The Bible and Children of Divorce

Wayne Stocks —  In Theology October 31, 2011 — 7 Comments

Welcome to part 1 of our five part series called “Caring for Modern Day Orphans (A Bible Study on Caring for Orphans and the Fatherless).”  The Bible speaks extensively about caring for orphans and the fatherless.  What started as a quick survey of verses about orphans and the fatherless quickly turned into a 6,000 word study which I’ve split into five parts for purposes of this blog.  In this study, we will examine what the Bible has to say about orphans and widows, how it applies to children of divorce and children from single parents homes and offer a word of encouragement to children of divorce.  A complete pdf file with all five parts will be included with the last installment.  The five parts of the series will include:

  1. The Bible and Children of Divorce
  2. God Cares for Orphans and the Fatherless
  3. God’s Instructions to His People When it Comes to the Orphans and the Fatherless (Part 1)
  4. God’s Instructions to His People When it Comes to the Orphans and the Fatherless (Part 2)
  5. A Word for Children of Divorce and Children from Single Parent Families

So, let’s get started.

The Bible and Children of Divorce

clip_image002The Bible is fairly clear on the issue of the divorce, and we have already dealt with that issue here on DivorceMinistry4Kids.com pretty extensively. However, when it comes to the issue of the children of divorce, the Bible is silent. Trust me! I looked. The question then becomes, why? Of course, there any number of things not specifically addressed in the Bible, and the failure to specifically mention a certain subject does not, of course, mean one thing or another. Yet, the question remains, why doesn’t the Bible say anything specific about children of divorce? As those who are committed to ministering to these kids, that question is of the utmost importance.

Here is how I would respond to that question. As I’ve already stated, the lack of specific mention should not be interpreted as any sort of indication that God does not care about these kids. The remainder of scripture would certainly refute that notion. The Bible, for example, never mentions the word Trinity, but that does not make the fact of the Trinity any less true. We can see the trust of the trinity in other verses of scripture without God specifically including the word. Likewise, when we turn to the totality of scripture, we can see God’s heart for suffering and lonely children despite the fact that the phrase “children of divorce” cannot be found in the Bible.

Take, for example, the words of Malachi:

But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. [Malachi 2:14-15 ESV]

God does not come right out in this verse and say, “Look parents! If you divorce, your children of divorce are going to face an uphill battle!” Implicitly though, we see that God says He created marriage for a reason. What was God seeking in creating the institution of marriage (“making them one”)? He was seeking “Godly” offspring. He goes on to warn men to be faithful to their wives and not leave them for this reason. What is the clear implication? Outside of marriage, there is a risk of loss of godly offspring. Did God say, “Don’t get divorced because you’ll mess up your kids?” No. Is it implied? I think so. Children of divorce face an uphill battle at best. We know from studies that many struggle in their relationship with God following the divorce because, among other things, they fear that if their parent(s) can leave them, then God can. Indeed, divorce does threaten that ability of couples to produce Godly offspring. I should take a few words here to clarify. A divorce does not always lead to children walking away from God, but it certainly does make their journey more difficult in most cases.

The Bible also speaks to God’s general affinity for children. In the story where Jesus’ disciples are trying to keep the children from “bothering” Jesus, He replies:

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. [Mark 10:13-16 ESV]

God has a special place in His heart for children, and we can conclude that He therefore has a special place in His heart for children of divorce. God also warns adults against harming children:

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. [Mark 9:42 ESV]

God abhors people who would lead children astray or harm them. Given His general affinity for children and disdain for those who would harm children, I think it is safe to conclude that God holds a special place in His heart for those children suffering through the divorce of their parents or who have never known one parent.

There are also what I would argue are the more overt references applicable to the children of divorce. Throughout the Bible, God refers to a group of children that are similar to, if not identical to, modern day children of divorce and children from single parent homes. That group is the orphans and the fatherless mentioned throughout scripture. Today’s children of divorce and children from single-parent households are, in essence, modern day orphans, and I believe the biblical mandate to care for orphans extends to this group.

In this article, we will look at why today’s children of divorce and children from single parents families likely fall under the same umbrella as the orphans of biblical times, we will explore what the Bible tells us about these orphans and fatherless, and will we look at what we can learn about ministering to children of divorce and children from single parent families from these verses.

 

What do orphans and widows have to do with the child of divorce?

In Deuteronomy 6, and throughout scripture, God sets forth His plan to use the family as His primary vessel for raising and nurturing children and passing along spiritual truth. There were, of course, those who fell outside the confines of the traditional family, and the Bible is not silent on the standard of care which should be afforded to those in such circumstances. In Deuteronomy 14:29, God commanded His people:

And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do. [Deuteronomy 14:29 ESV]

God ordained the family as the primary source for the nurture and raising of children. When that family falls apart however, for example upon the death of parents, the Bible calls on God’s people to meet the needs of the orphans and widows. Accordingly, the Bible pictures orphans and widows as those outside the care of the traditional definition of a family. These verses are certainly attributable to actual orphans who have lost both parents due to tragedy or abandonment. However, the divorce culture that we live in today has bred a new type of orphan and widow in our society which is unprecedented in human history.

The modern day orphan is the child of divorce whose parents have effectively or actually abandoned him. The modern day “fatherless” includes children born to a single mother and those who have never known their fathers. The modern day orphan may live in the home of one parent but effectively be all alone as that parent is absorbed in the chaos of their own post-divorce life. The modern day widow includes women abandoned and divorced by their husbands. I think that it also includes husbands struggling to raise kids on their own with no support after being abandoned by their wives.

If we read the Bible’s verses on orphans and widows too narrowly, we risk missing God’s heart for these hurting children. God’s admonition to care for the orphan and widow most assuredly applies to children of divorce and single parent families as well.

One word of caution is warranted before we move on. I would be among the first to caution people about reading “into” scripture to try to make a particular verse fit a given situation. We must also be extremely careful about extrapolating God’s commands and promises from their original context. However, given what God has to say about orphans, combined with His special affinity for children reflected throughout the Scriptures, I do not believe that it is a stretch to apply these verses to what we define in this article as “modern day orphans.” Even where the circumstance may not be directly applicable to modern day life, we can still learn something about God’s heart for these hurting kids. Furthermore, I believe that a detailed review of scripture on this topic is instructive in terms of ministering to these kids.

So, let’s journey through the scriptures together looking at selected passages related to orphans and the fatherless and discern what we can about ministering to children of divorce from those verses.  In the next installment, we will have a look at the verses in scripture which tell us about how God cares and provides for orphans and the fatherless.

Mr. W. says:

I ran across this article when looking for Biblical information ot help me with communicating with my daughter. Her mother and I recently divorced and she is just 9 years old.
When reading, I felt bad about divorcing. However, I know the home situation my ex and I shared was worse than us splitting apart. My daughter really would have a skewed point of view if I had stayed and she continued to see the arguing and yelling.
One thing that particularly touched me in this article was the mention of Mark 9:42. I have heard about this and thought about some of the things my ex-wife is doing now when she appears to be driving a wedge between my daughter and I. However, when I read this article, it looks like I’m guilty of the same thing just because I left the marriage.

I’m really confused now but I’m sure God will help me straighten this out. It will be an uphill battle but sometimes those are the best battles because you learn so much during them.

Wayne Stocks says:

Mr. W.,

I applaud you for seeking out God’s Word and God’s Will when it comes to your daughter. I believe that God’s Word is clear when in comes to the issue and divorce, and that God gives us His word because He cares so very deeply about us. He knows what is best for us even when we don’t or can’t or won’t.

I do believe that God’s will is reconciliation when possible, and I do understand how this can seem impossible. I read about God’s people (Israel) and how many times they rejected him and how He, in his steadfast love, still came and died for them so that they might be reconciled to Him. I think about my own life and all the times I had turned my back on God, and how He loved me enough to be patient with me and show me grace and invite me to become part of His family, again through Christ’s death on the cross. When it comes to your situation, and I obviously do not know all the details, I would implore you to remember that there are multiple choices. So many times these things boil down in our own heads to “Do I stay and remain miserable? Or, do I leave and seek happiness?” Always try to remember that there is a third option – by the grace and power and Christ we can stay and seek transformation in ourselves to create a better situation. No matter whether you seek physical reconciliation with your wife, you will need to seek that transformation in your own life (and hopefully in hers as well) to work together to raise your daughter and help her through this difficult time.

That said, we serve a God of second chances. You should absolutely seek His will, as revealed in scripture, but remember that no matter where you end up, neither you nor your daughter are ever outside of His reach. I would encourage you to draw near to Him, and the Bible promises that He will draw near to you.

The point now is not about who did what, or who is doing what now. The point is not about who is guilt of what or who shouldn’t being doing what. The point now is that you (and your ex) have been given a great gift from God – your daughter. Whether you are married or not, God has entrusted her care and upbringing to you. Make sure that you love her unconditionally, allow her the freedom to love both of you, and help her (and/or) get her help in order to process and talk about the emotions of the divorce and the things she is going through. I would encourage you to seek out a Gospel Centered program for her like Divorce Care 4 Kids. You can search for one near you on http://www.dc4k.org/. Many churches also offer the equivalent program for adults called Divorce Care that you might want to consider.

I will be praying for you, for your daughter and for your ex. You might also want to put a prayer request on our prayer wall at http://divorceministry4kids.com/wall-of-prayer/ so that others can pray for you too.

Again, I commend you on seeking out answers and help for your daughter. In that regard, she is already a step ahead of so many children of divorce. Should you wish to continue this conversation (but prefer not do it here in the comments), or if there is anything I can do to help you or your daughter, please please feel free to e-mail me at wayne@divorceministry4kids.com.

Sharon says:

Do you have anything I can read about the upside down family law court system in OK? How do you help three little boys whose father adores them, helps them with all their sports, mother has an affair and the court system gives him only standard visitation. 4 days a month is UNPARDONABLE! What can be done to come against a small town judge who clearly has issues against men herself to rule the way she did???

Wayne Stocks says:

I apologize for my delay in answering your question. I wanted to let you know that my answer will be included in a new post this coming Monday. I will post a link here in the comments once it is published.

Wayne Stocks says:

The link to the article with the answer to your question can be found at: http://divorceministry4kids.com/2012/helping-a-non-custodial-father/
I hope it helps!