Is the “Divorce is not an option” attitude wrong or damaging?
****Just to prevent from happening what so many on here like to do, turning a “general question” into “personal answers” towards the poster….. this is NOT a personal question for myself. I am NOT on the border of seeking any kind of separation or divorce. This is for DISCUSSION purposes.****
In the past month, this theme seems to keep crossing my path. The question about counseling a wife whose husband is coming in as an authoritarian (another’s description) which is a more pleasant word than the the domineering, border-line abusive description I would be more likely to use, has brought this back up to the surface in my mind.
Paul Byerly addresses it in, Marriage Was Not Intended as a Prison.
I also recently heard, very much the same counsel given to another…..sometimes the only way to make a spouse wake up and take the marriage serious, is to realize that the other is considering separating. If a spouse believes that the other doesn’t have the option of leaving, and are basically trapped in the marriage, what keeps them from living as they please, for the most part, only focused on themselves and not the other?
Should Christians be more open to advising separation?
Is there a right and wrong way to go about using this counsel, whether in giving it or applying it?
Have you seen or experienced this concept actually being a good catalyst for change in a marriage?
We have to realize why people say ‘Divorce is not an option.’ A little over 2000 years ago in Israel, some of the Jews in Israel interpreted the Torah to allow a man to divorce his wife for whatever reason. The law had put the writing of divorce certificates into the hands of men. Women were not given this write. The chief priests may have made an exception, allowing Philip’s wife to divorce him and marry Herod.
John the Baptist came on the scene and called what Herod did unlawful. Jesus came on the scene and taught that if a man puts away his wife except it be for fornication and marry another, he commits adultery, and that that marries her that is divorced commits adultery. Mark and Luke do not include the ‘except it be for fornication’ clause.
I’ve also read that the translation of that could also be something along the lines of the idea that Jesus was setting aside the issue of fornication for this discussion there in Matthew 19.
Jesus’ teachings were so contrary to the times that his disciples said if that was the case it was better for a man not to marry. They must have thought having an out if the marriage was bad was a necessity. Jesus’ interpretation of the Old Testament took that away from them.
So then there were apostles who taught on marriage. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 7 that he was giving a commandment from the Lord to let not the husband put away his wife, and let not the wife depart from her husband, but if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. In his commentary on the law in Romans 7, he says that a woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives, so that if while her husband lives, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress.
Peter’s commentary on marriage comes right after a passage where he addressed the issue of servants suffering persecution from unbelieving masters. He pointed them to Jesus’ suffering as their example. Then he addresses marriage and tells wives to submit to their husbands, even those who do not obey the word. He tells husbands to honor their wives as the weaker vessel. He doesn’t say anything about the importance of being happy or fulfilled in life or marriage in this passage. (Though there are some passages that indirectly address such issues.)
So we ended up with early Christians strongly condemning divorce and remarriage. Why? Because of Jesus and the apostles.
So now let us look at our modern context. Just several decades ago, churches, even denominations that appoint openly sodomite clergy, were very much against divorce and remarriage. A king of England stepped down over marrying a divorced commoner. There were divorces in the US, but it was a small percentage and required grounds. I saw a movie from the ’60’s where a man woke up married after a night of drinking and couldn’t get a divorce because he did not have grounds.
But our culture experienced the rise of third-wave feminism, the birth control pill, and the sexual revolution. Lawmakers changed the law to allow ‘no fault’ divorce. If a woman happens to initiate a divorce, the court system is likely to reward her with child custody and child support in some states, incentivizing divorce. There was a trend toward this in the western world, but US culture in particular valued the ‘pursuit of happiness.’
With movies and the rise of television, from childhood Americans are subjected to stories that teach the values that love and marriage are all about making you happy. The parents way back when who arranged a marriage are seen as selfish and misguided, while the young people who fall in love are presented as doing what is right. Fornication is presented as normal. Sex is presented as a moral good, the purpose of life in some movies. In movies and TV, if you get a certain feeling, that’s supposed to be love, and it will last forever and make you happy. And if it doesn’t, according to TV and pop culture, it’s okay to get rid of that person and go find someone who will make you happy.
The idea that marriage exists to make us happy is deeply ingrained in our culture. But the Bible doesn’t teach that. And it doesn’t teach that if marriage does not make you happy to do away with it.
As far as marriage goes, the Bible never says to husbands, “Thou shalt not be controlling.” This was a little after the time the New Testament was written, probably, but the Talmud which contained different legal scholar’s views, says that one man allows his wife to roam freely and another locks her in the house. The idea was the it was up to the husband. I mention that just to present the mindset of the time. The apostles do not address that particular issue in their writing, but they do tell wives to submit to their husbands, children to obey their parents, and slaves to submit to their masters. This is after the ‘submit to one another’ verse. They apparently had certain people in mind who were to submit to whom.
If we look at what the New Testament really teaches, it doesn’t say stay married as long as it makes you happy. It doesn’t say stay married unless your spouse is controlling. It doesn’t say stay married as long as marriage fulfills your needs. Jesus was the one who brought in this idea of strictness about marriage, or reintroduced it, at least, in the first century. The reason so many Christians are strict on this issue is because of reading the words of Jesus and the apostles. The Bible tells wives to submit to their husbands and for husbands to love their wives. It doesn’t say stay married unless your spouse is doing a good job of being loving or submissive.
So when we consider all this, that is the explanation for why some Christians look at the permissive attitudes toward divorce in our culture, even in churches, and respond by saying ‘Divorce is not an option.’
I see the permissive attitude toward divorce as being quite damaging.
As with anything, there are other ethical concerns, if someone’s life is in danger, one person being the victim of another who does not want to stay married, working back toward what’s right when you made wrong choices, etc.
I think there is a real problem with the “divorce is not an option” mantra that you hear some people espouse, but equally troubling is the idea that marriage is not a permanent commitment.
As followers of Christ, we have his teachings to guide us, but we do not have his omniscience, and that can blind us to what another actually endures. In short, we don’t know what he knows, and should never presume to.
The idea that divorce is not an option, first and foremost, is outright refuted in the bible in some circumstances. In other circumstances, it is expressly condemned. It is that middle ground that most of us find our way in.
If you treat marriage as a covenant, as followers generally do, then you have to acknowledge that either party can break the covenant, and at that point, the other party is no longer bound. That leaves us to try to understand what action, or failure to act, is actually a breach. Adult is one breach that is spelled out, but most would agree that physical a use also is a breach. At what level would emotional abuse be a breach. As Oldbear pointed out, it is certainly damaging, and can be extremely destructive. At what point does refusal become a breach. I believe that it can be.
With all of that said, I believe we are called to be the best we can, and to make the most Godly choices we can. Yes, divorce is always an option, and sometimes it can be a good decision, while most of the time it probably isn’t. Sadly, I would say that out of the divorces that happen, most are bad decisions, but some decisions to remain in a marriage can also be poor as well.
The short answer is that we should always lean towards working things out, or encouraging others to as well, with the firm commitment to not create an atmosphere where abuse is tolerated. We don’t have to know the details in another person’s life or their marriage to take a stand. We just need to be sure they know we are a safe port when they need one. My wife witnessed an a abusive situation in a store not long ago, and told the young lady that she did not have to live like that, and invited her to stay with us. The woman declined. Then my wife came and told me about it. Her conviction was strong enough to go against my reservations, if I had opposed her. I had no problems with it, and I was really proud if her. Those are the convictions we should all have.
1 Cor. 7:10-11 God plainly commands women not to separate from their husbands. It is followed by “but if she does” and to me, that reflects the understanding that in some cases it is necessary.
Therefore, I believe that separation is never optional. It is either forbidden, or it is necessary.
I grew up with the mindset that divorce is not an option. As Christians, we must never think of divorce as a backup plan for if things don’t work out, and it is good marriage practice to never bring up the D-word just because you’re unhappy. Be committed. For about four years, my husband was throwing the D-word in my face during angry explosions and episodes of emotional abusiveness about every 10 days. I wish my husband had espoused the mindset of “divorce is not an option” as was my own value system.
I disagree with Oldbear that adultery is binary. If a man has looked on a woman with lust, he has committed adultery in his heart – do we consider that grounds for divorce? What exactly are the terms of a marriage covenant? I don’t see that spelled out in the Bible. If PIV establishes the covenant, does it take PIV to break the covenant? What if there was just heavy petting, is it adultery? What about just kissing?
I also disagree that the Bible is clear about what constitutes grounds for divorce. There is NO verse that says, “It is okay to divorce your spouse if they cheat on you.” I disagree that my spouse breaking their covenant to me gives me license to break my covenant to my spouse. I sin against God every day, and yet He remains faithful. Since the marriage relationship is to be a reflection of Christ and the church, then I sure hope Christ doesn’t have license to drop me if I am ever unfaithful to Him. God kept his covenant with Israel despite their continued unfaithfulness. If we seek to be like God, that means keeping our covenants regardless of the other party.
My own life experience necessitated that I reconsider my views on the possibility of separation. 1 Cor. 7:11, Luke 16:18, Matthew 5:32, etc. plainly teach that a divorced woman is not to remarry, with no exceptions granted for a woman. I am not fully convinced that the exception is granted for married men, but even if it is, God views the marital roles of men and women differently. O.T. patriarchs had multiple wives with no divine repercussions, but when Sarah and Rebecca were taken by other husbands, the other husbands and their households faced God’s judgment. Knowing I was not free to remarry, I stayed with my husband until I finally realized the toll his abusiveness was taking on me emotionally. I reached bottom and realized I could not bear one single more episode. I arranged with my parents to move in with them and told my husband I had decided never to live through another of his rages ever again, and if he wanted to live together he had to get professional help. God is gracious and my husband was brought to repentance. I was prepared to live a single life if he had not.
For us, the divorce is not an option works and is our mantra, it forces us to try to work things out and not bail when the going gets tough or…not entertain the idea anyway.
However i do not believe that there are no biblical grounds for divorce and i do not believe a wife, especially, should endure physical or emotional abuse just because she is to submit. I do agree with a trial separation and would encourage biblical counseling.
Being well acquainted with John Piper’s writing and preaching, he is without question one of today’s most knowledgeable and articulate purveyors of exegetical and hermeneutical clarity and wisdom.
In the article cited above, Piper articulates his view of the distinction between proneia as fornication (sexual relations before marriage) and moicheia as adultery (sexual relations after marriage). Other Biblical scholars argue that fornication and adultery; that is the sinfulness of sexual relations outside of a covenant marriage are the same. For Piper to argue that Matthew’s use of porneia doesn’t cover the sin of adultery is mis-applying a cultural (betrothal marriage) practice in the 1st century. Essentially, Piper is saying that if a couple is engaged it’s ok to be sexually intimate (PIV) in today’s world, because Matt19:9 applies only to them. That is, if one or the other engaged persons fornicates with another person, only then can they ‘divorce’ (break their engagement) and ‘remarry’ (get engaged again). This, of course, was the dilemma for Joseph with Mary. Following Piper’s reasoning the only relevance of Matthew 19:9 applies to sexually active couples that are engaged. Hmmm.
Piper’s narrow interpretation of Matthew 19:9 misses the point that porneia (the root word for pornography) is wrong and Matthew 19:9 outlines a provision not a mandate. Check out Charles Swindoll’s view of Matthew 19:9 https://www.insight.org/resources/article-library/individual/what-did-jesus-say-about-divorce Swindoll views moicheia as a subset of porneia.
Conclusion: Sexual immorality that results in a divorce leaves the harmed spouse free to remarry.
I’m not my wife’s first husband. Her first husband was abusive and may have threatened her physically at some point. Some of the members of her church heard something he said and got her away from him. I consider her a survivor, not an adulteress.
There’s an implication that both partners will obey the Two Great Commandments and have their hearts right, as well as they are humanly able. Not perfectly, because perfection is impossible for humans, but as an attitude. I’ve seen some commentary that Jesus was countering a general attitude at the time that husbands were free to divorce for trivial reasons, like bad cooking. Jesus was all about heart attitudes over perfect adherence to rigid rules.
Certainly we live at a time where divorce for any and every reason is common. It’s generally good to have this attitude and close off the option to divorce. But there are many assaults on marriage, and you cannot say across the board for every marriage that divorce is not an option. Divorce is not God’s will in His created order. This is not how it was from the beginning before the fall. But in this fallen world, regrettably there are plenty of instances where divorce is not only justified, it is advisable.
Christians should be open to advising separation. It leaves room for reconciliation and restoration of the relationship, and yes, I have seen it several times where it is a step toward change in marriages.
Scripture is clear that adultery is an option for divorce. Abuse is another. Abuse can be physical or emotional. While adultery is binary (there is adultery or there isn’t ) so too is physical abuse (bruises are self-evident). However, in my more mature Christian years, I’m increasingly convinced that chronic emotional abuse (clear evidence of harmfulness) is grounds for divorce , . . and Jesus would not condemn it.
@ShadowSpirit, did you ever read Paul’s post, She Doesn’t Believe in Divorce… Until She Does? If so, did it resonate with you at all? This statement, “I reached bottom and realized I could not bear one single more episode.”, made me think of it and both resonated with me.
To answer at least one of the questions I asked, it was the realization that I had such a strong desire to walk away, because I too, “reached bottom and realized I could not bear [anymore]”, that my husband had a fear come over him that finally woke him up at what his choices and behavior had done, and he finally was willing to make changes.
I never threatened. I never gave an ultimatum. I never even talked to him about it, mainly because I never thought of it as an option until one day a heavy weight settled on me, and the only option I could see to relieve myself of the burden, was to get out. I wept, and that thought consumed me the rest of that day, and it scared me, because it totally goes against who I am and what I believed. It took me just under two years to bring me to that place…to see that leaving was the only option for me for my survivals sake. It seemed to hit fast, and I reached out for help fast.
As God promises to provide a way out of temptation, He did just that the next morning. There was a message for me in that sermon at the church we were visiting, and I knew when the opportunity arose to go seek prayer, I did, no matter how much of my family watched on. My husband knew something serious was going on later that day or the next when I shared why I went forward because that man who prayed with me, was going to be calling so I/we could meet with he and his wife.
It was a dark time, but the realization that he could actually lose me, and that the mantra of “divorce isn’t an option” he always said, no longer was true, made him see his sin and he immediately made changes. It also made me realize I could hit depths I never thought I would go.
Here’s what Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Matthew 19:9
Adultery – the act thereof – is sexual immorality. It is binary. To clarify, adultery is when a man or woman engages in an emotional or physical affair that violates their covenant of marriage.
In my early post, I stated that adultery is an option (not an absolute) to divorce (context of this scripture). Furthermore, the wronged party is not adulterous if they remarry.