Divorce has legitimate and illegitimate reasons. It is clear in the Bible that God’s intention for marriage is that it remain in effect until the death of one spouse. I believe it is also quite clear that God has provided a limited set of circumstances in which a marriage can legitimately be severed. However, many people—even Christians—offer reasons to divorce that are not sanctioned by God. Jim Newheiser outlines a number of these in his book Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage: Critical Questions and Answers.
Here are 10 common but illegitimate reasons to divorce.
“My spouse isn’t a Christian,” or “I wasn’t a Christian when I married my spouse.” Nowhere in the Bible is this seen as grounds for divorce. In 1 Corinthians 7:12-13 Paul very clearly urges men and women in such situations not to divorce their unbelieving spouse. In 1 Peter 3:1-2 women married to unbelievers are called to “be subject to their own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.” Rather than seeking for an opportunity to get out of the relationship, Christians are told to seek for opportunities to share their faith with their unbelieving spouse.
“We weren’t married in a church.” Matthew 19:6 renders this an illegitimate excuse when it says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Marriage is sanctioned by God and is not dependent on the context in which those vows were made. Regardless of where you were married or who married you, if you have made a covenant of marriage, the Lord expects you to keep it.
“I need to get out of this marriage for the sake of my kids.” This is, of course, a justifiable concern, but one that Paul does not neglect to address. In 1 Corinthians 7:14 he says, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” According to Paul, here is another opportunity to endure for the sake of the gospel, so that your children, too, may see your godly example of faith. However, in the case that your spouse poses a threat of danger, be it emotional or physical abuse, your children’s safety is a priority.
“My spouse is a huge disappointment.” “He is a loser (poor provider).” “She hasn’t taken care of herself physically.” “I would have never married this person if I had known what I was getting myself into.” “I deserve better.” Even the best of marriages may enter lulls where thoughts like these remain prevalent for periods of time. Marriage can be hard. Your spouse may grieve or disappoint you greatly. However, this is not a legitimate excuse to bolt, but an opportunity outdo him or her in love (Romans 12:10), to grow in trust in the God who ordained your marriage (Proverbs 3:5-6), and to reflect the faithfulness of God until the very end (Matthew 25:23).
“We are no longer in love.” If God commands us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), we can love our spouse, even if we can’t muster those romantic feelings that once defined the dating or honeymoon phases. The marriage covenant is binding until death, not until one or both of you falls out of love. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “It is no longer your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” When you love your spouse out of obedience to Christ, trust that God can help it grow from the heart and restore the romance that’s been lost.
“I married the wrong person,” or “We were too young.” Perhaps your marriage was built on a foundation of sand. Maybe your spouse does not meet your present criteria for a godly husband or wife. That does not mean that your soul mate is still out there waiting for you. The idea of a soul mate is not rooted in anything scriptural. The person God intended for you is the person you are with now. If you are struggling with these thoughts, you would do well to confess any sin of disobedience or foolishness before God (1 John 1:8), receive God’s forgiveness and continue in the assurance that God works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).
“I owe it to myself to be happy. God wouldn’t want me to be unhappy.” There is a crucial difference between worldly happiness and godly happiness. The first is dependent on circumstance, the latter prevails in spite of circumstance. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” God cares deeply about our eternal happiness! The darkest seasons of marriage can tempt you to despair as the happiest and healthiest marriages around you shine even more brightly, but true happiness in God pushes through those seasons to thank God for any sufferings you may face for his glory (1 Peter 2:21).
My marriage is a constant struggle. In any of the above cases, believers can be faithful to the vows that they made even if their marriage is a struggle. If you believe that you can be happier outside of the will of God, then you are captive to a lie crafted by Satan. Do you really want to pit yourself against the sovereignty and wisdom of God? Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” It is better to struggle through marriage than to defy God by breaking the marriage covenant.
“All my friends say that I ought to leave him/her.” Even friends with the best of intentions can lead you astray. This is why it is important to commit yourself to the full counsel of God in his word, allowing that to become your ultimate counsellor, no matter what differing opinions you hear elsewhere. This is also why it is so important to choose your friends wisely and to stay away from bad company (Psalm 1:1, 1 Corinthians 15:33). Surround yourself with people whose wisdom is grounded in biblical truth.
“God will forgive me.” Apostle Paul directly addresses this in Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Our God is full of grace, but that should not cause us to take advantage of it by being bound to sin. Instead, it should cause us to live in the freedom of his will, desirous of keeping his commands. Christ died so that we would no longer be slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). If you truly love Christ, you will not separate “what God has joined together” (Mark 10:9).
This article originally appeared here.