Divorce Advice

By Russell Moore:

Dear Dr. Moore,

My wife and I are at an impasse. There’s been no abandonment, no sexual immorality, and no abuse. We just don’t get along. We shouldn’t have married. We should have known we are incompatible. I know God hates divorce but I don’t have any other option. My pastor and some Christian counselors have told me that while God hates divorce, this is the lesser of two evils because God doesn’t want me to be miserable. What do you think?

Married but Miserable

Dear Miserable,

Here’s what I think (and I’m paraphrasing a pastor friend of mine here). With “Christian” pastors and counselors like these, who needs demons?

Divorce isn’t about you, and it’s not just about your marriage. Divorce is the repudiation of a covenant. It doesn’t start anything over again. It instead defaces the icon God has embedded in the creation of the union between Christ and his church (Eph. 5:22-31) .

I do believe that there are exceptions to Jesus’ prohibition against divorce: namely unrepentant sexual immorality or abandonment by a gospel-repudiating spouse. Neither of these, according to you, are present here and so you do not have reason to leave.

I plead with you to reconsider this and to understand that when you give account before the Judgment Seat of Christ, these “counselors” you have around you will not be present, and their cowardly justifications for sin will ring quite hollow.

Does God want you to be miserable? Long-term, no. And that’s why God has designed marriage as a life-long covenant signaling the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the long-term, God wants you to be deliriously happy. But by long-term, I mean the next trillion years, and beyond. In the short-term, one often must bear difficulty and, yes, even misery. Remaining faithful to a wife you wish you hadn’t married might seem miserable to you, but taking up a cross and following Jesus is “miserable,” in the short-run. That’s why the Book of Hebrews presents the life of faith in terms of not receiving what was promised (Heb. 11:39), but seeing it and embracing it from afar.

If you take the nuclear option of divorce off the table, you might find that you and your wife have more reason to seek help with your problems and make this work. But even if your marriage never becomes what you thought it might be, it is worth it to stand by your words and maintain fidelity to the wife of your youth.

What God has joined together, let no man separate (Mk. 10:9). And that includes the “shepherds” whose craven counsel leads to simply more chewable mutton for the wolves.

 

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • joy

    Wow, what a tremendous response to Miserable’s letter. It is hard when people think that God wants them to be happy, therefore…. I don’t see Jesus promising happiness or even lack of pain in our lives. All sorts of circumstances give us a chance to see God’s faithfulness to us as we yield to His ways. He just gets bigger in our lives as we trust Him to transform US in our difficult situations.

  • Rick in IL
  • KrisAnne

    I hear what the author is saying here, and I respect that call. I would like to address a peripheral issue, though… one that he brings up briefly and then moves on.

    I find it frustrating when Christian leaders neglect to list physical, verbal and emotional abuse among the cases where divorce is acceptable. In my county in Pennsylvania, the one and only women’s advocate agency gets 4,000 calls a month from women who are abused. 4,000. Can’t we all agree that it would be unacceptable and inhumane, even sinful, to ask that these women stay with abusive spouses? Isn’t it gospel work to help them find healing and restoration as a person created in the image of God, apart from this other human being who is treating them as less than human? I’m not saying restoration of a marriage where abuse has been involved would never be possible, but if one has ever spent time working in the social services field, one recognizes that it is rare indeed. And we should stand with the victims first and foremost. In the Gospels, that is where I see Jesus standing, calling abusers of power to account.

    Again, I realize he only brought up the issue of when divorce is acceptable briefly, but I found his omission a bit glaring.

  • http://www.chuckroberts.blogspot.com/ Chuck Roberts

    Rick, thank you for posting that link. Good stuff!

    As a marriage counselor, I cringe when I read things like, “my counselor said God doesn’t want me to be miserable.” I say, “make happiness your pursuit and you’ll end up addicted to something or worn out (or both) and not happy at all.” But stay in the marriage and you will have the opportunity to know Jesus in a deeply intimate way . . . which is really the only way to deeply learn and offer grace and forgiveness to one’s spouse.

  • http://www.chuckroberts.blogspot.com/ Chuck Roberts

    KrisAnne, I agree that it would have been preferable for Moore to have listed unrepentant physical, emotional, and verbal abuse. By the way, here’s a good resource for those who are in the situation you mention: http://www.focusministries1.org/

  • Kyle

    I think this response is thoughtfully crafted and rings true for the most part. That said, I can’t read Miserable’s words without feeling as if his definition of compatibility needs to get reworked, and I don’t feel as if the pastor’s rejoinder went far enough here. It’s not as if the concept of convenant has nothing to say about compatibility – it has everything to say about compatibility. Mutual servanthood (the posture within marital covenant) opens up literally countless opportunities to morph the self into something more acutely responsive to the needs and preferences of the other. Insofar as one sees this sensitivity to the other as constituting the most essential aspect of self, then compatibility with other (as well as fluidity, a sense of fulfillment, and good old-fashioned happiness) is highly likely, though it may grow incrementally and after great labor, namely cross-like death of self. Incompatibility has authority to the extent that stagnation has authority.

  • http://www.thejoyeternal.com Kenneth

    KrisAnne,

    I think that more people need to understand the concept of Redemptive Separation. These you mention are clearly evil, but they are not justifications for divorce…but that doesn’t mean that these spouses have to live with people who are abusing them. Instead we should encourage them to immediately get out of harms way, and remain so until serious counseling and healing is done, for redemptive purposes. I liken it to church discipline. Church discipline takes seriously both the covenant and the individual sin. Redemptive separation in marriage does the same. It communicates that we value the covenant picture that God has created enough to not break it. But we also take seriously the spouse’s sin of abuse and the health of the abused spouse and/or the children involved. I hope that the redemptive separation option grows more popular and divorce less popular.

    I hope that was helpful.

  • Larry

    If the Bible doesn’t list unrepentant abuse as a justification for divorce, why should we presume to add to Scripture?

    How is that any different from adding “profound incombatibility and ongoing mutual misery” to the justifications?

  • Joe Canner

    While I agree with the basic sentiment of Dr. Moore’s response, I find it somewhat lacking in grace and compassion. I’m also not sure looking at marriage as a cross to bear while waiting for a better eternity is a very helpful approach. That said, I’m not sure I have any better ideas, so I defer to those with experience in this area (e.g., the last part of the post by Chuck in #4).

  • KrisAnne

    Kenneth (#7) — there is great wisdom in your words. Thanks for that.

  • http://www.chuckroberts.blogspot.com/ Chuck Roberts

    Larry, I do recognize that I’m treading on dangerous ground theologically here; however, it doesn’t seem to me that Jesus would ask a person to stay in a marriage where they are being physically abused. That being said, I have never suggested to a couple that they divorce. I have frequently made use of therapeutic separations (where the first stipulation of the agreement is that neither party, for the length of the contract, will seek divorce) which can hep to “up the ante” and give offending spouses the opportunity to face their sin and repent.

  • http://irregularchristian.com Casey Taylor

    @Larry

    You ask, “If the Bible doesn’t list unrepentant abuse as a justification for divorce, why should we presume to add to Scripture?”

    Answer: it does according to one reading of Scripture. See
    “Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context” by David Instone-Brewer. Divorce is never the goal, but I think Scripture allows for it in cases of adultery, abuse and abandonment. Far, FAR different from “profound incompatibility.”

  • Darren King

    I agree with KrisAnne. And sometimes separation still doesn’t change the behavior, or heart, of one of the spouses. And if recognition and change doesn’t occur on a heart level, then redemption within the marriage context just isn’t possible.

    As to Larry’s point, friend, its just silly to go around assuming the Bible is an answer book to cover every single situation. Besides, can you not see the difference between people who find marriage inconvenient, and those who are being abused by a spouse? It sounds like you underestimate the power of verbal abuse.

    Lastly, while I think the response contained some good advice, I don’t think its helpful to label a contrary view as “demonic”. To go even further and imply that other people are playing the role of demons, just isn’t helpful. Its inflammatory rhetoric. If you want to make your point, make it. But don’t (literally here!) “demonize” those you disagree with.

  • Tom F.

    I think Dr. Moore’s advice is infinitely better than the advice of his previous counselors.

    And yet…something seems off. I’m not totally sure what.

    I think part of it is the “misery”. Moore says that this marriage only “seems” miserable right now. Furthermore, taking up the cross of Jesus is “miserable” as well.

    The problem is that these two cases are not the same sort of misery. Surely taking up the cross of Jesus means embracing Jesus’s sacrificial love for others. It means receiving the scorn of the world set against God, and turning the other cheek, so as to witness to a good God who sends rain on the just and the unjust. The cross is not simple misery: but meaningful sacrifice that is transformed by God in the resurrection. To be sure, from one side of the cross, the transformation is seen only in faith, but without that faith, the cross is simply defeat.

    But the problem for the man is not simply that he is miserable, but that his misery doesn’t seem to have any point. What he is looking for in pastoral counseling is a way to make sense of why his further sacrifice in a deeply distressed marriage is not simply pointless. He is looking for a way to envision that sacrifice in the light of God’s story of redemption and recreation. Instead, Moore seems mostly concerned to address the moral question: When is divorce okay?

    N.T. Wright has noticed that certain eschatologies lead the church to fail to care for the environment or for the poor, since these efforts will ultimately burn up anyway. I wonder if the same might be true of marriages, that if people don’t have the sense that their sacrifice for their marriage will be caught up into God’s new creation, that they have no way of making sense of why they should do it, even as they have some vague sense that God commanded it.

    Moore’s ethical reasoning is basically divine command, with little reference to any bigger narrative. Basically, “God said it, so you can’t do it”. I understand that some people operate this way, but even if you hold to a divine command theory, I think seeing this man’s question as a basically ethical question is to take it at face value, and to miss the more important questions underneath, which are the meaning and narrative questions that a pastor (rather than say a therapist) is uniquely positioned to answer.

  • Larry

    I’m familiar with another reading of Scripture in which God hates divorce because of its ancient context: it meant a man was abandoning a woman and leaving her destitute. It was an act of injustice toward women, for whom remarriage was not an option in that society. The man “makes her an ‘adulteress’” — and that’s an evil thing to do to a woman in that context.

    Today, the context is very different. If this divorce in particular is seen by both as a mutual good and won’t leave either party destitute, then it wouldn’t necessarily belong in the category of divorces God hates. A divorce may be, in fact, the most loving thing these two people could grant one another.

    …There. That’s a reading that’s at least as solid as justifying divorce on the grounds of “abuse or abandonment” (two words whose meaning are also very dependent on a modern context).

  • Luke Allison

    This is an instance of the air that one person breathes being completely different than the air of another.

    I have grown up in the “marriage as audition” milieu that pervades most of our First World. My wife and I try to be intentional with each other about creating a marriage environment where divorce is not even on our radar.

    Two things have helped: 1. Allowing those who witnessed our vows to hold us accountable (that’s purpose of witnessing a covenant after all!)
    2. Nothing is hidden. Easier said than done, of course.

    Dr McKnight, what do you think about Dr. Moore’s post? Are you merely sharing it or promoting it?

  • scotmcknight

    Luke Allison, “sharing.”

  • Scott Gay

    On 3/10/12 in the weekly meanderings was an article by Elizabeth Weil on the troubling aspects of couples therapy.
    My favorite section was the answer to two questions. (1)What’s the matter with this marriage? Answer: Bob (2) What’s the matter with Bob? Answer: His Bobness

  • Mason

    What if God did not join them together…just a question. Is it possible that it was never God’s intention that two people would marry? What if the marriage was a state sanction arrangement and the vows were never taken within the context of the Church? Does that matter? I mean, can you not have 2 kinds of marriage? One that the state sanctions, where the state allows for any and all kinds of marriage and one where the Church blesses and is considered a convenant before God? One could argue that all marriage is before God since it is a religious sacrament or is it? More questions than answers, but just curious to the group’s response/thoughts..

  • Darren King

    Mason makes a good point. As have others: re: context. And the truth is, there is no catch-all policy that applies here. #1, that’s not the way to read the Bible effectively. And #2, as much as we would like to create a vacuum-sealed policy to prevent marriage decline, the truth is this just isn’t the way to do it. Life is messier than that.

    I remember in one of the first churches I was a part of there was a guy, in his late 50s, who married what amounts to a mail-order bride, from Taiwan. She was probably not even 20 yet. And they got married “in the church”. I remember hearing that he liked marrying her because, in her culture, and considering the circumstances she came from, she was quick to take orders from him. And I’m not exaggerating. He was very controlling. Even going as far as to pick her clothes out for her everyday. Is this “what God has brought together”? Looking back I don’t remember one person complaining about that “arrangement”. Why? Because it followed all the “rules”.

  • Kay

    I have to agree with the post that perhaps divorce may be the most loving thing these people can give each other. Far too often than not, many people who get married way too young or too fast really don’t know what they are getting into (myself included). When two people bring out the worst in each other and their incompatible chemistry takes them away from a fruitful spiritual life as one under God, you have to ask yourself if this really is indeed what God intends. I think not, and I’m not a demon. God wants each person’s heart over anything else. When we put our faith in jeopardy with relationships that are not encouraging our spiritual growth, we have to ask if this is a relationship that we should be involved in. God designed marriage to UNITE the two people under God; meaning to be in ONE relationship with Him as the centerpiece.

    Am I for divorce? That actually is circumstantial. What is right for one person may not be for another. That is why we have the Holy Spirit within us to help. If we feel major unrest and never had peace about a relationship, it could be that God is calling us out of that so we can grow spiritually instead of regressing, becoming complacent, or spiritually dead over time. I’ve been with my husband for 16 years and we have never had peace, got married in a court, and both feel that this was not meant to be. I was lied to about his faith. How do you think I feel about being in a covenant I made to God with someone I thought was making an honest part of this covenant with and then later finding out it was all a hoax? People told me God hates divorce, etc, etc. I have stuck it out for 16 yrs waiting for change that never came. I personally do not feel God is happy with this. He did not intend for us to be “regressing” in our faith. Does God want us to be “happy”. No. I don’t believe so, but I do think God wants two people to be united thru a spiritual relationship under Him and if there is none, I don’t believe God wants you to be in this. He wants our heart, and we are not bound by old laws. Does this excuse every person to divorce, no, that is why this is talked about in the New Testament for for the Corinthian people who had questions. God clearly saw that there were and also saw their were exceptions to being bound by the old law.

  • Kay

    I don’t think that all marriages are God ordained. There are many people that should not get married who do. When the Bible talks about “letting no man separate what God has joined together”, I believe this is in direct reference to two professing Christians who have prayed earnestly about this, and feel PEACE of His Holy Spirit to go through with this, making a covenant in a church (His temple). There is an enormous difference! Yes, we will have our ups and downs in life and in marriage, but if two people decide to get married against the Holy Spirit’s leading… you can only guess the outcome of this. God can not bless something that was not His will, no matter how much we as humans beg and plead with ourselves and others that we will find a way to make it “work”. God’s will is not the same for everyone and I believe the only one true way to know His will is to reconnect daily, pray and have peace about major decisions such as this. Deep down inside, we know if we have the Holy Spirit within us. Sometimes we have to make hard decisions, but it is ultimately for the benefit of encouraging spiritual growth in one way or another. God uses ALL things for the good of those who love and serve Him.

  • Darren King

    Its interesting to me that many people/theologies are all about the spirit of the matter when it comes to marriage. But then all about the rules when it comes to divorce.

  • T

    difference between the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. there are times when reconciliation is not possible but forgiveness is required.

  • MatthewS

    It’s worthy of note that Moses, Jesus, and Paul all made some sort of exception that allowed for divorce, and they are not all the same exceptions. Marriage sometimes creates victims and pastors and counselors need to consider that.

    But if neither party has abdicated the marriage, I don’t see Scriptural support for divorce.

    We speak from a distance, not knowing the situation. I wonder how well the husband is diagnosing the problem. For example, I wonder if a Christian counselor were to consider the issue of boundaries with this couple, or consider the style of relating, if perhaps some issues would come to light. I’m thinking of the books “Boundaries in marriage” and “You might be a narcissist if…”.

    Gottman names the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” referring to criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and the worst, contempt. He also points out that discussions conducted when the heart rate is too high are usually destined to fail. Resources like Gottman or the Prepare/Enrich tool, among others, can help a couple communicate and help them both begin to achieve their goals better.

    If I had a few minutes to chat with someone who was struggling with this sort of situation, I believe I would recommend some of those resources with real hopes that it might help. And it may be that an outside perspective could help a couple see where there is more than a general sense of incompatibility going on.

    I do worry that an appeal to make it work can gloss over some damaging patterns that might be happening. A codependent spouse who keeps “rescuing” but also helps reinforce status quo can create real problems, as can an emotionally abusive spouse. Moore’s audience may reject psychological terminology but however one frames the problem, I really hope that they don’t settle for a solution that involves one or both spouses dying inside for the sake of making work.

  • http://www.parkpresbyterian.org J. Christy Wareham

    Atrocious.

    A marriage relationship does not have to include ongoing, overt physical or verbal abuse to be emotionally and spiritually destructive. When both parties have given all they can muster of both their willpower and their surrender, and the inward being of one (or both) is being corroded by the relationship, that’s a kind and extent of spiritual destruction the Jesus I know does not expect us to accept as unavoidable.

    The fact that the gospels attribute to Jesus a very severe stricture on divorce is hardly conclusive. They also attribute to him sayings that we hate our parents and siblings, if we’re really going to follow him. Does Mr. Moore give the same “scriptural” advice to those who haven’t hated their family enough? I can’t imagine.

    The Christian Post needs to find a columnist with either a broader awareness of real marriages and whose understanding of scripture and Christian faith is not so conveniently narrow as to permit him to simplify everybody else’s life experience to comport with his simplistic theology.

  • http://OurRabbiJesus.com Lois Tverberg

    Regarding spouses in situations of life-threatening abuse, I’d say that Leviticus 19:16 gives clear instruction:

    “Do nothing that endangers the life of your neighbor” (Lev 19:16). The phrasing also suggests the idea of ignoring someone who is in danger.

    Besides the fact that the spouse is violating this command, a counselor is subject to it too. It is wrong NOT to intervene in a situation if you know someone’s life is threatened.

    In Jewish law, saving life takes precedence over all other laws. Doctors are allowed to work on the Sabbath because the mere possibility that a life is at risk is enough to set (almost) all other laws aside. I would think that the principle would apply when a person’s life was threatened by their spouse, even if the danger wasn’t imminent.

  • Kay

    Yes, some people do become victims through marriage. Unfortunately we follow the circle, and rarely break the cycle. If something such as marriage is destructive in any form; moreover spiritual decline, I think both parties should end that relationship. We are just passing through this life to the next and should remain focused on the goal of where our spiritual life has been and is going. That IS the heart of the matter. We cannot judge for other people, but can attempt to encourage people to get proper help. If this does not work, we have to offer forgiveness, and that may be in the form of divorce so that we can become better representatives of Christ. I do believe people can still remain good friends and sometimes they BOTH are better off; showing unconditional love to release someone from that prison that they remain in just because people tell them God hates divorce, so they risk everything…even their soul in the end. That is not a loving God who would require someone to remain in such a relationship. He created us and relationships to connect with Him and other people (HEALTHY ones). Satan has enough tricks up his sleeve in this world to deter us from spiritual growth. God did not want this for a marriage. He did state that it was better to be alone, but if you could not, it was better to get married. That being said, He does not hold marriage being more important over someone’s soul.

  • http://rossbanister.blogspot.com Ross Banister

    Separation is biblical and often time apart creates new perspective and a possible fresh start. We don’t live with others well unless we live by ourselves well.

  • Kyle

    In some respects this conversation seems to be overwrought with detours. The married man says that he and his wife “just don’t get along” and that he therefore “doesn’t have any other option” but divorce. There is, in his own words, NO ABUSE. In what other context would the kind of difference of taste (and I think that’s a suitable stand-in for not getting along in his context) warrant escalation to the nullification of a lifelong commitment? (I suppose I’m assuming that his vows included something to the effect of “for better or worse” – and I’m wondering what “worse” meant then that doesn’t apply to this discomfort here). In one sense, our creative spirit of allowing others the benefit of the doubt has clouded a straightforward and respectful reading of this man’s situation as described by that very man. If words mean anything, I think they certainly do here.

  • http://dry-bones-valley.blogspot.com Rob Dunbar

    Hmm…maybe the “deeper narrative” is that a husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church, being willing to even die for it–whether the Church appreciates Christ or not. And at times we do not. Maybe 1 Corinthians 13 applies to husbands and wives as well as to all the other groups to which we apply it. I think the most loving thing this husband can do is to think about the reasons for his and his wife’s incompatibility. The point Dr. Moore makes–that divorce “defaces the icon God has embedded in the creation of the union between Christ and his church (Eph. 5:22-31)” is true in every cultural context I can think of.

    I can’t help but remember that Jesus, when questioned about divorce, said that Moses “permitted” it for the Hebrews because of “the hardness of your hearts” (Matt. 19:8 & Mark 10:5 both note this). This was also the context for the statement: “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” Does this only apply to specific marriages? I doubt many of us married because we had some sure sign from God about our spouses, and I doubt many of the men who heard Christ say this had had an “Isaac+Rebekah” kind of thing. I take it to mean that through the act of marriage itself, God joins man and woman together into one flesh.

    By the way, the NIV translates Malachi 2:16 as: “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.” It footnotes “covering himself” with the alternate translation “his wife.”

  • Kay

    Incompatible is something very different than an arranged marriage. In an arranged marriage both families come from VERY similar backgrounds, but two different characters. BOTH families go into the arranged marriage knowing what is expected from one another and sharing the same beliefs, values, goals, etc. It can and it does work.

    Being incompatible (aka no chemistry) makes for a whole myriad of difficulties in more areas than one because they do not share ANY common background. It’s like the cliche “opposites attract”. Yeah, perhaps for a short-time, but it never can, nor does ever last long-term.

    Yes, if two people are willing to remain in a marriage that is flourishing spiritually; as God intended it to do, this is the best and ultimate option. I will state again, that if two married people are regressing in their spiritual walk because of an unhealthy relationship that is detrimental to their souls and witness, then separation is the first step to restore a marriage if possible. If not, it may mean that divorce is the best solution.

    From reading the excerpt, it doesn’t seem like the man is having an issue over his wife’s style of cooking. Perhaps what the counsel he received meant to state is that God doesn’t want his spiritual life to regress with any relationship. Ultimately we are created to have a relationship with God through Jesus, and if we are involved in anything or with anyone that would take us further away, this is not what God intended. Food for thought. Don’t judge, lest ye be judged also.

  • Kyle

    Kay, how do you, then, orient yourself with regard to the “better or worse” and “till death do us part” aspects of traditional vows? I could be wrong, but it would seem as if you’re intending to downgrade marriage to something more akin to a serious relationship, as if the covenant itself doesn’t reveal something essential about Christ. Doesn’t this idea of leaving a marriage because someone isn’t “flourishing” threaten the biblical analogy of the covenant between Christ and the Church? Was the covenant not in part designed to supersede our “sense” of our spiritual state? Isn’t its constancy through a prayerful context a meaningful corrective over against our conclusions about what is good or bad for us? I’m not trying to put words in your mouth; I’m trying to gain a clearer view of what you think in order for me to think more clearly about the implications of your views.

  • http://DerekLeman.com/Musings Derek Leman

    The faulty reading that Jesus and Paul collaborated to provide a list of the two and only two justifications for divorce is nonsensical. I think Russell Moore has misrepresented the Bible here. Let me mention a few arguments against the 2-and-only-2 nonsense. Would a spouse murdering a child be sufficient reason for divorce? Oo, what if he is a Christian and murders the child? Should that require the wife to remain with him? Another point: epistles are not occasions for making new eternal-absolute commandments. Paul’s pastoral advice in the situation women in a man-centered social structure found themselves in was not intended to create the “ten commandments” of marriage law. It was pastoral counsel for specific needs. Our reading of the Bible (not you, Scot, as I know you are a great reader of the Bible) needs attention to genre and needs to move away from assuming all texts we like are black and white, eternal commandments, in which all exceptions must be assumed to be carefully noted. Finally, David Instone Brewer’s book on divorce is a good source for biblical scholarship on the matter.

  • Anna

    Interesting thread. fwiw, “death do us part” through most of human history meant on average about 10 years. I read one statistic that the average length of a marriage in the 18th century was about a decade; I just read another that the average number of wives men had before the time of the 16th century reformation was 3. This is because women so frequently died bearing children.

    Growing up in New England, I remember those 18th century gravestones with the men frequently having more than one wife.

    Now that women tend to survive childbirth, “Til death do us part” goes from about a decade to maybe half a century. Food for thought.

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    Im actually really troubled by this reply. The idea that we are to stick with it even though we’re miserable because God says so is right sounding but wrong-headed. I don’t believe God calls us to do anything just “because I say so”. There is no magic mystical connection made when the state declares a couple married that God hates to see broken.

    God hates to see human hearts ripped no matter what the legal context. In my mind it all comes down to the same thing as the rest of the sermon on the mount: If you seek love, you have to first give it up your right to have it and give it freely regardless. Peace, hope, and love are not objects we grasp, they are present only when given up, even as Christ gave up himself and was resurrected in love.

    The truth this man and woman need to understand is that divorcing will never lead to peace. They are chasing after the wind. If they seek life they must lose it for the sake of love. It’s not about obeying God because certain verses say to do something specific in these circumstances, it’s about giving up yourself and loving anyway because that is the definition of salvation in the present and for eternity. It’s about realizing that all they need to have to be whole is in Christ already theirs and to believe that they have it not is evidence of their own self deception about “salvation”.

    In the face of pain and suffering, the gospel of Christ is that “you are loved, you need nothing that this person can give you, you need nothing that leaving this person can give you, you are loved.” If you believe this then you are able to love others without placing any demands on them. You are free to forgive because you perceive that they owe you nothing. In humility you realize tht they are searching for the exact same thing that you have found in Christ and you are free to share it with them by BEING Christ for them. You can save your spouse by sacrificing yourself. In claiming your right to be happy and dividing you lose yourself, your wife, and your union with God. This is the same as every incident of anger, jealousy, pride, and greed.

    Loving God is loving the other no matter the cost. Any time there is not love between any two people it is tragic for all involved and Hell is experienced on all sides. It has nothing to do with the states declaration but everything to do with the way the world works in union with the source of divine love.

    That said, God also hates war and violence. Every ounce of it. But there are times when it must take place to protect innocent lives from those who would oppress and harm them. I don’t see why tho isn’t also true of divorce.

  • Sherman Nobles

    Marriage is a covenant, agreed, though it is a human breakable covenant. Marriage is not an icon any more than shepherding or farming is an icon. Jesus’ self-sacrificial love for the church and leadership of the church was used as an example for men to follow in that culture (and possibly ours). And Jesus did not establish acceptable and non acceptable rules for divorce, but explained why Moses was inspired by God to legislatively enact the bill of divorce for the nation of Israel (civil law)- to stop the practice of men expelling their wives and yet retaining legal rights to them. Such “Agunah”, expelled but not divored wives cannot legally marry another. If they do, they legally commit adultery and the man that marries such a bound woman commits adultery too. The legal certificate of divorce brought a legal end to the marriage and legally freed the expelled woman to marry another man. And if she did marry another man, the first husband could never again marry her, even if she was widowed or divorced by her 2nd husband. Of course, this is in reference to the Mt.19 passage.

    The Mark 10 passage is significantly different. Mark records Jesus speaking to the disciples and says that if a man divorces his wife “so that” he can marry another woman, he commits adultery against his wife. And if a woman divorces her husband “so that” she can marry another she commits adultery against her husband. Mark writing to a Gentile, likely Roman audience, interpreted or highlighted what Jesus said as it applied to Roman law where a woman could divorce her husband. Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience and thus spoke of Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees (civil leaders) concerning Jewish civil law. Then in 1 Cor. 7, Paul quotes what Jesus said concerning Jewish civil law and applies it’s principles to the questions he’s addressing from the Corinthians.

    Anyhow, the short of it is if the man divorces his wife so that he can marry another, or the wife divorces her husband so that she can marry another, he/she/they commit adultery. To Miserable I’d encourage him/them to learn to love one another. Fake it until you make it. In other words, love is an action and a commitment more than a feeling. If he chooses to love his wife, then the feelings will eventually come around. Also, he needs to stop confessing that he’s not loving his wife, and start confessing that he loves his wife and is committed to her, and she the same. His choice to love his wife should be followed by words and actions, and the feelings will come eventually.

    Concerning his happiness, joy, an abiding sense of happiness is a fruit of the Spirit. It’s crazy to think that disobeying God will result in more joy. Sin is pleasurable for the moment, but leads to depression! Righteousness can be laborious for the moment, but leads to joy!

  • Loren Haas

    My wife and I have led divorce recovery groups in our church 12 times in the last six years. We have both been divorced after 20+ year marriages. We live in the real world consequences of divorce. The result of this experience is that I hate divorce more than almost anything, but I recognize that some marriages are worse than divorce and I am not in position to judge.
    God introduced divorce through Moses because men abused their wives by “putting them away” which did not allow them to remarry. This left the women in an untenable position in that culture. God introduced divorce as a loving act, because it allowed women the protection of marriage in a culture we today would consider barbarous.
    As Christians we need too lay off divorced people and focus on supporting healthy marriages and healthy singleness. Isn’t that the modern version of what God was trying to do through Moses? Broken people are not a problem for God if judgementalism does not get in the way.

  • http://www.cctdonline.com MIke Davis

    My wife and I will have been married for 23 years this Spetember. The first seven years of our marrige had its difficulties as my wife didnot want or desire any physical intimacy due to the years of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her father (a pastor) and other men.

    We should have been a statistic. But we are not. God taught me how to love my wife unconditionally, to love her as Christ loves the church. It was not always easy and at times quite frustrating…I was a virgin when we got married and to be married to someone who cringed at my touch and curled into a tight ball to avoid physical contact was at times devestating to me as a young husband.

    What did I do? First I would get frustrated. Then I would get out of bed (all the while frustrated) and go downstairs, kneel by the couch…and pray. I came to call those times my “Gethsemene moments”. I would call out to God and stay there until I knew His peace (and it would always come). After a while I would feel/hear His voice in my heart telling me what I needed to do and how I needed to respond to my wife. Like once during one of my “Gethsemene moments” I heard so plainly in my heart. Go tell your wife that you did not marry her just to have sex…and that if you never have sex again you will never leave her” At first my response was “God…what are you saying!?” But I knew it to be right and I felt it was true. I loved my wife dearly and wanted her to know I would never leave her (though I was wondering if God was saying ‘forget about sex ever again!”).

    Well I went to my wife and told her what I believe God put in my heart….and she started crying (which freaked me out a little). She then told me that all that week she had been tormented in her mind that no man would put up with what I was going through, that men only wanted one thing and sooner or later I would leave her (I had no idea she was going through this).

    I could share more of the things God had me say and do that He used to turn the situation around but here is my main point: I truly beleive that the kay to a good marriage is what Jesus said in Mark 12:29-31. to paraphase: the greatest commandment is to Love God with all one’s heart, this is the basis the foundation of everything else. My wife and I were able to make it, to survive and thrive (we have three daughters!) because of what God taught us. That our marriage was a place, the arena in which we practiced loving Him. That our love for each other flowed from and was to be an expression of our love for Him. That I could only stop loving my wife by first stopping and refusing my love for Him.

    And I also learned that the basis of my love for Him was His love for me. That if I was to love Him I must first be loved by Him, I must know and experience His love for me in an ongoing manner. Only then could I love Him and from there love others (i.e.my wife) in the way He desired and commanded.

    This is what my wife now teach to other young couples who come to us for pre-marital counseling/coaching/discipleship. One of the first thing I ask is “Where are you in your relationship with God? Can you honestly say ‘I love God more than I love my fiance’…and I love God more than I love myself?” We have them think about and refelct on that for about a week. And then they come back and answer.

    I have had some come back and say “I relized that I love me more than God”. And then we get to work. I also do this when couples who are having problem in thier marriage come for marital counselling/discipleship.

    We always start with the state of thier relationship with God. And we take time to define what it means to love God, to truly love Him biblically (and not just have a “warm fuzzy” for Him.

    We start at the foundation…and then build and/or rebuild.

    My understanding is that in order to give ourselves to our spouses as God wills we must first give ourselves to God (to quote a principle espoused by Paul in II Corinthians 8:5).

    One more thing. Some might ask “Were you unhappy during those seven years before there was a change?” I can honestly say no …I was not. Oh there were times of frustration and times when I felt down…but over all I lived happily with my bride during those times. How? Because again I saw that Scripture taught I could have His peace and His Joy independent of my external circumstances. Like Paul I learned to be content (independent of my external situaions and circumstances, self-sufficient in Christ’s Suffcifiency -Philippians 4:11-13).

    This is what my wife and I share with couples now and disciple them in. I do believe God wants us to be holy, happy and joyful and not miserable. I also beleive we can be that now. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and is indepedent of our circumstances as is peace and love (See Jesus on this – John 16:33 and John 15:11).

    I think one of the things the couple may have needed is another mature and wise couple to walk with them and disciple them in thier marrigae. SOmeting I see too little of today.

    And is it possible they were not taught HOW to love each each other? How to walk in His peace and His joy, first independent of each other and then together with each other?

    Anyway..just my two cents.

  • http://dry-bones-valley.blogspot.com Rob Dunbar

    Thank you, Mike. It’s a timely reminder that God is greater than what we make Him out to be.

  • CGC

    This all reminds me of Stanley Hauerwas’s presentation that was rejected at one of his denominational conferences. Everybody was line up on sides of what contituted divorce, remarriage, or gay marriage. The progressives were on one side and the tradionalists were on the other side. “Choose your side!” Hauerwas rejected both sides and said both sides were wrong because neither group could think about the issues correctly because they did not really understand what marriage is. I think this problem still persists in the church today. Maybe if we went back to the early church fathers and read what marriage is, it might challenge us in more ways than we could imagine.

  • MatthewS

    What a powerful story, Mike. I really appreciate that you shared it. I wish I could hear more about some of the things along the way that your wife has found helpful, whether counseling or books or things she has learned, helpful conversations with friends… I’m sure prayer was a big part of it.

  • Elaine

    Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another. Romans 12:10

    …shall we do any less for our spouse?

    Mike Davis,
    Thanks for sharing your invaluable “two cents.”


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