Whether you are a Christian or not, divorce is a heart-wrenching, horrifying experience. But, as a Christian, you get married expecting that your vow to God to be together “til death do us part” will be exactly how you live out the rest of your days. You know there will be hard times, hence the “for better or worse” lines. But you also expect that if you are marrying another child of God, both of you will do what it takes to make the marriage succeed and thrive. Unfortunately, the world we live in doesn’t always work out that way. And we find ourselves working through a very unexpected divorce.
So, what exactly are the biblical consequences of divorce that we need to be aware of so we can heal properly? Generally speaking, the biblical consequences of divorce are losing church life (ministry, relationships, support groups), forcing your partner into sin, emotional trauma for all involved, overwhelming guilt, breakdown of the family unit, and most importantly, affecting your relationship with God.
Let’s take a look at these biblical consequences of divorce, along with how those circumstances change depending on your specific circumstances.
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Before Working Through the Biblical Consequences of Divorce, Think About How the Divorce Came About
While the biblical consequences of divorce can be the same across most different circumstances (for instance, guilt and emotional trauma), it is important to realize that these consequences will manifest very differently when the divorce happens based on very different circumstances.
Not everyone who gets divorce chooses to or even believes in divorce. While marriage takes two partners to make it a reality, a divorce can happen with only one partner calling the shots. The other partner may not want to divorce and may try to do everything they can to prevent it, but are powerless to do so if their partner wants the divorce.
In the case of an abusive spouse who refuses to heal the relationship, the victim may file for divorce. But that doesn’t mean they really wanted the divorce. Often, they are deeply grieving the fact that there was nothing they could do to save the marriage. The case of adultery is very similar. Either one of the spouses or both can decide to divorce.
Many times, a devout Christian will think they married a likeminded Christian. But then, down the road, either their partner leaves the faith, or they find that their spouse was never really a Christian at all. This is such a heart-wrenching situation because the devout Christian did everything they thought was right. But in the end, they couldn’t make the marriage work.
Let’s take a look at the specific situations that each one of these circumstances create through a divorce.
Biblical Consequences of Divorce and an Unrepentant or Abusive Spouse
I see this situation on a regular basis in my DivorceCare support group. At least a couple people every new round come in, devastated that they did whatever they could to make the marriage work. But at the end of the day, their spouse chose to leave, refused to repent of damage done to the relationship, or continued to abuse. While the victim spouse was certainly not perfect, they could not single-handedly save the relationship. They were dependent on their spouse to preserve the relationship. And they were failed.
The consequences of this situation are so sad when they are not handled biblically. Here are the biggest ones:
- Separation of the family unit
- Guilt for not being able to hold things together
- Shame and embarrassment for feeling like they failed
- Feelings of spiritual inadequacy for “not obeying God”
- Walking away from God in anger for not protecting them
- Feelings of guilt for being angry at their spouse and possibly responding poorly
- Lack of support from a church that doesn’t understand their position
- Judgment from those who believe the abusive spouse
- Loss of friendships, either because of Christian friends who view them as ungodly or friends that don’t know how to react so they avoid them
There isn’t much we can do for those who find themselves in this situation, other than tell them not to feel guilty for what they could not control.
But now let’s take a look at what the biblical consequences are when the church and people around the victim respond in more biblical ways.
- While they may feel some shame and guilt initially, they will be comforted in their agony. Those around them who understand will support them and not judge them accordingly.
- Having fellow Christians who are willing to pray, read Scriptures, fellowship, and sit with victims of divorce in their pain will help them to heal and come out of the fog so much faster.
- A church that chooses to physically, emotionally, and spiritually support the victim of divorce will help the victim to heal so much better and faster. Ways to do this are providing meals and babysitting for single parents, encouragement and words of wisdom, paid counseling if it isn’t in the budget, and other needs as they arise.
It is critical to the healing of the victim of abuse and divorce to be supported by their church and not thrown under the bus. Unfortunately, there are still many churches worldwide (and even more members within churches that do handle it well) that will destroy the victim because they choose to be legalistic and judgmental rather than show the love and example of Christ.
Biblical Consequences of Divorce and Adultery
The vast majority of churches will support a divorce that comes out of adultery because it is the only circumstance the Bible gives approval for divorce, with the exception of being married to an unbelieving spouse.
Unfortunately, even with the support of the church, the victim of divorce through adultery may still struggle with people who don’t understand their plight and seem to think if they had been a better spouse or did something differently, they would have prevented the other spouse’s adultery.
On the flip side, the adulterer will face their own consequences. In a church that calls out adultery, here are the consequences of someone who commits adultery:
- Destroying God’s one-flesh design for marriage
- Forcing their spouse into another relationship or singleness
- Sacrifice of their relationship with God because of intentional sin
- Loss of membership in their church if they choose to not repent
- Loss of friends and relationships with others in their church
- Loss of extended family who stand in support of the victim of an adulterous marriage
- Emotional instability as a result of the adulterous behavior
- Intense guilt and sorrow at realizing what they have lost
In Mark 10:11, Jesus says, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.” So, while he may think he is getting away with treating his wife so poorly and then deserting her (and kids), God sees.
I honestly doubt that many people intentionally commit adultery against their spouse. And this may be one of the saddest things. One way to prevent this is for both partners to guard themselves against vulnerable situations. Some of those include the following:
- Spending time alone with members of the opposite sex
- Texting or carrying on extensive conversations with members of the opposite sex
- Confiding about difficulties or struggles in your marriage with members of the opposite sex.
When adultery is involved, nobody ever comes out good without a whole lot of help, counseling, and ongoing support. Even then, there will be a huge uphill battle in the realm of healing.
Biblical Consequences of Divorce and the Devout Christian who Falls Victim
I have already spoken about this unfortunate circumstance quite a bit. Even the most devout Christian cannot force their spouse to stay married to them. While two reasonable people can be assured of each other’s loyalty, sometimes we don’t see the sinful hidden behavior in our significant others until long after we are married. And then it is too late to be cautious about it.
For the Christian who falls victim to divorce, let’s help to make the biblical consequences of it healing and nourishing to their body, mind, and spirit. They will already be beating themselves up and feeling huge shame. Let’s not make them feel any worse!
Regardless of how much support we give the divorcing devout Christian, they are still going to feel the weight of the biblical consequences of divorce. Here are some:
- Being forced to commit adultery themselves. While this sounds harsh and unfair, let me explain. In Matthew 5:32, Jesus says, “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
- Shame and embarrassment of public divorce
- Distance from fellow church members who don’t understand
- Possible church discipline from a church that doesn’t understand
- Emotional distance from God because they don’t understand why God didn’t have their back. Many actually realize later that God did, indeed, have their back. Just not in they way they thought at the time.
Biblical Consequences of Divorce and Family Dynamics
When a couple with children of any age face divorce, the biblical consequences can either be earth shattering or peace inducing. It all depends on how their counselors, church leaders, and fellow members process it.
Even in the best of circumstances, family dynamics are destroyed, just by nature of the fact that the two parents will no longer be in the home together as a cohesive family unit. Add new spouses and things get complicated quickly.
This is not to say that divorced people can’t put the needs of their children first and make the best of the situation. Or that it is not better to be divorced than to be in a toxic relationship that the kids suffer in. But it does say, that even in the best of circumstances, children will have to split their time between two households and stability is lost. Holidays are difficult because children are floating between two situations. If parents are at two different churches (likely if they can’t be married and live together, it would be difficult to worship together), then children have to split time between two programs, sets of friends, and social activities.
As children grow, birthdays are shared, weddings are complicated, and babies born add to the complexity.
By the time children are grown, most people have adjusted to the “new normal.” And we all know that life on Earth is not perfect, or even wonderful all the time. We live with the consequences of our actions all the time. So, while we are talking about the consequences of divorce here, we need to remember that while it is good to recognize what the consequences of divorce are, the bigger point is how to work through them in the healthiest way possible. Yes, there are consequences, biblical and otherwise, of divorce that will change our lives forever going forward. But if we are healed, we learn to adjust and make the best of imperfect life.
Biblical Consequences of Divorce and Church Life
Biblical consequences of divorce certainly have a huge impact on church life, for good reasons and bad. Let’s talk about each of the sides. We will start with the bad and save the best for last.
Bad Consequences of Divorce on Church Life
I spent 29 years in my church. I was 22 when I got there. I invested nearly everything I had–women’s and children’s ministry were my life. It was my social life as well, pretty much. I didn’t have family within 12 hours of me or more. And I didn’t fit in very well with my husband’s military career. So church and neighbors were pretty much my whole life.
During our time there, my husband built his reputation as an amazing Christian who was perfectly in control of his life and family. A model citizen. Behind closed doors was a different world. But nobody knew it. And I wasn’t telling anyone.
When things finally went public, my pastor said that 99% of the congregation could see what he really was. And that was probably true. But the other 1% (about 5-8 families) decided to be the very loud majority that were going to stand behind my “amazingly godly husband who was being unfairly persecuted.” It was maddening. I couldn’t go into a room in the church without one of them there who would give me a pointed look, disgusted face, or turn around and walk away. And then there were the comments shot my way.
The last straw was when one man came up to me at our annual church retreat to tell me his wife no longer attends church because of the terrible things I “talked our church leaders into doing to him.” When I told my pastor about that, he said that she never went to him or any other elder to find out exactly what the situation was.
What was even worse, is that there was a public announcement as to what my husband had done, why they were helping our counselors get him removed from our home for the kids’ and my safety, and that they were working with us to find healing. My then husband even sent a letter around to every member in the church that was full of obvious lies and manipulation. But they chose to believe those ridiculous lies.
Even though they were given the truth along with proof, they chose to believe my husband because they liked the false mask he wore and wanted to believe in that more. Here are the consequences I (and most other divorced Christians) faced:
- loss of friendships
- loss of ministries/committees
- embarrassment and shame
- loss of 29 years of life at church–and having to start over
- feeling spiritually inept and bankrupt
- feeling like God forgot about our family
- feeling the awkwardness of trying to find a new church home
- feeling like a single parent that doesn’t fit into the mold of church life
- feeling judged and/or invisible in new churches
It was a very difficult few years getting through this and back on my feet.
Good Consequences of Divorce on Church Life
So, after going through all of the above, and probably even more that I am not even thinking about, here are some of the good consequences that came out of the divorce:
- New friendships
- A DivorceCare support group that I am now leading.
- Seeing so many other amazing Christian couples who had lived through divorce but then learned how to heal and thrive in their new life
- New ministries
- Over time the feeling of getting back to normal
- Some of the old friends that never left
- Finally feeling like God never really left as you realize in hindsight what He was guiding you through
- The realization that you may be better off at your new church than you were before
I hope that if you are going through a divorce and feeling some of the incredibly heavy biblical consequences of it, regardless of what got you to where you are, you are finding healing and some of the good consequences. I pray that you focus on the good things that are happening. My former pastor’s wife did a wonderful job of showing me all the little blessings God was throwing my way in the middle of the worst devastation of my crumbling marriage. I know He’s doing that for all of you too!
If you have been reading my articles for any length of time, you know I am an avid reader. And I have a great book to recommend for anything I’m writing about. But the one I’m about to show you is in my top three because of the effect it had on my healing in church life and feeling like God really was there and actually had a lot to say about my circumstances. Anyway, reading Narcissism in the Church by Dr. David Orrison was so incredibly helpful for me to see what was really going on in the church in my case and how to deal with it all in healthy ways. If you are dealing with an abusive husband (or even an abusive person at any level in your church), then you NEED this book. Dr. Orrison did such an amazing job of communicating how “men of God” are able to deceive so many into believing their lies and continue to abuse and destroy the church and family from within by using the very words of God. If you are working through the biblical consequences of divorce due to abuse, you need to check this book out!
If you were to stay in an abusive marriage just to avoid the biblical consequences of divorce, I would say that you have probably missed the message of grace that Jesus worked so hard to send. But on the other hand, we need to be careful not to take advantage of that amazing grace. In Romans 6:1, Paul says, “Should we go on sinning, so that grace may abound? Heaven forbid!” We are not to “wear out our welcome!”
So, in finding this balance of grace, we should make sure that if we are divorcing, it is because of right reasons. Irreconcilable differences is not one of them. If we made a lifelong commitment to another person, we both need to do whatever we can to make good on that. We can control that destiny, especially if both parties are working wholeheartedly toward that. But, alas, in this life, not everybody does what they should. And we can only be accountable for our own behavior and not what people choose to do to us.
There will always be painful consequences to divorce, biblical or otherwise. And it is part of our healing to work through those consequences so that our life going forward will be a healthy one.
Are you suffering through some biblical consequences of divorce? Do you have some good sources of support to help you? How far in the process are you? If you had one piece of advice for anyone else going through this, what would you tell them? I would love for you to share with us in the comments below!
Blessings and love to you,
I have a FREE 57-page e-guide to divorcing a narcissist that I offer to those who follow my blog. It includes a checklist so you can make sure you don’t miss anything in the process. It will give you tons of tips to make the whole process easier on you. To download a copy or get more information, click here or on the book pic below: