A huge number of people liked the post I wrote the other day called “How To Stay Married.” Here is the counterpart to that post.
Let me say, first, that I am NOT getting divorced! Instead, I would like to strengthen the Christian view of marriage and divorce. Divorce is a sin, according to the Bible and yet it is increasingly common in the church. Why are so many Christians getting divorced and remarried?
Here we go with the controversial stuff…
When is it permissible for Christian people to get divorced?
In the instance of adultery, the innocent spouse may divorce the guilty spouse.
What is adultery? Adultery is when someone has sex with someone other than their spouse. There is no other definition. I know some people want to use Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount here as a way of including pornography, emotional attachments and even flirting as adultery. Yet it is obvious that Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, was not making a new set of laws or even redefining the old laws in new ways. If this were the case then the new laws should carry the new punishments with them. We ought to be seeing a lot of one-eyed and one-handed people! Instead, Jesus was pointing to the source of the problem of sin: the human heart. Jesus was saying that adultery does not begin in the bed, it begins in the heart.
This being the case, most, if not all, spouses are guilty of adultery. For one person to divorce another person for a sin they are both guilty of would perhaps be a miscarriage of justice and also more than slightly hypocritical. Instead, where there are these problems in our hearts we should not excuse them nor should we ignore them. We should be trying to heal them.
Let me just repeat what I have said in case someone thinks I am letting sinners off of the hook:
Where there are these problems in our hearts we should not excuse them nor should we ignore them. We should be trying to heal them.
Someone might say, “You don’t know the damage this heart problem did to my trust in my spouse.” Perhaps this is true. But if Jesus is our role model then we cannot give up on people simply because they hurt us or betray us. Think of Peter and Paul. Both of them opposed Jesus and yet Jesus chose both of them. If the Bible is our guide then 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres.
In the cases of actual adultery or the adultery of the heart, what we should be looking for is repentance. If our spouse is guilty and is willing to repent then why should we leave? Would it be permissible for us to leave a guilty spouse? Perhaps, yes. Would it be beneficial? That is a much trickier question. Maybe a few questions should be asked to help guide Christians in these circumstances:
- If the guilty spouse is willing to repent then who benefits from a divorce?
- Is the divorce meant to be a punishment of the guilty spouse?
- If so, then why is punishment more important than forgiveness?
- If not, then what is the motive for the divorce?
- How can forgiveness and restoration be shown to the guilty spouse if divorce is pursued?
These questions, although weighted heavily towards forgiveness and marriage, are not meant to form a rule preventing divorce. There may be times when divorce is the best option. What I am suggesting is that each life should be considered individually. The Bible calls divorce a sin and prevents remarriage in a number of cases. Divorce is not meant to be easy! In such a complicated situation, wisdom and care from a local church are very, very important.
In the instance of abandonment, divorce may be permitted.
If your spouse leaves you and is not happy to live with you then divorce is permissible. This is made clear by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. If the spouse, who is unbelieving, is unwilling to remain in the home then the believing spouse is not bound to them.
What if the spouse is a Christian? Then this is where church discipline and a thorough form of Christianity need to come into action. If, for the sake of discussion, a Christian man in my congregation leaves his wife then I must call him back to his wife. If he tries to maintain that he can, as a Christian, leave his wife without just cause and abandon her then I must disabuse him of this ludicrous notion. If he chooses to abandon his wife then he must also leave behind his Christian faith.
Does that sound harsh? Sure it does! Yet it is true! If abandoning a spouse is sinful then how can a Christian abandon their spouse and choose to live in sin? The only way for them to be restored to God would be to repent. Repenting of abandoning a spouse would mean returning to that spouse. This is, I think, the best way to correctly interpret the whole of the Bible’s teaching on marriage.
Here is where the church has lost its way, I think. There are a great many “Christians” who have divorced their spouses without a legitimate reason. Falling out of love is not a legitimate reason. Money troubles are not a legitimate reason. Weight gain is not a legitimate reason. Growing apart is not a legitimate reason.
Even making this short list of reasons some people give for their divorce makes me angry. How pathetic are the people who give these reasons?!? Can I say, simply out of my own anger at such shallowness, that these people should grow up!
What do many churches say about this?
Not a thing.
What should churches be saying about this?
Repent and return to your husband and to your wife. Do not get married again and compound the problem. Seek forgiveness, restoration and maturity.
Yet if the person is not willing to remain and insists on abandoning their spouse then the spouse who is left behind is not bound to them and may divorce and remarry.
In the instance of abuse, divorce may be permissible.
For our denomination, we include this last reason for a divorce. The reasoning behind this inclusion is that we reckon abuse to be its own form of abandonment. The church may need to help determine the actual occurrence of abuse in some cases. Still, abuse in a marriage is, in our view, equivalent to emotional abandonment.
Biblically, abuse is not grounds for divorce. By that, what I mean is that there is nothing in the Bible about leaving a spouse due to abuse. Yet we think that abuse is its own form of abandonment and perhaps even adultery and so is a legitimate reason for divorce.
The church, as I said, may need to help to discern when abuse is genuinely occurring. No amount of physical or sexual abuse should be tolerated. Verbal abuse, emotional abuse and other forms of ill treatment are less easily defined. The church’s role here is not to try to smooth over what is a genuine problem or to try to protect the abuser. Instead, the church can help both parties to see when abuse is genuinely occurring. If the abuser is unrepentant and unwilling to seek healing and counsel then a divorce might be granted.
There is a lot in this post and I am only scratching the surface of what could be said. I think my views are informed by the Bible. You are welcome to question me about them.
If you want to have some feedback about specific instances of divorce then please get in touch.