, and past experiences. So is your spouse. While people can zoom in on specific traits about the two of you and try to use those isolated factors to predict whether or not your marriage will make it, such predictions aren’t worth much. It is the entire combination of you going into the marriage, not just a few parts of you. It is the entire combination of your spouse going in as well. Who knows what obstacles the two of you can surmount together? Why put limits on it before you even start?

For every marriage that looks like a bad idea and turns out to be a disaster, there are other marriages that seem ill-chosen only to work out fantastically. This is what is so fascinating about humans: for every pattern that they seem to follow, there are countless exceptions. While it is certainly wise to try to learn useful lessons from the mistakes others make, you need to be cautious about letting other people’s disasters scare you away from ever trying things in your own life.

This post was written in response to a request.

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