If you grew up in a home with divorced parents, would you say your parents’ divorce helped or hurt your relationship with the Lord? Would you be surprised to find out that studies are beginning to reveal that, in general, children of divorced parents are less religious when they grow up? While I’ve often considered the effect divorce has on our generation when it comes to marriage, cohabitation and our own divorce rate, I hadn’t stopped to consider that divorce could be a predictor of faith and church attendance.
A new report, “Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith?” puts it this way (emphasis mine):
We have learned that when children of divorce reach adulthood, compared to those who grew up in intact families, they feel less religious on the whole and are less likely to be involved in the regular practice of a faith. In one national study, two-thirds of people from married parent families, compared to just over half of children of divorce, say they are very or fairly religious, and more than a third of people from married parent families currently attend religious services almost every week, compared to just a quarter of people from divorced families.
Those are sobering statistics. They indicate that our parents’ successes and failures in their marriage have a direct impact on how we view God. If we go back to Scripture, perhaps these studies shouldn’t be a surprise. God repeatedly uses marriage as a glorious, earthly example of spiritual truths. In the Old Testament, the relationship between God and the nation of Israel is repeatedly described in marriage terms: God as the faithful husband and Israel as the adulterous wife (Hosea). In the New Testament, we’re given the picture of Christ and His bride (the church) as another marriage picture.
As we start to realize the significance of how God views marriage, it follows that if we get marriage wrong, there will be long-term consequences. The effects of the last several decades — no-fault divorce, increased cohabitation, radical feminism, and the idea that “love is all you need” — have led our culture to a place that radically devalues marriage. When divorce is treated as a viable and often sought-after “solution” to marriage problems, we begin to see how far this is from the high view God takes of marriage. Without a high standard of marriage, it becomes clear why subsequent generations not only lose a positive perspective on marriage, but on God himself.
But before you succumb to the depressing idea that divorce predetermines your religious involvement, there is good news for children of divorce. A smaller sub-group of the million children that experience divorce each year find themselves more committed to their faith than those who grew up with intact families. In the loss and suffering of divorce, they turn to God for hope and healing.
So while one’s childhood experience of divorce can be a predictor of how he or she views God, God is also in the business of redemption. Regardless of how intact your family was growing up, our Healer and Redeemer is able to use the good and bad experiences for His glory.