Divorce statistics can be confusing. On one hand, we are told that one of every two marriages will end in divorce. What we observe seems to bear this out. Far more children than in the past are growing up in single-parent families. On the other hand, we are told that the divorced segment of our population only equals about 12 percent of the married segment. According to Grolier’s Encyclopedia, “In the United States in 1987, there were 123 divorced persons for every 1,000 married persons.”
Public opinion expert Louis Harris offers an explanation. He says, “The fact is that in 1981 the number of divorces did hit a record total of 1,213,000. Marriages also reached a record of 2,422,000. Some quick-read experts then put the two sets of facts together and concluded that since there were half as many divorces as marriages, it could be concluded that half of the marriages were doomed to failure. But the facts show that only 10% of all ever-married men and a slightly higher 13% of all ever-married women are divorced” (p.86, Inside America, Louis Harris, 1987, Vintage Books, New York).
Mixed signals also come from the painful experiences of life. During many years as a pastor, I have been involved with scores of divorce situations. Sometimes, as in cases of extreme mental or physical abuse, I longed to see a woman become freed from the terror of an abusive husband. Yet, I was uncomfortable advising action that had no clear biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage.
In many cases, I wanted to help the abusive husband overcome his problem. Changed lives seemed more preferable than divorce action that would divide children, friends, and family assets.
Yet, sometimes I felt great relief when the divorce proceedings began. In one instance, a wife patiently endured a heavy drinking, sexually immoral husband for 4 years, during which she twice contracted a venereal disease. He had professed faith in Christ shortly before they were married, attended church with her for a short time, and then went back to his old ways.
The confusion over divorce, however, is not just rooted in statistics, or even experience. Mixed signals are also found in the Bible. On one hand, the Old Testament prophet Malachi declared, “The Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce” (Mal. 2:16). Yet God Himself admits to divorcing Israel (Jer. 3:8). On one occasion, the prophet Ezra insisted that the men of Israel divorce the pagan wives they had married (Ezra 10:10-17). Later, Jesus said that sexual immorality is the only grounds for divorce (Mt. 19:9). Yet the apostle Paul taught that divorce is also permissible if a Christian is married to a non-Christian who no longer wants to be married (1 Cor. 7:15).
Does the Bible contradict itself about divorce? No. Even though many godly Bible students disagree on what the Bible teaches about divorce and remarriage, I believe the Scriptures offer guidelines for those contemplating divorce and remarriage. Even in cases of physical abuse, which has become such a troubling issue in our day, I am convinced that the Bible gives us answers.