The Bible and Divorce: My Understanding
I'm gathering stories of other Christians who chose divorce because of abuse, and the response of their churches to that decision. If you are a Christian and interested in contributing your own divorce story in relationship to God and the church, please message me at https://www.facebook.com/LindaMKurthAuthor. I'm interested in both helpful and hurtful experiences. Know that I encourage respectful comments here, keeping this blog a safe place to dialog about this subject.
When I was going through a divorce after twenty-five years of marriage, I experienced a dichotomy of responses from the church and other Christians. Typically, conservative churches focus on the law, particularly on Matthew 19 verse 9: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” There are other passages as well indicating that divorce is a covenant relationship, and telling how God hates divorce. (The latter of which I absolutely agree.) More liberal churches on the other hand, tend to focus on God’s mercy.
I’m intuitively on the side of mercy, but I continue to read scholarly studies on the subject, wanting to understand God's heart. David Instone-Brewer’s book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities, makes sense to me. He writes, “My hope is that the church will rediscover the biblical principles that divorce should occur only when marriage vows are broken and that only the wronged partner may decide whether this will happen."
There were no debates about the validity of neglect and abuse as grounds for divorce in any ancient Jewish literature, for the same reason that there are none about the oneness of God: these principles were unanimously agreed on. Rather than indicating that Jesus did not accept the validity of divorce for neglect and abuse, his silence about it highlights the fact that he did accept it, like all other Jews at that time.
This acceptance of abuse and neglect as grounds for divorce indicates that those actions fall under the heading of marital unfaithfulness, as mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 5:32. A husband who neglects or abuses his wife is being unfaithful to her every bit as much as through sexual infidelity. The same applies to the wife. I also found his look at the concept of “covenant” to be enlightening. You may want to get a copy of Instone-Brewer's book to read more.
I don’t believe that, if a marriage gets tough, the only answer is to leave. I’ve heard Christian people declare “God just wants us to be happy,” using that as permission to divorce. This idea cannot be found in the Bible. The following passage, written by the apostle Paul, is the bedrock of my understanding that we have a choice and how we are to make it.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV)