Monday, May 5, 2014

Email Question Concerning Divorce Revisited

I have heard the only time a divorce is okay in the eyes of God is when a spouse commits adultery. Is this true? What is a wife of 28 years supposed to do when she's had enough of her husbands verbal and physical abuse, alcoholism and drug problems, and occasional gambling problems? Is she right to finally wake up and want a divorce? Would God want her to continue suffering??? I think she needs to pack her bags and never look back, but what is the biblical answer???

This question was addressed previously but I feel it is worth revisiting.  I am still without the use of my right arm so I am not writing much but will continue once I recover from this surgery.

I will first address the first question. In Deuteronomy, chapter 22, divorce is addressed. God gives a mandatory set of procedures to be used when considering a husband's desire to divorce his wife. A certificate of divorce could only be issued if the wife was proven to be unfaithful if and only if the marriage had been an honorable marriage to begin with. The husband and wife had to have been pure. They may have been previously married but the former spouse must had to have died. If a man took a wife in a dishonorable way, divorce (regardless of the reason) was not permitted.

God's opinion of divorce is stated in the Bible
Mal 2:16 "For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one's garment with violence," Says the LORD of hosts. Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously."

Jesus again addressed God's desires concerning divorce while answering some questions from the Pharisees attempting to trap Him.
Mat 19:7 They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" 8 He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery."

God hates divorce. He doesn't want us to divorce. He gave us a provision to divorce our unfaithful spouses but would rather see us walk in the most painful of forgiveness restoring each other. This is not easy and, in my opinion, only possible if the unfaithful spouse humbles him or herself. Furthermore, I feel the intervention of Godly, mature people ministering to the family, especially the wounded spouse and children (if applicable) is vital in order for the family to be healed. Additionally, the unfaithful spouse needs to be willing to be held in the strictest of accountability for an indefinite period of time. Rebuilding that intimate bond will take time and the unfaithful spouse needs to be ready to walk lightly and humbly, realizing that there will be comments made out of anger and hurt that he (or she) has personally brought about.

In short, God hates divorce because of what is involved from all sides. He wants us to try our best to restore those who have fallen and minister to the victims of their sin. After all, He went to great extremes to reconcile us.

Now to address the issue of God's stance on abuse concerning divorce. It seems that the church, in large part, has legislated that divorce is also OK when abuse is occurring. Lets first characterize and define abuse. There is physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, relational abuse, and (what I like to call) material abuse.

Physical abuse is usually described as one spouse physically inflicting pain on the other. Beating, burning, strangling, shoving, throwing, etc are the typical forms of this abuse. It is easy to diagnose b/c this type of abuse leaves (usually) physical proof. There is never an excuse to lay your hands forcefully on your spouse unless you are attempting to your spouse from impending pain. For example, an angry wife turns in anger away from her husband during an argument on the side of the road and unknowingly steps into oncoming traffic. The husband grabs her to pull her back and she, not knowing the danger, feels she is being attacked. The truth of this situation usually shows itself quickly.

Another more obscure but common example of mistaken abuse would be a spouse, infuriated by a situation, going to grab the keys and drive off in anger ... possibly affected by pain killers or alcohol that has rendered the spouse unable to think clearly. If the other spouse grabs the keys out of the hands or restrains the spouse from getting into the vehicle (or whatever), that spouse is not being physically abusive (in my opinion). Consider what you would do if your husband or wife grabbed a gun in order to take his or her own life...

Probably the most confusing situation is when an angry spouse is being verbally assaulted (in their opinion) by their spouse. If the spouse tries to walk away (or past) the other but the angry spouse attempts to physically block or restrain the retreating spouse, and that angry spouse gets hurt or pushed out of the way, calling this physical abuse on part of the retreating spouse is a mistake. One cannot corner another then bring charges about the way the other attempts to get away, unless the other uses unnecessary methods (throws punches or objects or attacks the other). It is important to root through these obscure details when abuse has been charged b/c these situations change everything.

Verbal, Emotional, and Relational abuse are, in my opinion, usually quickest charges levied but the hardest to prove (and very often improperly stated). We seem to throw these charges around very quickly but they are completely subjective. Verbal abuse is the use of words to hurt. Concerning verbal abuse, people get excited when they are angry or frustrated. If a spouse is being yelled at, there may be more to the picture. Rarely do we acknowledge our part in conflict. Married couples argue ... and those arguments can be heated. Lawyers go to school and take strict classes learning how to argue a point without losing control ... and they still fail. Rarely to married couples receive detailed training to learn how to handle disagreements. So yelling cannot be, in itself, the defining characteristic of verbal abuse. The use of name callings, gross remarks, etc also cannot be the standard for rendering the spouse a guilty verdict.

Neglecting a spouse's need for emotional response is the typical definition of emotional abuse. Emotion abuse is the use or denial of emotion with the intent to cause pain. But emotional abuse can also be the use of emotion (crying, sadness, anger, etc) with the specific intent to manipulate the other spouse's response to any situation. But, all to often, this accusation is brought about by one spouse because the other spouse is not providing the emotions sought. I recommend reading The Five Love Languages (Dr. Gary Chapman) concerning this. In short, one spouse cannot demand the other spouse to have the same set of emotional responses to any situation. I often ask a wife (who is explaining how her husband never seems to show his "feminine side") if she wants a husband who hides behind her or whines about his day. The answer is always "no." The strength or softness desired from a spouse has side effects that cannot be just turned on or off. They are part of who that person is. Furthermore, a spouse should not define the appropriate set of emotional responses by what they see as normal. A marriage is made up of two individuals with infinite differences merging into one life.

The refusal of a spouse to allow the other spouse time in personal relationships outside of the home is the essence of relational abuse. There are some people I do not want my wife to hang out with and vice versa. That desire is not abusive if it has good reason. But if I keep her from having a social life, I am neglecting her need for relationships. The choice to be married implies that certain relationships will dissolve. That is expected.

If a spouse accuses the other spouse of either of these types of abuse, a thorough investigation by a Godly couple should be executed. Many times the things we hear that hurt us to our core are said in response to things we are doing. I am not saying that this is acceptable. It is not. But many times it is an indicator of a lot of things wrong within the marriage relationship. I am always slow and very methodical in my response to these accusations.

Material abuse is the refusal for a spouse to carry out proper responsibilities for providing food, shelter, etc for the family. Spouses that refuse to work or keep a proper job inflict unnecessary pain on their loved ones due to their own laziness. This is abuse. Children going without food or a wife that cannot purchase necessary (or occasionally desired) products or materials (food, clothing, makeup, gifts, etc) are examples of this abuse. Another indicator is a spouse that, with no justifiable cause, refuses the other spouse access to the finances of the home. Again, this specific situation (finances) can be very subjective. But if a spouse has a history of irresponsible behavior concerning financial decisions, this action cannot be defined as abuse.

These examples are not explicit or implicit ... there are other examples but basically these are the types of abuses or charges of abuse that occur within the family.

So to the question ... does God allow us to divorce for this. The answer is no. Churches who offer this as if God is OK with it do so in error. I have heard it legislated in churches that divorce is OK'd by God when abuse is involved. There is NO biblical support of that. So what does the Bible say?

Well, first and foremost, a spouse who is guilty of abusing the other spouse needs to be brought to account. The Bible says that a man who doesn't love and cherish his wife hates his own flesh.

Eph 5:28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.

The Bible also gives permission for separation.

1Co 7:15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.


Mat 18:15 "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY WORD MAY BE ESTABLISHED.' 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

If a spouse is being abusive, that spouse should be directly addressed. If he refuses to repent, he is to be treated like an unbeliever (heathen and tax collector). Press charges and have the spouse removed from the home until he can be reconciled. If he demands a divorce, give it to him. But with everything possible, we need to chase after reconciliation. If abuse has been going on for a long period of time, yet God's plan has not been followed, we have to take our part. No one brings abuse on him or herself if it truly is abuse. But God's plan is that we directly address sins against us so that we can see His restorative miracle working power work through us to healing. Imagine how wonderful that marriage can be if it is truly restored. If the married couple's church refuses to get involved, that leadership is cowardice ... leave the church and find another. God ordained church leadership for these very reasons ... not to preach from beautiful pulpits. We are to do our best to "restore in love those who fall"

To the extreme ... what do you do if your life is in real danger? Live. We make decisions everyday that go against God's desires and if we walk in humility, He will walk us through those decisions and the consequences of them if we remain in Him. Wait ... am I legislating sin. Absolutely not. But it only takes 5 minutes of Bible reading to see that though God is not the Author of all He is the Master of all.

"What if I have divorced my spouse over abuse?" Well you can't un-shoot a bullet nor can you undo past decisions. What's done is done. "My husband beats me ... what do I do?" Get out. Press charges. Get him out of the house. Get people involved. Don't ask his permission to ask your family or church for help. Any husband or wife who physically assaults his or her spouse has serious issues that cannot be resolved by him or herself (else the abuse would never happened.)

My advice in short:
Get honest with your situation ... don't throw around the abuse word
Get humble before God...ask Him what you may have done differently in the situation
Get in front...approach it directly. Bring in your family and pastor.
Get out...if abuse is certain and your spouse refuses Godly intervention press charges and get him out of the house

"Can I get a divorce?" You can do anything you want to do ... and in the end you will. But don't put the "God approves of this" label on it. Do what you are going to do ... let your yes be yes and your no be no and let the consequences come ... hopefully they are good consequences.

Finally...I am sorry for the pain any married couple experiences, but God is more concerned. There is nothing more wonderful in this life than a healthy family home. There is nothing more terrible than a broken home.

For help in family situations on line, check out

That's my take anyways ... awesome question.  So what are your thoughts?

Don't be confused.  LEARN STUFF!!!
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  1. Really good stuff Pat. As a divorced dad who has remarried I can totally relate to the confusion as well as the different circumstances around divorce. Personally we had a situation where neither one of us wanted it to work it out so we used whatever excuse we could to justify our divorce. We were not bad people but for whatever reason we brought out the worst in each other. God has set up a plan for the household and if people focused on their role things would be a lot smoother in a marriage!

  2. I know it was terrible ... but you are a testimony of God's love and willingness to move us forward and through .... I appreciate your willingness to accept your part .. I think that is very important for being able to move forward without being bitter.

    Divorce has been close to my family ... there are no winners ... but with God He is able to work in us for our best in the worst of our pains ... always granting joy to come.

    Thanks for your comment! It is very encouraging.