Dear Barbara: Where is God when our marriage fails? We tried everything. Is every marriage meant to be saved?
This question was among the comments I received on my recent post, “If Their Marriage Couldn’t Survive, What About Mine?”
I knew when I wrote it that I didn’t have space to fully explain every point I made. So I was not surprised that we got a few comments asking for more, including this one:
“I’m sad when I read these posts because they never go to the next step. What about those of us who have tried everything, literally, to save our marriages and nothing changes. We lost it anyway. Where is God in all of this? The only conclusion after three years of trying to save my marriage by myself and with God is that not all marriages are meant to be saved and that we have to accept that. Nothing is greater than God, but apparently not all things work out, even if you’ve prayed about it and tried everything you could. What’s the next step for those of us who lost?”
This comment from Elyce deserved more in reply than that moment allowed. So for you who may be asking this question on the inside and for the many of you who know someone in this situation, here are some further thoughts.
First, I’m sad just reading your reply. Even those of us who do not know you feel that sadness with you. Though it is far too common today, news of any divorce or estrangement stirs feelings of loss in our hearts and souls. Marriage is the bedrock of any society and its crumbling shakes us all.
Knowing from my own marriage how painful and lonely it can be to feel disconnected from your spouse, I empathize with you. Isolation, which leads to actual physical separation or emotional separation, is not the purpose of any marriage.
Is every marriage meant to last?
Regarding your statement “not all marriages are meant to be saved,” I must respectfully disagree and here’s why. From the Bible, I hear God’s heart for the salvation and resurrection of marriages when He says, “I hate divorce.” God does not hate the people of divorce but the deep and life-altering results of divorce break His heart.
He knows better than we do how devastating and long lasting the consequences are in spouses, children, extended family, and even into our communities and throughout society. God created marriage, and He never desires its ending.
That being said, God has also made it clear that He allows for divorce. Jesus answered this question, “Why did Moses command … a certificate of divorce?” with this reply, “Because of your hardness of heart [meaning a spouse’s unbelief in God or their unwillingness to change or try] Moses allowed you to divorce … but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8).
From the beginning of any marriage God’s desire is for it to last a lifetime. But He allows divorce for specific reasons, the source of which is a hard heart in one person that refuses to change and believe God for a miracle.
Think of it like a prodigal child whose parents have pleaded over and over for years for this one they love to make healthy choices, but the child continues to refuse to listen. One day the parents finally relent and let the child, now an adult, live with his destructive decisions and their consequences. Still the parents hold out hope that, in time, this child they love will learn and change.
So are we with our God. Though He desires to save all marriages, He allows divorce for those whose spouse stubbornly refuses to repent. Even in this, God is always working to get our attention, to help us learn of His love and grace, His forgiveness and mercy. That never changes no matter what your marital status.
What if it feels hopeless?
Marriage is too often where we see the free will of man so clearly deciding to ignore God and make decisions favoring self. In this union of two, as you’ve stated, both must want the marriage to work. Both must invest energy, time, and endless grace. Even though one plus God is a majority, the third person, your spouse, must eventually choose the marriage and you over self for the marriage to be restored and flourish.
There is always hope for reconciliation as long as both spouses remain unmarried to another. I’ve watched and heard countless stories of marriage redemptions to not believe in hope. Even if a couple is divorced, as long as both are still unmarried, restoration of the marriage can happen.
Our good friends Scott and Sherry can attest to this. They had no idea how to do marriage. As a result, their relationship unraveled over the years until they decided they’d both had enough. They divorced.
Scott moved into an apartment. In his defeat, he made many poor choices, including abusing alcohol and living with another woman. Months later Sherry heard about the Weekend to Remember and decided she wanted to go. She convinced Scott to meet her there. After learning about God’s design for marriage that weekend in 2005, Scott and Sherry decided to try again. Now they tell couples, “As long as you’re breathing there’s hope.”
We must hold onto hope for our marriages to grow and thrive. My greatest desire is to inspire hope in God and His desire and ability to redeem. This hope though isn’t placed in each other, for we are fallen and cannot meet all our spouse’s needs. This hope must be placed in the God who created marriage, who showed us on the cross that He can conquer even death, and who delights in rescuing and restoring all things broken.
If you are still married and feel hopeless, don’t trust in your feelings or your spouse, but put all your hope in what God can do. And be patient with the process. God is not deterred by how long it takes to change our lives and therefore our marriages.
If you are divorced and neither of you has remarried, there is still hope. Hear more of Scott and Sherry’s story here. If God can rescue them, He can rescue anyone.
If you or your former spouse has remarried, there is no longer an opportunity for reconciliation. Once a new covenant has been made, God expects it to be honored. If you have remarried find help and encouragement for your new marriage from FamilyLife Blended.
Where is God in all of this?
Though He often feels distant in our trials and difficulties, I can promise He is not. Our feelings deceive us. We assume when things are going well God is near and when they aren’t He must be far off. Nothing is farther from the truth.
He has promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” And that promise is repeated multiples times in the Old and New Testaments because He knows our weakness and temptation to doubt. He knows we need to hear it over and over and over.
Mostly, I want to say I’m truly very sorry for the pain you’ve suffered in your marriage. I wish with you that it had gone differently. I’m grateful you had the courage to ask this hard question and we will pray you can feel the nearness of God and learn more of His deep lasting love for you in this season of your life. It is His greatest desire, to help you know His eternal love for you.
Still married but unsure about the future?
If you find yourself, as so many do who commented on the original post, married but decidedly hopeless about the future, there are some next steps. Even when you think you’ve tried everything, sometimes you actually haven’t.
I’d encourage you to become newly emboldened to save your marriage. Insist on counseling. Go even if he doesn’t or won’t. Ask for guidance from your pastor and church leadership. Get others involved.
No matter how long your marriage has felt destitute, don’t desensitize yourself to the pain. Keep fighting. Don’t accommodate an unwilling spouse by going along with divorce plans passively. Be certain that individually you are doing all you can.
Marriage is hard, but it’s worth it. I’d like to invite you to follow along here with us at Ever Thine Home. We regularly share honest marriage struggles, offering help and hope to work through the mundane and enormous challenges of doing life together. Joining us here is a small way to keep your marriage a priority.