Difficult question on Divorce... (at least always for me)...
I hesitate to put this up
here--since it is SO EASY to 'use this as cheap ammo'-- but it MIGHT
help some honest-but-struggling heart...
In 2002, someone wrote in with a standard question on Divorce:
Thanks again for your
work--I enjoy reading your viewpoints on tough subjects-am currently
mulling over your thoughts on the controversial passages re: women and
the church (good points).
The reason I am
writing is to ask if you have put together a study re: divorce. I
am currently teaching a class on marriage (using the Precept course as
a framework). Soon we will come to the subject on divorce and I
have always struggled with the various views on this (particularly
Hesitantly, I shared my
thinking-so-far on the topic:
for visiting LMN, and for sharing with others.
No, I don't have anything on divorce.
I more-or-less try to stay on the 'visible' apologetic questions, and
whereas 'women' (for example) comes up in that space, I rarely see
'divorce'. having been divorced MYSELF I have had to think through
aspects of the issue (to some level) before my Lord, but I have not
written anything nor do I plan to/have time to anytime soon. I DO
think, just to add one perspective to your research, that (MY opinion
1. Since marriage is called a covenant between two parties, with
mutual responsibilities, it can be violated by one party (e.g., abandonment,
abuse, negligence, unfaithfulness to those responsibilities) and then
'cleanly' by the
other... It is not an uni-lateral, unconditional covenant...
2. ... and that divorce is essentially MANDATORY for a
spouse to do in certain cases of ANTI-covenant behavior (e.g.,
abuse of spouse or children, financial irresponsibility to the point of
jeopardizing the family's/kids' present/future)--and this is required under the
ethics of Christian Stewardship (much as self-defense is
mandated under the ethic of stewardship).
3. I PERSONALLY believe the
remarriage 'condition' of pornea
("uncleanness"/"fornication") to be MUCH WIDER than simple
'adultery', since adultery is a
DIFFERENT word in Greek. This forces me to understand pornea
as something OTHER THAN our 'traditional' way of understanding
that clause as 'sexual unfaithfulness'. I think (but I don't have time
to prove this tonight) that since pornea-type words are used of
spiritual unfaithfulness, disloyalty, and apathy to Yahweh's covenant
with Israel in the OT, that Jesus' ref to this may be the same--a
reference to 'serious unfaithfulness/disregard' to the marriage
covenant AS A COVENANT. In other words, unfaithfulness in marriage is
NOT simply a 'sexual thing' (the metaphysical-union metaphor is not dominant/prominent in Israel's
covenant with the Lord), but rather a 'contract thing' (e.g.,
the conditional nature of the Mosaic covenant). So, I see a much WIDER
set of behaviors/attitudes on the part of a spouse to be intended by
Jesus, including many, many non-sexual (but JUST AS destructive to the
marriage 'success') ones (e.g., failure to protect, failure to provide
under normal conditions, sustained verbal abuse, unpredictability,
failure to be financially responsible or parentally involved, failure
to engage in marriage-healing activities, perhaps even later-developed
radically 'uncooperative' worldviews, etc.--but to the degree that
destructiveness has reached some critical-mass)
4. The severity of Jesus' sayings, in
my opinion, was related to the 'weekend marriage' abuses. As today in
some parts of the west, a man could literally divorce his wife for a
weekend/short time, marry a young-fling-thing for a weekend/period of
sex/novelty, and then REMARRY the older-wife to keep his 'good, stable,
practical thing at home'-- and THAT type of behavior/cavalier attitude
toward marriage is what I THINK Jesus was targeting.
5. Part of my understanding of
divorce comes from the 100+ cases in
Ezra, (apparently) sanctioned by God, for higher priority values.
This means that some issues/values
are more important that not divorcing, and this is similar to
how Jesus' disciples could 'ignore the sabbath restrictions' when
higher priorities (e.g., hunger) came up, and Jesus defends them, by
describing the sabbath as 'created for the benefit of man'.
6. Therefore, God hates divorce (as
He says), but He hates it when it is an act of
treachery (as in the Malachi passage) or betrayal (especially of
an elderly spouse, 'the covenant of your youth'), and NOT WHEN it is a stewardship response of
one of His kids.
7. My Christian counselor--a graduate
of the same seminary I attended--counseled me to initiate divorce. His
phrase was "sometimes it is just time
to jump out of the boat and swim to shore"...the issue of a
I cannot argue/defend this to
you/others, but I did want to share with you some of the themes that
came up in my thinking over the past 15+ years. There is much written
on this subject, and it is a very
inflammatory subject as you are no doubt aware.
Anyway, my break is over
(smile)--gotta go back to bed (2.53am here)...I was just thinking about
this since I got your message (and it ALWAYS 'disturbs' me to remember
the events that led to MY divorce).
best wishes on your teaching,
in His love and forgiveness,
He wrote back, confirming my
Thank you so much for
your thoughtful reply--you make some interesting points. I wish
you would do a study on this issue sometime.
My concern re:
what i get from your reply is there seems little restraint from
justifying a divorce on the grounds you shared:
"...including many, many non-sexual (but
JUST AS destructive to the marriage 'success')
ones (e.g., failure to protect, failure to provide under normal
conditions, verbal abuse, unpredictability, failure to be financially
responsible or parentally involved, failure to engage in
marriage-healing activities, perhaps even later-developed radically
'uncooperative' worldviews, etc.)..."
when one could
argue that God desires us to honor the marriage vow in spite of the
numerous ways we fall short of Eph 5.
I tend to
gravitate to gravitate to "all or none" solutions to these issues (ie
God hates divorce, Gen 1+2 give his plan for marriage, divorce is only
because of the "hardness of our heart"). The problem I have with
what I believe you were describing is how does an individual reliably
determine when mere arguing [which I hope is not grounds for
divorce :-) ] becomes "verbal abuse" and stewardship
compels them to divorce and (likely) seek another spouse.
The problem I see
with the "no divorce" view that I have is what to do with true
malicious and harmful behavior (I have a living example of this as we
have a friend who has endured what I would have to describe an actual
malicious and wicked husband). I've been recently impressed with
how often scripture calls us to suffer for what is right. Would
remaining in an abusive marriage in honor of a commitment made before
God be an example of this?
A similar line of
argument comes in to play re: remarriage. I think a good case can
be made that scripture presents the ideal of remaining unmarried so as
to be unfettered for service, whereas remarriage is "allowed" as a
I guess as with
all difficult theological issues it is important to remain honest to
scripture and try to seek what God truly desires rather than what is
convenient to our theology or what we want emotionally.
required to reply--I know your plate is full
Made God bring
fruit to your ministry!!
I wrote a final, resigned
is one of the main reasons I hesitate to write this up--it could
be 'used' as a license/excuse to AVOID 'hanging
in there' long enough until it was CLEAR
that the stewardship issue was the dominant priority. Drawing
the line on matters like this is EXCEPTIONALLY difficult to 'delineate'
in rules and formulas--so much is a matter of heart and
conscience...how much one can 'take' varies by individual (but in most
cases, anything illegal must not be
tolerated--even FOR the marriage--such as child abuse, Domestic
Violence, drugs, crime, fraud). I am NOT ALLOWED
(e.g., under Romans 13) to 'keep quiet' before the Authorities
about illegal actions of a spouse (e.g., drugs, child molestation,
etc)--even under some principle of 'suffering for what is right'.
And, btw, in almost ALL cases of a
'repentant spouse', the effort should be to
forgive/repair/secure/enrich the relationship...however, EVEN IF the
partner is repentant of something illegal like child-abuse or domestic
violence, if the HABIT is too strong
and they REFUSE to be isolated or treated for it, then STEWARDSHIP probably
is also required for the other parter.
but anyway...I only tried to indicate
where/when I differed from the traditional (and generally biblical)
views of 'do everything you can to preserve marriage'...there is no
doubt that that is God's heart, but in the extreme cases I mention, I do not
believe the partner is in bondage and indeed, is sometimes
under the stewardship ethic (which I have NEVER seen discussed
in anything about Christian marriage).
Anyway, best wishes on the
series...and thanks for the question...I will probably have to write
something up (with PLENTY of anti-license warnings in it!) sometime.
Warmly, trying to honor Him as best I know how, glenn
The Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.Christian-thinktank.com]