The letter lay unobtrusively on the doormat, shrouding its contents in the nondescript white envelope. Her mind, distracted by the day’s activities, barely registered its solemnity as she opened it.
So the words struck hard, thudding through her until all she could feel was the unreal numbness of her existence.
Despite its inevitability, she wasn’t prepared for it. And it had all started with three words.
Just three little words.
That’s all it took.
Passionately declared, speaking of undying commitment.
Strong, all-encompassing, never relenting words.
The bedrock of marriage.
Always and always and ever after.
But far from
‘I love you’…
She just heard
‘God. hates. divorce.’
Encouraged and upheld by the church, preached by pastors in their other-worldly voices, they lessoned others on issues from a distant pulpit. Dictating personal commitment at any cost for the church to be seen counter-cultural.
The unforgivable choice of the unchurched. Marriage for the committed Christian was a non-negotiable, one-way-street. Rarely was marriage discussed except as an illustration for God’s good existence – which is why it needed always to be upheld. By default, those divorced ‘Christians’ were second-rate, poorly committed and an embarrassment to the church.
Searing pain shot through her for a brief second, disturbing the numbness she carefully inhabited. Remembering a sermon illustration of a godly woman persevering with a cantankerous, ungodly man because they were married.
Because God hates divorce. God had ordained it. Always.
She had done everything for those three little words.
For the church who upheld them.
For the God who needed to be pure and holy.
Hour after hour, day after day, season after season, year after year she was held to ransom by those words. Her marriage was… abusive. Those who caught a glimpse of what she endured applauded her efforts to be faithful to a husband who publicly demeaned and ridiculed and shamed her. Reinforcing that it was right to stay. To persevere. To accept. Others who may have seen chose not to, perhaps relieved it wasn’t them being asked to suffer in such a way. After all, everyone has their own cross to bear. This was her cross. She had to persevere.
But the damage accumulated. Perspective shifted. The insidious, gaslighting effects of manipulative anger, blame and confusion distorted her reality. The multifaceted diamond of her soul started darkening, prism by prism until she was trapped in a core of blackness where feeling and understanding disappeared. Blankly, blindly she gave herself over to be used as he wished. Survival depended on it. God hates divorce. After all, as her husband often reminded her, she was the sinner if it wasn’t going well. Repent, try harder, love better. She was to blame. And God hates divorce. Even thinking of escape was a sin. Punishing herself for wanting to leave, for wanting him dead, for wanting to die, she stayed. Autonomy swallowed by obedience, she lost recognition of the battering blow of words, the ongoing physical demand for her body to do more, all surrounded by sarcasm that mercilessly exposed the worthlessness and emptiness of her very being.
But now, she stood, letter in hand, with the information that she was divorced. Shame constricted her like clothes shrunk in the wash, smothering her with this new identity. An identity that branded her a betrayer.
The self-indulgent church leaders bred a pack of wolves by maintaining this distinction. They were responsible for bleating words of condemnation and control, reducing the Jesus they served into a loveless doctrine that had no time for the messiness of human experience. ’God hates divorce’ kept the people church – fearing and ’set apart’. Set apart in a non-existent mess-free world where abuse did not exist. But it did.
For by creating such a distinction these shepherds were perpetrators of abuse. Wielding black and white words, they had beaten her into fearful submission, creating an environment of an inexorably stressful situation, one she could neither flee nor change. In so doing, they authorised the traumatisation of her soul. ‘God hates divorce’ had brain-damaged and annihilated her into a barely breathing non-existence.
Wearily she sat down on the floor. Escaping her marriage had been like taking that long-awaited gasp of blue sky air on surfacing from the depths of an underwater existence of distorted, soul-crushing, silence. It offered life again. But the distress remained. If only she had left earlier, if only she had been able to escape. But God hated divorce…
So what did this new branding mean?
And still, the awkward silence of the pew-sitters quietly breathed the need for her to seek forgiveness. For her to accept responsibility for the abuse from which they should have offered protection. ‘God hates divorce’ had become her deep trauma scars from prison.
If you missed them, the previous stories can be found here:
1. The Memory of that Blue Line
2. The Legacy of Abused Trust
3. The Agony of Silence
4. "You Think Only Of Yourself"