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 Matt7).

Hesitantly, I shared my thinking-so-far on the topic:

"Thanks 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 only):

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 therefore abrogated 'cleanly' by the other... It is not a 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 destructive marriage.

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 fears...(sigh):

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 secondary option

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.

Don't feel required to reply--I know your plate is full

Made God bring fruit to your ministry!!


I wrote a final, resigned reply:

"This 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 partner.

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



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