God Does Not Hate Divorce (Part 3)
Have you READ Part 1 and Part 2 in the series, or LISTENED to Part 1 and Part 2?
Rather listen to the podcast version of this episode on the”The Spiritual Coaching Dashboard?
This is the final part of this mini-series on divorce, God, the Bible, and domestic violence. This time around I will address abuse that is only perceived, either unreal or unintended.
Is imagined abuse still abuse? When one feels attacked but no attack was intended, were they attacked? When the abuse was little more than a figment of one’s imagination coupled with a previously wounded heart, was real harm done? Is an apology needed?
Yes, it is quite easy to offend (or even abuse) another without any desire to wound.
- By accidentally walking into a tender subject.
- By using words you mean to be positive but are received as negative and hurtful.
- By bad timing.
- By accidentally triggering someone.
- By being unaware.
- Or by carelessness or selfishness.
Isn’t that the primary challenge of communication? To have the other hear what we mean to say? To speak or describe or explain in a way that we are fully and accurately understood?
First, we will address the question, “If I meant to be kind and they took it as cruel, were they abused and do I have to apologize and/or change.”
Second, we will talk through how to proceed when a wife/woman says she is being abused. Wisdom, care, and courage are necessary when wading into the deep waters of relational reconciliation.
- Real or Perceived Abuse – If she feels abused, she has been abused on some level… intentional or not.
- Offense Always Warrants an Apology
- Violent & Violated – Purchased or forces sex is violent, and she has been violated.
- At Our Church/Practice – Some general, loose, guidelines.
- Everyone Gets Heard – She and he both get a chance to speak, awkward or not.
- Two Are Better than One – Two people do the listening & mediating.
- Don’t Be Fooled – But two people who are savvy, wise, godly, & hard to deceive or sway.
- Don’t Wimp Out – Do not try to find a way to discount her because you hope to skirt the uncomfortable work of investigation.
Summary & Conclusion
Interested? Would like to read more?
God Does Not Hate Divorce… As Much as He Hates… (3)
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash
By Kerry Krissel
The Running Assumption
Throughout this 3-part series, I have assumed that the “woman” in question is truly in an abusive marriage. I will not cover the situation when one who reports abuse is the actual abuser. That is a whole other discussion! Obviously, many things will be different if she is the one in the marriage that is the troublemaker.
Women can be just as abusive, especially verbally and emotionally, as a guy can. And just as evil, manipulative, power-hungry, controlling, and cruel. Both men and women often go looking for abuse where it is not. Neither are beyond seeking a reason to cry foul. And both men and women are capable of making up just about anything to get what they want. Especially true if they desperately want out of a disappointing marriage.
But disappointment is not what I am talking about. If there is not abuse the relationship can be fixed. Frankly, it can be fixed even if there is abuse but steps must obviously be taken to protect against reoccurrences of abuse.
If there is abuse, it has to stop… and have been stopped for some time, before work can begin on the repairing or restoring the relationship.
What Does God Hate?
So far we discovered that God does not hate divorce as much as he hates cruelty and abuse, especially when it is perpetrated against the defenseless. What God hates is when men are selfish and brutal and abandon the wife of their youth. When they treat her in ways that bring down cruel and dangerous consequences on her. Divorce is one way that can happen. But especially so when it leaves her destitute, or nearly so, and with no option but to provide for herself in ways that bring more cruelty and danger down on herself.
What God hates is when men are selfish and brutal and abandon the wife of their youth.
In the second installment we saw, among a couple of other supporting items, that while the marriage covenant and vows are serious and sacred, they protect a “lower” law that can be canceled by a higher moral law – the value of human dignity and human life.
Real or Perceived Abuse
Now, moving this conversation forward, when I say “a truly abusive marriage” I mean real or perceived abuse in all its forms. Feelings are an expression of us, of our heart, of the condition of our soul at any given moment—sad, happy, angry, grieved, depressed, wounded, etc. They are like an indicator light that reveals the state of something that is otherwise hard if not impossible to know. You often have no way to know if an electronic device is on or off without an indicator light to communicate its present state.
Feelings are an expression of us, of our heart, of the condition of our soul at any given moment…
No Caps Lock Light!
I have a keyboard that has no indicator light on the caps lock. It is not exactly “user friendly.” Clearly an oversight in the design department. If you have one too you know just how helpful a simple little indicator light can be, and how frustrating not having one can also be! That little indicator is neither right or wrong when either on or off. There is no moral quality to whatever state it is in, caps on, or caps off. It is simply telling an otherwise hidden truth. The unknowable state of otherwise concealed things.
Returning to our discussion, emotions are neither right nor wrong, good or evil, positive or negative. Not in their native, instinctive state. Much like the “caps lock” light, they tell us and others about the condition of our inner and otherwise invisible world. That means we need to pay close attention to the feelings of those we are in a relationship with (not to mention our own). If we do not, how can we know how what we are doing or saying is affecting them? Whether in a healthy and constructive way or in an unhealthy and destructive way? Becoming aware is the loving thing to do. Sometimes we struggle to maintain or grow a relationship with another who is for one reason or another seemingly emotionless (no one is truely without emotions, but they may be completely submerged and out of sight to everyone), and that creates a whole other situation that again I will not discuss here.
Apologize for the Unintentional
When it comes to a relationship, we need to take responsibility for how we make the other feel, even if their emotional response is not what we intended. We need to be sensitive, alert, and awake to how we affect those around us. When we do not, we will invariably wound and can even unintentionally abuse people and not even know it.
Feelings are frequently poor at accurately distinguishing between real and perceived offense. Just because I did not feel like I was offensive, that feeling may only reflect my intention or how I would respond to the words I spoke.
After 36 plus years of marriage, I have learned that it is quite possible to hurt without premeditation or any desire to do so. I have learned that deliberately chosen words designed to encourage can still badly miss the mark and land a blow that wounds. And I have learned that if something I do or say offends my wife, regardless of my intentions, I must apologize. It is the right (and humble) thing to do.
Feelings are frequently poor at accurately distinguishing between real and perceived offense.
If my wife feels abused, she has been abused. If the abuse is recognized to no one else but herself, she has been abused. If she feels offended, I offended her. If she takes offense where none was meant, she is still offended.
What was meant is relevant but discounts nothing. As far as an apology goes, it does NOT matter that she misjudged my words as unkind, even if I meant to praise or encourage her but she took it all wrong. I may have done absolutely no wrong and still have hurt or abused her.
It does not matter if she only feels abused because of her own filter(s), put in place by some prior experience that causes her to see things in a skewed, dysfunctional way, or even if it was something that happened long before she knew me. I married her (and her me!) for better or for worse, in sickness (both physical and emotional) and in health. If she is wounded by me, she deserves to get the chance to heal from me, in the way of an apology.
I may have done absolutely no wrong and still have (unintentionally) hurt or abused her.
Offense Always Warrants an Apology
So if I offend, I apologize. Simple as that. Even if she just felt unappreciated, offended, endangered, and unsafe, when there was no lack of recognition, no ingratitude, or danger were present. If she felt bad in response to me, I apologize to her. And I must take responsibility for making the change necessary to prevent it from reoccurring.
I will say something like, “Hun, I never meant that to be taken that way (not, “You should not feel that way”) but I see that I hurt your feelings (or offended you, abused, violated, made you feel uncomfortable …) and I am sorry, I love you, will you forgive me?”
If I offend, I apologize. Simple as that.
If a guy cannot do that—apologize for their actions even when another took them all wrong—they will never have a strong relationship with a member of the opposite sex. If the guy says, “I’m not apologizing for trying to be loving, she took it all wrong, that is on her,” he needs to grow up, grow kinder, humbler, softer, smarter, and thoughtful. He needs to grow stronger and more like Christ so he can humbly and without self-defense take responsibility for his action. All of his actions.
If you are married or counseling those who are, take special note of this. When guys do something, anything, that is taken or felt as a wound or offense by her, an apology is in order. Always. The consequences and the way forward are strikingly different if the abuse is only perceived, but it is still abuse and she may still need someone to help her navigate the way forward with her husband.
We love our wives as Christ loved the church, which means we bear with undeserved disrespect, false accusation, and unfair, unjust treatment, just as Jesus Christ did.
When we do something, anything, that is taken or felt as a wound or offense, an apology is in order.
Ephesians 5:25, 28–33 25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her… 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body. 31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (NLT)
Not That Innocent
That is too much to unpack here. Suffice it to say that husbands can declare their good intentions but only if it is followed with a self-sacrificial apology.
Just remember guys that when Jesus was on trial he spent no effort explaining his actions or mounting a defense. A “but” in the middle of an apology cancels it out if followed with an explanation of why our actions were really noble and right and she just missed their superior quality and intent! The apology itself is not innocent because it is not free of self-serving motives.
One last reminder, we are never as innocent as Jesus was! Even if unconsciously done, our words, body language, and tone of voice often betray us by revealing something in our heart that is not as honorable as we think. It is entirely possible that our conscious intention is good while our subconsciously self is in some way compromised. She may have responded to what we do not realize we communicate(d) and not the surface and conscious presentation that we so vehemently defend.
We are never as innocent as Jesus was!
Let me quickly interrupt our chat. If you would like to talk to someone about questions or struggles this article surfaced for you, go to the Two Rivers Counseling Center’s website. When you are ready, click the “Get Counseling” link. We can always make a virtual appointment through social media to connect face-to-face. Now back to our discussion.
An “Unbelieving” Spouse
Let’s dive into the murky waters of an “unequally yoked” marriage. And remember, to keep the discussion simpler, we are working from the scenario that the husband is the abuser and the woman is the abused.
In that context, if the husband is not a Christ-follower, is unaffected by the Scriptures instructions, has no intentions of changing his behavior, refuses to apologize for what he does not understand or intend, and wants to walk away from the union, we are instructed as believers to let them go.
1Corinthians 7:15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. (NLT)
Romans 12:18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. (NLT)
So that peace can be maintained, the “believing” spouse is not “bound” to the union. I think this can easily mean they are free to remarry as well since there is no lasting bond or bondage. I also think this applies when the spouse, in our case the husband, says they are a Christ-follower but there is little or no evidence in their lives to prove such a claim. In part shown by the abusive treatment and refusal to own or change it.
The teaching of James and 1John comes into play at this point. They tell us that when faith and love are in question, without evidentiary proof in the form of actions to validate the claim, we should not try to claim to be loving and faithful (nor should we believe it on face value alone). If we do we are liars!
Violent & Violated
A quick clarification is in order before moving on. It is my very strong belief that when a man buys sex from a prostitute—no matter how sensual she was in her dress (or lack thereof), pose, words, or how consensual she is in the act—she has been (violently) violated. Men are supposed to treat women with respect. Not respect as defined by our present culture, but by Scriptural standards.
Buying sex from a woman is an act of violence against her. Period. There is no intention of caring for her beyond the act, no covenant, no protection, nothing. She has been violated and dishonored, treated as if she is nothing more than a commodity to be bought and sold.
It is my very strong belief that when a man buys sex from a woman, he has (violently) violated her.
It is not much different than slavery. The act is violent itself and helps keep her imprisoned in the sex industry, which is just more cruelty. And there is little difference between sex for hire and sex that is forced on a spouse, in regards to the violent nature or threat of it. Forced sex (that leads to climax only for one) is just cruel and violent and abusive.
Now, a woman who is raped and happens to “enjoy” the act has still been equally violated. However, she is inclined to believe all manner of confusing and destructive lies that only add to the trauma. “I must have wanted it to happen,” “It is not rape if I ‘liked’ it,” “I can’t report it as rape if I responded physically,” “What kind of person am I since I reacted that way,” and on and on.
She has been violated and dishonored, treated as if she is nothing more than a commodity to be bought and sold.
A purely physical or biological reaction is not the same thing as a willful or emotional response, but to her, it sure feels that way. The bodily response adds to the violent and destructive nature of forced sex. Just tuck all that away because if you do much counseling, you will deal with this confusion and shame sooner or later.
At Our Church
Now, based on those clarifications, we will talk about how to respond to a women’s claim of abuse. Here is how we walk this out at our practice. I do not have steps per se, just some thoughts and guidelines on how to proceed.
I assume you have your own procedures for dealing with messed up marriages (that is fair to and safe for both, equally protecting both parties) that may come into play once the truth about the alleged abuse is known. I also assume you have people designated who can handle the accusation and the discovery process, as well as the ongoing attempt at repair should that be a wise and Biblical choice.
1. Everyone Gets Heard
First, we give every woman who reports abuse the benefit of the doubt. She needs our first response to be a willingness to believe her, not a predilection to disbelieve her. No, we do not automatically believe her. No, her story is not given priority over his. But neither do we automatically discount her story or her feelings no matter who she or the accused is or how unbelievable the claim.
We also do not let the awkwardness or discomfort of the conversation that needs to happen to keep us from asking the right questions. All the right questions. No one is guilty until proven so. We are willing to risk walking into something that is not abuse, and any fall-out that may follow from the guy who is offended by the inquiry, because it is that important.
Frankly, even though it may initially be unsettling, offensive, and scary for the man who is innocent or unaware, if they are a disciple of Jesus they will cooperate and eventually understand why we pursued something we knew could be false. Going into that chat, the “investigators” tone and posture must be calm, non-accusatory, free from anger, vengeance, a vendetta, or witch hunt. They should be clearly set on discovering the truth before any conclusions are drawn or actions taken.
She may feel she was abusded AND he may have never intended it.
Remember, they may both be right! They may both be telling the gods honest truth… from their point of view and through their (warped) filter.
She may feel she was abused and he may have never intended it. She may have felt attacked while his intention was very much the opposite. She may feel she was attacked and/or violated and he may have no idea. Or at least he may have great difficulty understanding her feelings or how his words or action could possibly be so completely construed. That is why he may accuse her of overreacting or pretending for sinister purposes.
There can be various reasons for the divergent stories and lack of communication that to others may seem impossible to be real. You may instinctively respond with the thought, “One of them has to be lying” and be very wrong. They may both be lying, or neither one be lying!
2. Two Are Better than One
If you are not dealing with a mature Christian, or with someone who is not a Christ-follower, things may get a little dicey. And even when a godly man is accused of abuse, he may initially resist the suggestion. Which is why we never have this conversation one-on-one. It is always wise and necessary for two to go (three can make the one in question feel ganged up on) to seek the truth.
I will not go into a discussion here about who you should send, but obviously they need to be wise, respected, and unbiased, whether male or female. It is not necessary and usually is inadvisable to have the women (accuser) present at this initial chat. It will lead to further painful abuse if she is telling the truth.
If he is willing and able to have a civilized discussion, even if initially he is offended, try to determine what is true by laying out the woman’s claims. His demeanor and willingness or refusal to concede any of her points will begin to reveal what is really going on… But this will invariably be complicated…
3. Don’t Be Fooled
Why? Well, go back and reread three paragraphs above! (Beginning with “Remember, they may both be right!”) Beyond that, if he is abusive and if there is domestic violence, you are most assuredly dealing with a crafty and clever narcissist who knows how to work people and gain their trust and respect. That means that a very polite and responsive person may still be very guilty. (And a very belligerent and unkind person may be completely innocent!)
Seeing the two of them together may or may not help but it is probably the next step if it seems there is a chance he is either completely innocent or at least unaware of how he is being perceived.
In the end, if she is afraid of him, even if it seems she has no reason to be, that will establish the way forward. Her hurt must be acknowledged and considered, even if completely unfounded. Just because he is all or mostly innocent and harmless, it in no way means she must go immediately back home. A gradual reintegration with counseling for them both separately and together should pave the way and give a sense of the right timing for that to happen.
Just because he is all or mostly innocent and harmless, it in no way means she must go immediately back home.
4. Don’t Wimp Out
I think one reason why wives are not taken seriously when they claim they are being abused is how uncomfortable it is to deal with, how potentially awkward the conversation that needs to take place will be, and how unprepared the leadership is. “What, confront Joe, why he’s the nicest guy I know.” The story is so very hard to believe because they only know Joe’s public (church) side.
If the women doing the reporting and looking for protection should happen to be known for any other issues viewed as indiscretions in the church—gossip, flirting, or simply being outgoing and likable—in many churches, she does not have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a fair hearing. Profiling can be used for good or evil. It is much easier then most think to misjudge others. Do not fall prey to this temptation.
No woman, no person, deserves to be abused. They all must be protected, just as salvation comes to us without any respect of persons, no prejudice, or preference, or inequality of any sort.
No woman, no person, deserves to be abused.
One reason the abuse has gone on so long, which is usually true when it is finally reported, is because he has fooled both his wife and everyone else. Do not take the easy way out, hoping to escape the lingering awkwardness, by just believing him, discounting her, and walking away. You may escape the discomfort but not the guilt if you have too quickly judged. And she will not escape the abuse and he will not have had to face the truth he needs to in order to pursue health himself. All facts need to be considered, but again, innocent until proven guilty covers both the accuser and the accused.
Remember James’ Warning:
James 2:14-17 14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. (NLT)
Seeing someone in need and doing nothing even though you have the power to help is not just a lack of faith, it is dead and useless. If a woman is pleading for your help to escape a supposedly abusive husband, and you do nothing because it is awkward or uncomfortable or a little difficult to believe, how lazy and cowardly is that? Do not try to tell yourself or others you are a person of faith. James says that faith without the supporting evidence of faith-like actions is proof that faith is not present!
Seeing someone in need and doing nothing… is not just a lack of faith, it is dead and useless.
A Chance for Healing
By the way, few women will try to fool the church leadership by claiming they are being abused if it is the other way around. Abusers try to keep the situation hidden, in the dark, and not out in the open. She would have to be a special kind of crazy (or evil) to do that! Yeah, it could happen, but the better gamble is to check it out rather than assume she is lying. Even if it is not intentional or conscious on the husband’s part, or is completely an unhealthy fabrication of an unwell wife, there most likely is some degree of harm occurring and there is an opportunity to play a healing role as God’s representatives.
It may be obvious but whether the abuse is real or perceived determines how we proceed from there. If real, that leads you down a very different (and longer) road. If only perceived, or at least unintended, that of course warrants a far different and more tactful and respectful prescription. It may ans usually does take less time to work through, but not necessarily.
Protection at all costs—for both parties—is imperative. If perceived, then obviously some counseling for both, individually first and then together once some healing has taken place, will be necessary. A temporary separation may be wise as well. If real, temporary separation is usually in order, and reconciliation only after he has consistently proven (months not weeks) that God has transformed him.
Reconciliation is certainly possible, but divorce may be the only wise and safe option.
In the case of real abuse, depending on the degree of wounding, longevity, and spiritual response from both, reconciliation is certainly possible, but divorce may be the only wise and safe option.
Summary & Conclusion
For the sake of this discussion, we assumed that the woman in question is truly in an abusive marriage. All abuse is abuse—sexual, emotional, verbal, psychological, spiritual, and merely perceived. All (except possibly the last) of which comes with manipulation, cruelty, violence, and various levels of deception. Power and control are both indicators and the purpose.
It is incredibly destructive and emotionally painful for anyone to endure this abuse day after day. It can destroy the heart of a women (and kids) without a single physically violent act, and still be very violent and controlling. Fear is the primary substance of this world for the abused. And extricating themselves from it must be their goal and that of those helping them. Various other steps can be taken afterward depending on the situation.
I explained why I believe that we can confidently conclude that the Bible does not really say that God hates divorce. Not directly and clearly not in the passage so often repeated and believed to say that he does. What the passage irrefutably does say is that God hates it when a man cruelly treat their wife whom they have vowed to love, keep, and protect.
If he (God) will make a reluctant exception for unforgiveness, I believe he will make a willing exception for abuse!
In fact, we concluded that the Bible gives a woman who is trapped in an abusive relationship permission to exit the marriage on the basis of a higher law that says that human life is more valuable than keeping a promise if that promise endangers life. God gave an exception to protecting the marriage covenant at all costs. For hard-hearted, unforgiveness. If he will make a reluctant exception for unforgiveness, I am very sure he would make a willing exception for abuse as I have described it!
If you advise others from within the church, or under the covering of a church, I suggest that you think, study, and pray through how you will handle domestic violence before someone comes to you and seeks your counsel and help. Make sure your policy reflects the full teaching and spirit of the Bible and the heart of God.
Again, if you would like to talk to someone about questions or struggles this article surfaced for you, go to the Two Rivers Counseling Center’s website. When you are ready, click the “Get Counseling” link. We can always make a virtual appointment through social media to connect face-to-face. Now back to our discussion.