It’s fascinating, isn’t it….just how nervous we as Christians can be of context, of nuance and complexity. Just like the rest of the wider society, our beliefs can be so tightly bound to our identities, that rarely do we read beyond the headline, the tagline, the Facebook status or tweet or the single Bible verse that confirms with certainty what we either already believed or always feared.
If we’re honest, all of us have formed some deeply held opinions based on tiny portions of text that presented in an impassioned, black-or-white tone of voice. And it feels good, doesn’t it, because life moves so fast, that it’s actually hard to find time to read longer, dig deeper, think harder and ultimately ask tougher questions. How many of our recent political opinions are based on a Facebook post we read and reacted strongly to? Even more seriously, how many of our Christian beliefs are based on single Bible verses we shouted ‘Amen’ to without knowing the context they were written in?
“For I hate divorce! Says the Lord, the God of Israel…”Malachi 2:16
Of all the Bible verses about divorce, this or some variation of the statement “God hates divorce”, must be among the most recited by Christians. It’s right there, in black-and-white, so what is there to debate? Yet it would be interesting to poll how many Christians know that this is only half of the verse.
“For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”Malachi 2:16
The whole verse is certainly less quotable but it suggests a context that has been ignored in favour of the punchy, one-size fits all quote. In fact, a scan of the whole chapter paints a picture of the specific things that were happening amongst God’s people, that grieved Him enough to declare hatred for divorce.
Over the last few years, the Christian world have been rocked by story after story of married men of God with world-renowned ministries involved in long-standing affairs or sexual abuse. Away from the Western spotlight, the recent death of female Nigerian worship leader Osinachi Nwachukwu has caused mourning and anger as allegations have surfaced that her fatal injuries were caused by prolonged domestic violence. This has only been made worse as revelations emerge that her church taught her and others that there were no Biblical grounds for divorce, a teaching which may have persuaded this daughter of God to remain in a marriage, where she was allegedly victimised and ultimately killed. Is it surprising that issues like this are causing many broken-hearted young Christians to reconsider whether they even believe in God at all, let alone key tenets of the Christian faith?
Ironically, while we have accepted the bumper-sticker quote, has our lack of context allowed us to continue the very sins & injustices that angered God enough to declare hatred for divorce? Do we see how quoting half a Scripture out of context at divorced people, or abuse victims may actually miss the heart of God entirely? Can we admit to not having all the answers and prepare to wrestle with God’s word in context?
In this episode of “Ask the Pastors”, pastors Gabriel and Ugochi start a series that takes a closer look at Malachi 2:6 and the wider theology surrounding divorce. They place this popular fragment of Scripture in its proper context, as well as discuss who Malachi was writing to, and how the culture of that audience saw issues such as marriage and marital rights, divorce, sexual infidelity and abuse and more.
Pastors Gabriel and Ugochi’s prayer is that you will find this series both challenging and encouraging and are inspired to engage with God’s Word on this topic for yourself with a fresh set of eyes.
– Stephen Adams
Episode 1 – God hates divorce, what does this mean for those who find themselves in abusive relationships?
Episode 2 – What is the context of Malachi 2:16 – God hates divorce?
Episode 3 – The stigmatisation of the divorced in the church, and what about remarriage?
Episode 4 – The covenant of marriage and why we should get help
Episode 5 – Marriage is not meant to be a war zone, but a place to experience peace
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