Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Can Christians Divorce?

Dear Friends,

I had a conversation with a Christian friend last week about marriage and divorce, and after he left, I thought about something that happened many years ago.

It was while at a grocery store that I saw a woman who had gone to a church where I had also once attended. I remembered that she and her three kids had been very involved in the church ministries and then she suddenly left and we never saw her family again. I asked why she left. She told me that she and her husband had gone to the associate pastor for counseling. It came out during the sessions that her husband was physically abusing her. He had injured her several times to the degree that she had to go to the emergency room and tell them that she had “fallen.”

The associate pastor, who had a master’s degree in counseling, read Ephesians 5:22 to her and her husband. “Wives submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” The pastor said that the lack of her submission in the marriage was the problem. If she would be more submittive to her husband, she could avoid triggering his anger and the subsequent abuse. Furious that this pastor had made her the “cause” of her husband's violent and abusive behavior, she went in protest to the senior pastor. He told her she needed to submit to her husband and quoted Ephesians 5:22. I believed her account of what the pastors had said to her because that was the doctrine of this church. She told me she hated the Foursquare church, hated its pastors and had just filed a restraining order against her now former husband. She asked me how I was doing and I was too ashamed to tell her I'd recently become an ordained Foursquare pastor.

God made monogamous marriage between a man and a woman Matthew 19:3-6 and intended for that to be a Covenant (formal, binding agreement) with Him that would remain unbroken. But humans fail and God’s law, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 recorded by Moses, permitted divorce and remarriage, while at the same time, “God hates divorce.” Malachi 2:16 

Today it seems that many churches hate divorce even more than God does. Some pastors and denominations declare that divorce is never permitted under any circumstance. If divorce does occur, even the innocent party is too often painted with the brush of condemnation and told that they also will suffer under God’s judgement. Have we placed so much emphasis on the sanctity of marriage that we’ve forgotten how to love the victims of it?

Referring to marriage, Jesus said, “Therefore what God has joined together let not man separate.” Matthew 19:6. And then the messiness of life happens. And when the messiness breaks the Marriage Covenant, there are times when it’s permissible, even advisable, to leave a marriage. 

Jesus said that sexual immorality was a permissible reason.  And we need to understand that the Marriage Covenant does not end when a divorce is finalized by a court. The Covenant is ended when the marriage vows are irreparably broken. 

Domestic abuse breaks the Marriage Covenant. The vows we take in the presence of God to “love, honor and cherish..” are broken in repeated and unrepentant physical, sexual, mental & emotional abuse.

We also take a vow in our Covenant with God to stay together until, “death do us part.” When one person decides they no longer want to be married and they leave their marriage to abandon their spouse, the Covenant – those sacred vows – are broken as he or she crosses the threshold to walk out the door.

Adultery, abuse and abandonment are the three situations that break the Marriage Covenant and may permissibly end a marriage. But Christians need to exercise integrity and not spin these in an effort to give themselves an “out.” Adultery is not when he looks at the attractive neighbor, abuse is not when she’s cranky and hurts his feelings and abandonment is not when he goes golfing on Saturday. But when severe, on-going and unrepentant issues become damaging to a relationship, a pastor or Christian counselor may be able to help a couple restore their marriage or prayerfully hold their hand through the ending of it. 

And we always need to be careful that we don’t use the “God hates divorce” or an out-of-context scripture as a weapon against the victim in an abusive relationship and add to their anguish. Loving marriages are God’s plan for us – abusive marriages are not. There can be no doubt that God grieves over the heartache and loss in a fragmented family as the marriage vows disintegrate in a divorce. But God is a God of mercy and grace and is in the business of bringing healing and restoration to broken lives. No one who loves God is out of His redemptive reach.  Amen?

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