Faithful Spouse: “My wife left and cheated on me.”
Pastor: “Well, God hates divorce.” [Awkward silence]
A minister whose only response to adultery and abandonment is to tell the faithful spouse “God hates divorce” is a minister who is not truly ready and equipped to provide godly, pastoral counsel.
To use such a verse in dealing with adultery situations belies ignorance and incompetence in handling the Scripture properly.
Ignorance, in that Malachi 2:16 is about husbands using divorce to commit adultery and not faithful spouses divorcing cheating wives. The pastor is ignorant–willfully or otherwise–of the important context of such words. Context does, indeed, matter.
Incompetence, in that he is misapplying this merciless command to a victim whom God gives clear permission to divorce (the cheating party) per Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. Plus, this pastor is giving the adultery victim a merciless command first, which belies a basic lack of empathy for the adultery victim at a time when he or she is in critical need of such an emotional embrace from God.
To actually help an adultery victim, a pastor must get pass his or her discomfort with divorce. This means accepting the reality that God believes somethings are more evil than divorce like adultery (e.g. Jeremiah 3:8). It also means accepting the discomfort of vulnerability that we live in a world where people–our spouses included–are free to choose good or evil including adultery. And people actually do choose evil over godliness all the time. Such is the truth about living in a world broken by sin.
It is okay to be ignorant but be aware of such ignorance. Tell the faithful spouse that your knowledge about such matters ends at “God hates divorce,” and that he/she would be better served by going to another pastor who has more experience in such matters.
The problem comes when the ignorant pastor combines that ignorance with pride thinking “God hates divorce” is enough to address the adultery victim in a godly way. Don’t delude yourself: It isn’t!