Does God Hate Me If I Am Divorced?

Recently a friend e-mailed me with some questions about divorce. Here are their questions in quotes, with my responses in bullets.

“For those of us who are Christians and have been divorced (either initiated by us or not) how would you respond to someone who says, “Does God hate me because I have been through a divorce?””
• The answer to this is: No. God loves you. God’s love does not go up and down with circumstances.
• Does God hate divorce? Yes. And it is good that he does. A divorce is not only a failure, but is also a breaking of a covenant made before God. One promises to stay together for all of life, until one dies, through better or worse. The results of the ripping apart of what God has “welded” together are devastating. See Mark 10:9, where the word for “joined together” is, literally, “welded together.” A wedding is a welding. Tear it apart and there’s damage to both welded pieces. And, there’s damage to the children. Anyone who thinks “The kids will be OK” is living in denial-la-la-land. See, e.g., Judith Wallenstein’s The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. No wonder God hates divorce!
• “Worse” times happen in every marriage. Every marriage has conflict. Every marriage faces stress and struggle and pain and misunderstanding and setbacks and letdowns and so on.
• In premarital counseling I use the FOCCUS material. I think it’s excellent, providing a premarital MRI of the relationship’s areas of strength and weakness, agreement and disagreement. As long as a person doesn’t lie on the FOCCUS inventory (which has happened), I feel we can greatly strengthen and prepare premarital couples for both better and worse.

“My first wife filed for divorce and I am now married to another woman. It seems when I hear people speak of divorce, they mention it in the negative. I am not in agreement with divorce; however, one spouse can’t make another spouse remain in the marriage. My first wife chose to leave because we clashed or butted heads all the time. While I was willing to work it out, she was not. I think there are situations like mine where one person wants to stay but the other chooses to leave and they become marked with the “divorce” tag.”
• If one person chooses to divorce there’s not much the other can do about it. It’s good that you tried to save the marriage. There’s nothing intrinsically unsavable about your first marriage. It is a given that, in marriage, husband and wife will “butt heads.” Opposites, which first attracted, now repel and come against each other. You will never find a marriage where this does not happen.
• I think “divorce” is always “negative.” As a divorcee you can agree with that. It was painful for you. But, as I said above, God has not ceased loving you, and his plans and purposes have not been stripped away from you.

“One problem I have with that label is that in some cases it can’t be fixed. If I cheat on my wife, I can stop doing that. If I lie and steal, I can stop doing that. I can’t stop being a divorced person if my spouse refuses to be married to me. As a Christian, when we talk about grace and mercy for sins, doesn’t that apply to divorce also?”
• I have never seen a troubled marriage that cannot be fixed. Ever. I’m talking about, probably, a thousand or something in that range over my forty years of ministry. Surely one doesn’t want to say that there are marriages God could not repair? But it does take two persons to agree to get help. Usually both persons are 100% responsible for the marital problems. I suggest viewing it that way. In, then, husband and wife are broken by their own failures that contribute to the marriage mess, then I feel we have a marriage that can be saved.
• Yes, of course, grace and mercy applies to divorce. I just don’t know what it would mean to say that they do not apply.

“If everyone in your congregation who was divorced came up to you and asked how could the rectify it, what would you say?”
• If persons are contemplating divorce, see some things I have written here.
• If they are legally divorced and want to “rectify” the relationship, I am all for doing that with God’s help. I think God is pleased when that happens.
• And, finally, we have seen a few divorced couples get remarried with wonderful results!

Is God a Moral Monster?

Is the God of the Old Testament a “moral monster?” asks philosopher Paul Copan in his book Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.

I’ve started reading it. My friend Gary Knox is joining me – we’ll be having some good discussion over it.

This would be the book to read to enter into the discussion of the nature of God in the OT, as presented by a brilliant Christian theist.

From the Back Cover

Is the God of the Old Testament nothing but a bully, a murderer, and an oppressor?Many today–even within the church–seem to think so. How are Christians to respond to such accusations? And how are we to reconcile the seemingly disconnected natures of God portrayed in the two testaments?
In this timely and readable book, apologist Paul Copan takes on some of the most vexing accusations of our time, including:

-God is arrogant and jealous
-God punishes people too harshly
-God is guilty of ethnic cleansing
-God oppresses women
-God endorses slavery
-Christianity causes violence

Copan not only answers the critics, he also shows how to read both the Old and New Testaments faithfully, seeing an unchanging, righteous, and loving God in both.

“This is the book I wish I had written myself. It is simply the best book I have read that tackles the many difficulties that the Old Testament presents to thinking and sensitive Christians. Paul Copan writes in such a simple, straightforward way, yet covers enormous issues comprehensively and with reassuring biblical detail and scholarly research.”–Christopher J. H. Wright, international director, Langham Partnership International; author of Old Testament Ethics for the People of God

“Lucid, lively, and very well informed, this book is the best defense of Old Testament ethics that I have read. A must-read for all preachers and Bible study leaders.”–Gordon Wenham, emeritus professor of Old Testament, University of Gloucestershire

“The New Atheists have attacked the morality of the Old Testament with a vengeance. In honesty, many Christians will confess that they struggle with what looks like a primitive and barbaric ethic. Paul Copan helps us truly understand the world of the Old Testament and how it relates to us today.”–Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College

“Copan takes on current New Atheist biblical critics and powerfully addresses virtually every criticism they have raised. I know of no other book like this one, and it should be required reading in college and seminary courses.”–J. P. Moreland, distinguished professor of philosophy, Talbot School of Theology; author of The God Question

“There’s virtually no scholar I’d rather read on these subjects than Paul Copan. This handbook of responses to tough ethical issues is able to both diminish the rhetoric as well as alleviate many concerns.”–Gary R. Habermas, distinguished research professor, Liberty University and Seminary

Paul Copan (PhD, Marquette University) is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. He is the author or editor of many books, including When God Goes to Starbucks.


Purity “How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing (and perhaps, like you, I have met it only once) it is irresistible.” – C.S. Lewis, in Letters to an American Lady

Last week I began premarital counseling with an engaged couple. I use the FOCCUS premarital inventory. It’s so well-put-together, and gives me an MRI of the relationship. It asks all the questions I want to get into. Most couples enjoy taking this survey, and end up talking about a number of important things they have not yet thought of. This couple – call them Jason and Andrea (not their real names, and I’ve altered their story slightly) – scored pretty high on the FOCCUS. I had a good feeling after my first meeting with them. Especially because of their stance toward pre-marital sex.

Jason and Andrea have known each other for many years. They’ve dated for several years. She’s working on a graduate degree, and he manages a business. The FOCCUS led us to talk about sex. “Have you had sex together?” I asked them. “Neither of us have ever had sexual intercourse or come close to it,” they responded in unison. Andrea said, “When Jason told me he loved me and was interested in pursuing marriage I immediately told him, ‘There’s no way I’m having sex before I get married.'” “How did Jason respond to this?” “He respected me for it,” said Andrea, “and never has pressed himself on me.” Jason added, “It’s not always been easy, because I love Andrea and look forward to sex in marriage. But I agree with her. God wants us to wait, and we are waiting.”

I stopped. I was stunned. This was, for me, a holy moment. Jason and Andrea are two attractive, intelligent, and successful people with great futures. Yes, they are Jesus-followers, but most of the Jesus-followers who get married have premarital sex because “they can’t wait.” (A lot of the “True Love Waits” teens failed to wait.) I do not wish to judge them for that. Yet, I want to bow down before Jason and Andrea and do a little bit of worship! Who are these rare, unusual people who take the road less traveled and delay gratification? Especially in our sex-addicted culture where we are now even subjected to commercials advertising the enlargement of… you know what, right?

From my pastoral POV I see lots of sex addiction. Sometimes I wonder, falsely I am certain, “Who is not a sex addict today?” Have you ever seen or counseled one? Addiction is a monster. The French word for addict, as Gerald May has told us, is attache. Attachment. Claw-like attache. Being married or shacking up (I’m not talking about the book The Shack) cannot cure this. Our culture of sexual freedom has, ironically, imprisoned many.

Somehow, Jason and Andrea have escaped from the prison house of “sexual freedom.” I told them I was proud of them. Delayed sexual gratification displays self-control and breeds trust.

Linda and I abstained. In my abstinence I was not being some kind of religious legalist. I was so screwed up sexually that I just wanted God to heal the garbage of my heart so that, should I marry, I would not infect my life partner and children. When I told Linda I would not be asking her to have sex with me, I asked her how this made her feel. She said, “Safe.” I didn’t love her only for her physical beauty. I wanted her heart. The two are different. While dating I waited several months before I kissed her. I will never forget that kiss! We were walking in a park, and it began to lightly rain. A little voice told me, “It is time!” I asked for her permission. She said yes. That kiss lasted only one second, but mega-volts of lightning came through her lips! From then until we got married we kissed only occasionally, and then only for a second or two. Our love and trust and respect only grew. This was wild and unbelievable to me, the former drug-alcohol-fraternity-sex-womanizer. A foundation of faithfulness was being laid from which we have never diverted (for 37+ years).

I don’t see that often, so when I sat in my office with Jason and Andrea I got those feelings that have to do with my understanding of real, deep, growing Jesus-love that lasts a lifetime. Because Jason and Andrea have no history of sexual partners and have not sex-partnered with each other I predict they will stay faithful to one another. The odds are greatly in their favor. Their children will be blessed. They will pass marital fidelity to their kids. And maybe a couple of children whose parents are named Jason and Andrea will lead the counter-revolution to purity?

Danger Signs for the Not Yet Married

One of the presentations Linda and I will make together next week in New York City is to young adults on premarital readiness.

Here’s a slightly revised document we’ll use. There are a lot of things in this list, and there should be. People are complex, therefore marriages are more complex since a marriage s the welding together of a man and a woman.

No one can no or anticipate everything in marriage. But we see way too many people getting married who don’t have a clue about what they are committing to and have had no premarital help or mentoring. In our community we had a “Wedding Chapel” where people could pay a few bucks and walk in and get married. As a local pastor I was asked if I would do weddings there, and get paid $100 for doing them. The hitch was that I would not know the people I was marrying. I said no way! Yet we had some local pastors who did them. That really upset me, since we spend a lot of time trying to patch and heal the many tormented marriages there are out there.

Do lots of premarital thinking and evaluation! Here’s a list of “red flags” to consider.

Danger Signs for the Not Yet Married

1. If you have a general uneasy feeling about the relationship.

2. If you have frequent arguments.

3. If you have no arguments.

4. If your partner cannot admit it when they are wrong.

5. If your partner is unable to accept constructive criticism.

6. If you avoid discussing sensitive subjects because you’re afraid of hurting your partner’s feelings or starting an argument.

7. If you feel you are staying in the relationship through fear.

8. If you find yourself always doing what your partner wants you to do. 

9. If your partner thinks that toilets are self-cleaning.

10. If you detect serious emotional disturbances.

11. If your partner is constantly complaining about unreal aches or pains, and going from doctor to doctor.

12. If your partner constantly makes excuses for not finding a job.

13. If your partner is in debt financially.

14. If your partner talks like they are a victim.

15. If your partner is overly suspicious, jealous, questions your work all the time, and feels that everyone is against him or her.

16. If your partner is a perfectionist and is constantly critical.

17. If your partner puts you down, and uses a lot of sarcasm.

18. If your parents and other significant people are strongly against your marriage.

19. If you don’t like what you see in your partner’s parents’ marriage.

20. If there is a lack of spiritual togetherness.

21. If you have few areas of common interest.

22. If your partner cannot live without you and would consider taking their life should you break up with them.

23. If your partner wants sex before marriage.

24. If your partner believes that sex = love.

25. If your partner has a history of sexual activity.

26. If your partner became interested in Jesus after they met you.

27. If your partner does not understand the meaning of “covenant,” as opposed to “contract.”

28. If you hope to change your partner.



Want to Be Married? Prepare for Conflict!

Why aren’t you normal like me? (John, to Linda and Linda, to John)
– Hezekiah 1:2

A friend of mine who was a pastor once said to me, “I never get angry.” And I laughed so hard I fell to the floor gasping for breath between spasms of roaring disbelief and floods of tears tsunami-ing from my blood-veined eyes.

Everyone gets angry. If you don’t get angry then you don’t exist. Descartes might say, of you:

1. He doesn’t get angry.
2. Therefore he does not exist.

Linda and I have had couples tell us, “We never fight.” After an hour or so of side-clutching cardio-wrenching belly-reducing hilarity we come back to our collective senses, look at the couple with eyes so wide open in horror that you could see our corpus callosi, and scream: “YOU HAVE A PROBLEM!!!”

In a slightly more loving and mellow way Gary Chapman writes: “Conflicts are a normal part of every marriage. There are no married couples who do not encounter conflicts, for one simple reason – we are individuals. As individuals we have different desires, different likes and dislikes, different things that irritate and please us.” (Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, K 381-91)

I am not like Linda, and Linda is not like me, in a lot of areas, including some very significant ones. What are we to do now that we are married? (37 1/2 years!)

Chapman says:

  1. Accept the reality that you will have conflicts. “Conflicts are not the sign that you have married wrong person. They simply affirm that you are human.”
  2. Discover a healthy plan for processing your conflicts. “Such a plan begins by recognizing the need to listen.” Chapman suggests three plans:
  3. #1 – After you have heard and affirmed each other’s ideas, you are ready to look for a solution to the conflict. “The big word in finding a solution is “compromise.”” “In marriage it s never having ‘my way.’ It is rather discovering ‘our’ way.”
  4. #2 – If #1 does not work, try “meeting on your side.” “This means that after you hear each other’s ideas and feelings, one of you decides that on this occasion, it is best to do what the other has in mind. This is a total sacrifice of your original idea, choosing rather t do what your spouse desires and to do it with a positive attitude.” (Linda and I have done this countless times ith one another, in both big and little things.)
  5. #3 – If neither #1 nor #2 work, you may need to “meet later.” This approach says, “I’m not able to conscientiously agree with your idea, and I don’t see a place to meet in the middle. Can we just agree for the moment, that we disagree on this? And we will discuss it again in a week or a month, and look for a solution. In the meantime, we will love each other, enjoy each other, and support each other. This will not be a disruptive factor in our marriage.”

If you are not yet married and don’t like conflict and are hoping for a marriage where there’s no conflict, you are not ready for marriage. Want to be married someday? Prepare for conflict now. The really good news is that addressing conflict in healthy and godly ways strengthens relationships and develops character.

See Chapman’s entire chapter for more explanation and practical examples, plus guiding questions to think about.