Divorcing God

August 23, 2009

9 min read


Does ending my marriage also mean turning my back on God?

Dear Rebbetzin Twerski;

If it is true that God orchestrates the events of our lives -- and you have pointed out how in so many instances it is to bring about an ultimate good, what about when we have willfully made choices that would not seem to agree with the definition of good?

I am miserable in my marriage. If I choose to end it, could I still hope for God's good will? That He will lead me as I struggle to find the courage to do what my mother would surely have told me was wrong: to leave this marriage and seek a happier and more satisfying life for myself?

I have considered the actions that I am about to take, even at the cost of no longer being able to expect any such favor from God.

I have given up. I am spent with unhappiness and pain. I often feel that there was this part of my heart which was the best of me -- the most hopeful, believing, optimistic and fervent -- which has simply gone dead. It was too difficult to continue allowing it to feel the pain over and over again. So I allowed it to die. I wonder now if it can ever be resurrected. I want to leave because I cannot let go of the notion that maybe there is still something there to be resurrected....if I only can escape the pain before it is too late.

I believe I have made up my mind...but what haunts me to the very core of my being is: what can I expect from God in return for my choice? If I am indeed turning my back on Him, will He also turn His back on me? I would greatly value any insight you may have.

Sincerely, KH

Dear Reader,

Your honest quest for resolution from your tortured state of being warrants clarification of some essential points.

Let us begin with the fundamental Jewish premise that God created the world with purpose, providing a destiny for all of us. That ultimate destiny is one of perfect goodness, and it is the Divine intention that sooner or later we must all reach it. The question is only how soon we accomplish our mission, and what road we choose to get there. It is crucial that we recognize that just as God embedded physical, natural laws into the creation of the world, so too did He invest creation with moral and ethical laws.

Defiance of either precipitates catastrophic consequences. If, for example, one chooses to ignore the law of gravity and jumps off a roof, or one decides to disregard his diabetic protocol by bingeing on sugar, he chooses self destruction. No less so, in the spiritual realm. Violation of ethical behavior results (though not as perceptible to the human eye) in equally catastrophic consequences. Contempt for moral conduct erodes the underpinning of the universe and brings disaster to the transgressing

The Almighty never turns His back on us.

The Almighty has clearly mapped out His mandates in a coherent roadmap that keeps us on track towards our destination. He is our supernal GPS system. When we get blindsided and choose to deviate from the prescribed course, we will perforce get lost or have to be “rerouted.” “Recalculating” is the heavenly response.

The consequences of getting lost are considerable; bumpy, dark, depressing lonely roads bereft of heavenly illumination. Getting “lost” exacts a great price. Nonetheless, be assured that the Almighty never turns His back on us. A verse in the liturgy of the High Holidays reads “He (God) does not desire the demise of the one headed for death: rather does He seek for him to return -- to turn back from his ill-chosen path, and live.” The Almighty is constantly rooting for his beloved children. He doesn’t give up on us. Sooner or later, by hook or by crook, no matter how many lifetimes till we get it right, His plan, His destiny for mankind will be realized.

Consider the sojourn of the Jews in the desert. God liberated the Children of Israel from Egypt and performed miracles galore on their behalf, yet those 40 years were rife with betrayals by the nation. Despite all of that, when God looks back at that period of history, He exclaims, “I remember the kindness of your youth, the love of our betrothal period, when you followed me into an arid desert.” The Almighty is not preoccupied with human frailties. The human condition is such that we err, we deal with the consequences, we pay the price, and most importantly, we move on.

Dear reader, you mention the issue of staying in a painful marriage. You agonize about incurring God’s disfavor by leaving your husband. God’s providence is benevolent and caring. I would caution only that the absence of detail makes it difficult to assess your particular situation. It should be self-evident that from a Torah perspective, one is certainly not obliged to remain in an abusive and painful relationship. According to the Torah, divorce is a viable option, assuming that resources to save the marriage have been explored and exhausted. Indeed, under certain conditions divorce is recommended.

Some pivotal questions are: Has counseling been sought? What factors have muddied the waters? Assuming, as it appears, that this is not a frivolous decision on your part, there would be no justification to sustain your suffering. It is certainly not God’s will that we live a miserable existence. If anything, the contrary is true. Your fear that leaving a bad marriage constitutes a turning of your back on God is completely unfounded.

Since your question implies some confusion about wrongdoing and its repercussions, an additional note on the Jewish view on the categories of transgressions, or departure

  1. “Chait”
    “Chait” describes an act whereby a person isn’t aware that what they are doing is prohibited. Because it is not deliberate, it is the most forgivable type of infraction. Examples would include any time a person errs out of ignorance, or forgets that the context of his actions make an otherwise harmless act into a Torah violation.
  2. “Aavon”
    Perhaps the most common transgression, in as much as it is one driven by urges, lusts, and capitulations to the lesser, baser part of ourselves. In its throes, we know we are engaged in a behavior contrary to the will of God and His precepts, but we surrender control and succumb to the grips of the “yetzer hara", the evil inclination. This is part of the ongoing, never ceasing struggle of the human being and his very human frailties. The Almighty roots for us, hopes for our victories and suffers great disappointment over our failures. Yet, He is not disheartened or disconsolate by our lapses.

    God has faith in our ability to pick ourselves up, shake off the dust, and reclaim our integrity.

    While these can be very serious departures, the Almighty has faith in our ability to pick ourselves up, shake off the dust, and reclaim our integrity. Indeed, King Solomon in Ecclesiastes states: “Seven times will the righteous fall, but they rise again.” In fact, what makes them worthy of the designation of “righteous” is that they persevere. They don’t give up.

    All of us at one time or another have been guilty of these types of temptations and pitfalls -- harsh words leveled at loved ones in a fit of anger, listening and/or delivering juicy gossip, maligning and demeaning someone. Did we know it was wrong? Of course! All the same, we just couldn’t resist. Moreover, we rationalized. "The other person deserved it... "etc. The evil inclination is very clever and attempts to ensnare us in our particular area of vulnerability. No mortal is immune. The battle between the “evil” and “good” inclination rages until we take our last breath.

  3. "Pehshah”
    “Pehshah” is the most serious and flagrant of departures. This constitutes a conscious, deliberate, rebellious act against God’s authority. The perpetrator knows that what he is doing is wrong. His behavior is not motivated by personal gain, passion, or urges. He simply wants to lash out and defy God’s will. Given the grave nature of this type of transgression where one is invested in evil for its own sake, it is understandable that a return to wholesomeness is more complicated. Yet, even so, repentance is not impossible.

Integral to Judaism is the concept of “Teshuva,” literally meaning a return -- to our pristine and uncorrupted self. Teshuva is accessible to all of us, always. The Almighty doesn't shut the door on His creations. Nonetheless, we must exercise great care not to complicate our lives and self-destruct to the point of not being able to find our way back. A caveat must be noted. The Talmud states that an attitude of “I will sin now and repent later” is unacceptable. God cannot be manipulated or outsmarted. Teshuva, if it is to be effective, must be genuine and sincere.

The Almighty loves you. Do not despair.

Anguishing as you do, dear reader, about the possibility of being irrevocably in the contempt of your Creator, I would urge that you reflect on the unbelievable and awe inspiring power of Teshuva. Change is always accessible. The Almighty is always yearning for a relationship with you. He loves you. Do not despair.

I suggest that you avail yourself of a trustworthy third party (possibly a professional who shares your values) so that you might gain greater clarity and direction with regard to your personal situation.

Every person is a universe onto herself and deserves all the beneficence that life has to offer. Don’t short change yourself. May God be with you.

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