I believe that marriage is for a lifetime. And I believe that people should not divorce because they aren’t happy or have “fallen out of love”. (More on that soon.)
I believe that the Bible is clear that divorce is allowed for these two reasons:
If your spouse is unfaithful and unrepentant.
If your spouse literally abandons you.
These circumstances do not mean you must divorce, but I believe the path is clearer for people whose situations fall under these two areas, and they may choose to divorce.
Now, onto the messy and gray areas. Up til I read Divorce & Remarriage in the Church, I was under the impression that being in an abusive or addiction-fraught marriage was just someone’s tough luck and they had to suffer under it.
Dr. Brewer references a text in Exodus 21:10-11 where he builds the argument that abuse and neglect are areas where a woman may be free to divorce her husband. (I cannot possibly cover all that he goes into in one blog post, so please pick up his book.) But Dr. Brewer says, “The Old Testament allowed divorce for the breaking of marriage vows, including neglect and abuse, based on Exod.21.10f. Jesus was not asked about these biblical grounds for divorce, though Paul alluded to them in 1 Cor.7 as the basis of marriage obligations. This book argues that God never repealed these biblical grounds for divorce based on broken marriage vows. They were exemplified by Christ (according to Eph.5.28f) and they became the basis of Christian marriage vows (love, honor, and keep).”
He also puts words to something that I’ve felt for a very long time but couldn’t get a handle on. Though we are all sinners and every person will stand before God to account for their part in their marriage’s thriving or failing, in some instances there is actually a victim and a guilty party. The most obvious would be the woman who is doing her part in her marriage and thinks her marriage is going well only to find out that her husband is having an affair. Though they are both sinners and could both be doing more to work on themselves and their marriage, clearly it was the husband who broke the vow.
I’m not saying that all marriages with abuse or addiction in them should end in divorce. I am saying that they should be treated with extra and specific help and support in hopes to bring restoration. They can’t be treated the way regular “hard” marriages are. And if they can’t be restored, which is always a possibility, there should be extra grace shown.
Dr. Brewer asserts that it is the option of the victim to decide if she wants a divorce. He goes on to say that it’s the breaking of the marriage vows that is the sin, not the actual initiation of the divorce.
The conclusions he makes in his book are as follows:
The Bible’s message for those suffering within marriage is both realistic and loving.
Marriage should be lifelong, but broken marriage vows can be grounds for divorce.
Biblical grounds for divorce include adultery, abuse and abandonment.
Jesus urged forgiveness but allowed divorce for repeated unrepentant breaking of marriage vows.
Only the victim, not the perpetrator of such sins, should decide when or whether to divorce.*
I believe that, despite inner and external accusations, I was not in sin or wrong to stand up against the wrongdoing that was taking place in my marriage. I believe I was not in sin or wrong to take the advice of my church leadership when they released me to legally separate. I believe I was not in sin or wrong to not contest the divorce petitioned against me. And I believe I was not in sin or wrong to not stay married no matter what. Is it a shame that my marriage ended in divorce? Yes. But not nearly as much as a shame that the marriage vows were broken.
I realize that not everyone will agree with me (or Dr. Brewer) and that is fine. Every person needs to come to their own conclusions about this, with Bible-reading, prayer and wise counsel. I am aware that I will stand before God for my views and I am comfortable with that, because I believe I did what I could do to save my marriage. But I remind myself, it wasn’t just up to me.
*To this I want to add my own two cents. I know what he means when he says this; he means that it shouldn’t be left up to the abuser to decide if the marriage is over. But I want to add a caution that though no one can understand the intricacies of a marriage except for the two people living in the marriage, and I do believe the victim should be able to determine the true state of his or her marriage, I want to recommend that surrounding yourself with much wise counsel is the best way to walk this out. Not all church experiences will be the same as mine, I know, but there was a protection over me – I have no doubt – because I went to my church, asked for their help, and submitted to their authority and counsel.
It has taken me a long time to come to the conclusion that marriage may not be for life. Moses was allowed to issue certificates of divorce for the hardness of hearts. The precedent was set by the ultimate Judge-God. I have learned that each marriage has its own prescription for when it s sick or broken. God meets you both right where you are. Thank you Elizabeth for putting prayer, Gods word, and wise counsel at the forefront of dealing with broken marriages. I have seen women hang on to their broken marriage and lose themselves; I have seen women divorce their husbands because of unfaithfulness, only for God to heal and restore the broken marriage. Jesus meets people right where they are and deals with them on a cases by case basis.
Thanks Elizabeth. I especially like this part:
*Only the victim should decide when or whether to divorce.*
There were horrific moments of abuse in my marriage over a decade ago. Vows are broken when abuse occurs. Even after apologies are made … dysfunction and misery can set in. There are consequences for abuse and neglect from self-serving, self-righteous spouses/parents.
I finally found the courage to separate from my husband. Yet, I have endured heaps of condemnation by him for “quitting”. The mental anguish of attempting to live in any form of harmony with him under the same room almost put me over the edge.
I know that God “gets it” and I have some wonderfully supportive friends & family. Often church goers are the most judgemental people I come across. If I continue to “walk in God’s ways & seek His will”, then my marriage will be restored … such utter nonsense.
Now, a male friend of mine (a former friend of my ex’s) has become very special to me. His marriage also fell apart. What we have discovered in each other is something I can’t even put into words. The genuine love and companionship I lost (for my ex over a decade ago) has been rebirthed and a fresh chance to experience being in love … I feel like a miracle has occurred deep inside me. Yet, many Christians seem to relish calling me unfaithful, an adulturer, an unrepentant sinner, etc.
Is happiness worth it? Or should I remain miserable staying married to a man who has caused me (and who still does) immense grief and who tells our kids that their mom made a big mistake by separating from him? How I long for more support & encouragement from “friends” who have chosen to side with my ex. In the meantime, my new life is in progress and it’s all because of God’s peace, love, joy & GRACE.
I can totally relate to your story. I have been accused of quitting also, but I tell people that you can’t quit what was never there to begin with.
I appreciate the clarity and point out that the sin occurs when the vows are broken. In my opinion, if the vows are broken, especially repeatedly or continually, then taking the steps to actually separate or divorce actually brings light to a secret place – something God is in the business of doing. It is living in reality, rather than furthering a farce.
Thank you again Elisabeth for a great article. I recently came across this website: http://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com/
It is by a pastor and he supports the book you referenced. He also did a sermon series on The Abuser. I listened to the first sermon and it was really good, I look forward to the rest of the sermon.
I too have fears if I decide to leave my husband because I am pretty sure that my Christian friends will not be kind to me and will condemn me for my choices. These friends have good marriages and don’t know the pain and damage of abuse in marriage.
Mine is a different one , I have been a victom , and I decided to stay together only to get hurt more and more , then to be abandond like I was nothing.
Thanks,For sharing such a nice information.I appreciate your’s point which you have mentioned in your blog….about Separation & Divorce.
Elizabeth, I believe God’s ministry through you is vital for today…We, the church, are persecuting our own people by judging by mere appearances and not having all the facts…Jesus’ own words in John 7:24 encourages us to make a right judgment and without all the facts that is not possible, I believe….
Five years ago, after living sixteen years with a scoffer of the faith, the Spirit of God begin to lead me through an intervention to restore my marriage…At this point it had been 30 years of marriage and God’s words to me were to “separate”..2 Cor 6:14-17 1 Cor 7:10-11 of God’s Word released me to separate, as long as I remained unmarried or else be reconciled…as I stayed opened and in step with His Spirit he exposed the stronghold in our marriage that had been there before we were married…My husband finally became open to counseling through it all and alot of good came of the separation of seven months. It is His battle and His revenge…each relationship is different and should not be judged by mere appearances but that is our fleshly nature, which can bring much hurt from our friends, family and others who have not walked in our shoes…Today, I praise God for allowing me to walk through that time of pain to birth more ministry through me to lead others to Christ…In April, my husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma and I pray that through this disease that His eyes will be opened to God’s Word..as I continue to win him other with a gentle and quiet Spirit…hard place and only by the grace of God and confessing my sin am I able to walk in the truth of..1 Peter 3:4…One day at a time for His Honor and Glory….keep on encouraging other women as you are doing as God brings order through it all…Much love to you as my sister in Christ….
I found out my husband was cheating on me at the beginning of July of this year. He had also done so when our kids were pre-schoolers. AT that time he was willing and wanted to work on the marriage so obviously we stayed married.
This time he didn’t want to break it off with her. At that time I was determined to work it out…until it became obvious he did not care. It still breaks my heart to type those words because we’d been married almost 23 years at that time.
As the reality dawned that he wasn’t interesting in being married, the thought of at least moving out entered my mind. Of course there was MUCH prayer involved and when I talked to my pastor he pointed out the fact that (after I’d told him more about the marriage) my husband had emotionally abandoned me and the marriage months ago–or longer, therefore giving another Biblical reason.
He also mentioned that if I did not move out I was not holding him accountable for what he’d done, esp. after realizing he was so unrepentant about the whole thing–and if I’d stayed it would be saying that his behaviors were OK.
When I told our 18 year old daughter about this–she said,”Mom, I’d be disappointed in you if you stayed after all of that.” So I realized I was setting an example for her too.
My pastor DID NOT force me into making any decision and I’m NOT judging anyone who decides to stay or leave in the same situation…but it was very reassuring to talk with him and realize that not only was there the cheating but the abandonment too.
I think the most important thing to do is to pray continually about making the right choice. I felt a peace, along with profound sadness, at my choice.
I was married a couple of years ago, and I thought it would never end because I was so happy with my wife and our son. Out of nowhere, I found out that my wife was having an affair. It hurt a lot and I felt like I wanted to die. I filed for divorce and it was really hard to explain to our son what was happening. We even tried to go under counseling to somehow save our marriage but to no avail. Now, we are living separate lives and we have come into terms with each other. Though every now and then the pain still lingers, I just remember the fondest memories we’ve had, and I think that I was happy while the relationship lasted.
It amazes me that in this day and age of therapy and counseling that Pastors are still saying “stay, be submissive and love them through it”. Bullies and abuser’s thrive on submission!!!!! Boundaries, consequences, and standing up for yourself is key to change. Pray, pray and pray! Yes of course! But action is also required!
I totally agree. Instone-brewer’s book shed so much light for me on a topic that had had me confused for so long. God is for covenant faithfulness throughout marriage, but where one person repeatedly and unrepentantly sins by breaking their vows hard-heartedly, I believe God has shown gracious and practical remedies.
Couldn’t agree more with Jan. my submission and passivity emboldened my husband, making him feel entitled to his sins against me and my children. Only after finally getting the strength to walk, was my husband forced to look at his deeds and their affect on his family. We are together and stronger than we have ever before, and he says, he is finally a man.