The most hotly debated and lively question in Christian circles concerning divorce is the issue of exceptions. What exceptions are there to the “no-divorce” rule? Are there any exceptions? While those may be interesting questions to look at and consider, I think it speaks volumes that our primary biblical question concerning marriage/divorce is how can I get around it. We are interested in the loopholes. What does that say about our regard for marriage?
There is a discussion within Christianity about the acceptability of divorce for certain reasons. In this discussion, I am not speaking to individuals who are abused by their spouse. As our student pastor said recently when discussing this issue, the one who abuses their spouse should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Marital abuse is condemned in the strongest possible way in Scripture and should never be defended. So, let’s move past this issue to more frequent questions and issues within marriage.
From my perspective, only two instances have any biblical grounds for the acceptability of divorce – if someone becomes a Christian and their non-Christian spouses wants to leave or if a spouse commits adultery. I’m not saying yet that I agree or disagree with those arguments, but rather those are the only two that carry any weight as far as biblical justification for ending a marriage.
In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul addresses a host of questions that they had, many concerning marriage. Apparently some members of the church had become Christians after their marriage and where wondering what they should do – stay married to an unbeliever or leave and start a completely new life? Paul advises them to stay married as long as the non-Christian is willing. God may give them the opportunity to lead their spouse to Christ and be a godly influence on their children. If they leave, then those possibilities diminish greatly.
But what if the non-Christian does not want to stay? What if they are set on divorce? What does the Christian do then? Paul writes:
But if the unbeliever leaves, let him leave. A brother or a sister is not bound in such cases. God has called you to peace.
So that case seems clear. A believer cannot force a non-believer to view marriage from God’s perspective. They can love their spouse and attempt to continue the relationship, but if the non-Christian is determined to leave the Christian, for the sake of peace, let them leave.
What about adultery? Is that issue as cut and dry? It seems to be the case in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ question on divorce by saying:
And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.
Seems as if divorce were acceptable in the case of adultery. However, Mark’s gospel records the same conversation and does not include the exception clause for sexual immorality. It is possible, being written to a Jewish audience, Matthew, the only gospel to include Joseph’s contemplation of “divorcing” Mary his pledged wife, means the adultery exception to only refer to the engagement period and not once the marriage has been finalized and consummated.
Above all else, we know that God’s desire is for reconciliation. We know that He hates divorce. Throughout Scripture, God uses marriage as an illustration for His relationship with His people, who are often portrayed as adulterous. In fact, he used the life and marriage of Hosea as the ultimate object lesson to display His attitude on love and reconciliation.
God told Hosea to marry Gomer. No big deal, right? Except for the fact that Gomer just happened to be a prostitute. After being rescued from slavery by Hosea, marrying and starting a family with him, how does Gomer respond? She leaves him and goes back into prostitution! Now, surely God allows Hosea to divorce or even stone Gomer. I mean, she left him to sell herself as a prostitute. She took his love, his care, and threw them all back in his face. Now, she’ll get what she deserves.
The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”
So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.
What?!? He is supposed to still love her and even buy her back out of prostitution? That’s not at all what she deserves. And that’s the point. Hosea doesn’t give Gomer what she deserves and neither does God give us what we deserve.
It seems from God’s perspective of marriage that it is something which He highly values and is not about giving people what they feel they deserve – for better or worse.
God’s word is clear about the dissolving of the union between a husband and wife:
I command the married —not I, but the Lord—a wife is not to leave her husband. But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband—and a husband is not to leave his wife.
While I believe that married believers should develop and display a lifelong commitment to their spouse regardless of the difficulties that arise, our churches, families and testimonies would be much better off even if we allowed for divorce in cases of adultery. How many Christian marriages is that the reason for the separation? Most end because of selfishness – no other way to say it. I’m not getting what I want, so I’m going to leave.
Instead of going into marriage, or growing in your marriage, with one eye on how you can escape if you feel like it, why do we not seek to grasp and live out God’s perspective?
Marriage is hard. Sometimes it’s hard to love my wife. It is always a challenge to love her as Christ loves the church. But how much more difficult is it for a perfect, sinless God to love a dirty sinner like me who is responsible for the execution of His Son? Yet He does. His view of marriage is forever. I’m thankful for that. We do not want Him to change His mind based on our behavior. Neither should I try to void my commitment and promise to my wife because of anything she does.
Don’t look for a way out of your marriage. Look for the ways you can glorify and resemble God by exemplifying reconciliation and restoration.