Though there are valid reasons for divorce, the basis must be biblical. Does God want you to be happy in your marriage, or does He want you to be holy?
“God wants you to be happy.”
Have you heard this platitude before? Has it perhaps been spoken to you? Maybe you’ve even heard it said in the context of encouraging someone to divorce their spouse, because “God wants you to be happy.”
However, some platitudes, though quite memorable, are not based on biblical truth.
Job levels a powerful critique of the counsel his friends offered him. We read in Job 13:12 where he tells them, “Your memorable sayings are proverbs of ashes.”
These are the infamous friends who argued that Job’s sufferings were the result of his sin. Though they appeared wise, they could not have been more wrong. They used sayings that were easily remembered but which were not lasting truths. They were “proverbs of ashes.”
Today, we have such sayings like “God helps those who help themselves.” Many quote this as from the Bible, but it can be found nowhere in God’s Word. Instead, Benjamin Franklin said it. In fact, this quote completely contradicts why we were given the Holy Spirit. Though each of us must act responsibly, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, the Helper, to help us since we could not help ourselves sufficiently.
Besides adding to the Bible phrases such as “God helps those who help themselves,” people also misquote the Bible, like when they say “money is the root of all evil.” Actually the Bible says, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). Money is not the problem; the love of money or greed is the problem (1 Timothy 3:3; Hebrews 13:5). For this reason, the focus needs to be on how our covetousness turns us into “lovers of money” rather than “lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2, 4).
Though many adages are helpful, like “Where there is smoke, there is fire,” other advice is not only silly, but also one wonders how many could have possibly acted on it. Have you heard “Neither a borrower nor a lender be”? Though there is wisdom here, should we never lend to someone in need? Or, what about Oscar Wilde’s epigram: “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it”?
Perhaps the catch-phrase, which we mentioned at first, that has been the basis of more divorce in the church than any other is, “God wants you happy.” Like Job’s friends, some folks offer counsel that does not rightly interpret the will of God for this suffering person. Feeling they have no right to urge this person to persist in the marriage, they impart their platitude. Eventually the suffering person concurs, “Yes, God wants me happy” and they file for divorce.
But it raises the question, “Does God want us happy or holy?” As I say at our conferences, will we live by Hollywood or the Holy Word? God wants us holy and joyful independent of our marriage. If we are unholy and bitter in our marriage, we have not learned God’s lesson for us. It would be wrong to divorce in order to be happy. This is putting the cart before the horse, an appropriate platitude in this instance because it challenges us not to get ahead of God by divorcing to be happy when that’s not a biblical reason for divorcing.
But let me throw you a curveball. Is happiness in marriage something one should not want? Not at all. Ecclesiastes 9:9 states, “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.”
“But Emerson, I am not happy in my marriage.” Then I have good news for youIn this study, it was found that eight. In one study, eight out of ten who rated their marriages as “very unhappy,” were happily married to the same person five years later.
Can you believe it? Eighty percent of the very unhappy couples were happy five years later! They simply chose to not divorce but instead to work through the differences together.
I am not saying divorce is never an option. Jesus teaches grounds for divorce. However, the basis of divorce needs to be biblical, not “God wants me happy.” And, if you are going to live by the cliché that “God wants me happy” then stick around for five years and you will be. But as we said, holiness not happiness must be the priority. Bottom line, make sure that God’s truth guides you, not some easy-to-remember cultural cliché like “God wants me happy.” Take seriously what Job said: “Your memorable sayings are proverbs of ashes” (Job 13:12).