By Norris Burkes Jan 1 2023

In the weeks after the first Christmas, the Bethlehem gossip-mill was in full swing.

If there had been newspapers at the time, the Society Page would have likely run the lead headline:

“Test results show Joseph not the father; considering divorce.”

In the New International translation, we find a line embedded in the Christmas story not usually emphasized in candlelit church readings.

“Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace; he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19).

As a chaplain, I’m often asked the difficult question: “What does God think of divorce?”

I wish I were asked easier ones like, “What does your wife of nearly 43 years think of divorce?”

While I’m ­­tempted to facetiously reply, “That depends on the hour of the day she’s asked,” I like to think I’d manage a more sober answer.

Long before our wedding, my wife, Becky, made her plan clear: “Never joke about divorce and never threaten it. Don’t even plant that seed of thought.”

Good plan.

In the beginning, God had some plans too.

In The Message translation, Jesus describes marriage as an art. In Mark 10:9 he says, “No one should desecrate his art.”

Nearly 30 years after Jesus’ teenage mother escaped a likely stoning, he risked a similar fate by recounting God’s plan to religious leaders who were asking what God thought of divorce.

These leaders challenged Jesus by noting that Moses’ teachings allowed for divorce. “Moses provided for divorce as a concession to your hard heartedness,” Jesus retorted, “but it is not part of God’s original plan.”

The key words here are, “as a concession to your hard heartedness.” Divorce isn’t a part of creation, but because we all experience a hardening of our hearts, divorce can happen.

“Hard heartedness” is a way of describing resentments. Maybe these resentments took root during the marriage, or long before you met your partner.

These resentments can cause infidelity and all relationships will break under the weight of infidelity. However, don’t be too quick to settle with the sexual definition of infidelity. I think God’s definition is much bigger than that.

Infidelity happens when one or both people stop working the vows, not just the vows to be sexually true, but the vows to be truthful, the vows to work with each other throughout difficulties and the vows to share each other’s hurts.

When one or both people stop working these vows, divorce will most often be the result. So what happens then?

I think it helps to remember two things.

First of all, God feels the pain from all broken relationships at work and at home. He hurts when he sees broken relationships with children as well as weakening relationships in our places of worship.

Understanding that God hurts with us gives us a greater perspective. Instead of considering only our personal battle, we realize we are also hurting an innocent party. We are hurting the one who created us to live in loving relationships.

This perspective gives me energy to do my best at mending those relationships, whether they be at work, home or in world politics.

Second, and most important, God works with us to heal relationships. The healing may take place in our current relationship, or it may take place while we begin another relationship, but healing will always be God’s business.

After all, when I consider the “scandalous birth” of a child named Jesus, I become more and more convinced that God has always been about restoring and healing relationships.


This column was excerpted from Norris’s book, ‘Thriving Beyond Surviving.” His books are available for purchase on his website, Send comments to or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or via voicemail (843) 608-9715.