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Archive for the ‘divorce’ Category

A High View of Marriage Includes Divorce

SOURCE:  Rebecca VanDoodewaard

God hates divorce, doesn’t He? Absolutely.

Isn’t the gospel about forgiveness and love? Yes, it is.

And pastors and elders can use these two truths in isolation from the rest of Scripture and biblical principles to deny people divorce for biblical grounds. “But marriage is a precious thing,” one pastor told a woman whose husband was in prison for pedophilia. “It would be a wonderful picture of God’s grace to move on from this and focus on your marriage,” another one told the husband of an adulteress. “We’re working with him; he’s really struggling, and so you need to forgive him,” a session tells a woman whose husband has been using pornography for years.

Evangelical and confessional churches are striving to maintain a high view of marriage in a culture that is ripping the institution to shreds. So extra-biblical barriers to divorce can be well-meant. They try to protect marriage by doing everything possible to avoid divorce. In doing so, they not only fail to keep a high view of marriage. They also spread lies about the gospel, divorce, the value of people, the character of God and the nature of sexual sin.

The first lie is that forgiveness means that the offended party is bound to continue living with the guilty party once there’s an apology.

Wives in particular are told that God requires that they forgive a repentant spouse, which is true, and that this means that they need to stay in the marriage, which is not true. It’s like saying to parents who discover that the babysitter molested their children: “Oh, but the sitter said sorry. It would be unloving to not ask them to watch the kids again. You need to demonstrate your forgiveness.” The argument is that Jesus forgave you and took you in: Why can’t you do the same for a spouse? Because I am not God: I am human, too, and can’t atone for my spouse’s sin in a way that can restore an earthly marriage.

Sacrificing a person to save a relationship is not the gospel. The gospel is that Someone was sacrificed to free us from sin and bring us to God. We cannot always bear the relational punishment for someone else’s sin. We can forgive them, and will if we are a Christian, but that doesn’t mean we have to live with them. You can forgive someone and divorce them. Scripture commands forgiveness where there is repentance, but it never requires that a relationship be continued in the way that it was before covenant was shattered. This lie of “forgiveness” places the burden on the innocent party. The sinner gets counsel, support, help and prayer, while the sinned-against gets pressure, guilt and a crushing future. Acceptance is often labelled the “Christian” thing to do. Since Christ gave divorce as an option in some circumstances, divorce can be the Christian thing to do, too. Forgiveness is always the Christian thing to do, and it simply means that the guilty party is forgiven, not absolved from all earthly consequences.

The second lie is implied: God hates divorce more than He hates abuse and sexual sin.

To put the lie a different way, God loves marriage more than He loves the women in it. While God created marriage, loves marriage and says that it is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, Jesus didn’t die to save marriage. He died to save people. He sacrificed His life to protect His sons and daughters, and hates when they are abused, violated and humiliated, particularly in a relationship that is supposed to picture Christ and the church.

This fact is especially true for women, who suffer at the hands of men whose actions mock servant leadership and so blaspheme the name of the Christ whom they are called to represent. Denying a woman legitimate divorce allows an unrepentant man to continue in this abuse and blasphemy. If we want to value and treat marriage rightly, we need to think about Jesus! His care for His church is not an abstract idea. We see it lived out in the gospels every day in purity, tender care for widows and intolerance of the Pharisees who thought they could be right with God while checking out beautiful women at the market. Christ’s love for His church found very concrete expression on the cross—willingness to die to save His beloved people. Yes, God hates divorce. And there are some things that He hates even more.

The third lie is that divorce is an unclean thing, often the fault of the innocent party.

This is a misunderstanding of divorce. Divorce is not the innocent party ending a marriage. Divorce is the innocent party obtaining legal recognition that the guilty party has destroyed the marriage. So often, we see the divorcing person as the one who ends the marriage—they are not! Where there has been sexual unfaithfulness, abuse or abandonment, it is the guilty party who ended it by breaking covenant. While legitimate divorce is not mandatory, it is a biblical option, on moral par with maintaining the marriage. The 1992 report by the PCA study committee on divorce and remarriage comments:

It is also interesting to recall in this connection Jeremiah 3:8, where Yahweh is said to divorce Israel for her spiritual adultery (idolatry):?“I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.” If God himself can properly divorce his bride because of adultery, then, given Christ’s unqualified adherence to the authority of the Old Testament, it seems difficult to conclude that Jesus would not have had similar words on his own lips. (218)

The church needs to be clear about this: Legitimate divorce is holy and biblical if God Himself can speak of initiating it. And it is initiated to publicly recognize the destruction already there. Divorce does not end a covenant. It protects the spouse whose covenant has been violated—a picture of covenant protection in the face of human unfaithfulness. Always discouraging divorce, always making it a last, desperate option that really fails to show gospel power, implies that we know more about marriage than God does and value it more highly. If there are legitimate reasons for divorce, then making divorce look like a lesser option is wrong. God allows it: Who are we to discourage people from choosing a biblical option?

The fourth lie usually involved in this discussion is about pornography.

It is often classified as not technically adultery, so spouses are denied the biblical right to divorce. This is mind-boggling. Someone who seeks out sexually explicit material and has a physical response to it is in the same mental, physical and spiritual condition as someone in bed with a coworker. The difference is that the relationship with the coworker is at least private and limited, while porn use accepts and subsidizes an entire industry of sexual sin that is maintained by abuse and slavery, involves hundreds of people, and is tracked by the producing companies and Internet servers. Deliberate and repeated porn use is at least adultery, regardless of whether there is repentance at some point. Denying this makes people ask why some pastors are so committed to denying what porn really is. Our pre-technology definition of adultery allows souls and marriages to be ravaged from the inside out because we fail to admit what a porn habit really is. We look away from the institutionalized rape that it subsidizes. Countenancing sexual sin for any reason reveals a poor understanding of sexual sin as well as the gospel.

Do you see how these lies, sometimes borne out of a desire to protect marriage, actually bring about a low view of marriage? By granting, supporting and even facilitating a biblical divorce, we take a stand to say that we can forgive without being forced to live with people who have shattered us. This protects marriage by allowing the innocent party to leave a relationship that has been broken. By backing biblical divorce, we protect women whom God loves, showing Christ’s love when spouses have not. This protects marriage by refusing to allow sinners to abuse the institution with impunity. By publicly stating that sexual sin and abuse, not wounded spouses, ends marriages, we hold the marriage bed in honor. This protects marriage by creating a holy fear of violating it. By offering biblical divorce, the church affirms that pornography is depravity, and will not be countenanced by Christ’s church. Naming and disciplining sexual sin as the evil it is and offering divorce to the innocent party makes the value of marriage clear as we refuse to see it damaged, abused or treated lightly.

Developing and maintaining a high view of marriage does a lot. It protects women and children, often the people most hurt by sexual sin. It keeps us from falling into sin ourselves: The higher our view of marriage, the less likely we will be to dabble in something so devastating. And a high view of marriage honors the One who created it for our good and His glory—the One who promises to judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral.

Q&A: What Biblical Grounds Are There For Divorce In The Face Of Abuse?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: What biblical grounds are there for divorce in the face of emotional, financial, sometimes physical and spiritual abuse?

Pastors are largely ignorant of the real issues behind domestic abuse and only cite adultery as the grounds. When married to a Christian, they often recommend to just remain separated.

In Canada, if the other party is unwilling to separate out finances in a separation agreement, filing for divorce is the only way to get financial separation. Pastors want to believe they are the authorities on the Scripture but many have little understanding about domestic abuse in a marriage. What biblical grounds could you cite that could be shared with leaders as grounds for divorce in a domestic abuse marriage?

Answer:  I get asked this question a lot and I think the Church is slowly beginning to wake up to the reality of abuse and the necessity of thinking through this question a little more thoughtfully.

First, marriage was ordained by God to be a loving partnership. It is to be a picture to show us Christ’s relationship with his church. Marriage is a special and intimate relationship where safety and love are mutually expressed (Ephesians 5:22-32). Proverbs 31:12 says, “Her husband trusts her to do him good, not harm all the days of his life.” This is the picture of God’s view of marriage.

I think for a large part the church has been more focused on protecting the institution of marriage than protecting those who are mistreated within that relationship. And, when an individual in that relationship is repeatedly abusive, destructive, indifferent, and deceitful towards his partner, the church hasn’t really provided adequate answers for the injured spouse other than forgive and try harder to make it work.

Adultery is one place where most church leaders agree that there are Biblical grounds for divorce. However, there isn’t always agreement on what constitutes adultery.

We know that the act of sexual intercourse with a person who is not your spouse qualifies as adultery.  But what about other kinds of sexual activity? Is an emotional affair adultery? Or habitually viewing pornography and masturbating? I believe they do qualify and I wrote a newsletter on this topic that you can read here.

However, adultery at its core isn’t about sex. It’s about a deep-rooted selfishness. It’s about wanting what you want and not caring that it will deeply hurt another person who you promised to love and care about. It’s about lying to get what you want or covering up what you did so that you continue to get the perks of married life with no consequences from what you have done. It’s about being controlled by your appetites and your emotions rather than by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-22).  Adultery breaks the marital covenant of trust and does harm to the spouse, and the Bible says that is grounds to legally end the marriage.

So the next question we must ask is this. Are there other behaviors that also break the covenant and harm a spouse that constitute grounds for divorce? Is it only sexual intercourse with another person that qualifies as adultery or did Jesus and God use the term “adultery” as a metaphor for acts of marital unfaithfulness that may be expressed through a variety of different harmful attitudes and behaviors?

The Old Testament law said adulterers should be punished by death, not divorce  (Leviticus 20:10). So God must have allowed divorce for lesser “hardness of heart issues”.

God himself used the word “adultery” to describe his divorce with Israel for her unfaithfulness to their covenant but it represented a picture of her repeated idolatry and disregard for God, not a specific sexual act (Jeremiah 3:8).

When Jesus spoke to the religious leaders regarding marriage and divorce he knew that they were trying to trap him into contradicting Moses or endorsing their casual view of marriage and divorce (See Matthew 19).  Jesus did neither. He talked about the sanctity of marriage but he also reinforced that divorce was allowed because of the hardness of man’s heart.

To interpret the Bible correctly, we not only have to look at the original languages but also need to look at the culture to which Jesus spoke. In Biblical culture, men had all the rights, women did not. Men could divorce women (for any reason), women could not divorce their husbands.

But there are two different words for the term divorce throughout both the Old and New Testament. Our English bibles translate one word as a certificate of divorce and the other word is translated simply divorce. When you read what the Bible has to say about divorce, notice when it says certificate of divorce or just divorce because they mean different things in that culture.

The certificate of divorce was an official document of divorce where a woman was free to remarry. The other kind of divorce was a letting go of, or setting apart, or a getting rid of kind of divorce.  It was abandonment of the marriage but with no legal closure for the woman. This kind of divorce left a woman with few options.  She might remarry because she needed financial security, but she was not officially divorced.

It is this last kind of divorce that the Pharisees asked Jesus about and it is this kind of divorce that Jesus was referring to when he said that when you divorce your wife this way if she remarries you make her commit adultery because she is not officially divorced.  Jesus wasn’t forbidding all divorce, but this particular kind of divorce.

The passage that is normally used to prove that God hates divorce is Malachi 2:16. Here’s what the verse says in the NIV translation of the Bible. “The man who hates and divorces (notice the word choice – not gives her a certificate of divorce but simply divorces) his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty.  So be on guard, and do not be unfaithful.”

This kind of divorce, where a man abandons his wife is the kind of divorce God hates, not all divorce.  Some divorces are necessary and allowed because of the hardness of one’s heart. Unrepentant sin separates us from God and from other people. Jesus reinforces this idea that unconfessed sin breaks relationships.  For example, in Matthew 18 he says that if someone has sinned against us we are to go to him (or her) to begin the healing and reconciliation process. But when the other person refuses to listen and refuses to repent, the relationship changes.  Jesus then says, “Treat them as a pagan or tax collector.” In other words, every Jew understood that there is no trust or intimacy or friendship with pagans and tax collectors. You treat them with respect, but you aren’t closely involved with them.

We also see God protecting women in several Old Testament passages when it comes to divorce. Read Exodus 21:11 and Deuteronomy 24:12 for some examples.

I believe that when a spouse is physically or emotionally abused, chronically lied to, treated in treacherous ways, or living with someone who is repeatedly unfaithful, she (or he) has Biblical grounds for divorce.  The marriage covenant has been broken. An official divorce just makes that reality public and final.

Long-term separation puts both spouses in legal nowhere land. They can’t remarry, but they aren’t reconciled. For some people, it might work but most individuals need the protection that the law provides so that one has access to a share of the financial assets that were accumulated in the marriage.

Churches can advise a woman to stay permanently separated and not divorced.  Yet are these same churches willing to provide the backup plan to help her pay her bills, her medical insurance, and retirement needs if her husband spends their entire savings on himself while she was following their advice?  I don’t think so.

So ultimately you have to take responsibility and stewardship for yourself, which includes your physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional and financial health and well-being. You can’t put your entire well-being in the hands of a counselor, or pastor, or doctor or any other professional or person without also using your own prayerful discernment about what the Bible says and what is the best course of action for you to take.

Thankfully in today’s culture, women do have more legal rights and laws are in place (at least in our country) to protect those rights.  One of the purposes of our laws and government is to protect us from those who would harm us unjustly. (Romans 13:1-5).

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Leslie Vernick is a popular speaker, author, and licensed clinical social worker and relationship coach.

She is the author of seven books, including the best selling, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and her most recent The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.

Leslie has been a featured guest on Focus on the Family Radio, Family Life Today with Dennis Rainey, Moody Mid-Day Connection and writes a regular column for WHOA Women’s Magazine. Internationally, she’s spoken in Canada, Romania, Russia, Hungary, the Philippines, British Virgin Islands and Iraq.

In 2013, she received the American Association of Christian Counselors Caregiver of the Year Award.

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