A friend of mine finally walked out on her husband. She was tired of his excuses and irresponsibility. She was finished with his criticisms and cutting remarks. In her mind, enough was enough, and it was time to end the marriage.
Yet as she described their relationship, I couldn't help but think that this marriage didn't need to end in divorce. There was no unrepentant adultery, abandonment, or repeated physical abuse. They were simply struggling with what most marriages deal with: miscommunication, financial disagreements, selfish attitudes—the things often excused as "irreconcilable differences."
When I later talked with her, I asked if she knew that God said,
"I hate divorce..." (Malachi 2:16). Or that Jesus specifically addressed divorce in Matthew 19:8-9 saying, "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."
My friend said she heard this before and added, "But I cannot believe that a good God wants me to suffer in a bad marriage. He wants me to be happy."
It was a response I've heard a dozen times from other women in similar circumstances, and it's a question that plagues the hearts of many marriages today: If God is good, could He possibly want me to be unhappy? Doesn't He see that staying in my current marriage would cause me a lot of pain? Can I call God "good" if He allows me to suffer in a bad marriage?
Does God want me to suffer?
No one enjoys pain. Quite the opposite—we long for contentment. The "pursuit of happiness" is so valued in America it's an unalienable right in the Declaration of Independence.
It's not wrong to desire pleasure. As a matter of fact, the Bible teaches that God delights in doing good things for His children. Jesus said,
"What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!" (Matthew 7:9-11).
The problem is that God also calls us to righteousness, and often that requires giving up our personal happiness for the greater good. This is referred to as sacrifice, and it's never easy, fun, or "happy."
The apostle Paul reminds us that part of the Christian life is suffering for the sake of the cross.
"... We are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also share in his glory" (Romans 8:16-17).
As Christians we are even called to rejoice and be glad in our trials because troubles are valuable to our character and spiritual growth. Romans 5:3-5a says,
"... We also exult [rejoice] in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint."
So does God want us to suffer? Suffering for the sake of pain is not His desire, but there is a reason why we go through it.
You may be wondering how anything positive could possibly come from your hurting marriage. The apostle Paul wrote, "We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). Christian marriage is not exempt from this principle. Just as we are called to sacrifice in our spiritual walk, we are also called to endure suffering in marriage for the sake of righteousness.
Even though we seldom can see how God is using present trials for our future benefit, He has promised to use them for good, and He is faithful to keep His word. Here are just four of the ways He can bring about His purposes:
First, God is conforming you to His image. Jesus said,
"If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24). Voluntary self-sacrifice is a necessary part of the Christian life. It is often praised on mission fields or behind pulpits, but in marriage, it's far less glamorous. Nevertheless, self-sacrifice in marriage is just as Christ-like in God's eyes.
Staying married isn't always easy. It often requires that you give up the right to win, stifle your pride, and defer to the needs of your spouse. But the more you practice these principles, the more you become like Christ.
Ephesians 5 explains this phenomenon by referring to the relationship between Christ and the Church.
"As the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her …" (verses 24-25). Christ loved the church so much He died for her. It wasn't easy, but it was worth it. In the same way, as these verses explain, when you give up your life for your spouse, you are conforming to the image of Christ who gave up His life for you.
Second, God is using these sufferings to bring you to deeper faith and repentance. Difficult times always bring us to our knees. They remind us that we are not in control, and only God is. During this experience you should be asking yourself, "How much of my suffering in this situation is caused by my own sin?"
In addition, prayer and reading Scripture will deepen your relationship with Him as you learn to trust in His sovereign control. These hard times can even give you a greater compassion for others going through tribulations.