Can My Marriage Be Saved?

God wants all people to live in peace and harmony with one another.  Unfortunately when marital problems begin this peace and harmony is broken.

Christians should strive for peace in all of their relationships, not just in marriage.  This means that everything that can be done, should be done to save a marriage.

Even when a partner has hurt their spouse greatly and there appear to be grounds for a divorce such as adultery (see “Is infidelity grounds for a divorce?” for more information) reconciliation should still be the goal.

No matter what harm has been caused by a spouse, a person can repent and seek forgiveness.  God can save any marriage that both parties are interested in saving.  God can also work to turn the heart of a spouse who has lost interest in their marriage and work to bring the couple back to a renewed love.

The Bible gives us one instance where a marriage should be ended for the sake of peace and harmony.  1 Corinthians 7:12-16 lays out an instance where a spouse should be allowed to leave.

12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

In short, if one person is a Christian and the other is not, the Christian should not seek a divorce because they have some influence for good on their spouse and may yet lead them to the Lord.  But if that spouse desires to leave the marriage, they should not feel obligated to remain in the marriage because they are a witness to their spouse.  While this gives permission for a divorce to take place, it does not give permission to remarry.  It is simply in the interest of peace that a divorce is allowed.

Unfortunately there are many instances of Christian couples who are not living in harmony.  True Christians should do everything they can to save the marriage but often one person does not want to work things out.  If a person is acting like an unbeliever, treat them like an unbeliever.  If they refuse to seek the peace that God wants for the marriage, they are no better than an unbeliever.

Obviously this does not mean that the first time a spouse does not want to talk about marriage problems that they are acting as an unbeliever and should be allowed to walk away.  Only in cases where a person obviously is not walking with the Lord despite claiming to be a Christian should this be considered and even then they should be the one to initiate a divorce.

Analysis of Malachi 2:13-16

13 Another thing you do: You flood the LORD’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

15 Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.

16 “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty.
So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.

Analysis

The first thing we should note about this passage is God’s attitude toward divorce.  He hates it.  It’s hard to state it any more clearly or bluntly.  However God does not say that He hates divorced people.  God looks upon divorce just as He looks upon other sins.

The Israelites’ relationship with God has been affected because of their divorces.  This is the same as any other sin.  Sin separates us from God.  It is the reason we need to have our sins washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Without it, we have no hope of heaven because sin cannot enter into God’s presence.

Our daily sins affect our relationship with God though too.  Even after we are Christians we must daily ask for the forgiveness of our sins.  Jesus taught us this in the Lord’s prayer.  We don’t have to become “re-saved” we must seek the repair the relationship that we damaged.  It is no different than repairing a relationship with a friend that we wronged.  We must say we’re sorry to begin the healing process.

The Israelites’ sin that God points out is their divorce.  What God points out as the problem is that a divorce is the breaking of a covenant.  When two people are married, regardless of the vows made and whether it is in a church or not, they make a commitment to one another that is intended to last a lifetime.

Breaking a vow is the same as lying.  It is like looking God in the face and lying to Him.  God takes marriage vows seriously and so should we.  The breaking of marriage vows should not be taken lightly.  Like all sins, it will affect our relationship with God.

Other passages on divorce

Matthew 19:1-12

1 Corinthians 7:10-11, 39

Is Infidelity Grounds for Divorce?

Matthew 19:9

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

It appears that Jesus gives Biblical grounds for divorce in the event of marital unfaithfulness by a spouse.  Jesus was clarifying the law of Moses which allowed for divorce.  This was allowed as a concession because the people’s hearts were hard but Jesus makes it clear that they should not remarry.

What is marital unfaithfulness?  The Greek word is porneia.  It is where we get the English word pornography.  It appears 24 times in the New Testament.  In the King James version it is translated as fornication every time.  Other English translations in some way or other imply that it is sexual immorality that is taking place.  So marital unfaithfulness should best be understood as a sexual act outside of marriage.

Jesus never gives an explanation on why divorce is allowed in the event of marital unfaithfulness.  The simplest solution is that a person who has been unfaithful has already broken their marriage vow and therefore if their spouse divorces them they are not the one guilty of breaking the marriage vow.

Another explanation, although not without problems, concerns the penalty for those caught in adultery.  Leviticus 20:10 states “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.”  If an adulterer is put to death then there is no problem divorcing or remarrying because a person is free to remarry after their spouse has died.

The first problem with this is a logical one.  If an adulterer is put to death, there would be no need to go through with a divorce unless it was symbolic.

The bigger problem is that this law was not practiced evenly if it all.  King David was not only an adulterer but a murderer and did not face death.  God actually instructed Hosea to marry a prostitute of all people.  And Jesus prevents the Pharisees from upholding the law in John 8 when they catch a woman in adultery.  Instead of judging her for her sin, He simply instructs her to go and sin no more.

Marital unfaithfulness may be grounds for divorce and it is certainly a sign of much deeper problems within a marriage.  This does not mean that the marriage can’t be salvaged however.  It is cause for a divorce but God still desires peace and harmony.  He also desires a repentant heart.  A person who has been unfaithful in their marriage deserves another chance if they are truly repentant.  King David committed awful sins but he was still considered a man after God’s own heart.

The truly difficult part of divorce and marital unfaithfulness is that we can never be certain of a person’s heart.  Only God knows a person’s heart for certain.  For a marriage to withstand a partner being unfaithful, it takes a tremendous amount of faith in a person’s ability to change and also in God to help that person and the marriage.