The marriage of Olivia L. Langdon to the American writer Mark Twain is a tragic case in point. Olivia Langdon had been raised in a Christian home by devout parents and she professed Christianity. But when Twain, an open critic of religion, came calling, she eventually accepted his proposal, no doubt secretly cherishing the hope that he might in time be converted to Christ by her example. At first this seemed to be happening. Albert Biglow Paine in his comprehensive biography of Twain records that “his natural kindness of heart, and especially his love for his wife, inclined him toward the teachings and customs of her Christian faith…. It took very little persuasion on his wife’s part to establish family prayers in their home, grace before meals, and the morning reading of a Bible chapter.”2 One of Twain’s friends, who knew him to be a great skeptic, recorded his surprise at visiting the home and discovering Twain praying and otherwise joining in the family worship.
Unfortunately, in time Twain began to express distaste for this worship and told his wife, “Livy, you may keep this up if you want to, but I must ask you to excuse me from it. It is making me a hypocrite. I don’t believe in the Bible; it contradicts my reason. I can’t sit here and listen to it, letting you believe that I regard it, as you do, in the light of the gospel, the Word of God.”
This alone would have been a tragedy; it must have marked the end of Olivia’s hopes for her husband. But something even worse followed. Mark Twain’s unbelief had a disastrous influence on his wife, and Olivia gradually professed from doubt to the death of her religion. One day when she and her sister were walking across the fields she confessed with sorrow that she had drifted away from her orthodox views. She had ceased to believe in a personal God who exercised personal supervision over every human soul, she said. Years later, in a time of bereavement, Twain tried to strengthen his wife with the words: “Livy, if it comforts you to lean on the Christian faith, do so.”
She replied, “I can’t, Youth [her favorite designation for her husband]. I haven’t any.”3
If you willfully disobey God and marry a non-Christian, do not beguile yourself with the belief that you will be the cause of your husband or wife’s conversion. By the grace of God that may possibly happen. But it usually does not. Mixed marriages usually end in great unhappiness or divorce. And even if this is not the case, you will certainly be bringing much unnecessary sorrow upon yourself by disobedience.
There are not many things mentioned in the Bible that we are told explicitly that God hates, though we are to understand that he hates all forms of sin. So it should be particularly striking to us when we read in Malachi 2:16 that God hates divorce. He hates it the same way he hates violence, the text teaches.
Why does God hate divorce so fiercely? We can suggest a number of reasons. First, it is a matter of a man or woman breaking faith with his or her spouse. God, who is a God of faithfulness and truth, hates infidelity. Standing by your word is something that in normal circumstances everyone is capable of doing, even though the consequences may be undesirable from the point of view of your happiness or the pathway may be hard. You cannot guarantee anyone happiness, even yourself. You cannot guarantee affluence or health. That is why in the marriage vow one speaks of union “in plenty or in want, in joy or in sorrow, in sickness or in health.” But you can guarantee that you will stick by your word, that you will not “break faith” just because fidelity is difficult or because another way (or person) becomes more attractive. God hates divorce because it violates truth’s standard.
2 Ibid., pp. 243-244.3 Ibid., pp. 243-244.