I have formed my stance from the Bible, prayer, conversations with people much wiser than myself, and many books. The main one that has influenced me, though, is Divorce & Remarriage in the Church by David Instone-Brewer, which I highly recommend. 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 Thursday.)
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 until 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 Exodus21:10f. Jesus was not asked about these biblical grounds for divorce, though Paul alluded to them in 1 Corinthians 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 This book argues that God never repealed these biblical grounds for divorce based on broken marriage vows.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 Ephesians 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 (because of free will), 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, absolutely. 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.
If this post encouraged you, you would benefit from “Unraveling: Hanging onto Faith through the End of a Christian Marriage”, found here.