Would you rather listen to the podcast? “God Does Not Hate Divorce”
Before we think about divorce, we need to set the stage…
- Imagine with me that every day you wake up trapped in a marriage relationship that allows you little or no (human) rights.
Limited freedom to make decisions for yourself.
Unable to move about as you like, and to make friends and have conversations as you please.
Little freedom to spend money on necessities without being scrutinized and criticized.
Unending suspicions and distrust and questions about your whereabouts.
- Imagine constant surveillance and manipulation with fear, emotional abuse, cruelty, degrading name-calling.
- Imagine completely fabricated and unfounded accusations, often of marital unfaithfulness of one sort or another.
Only lightly veiled disappointment, judgment, condemnation, and threat.
All this and more from someone who is sane and extremely kind one minute.
At that moment they remind you of the one you fell in love with.
But with no provocation or notice, they are full-on crazy the next moment.
Someone you cannot believe anyone would choose to marry, (which leaves you doubting your own intelligence and sanity).
One minute threatening you and the next threatening to harm themselves to keep you imprisoned in the relationship.
- Imagine the confusion this would cause and the internal turmoil you would live with.
- Imagine living every day with some or all of that confining surveillance, cruelty, unpredictability, and all without any means of escape.
Your phone’s GPS is used to monitor your every move and your social media accounts are trolled to track every conversation and relationship.
You are texted or called incessantly throughout the day… smothered by an oppressive, fearful, manipulative, untrusting, controlling, conspiracy theorist.
- Imagine that this has been your life for years, even decades.
In this article we will take a quick look at divorce through Gods’ eyes, the lens of Scripture, and then domestic violence (DV):
- The Stigma of Divorce – particularly in the Christian church.
- Does God Hate Divorce? – What seems so clear is clearly misquoted and misunderstood.
- God Does Not Hate Divorce! – What God hates is cruelty to the defenseless.
- An Act of Kindness – Advise her to get out if there is cruelty and abuse.
- In Review – What we have concluded thus far.
- What God IS Against – Husbands who are cruel to their wives.
- What Constitutes “Cruel?” – An abbreviated discussion about domestic violence (DV).
- DV & Divorce – It about more than physical protection.
Interested? Would you like to read more?
God Does Not Hate (All) Divorce…
As Much as He Hates… (Part 1)
By Kerry Krissel
Hard to Imagine?
(Read “Article Summary” first.) If the life I described in the Quick Summary sounds like something experienced only in a communistic, third world country, I assure you that it is not. It is the actual description of life in marriage to an abusive spouse. It is usually (but not always) experienced by a woman with an abusive husband or male partner.
I have never lived under the thumb of communism, nor lived with an abused spouse for that matter. However, I have heard my share of stories from women who have far too much experience with life as (essentially) a domestic slave in the worst of prisons. I wrote that opening descriptive paragraph based on those conversations. They are real descriptions of real situations people have lived with and told me about.
While you may be only imagining it, they are very real accounts that I have heard (to differing degrees) countless times. They paint a picture of what it is like to live with domestic violence. Many women (sometimes men) live just like that and many more victims live under similar oppression and fear to a lesser degree.
Can It Get Any Worse?
Unfortunately, yes, it can. Imagine also that both you and your abusive spouse are professing Christians who regularly attend church and volunteer your time and money there. Your spouse may even be a respected entity or even a leader. How can that be?
It can be because the abusive partner is a completely different person at church than they are at home, or in most public settings for that matter. They are friendly, kind, understanding, respectful, and respected, if not loved, in return. No one (but you) would imagine they are who they are when at home and out of sight.
If fact, the abuser is so duplicitous and smooth that people at your church—including counselors and/or leadership—refuse to believe you when you tell your story in an attempt to get help! Yeah, it is that real and can be that bad, that unbelievable, and that frustrating. More on that later.
Not That Familiar With Church?
While this article and the two that follow will be helpful for anyone who can relate to the above scenario on some level, this is primarily written from the perspective of those who grew up around the church. If you did not grow up at church, substitute another environment for the “church” to find useful similarities. Maybe instead of the church, it is your circle of friends (usually the spouse’s friends not yours) or family who is deceived and unbelieving. Whatever the social makeup, my conclusions should help you make healthy choices no matter the environment you are trapped in.
Not only will I specifically depict a church environment, but I will also primarily describe things from the perspective of a woman who is trapped in DV by her husband. Choosing one or the other makes the communication easier, but also, this is the experience almost exclusively of women—especially in the church—who are imprisoned and abused by their husbands. Our subject is not specifically domestic violence but what God expects of someone who is trapped in it.
This is the experience almost exclusively of women—especially in the church—who are imprisoned and abused by their husbands.
The Stigma of Divorce
If you are familiar with the church, there is a good chance that you are aware of the stigma that still often exists there, especially and unequally for women, around the subject of divorce. A divorced woman is like a leper. A divorced man, not so much. While I believe it is slowly changing, for a woman caught in an abusive marriage, there is often not much she can do to break free. The response she heard in the past and often still hears from the church is, “God hates divorce, go back home and submit to your husband.” Or maybe, “There are only two viable, Biblically permitted causes for divorce, adultery (Matthew 19:3-9) and desertion (1Corinthiams 7:15).”
As I said above, it gets worse. If the guy was/is like many abusers, he groomed the whole community he lives in, in order to gain their acceptance. He is probably a stand-up dude outside the home or is liked and respected in the church. This is because he is a different person in public then he is at home. Which is why no one in the church believes her regardless of how horrific the story. He is almost always believed over her. There normally is not even any sort of investigation by the church for the sake of protecting the wife or uncovering the truth. I love the church, but this is an unforgivable stain on her that should never have been allowed.
Why has this been the case? I think this is in part due to the power of the blunt and apparently simple statement, “God hates divorce.” There seems to be no way to interpret this that would permit divorce to still be allowed. It seems so much so that even a temporary separation was/is highly discouraged because it was/is viewed as a step toward divorce that is hard to reverse. And if God hates divorce then we do not want to do anything that has even the hint of divorce in it, right?
There seems to be no way to interpret this that would permit divorce to still be allowed… But someone has flat-out lied!
Does God Hate Divorce?
Well, if we put this oft-repeated statement back into just a little of its original context, we quickly see that everything is not as obvious as it first appears… and someone has flat-out lied!
Malachi 2:15–16 15 Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. 16 “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” (NLT)
Here are the same two verses in another modern translation of the original transcript:
15 Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit, they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. 16 “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. (NIV)
And the tail end of verse 15 again from another translation of original manuscripts:
Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. (the end of v. 16 also; NASB95)
God Does Not Hate Divorce!
I feel we should begin with the most obvious observation, the one that stands out regardless of the version. The phrase “I hate divorce” was not originally spoken to a woman! Not any more than it was a command for her to stay with or remain faithful to an abusive husband. Those words of warning were pronounced against a man who wanted to leave the marriage. It was a call for men to remain loyally protective of their wives and not “break faith” (not betray, be disloyal, untrue, treacherous, or deceitful; to not break a promise/vow) with her.
Why does God hate divorce? Because it overwhelmed the woman with cruelty! Hum, how did that become a prison for abused wives?!?! It is not really even a statement about divorce, not directly. What it is, is a statement about how a man should treat a woman, not how a woman should treat a man. To say, imply, or employ it as if it is a directive to women who want to free themselves from their husband, for no good reason other than rebellion and sexual freedom, is to rip it right out of its context. Doing so does a large degree of violence to both its original meaning and God’s intention.
What God is saying is that he hates it when a husband is unfaithful to their wife by breaking their marital promises. And he especially hates it when it leaves someone who is defenseless—a woman primarily but potentially children—without options, endangered, and exposed.
And why does God hate divorce? Because it overwhelmed the woman with cruelty!
Women In Ancient Cultures
Whatever you think about it as you judge it from within our modern sophisticated society, this was a culture where men and women had very different and distinct roles. Though it is considered demeaning today, in that world (real) men protected and took care of women. A married woman was respected but not in the same way as a man was, or in the way we have come to respect a woman’s strength. A divorced woman was somewhere below a man, and maybe even below certain valued animals! Despicable I know! But that was the modern way in most cultures.
A divorced or single woman was viewed with little deference in that culture. She was even a bit of an outcast if divorced. She did not have the options she has today. Without a home or a man to provide, protect, and give status, she was forced to do whatever she could to survive. And there are always brutal men regardless of culture or if ancient or modern—who will imprison a woman in that lifestyle by paying her for sex in seclusion while disdainfully spitting in her direction in public. To send a woman off into that life (particularly for no good, justifiable, deserved reason) was not just unkind or mean, it was downright (and deliberately) cruel. And God made it abundantly clear that he hates cruelty to women.
There are always brutal men—regardless of culture or if ancient or modern—who will imprison a woman in that lifestyle by paying her for sex in seclusion while disdainfully spitting in her direction in public.
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 Act of Kindness
While it was in the past a vicious act of malice for a man to divorce his wife for no defensible reason, in our culture it may or may not be the same. All too frequently, however, it is just about as cruel today (to our shame) as it was then. She is left without a job, or at least without a good one, no or poor credit, no car, no home, and very much exposed to all manner of physical and psychological danger. Particularly nasty if done for no reason other than “I don’t love her anymore.”
Still, when it comes to something like domestic violence and abuse, it is usually the only way she may have any hope of escape and safety. Divorce today does not necessarily leave the woman completely hopeless, so it is not always the cruel and inhumane act that it was then.
Indeed, for one in a position of respect, counsel, and authority to advise her to get out of that house whatever it takes—a little distance, separation, maybe even divorce—may be the most kind, caring, and merciful act possible. I will say it again. For someone like myself who gives spiritual advice in a church setting, telling a woman to get safe, get help, and get a divorce after all other options are exhausted or before if she is in real danger, is an act of kindness like no other. One that supports and agrees with the loving, caring, and protective heart of God that is revealed to us in Malachi 2.
Let’s review what we have so far. The “I hate divorce” declaration was not directed by God at a woman. It was against men who covered her in cruelty—as they cover their bodies with cloths—when they divorced “the wife of their youth.” In so doing they also covered themselves with the guilt and sentence of cruelty. The men were charged with guarding their heart or spirit against selfishness, brutality, and unfaithfulness to the wife they loved and married in their youth. By implication, that means before she had kids, gained a little weight, and stretch marks, and wrinkles, had little time to primp and pamper herself and her looks, and before she was so tired at the end of the day that she has little energy left for intimacy with him!
He was not so much against divorce as he was against husbands and the ruthless way they were treating their wives.
What God IS Against
I will take it a step further and say that using God’s word in Malachi against a woman, defending a man, and sending her back home and back to the danger she is attempting to escape, is just so wrong and so cruel. It is the very thing God was denouncing! It is the very thing God wanted to stop.
He was not so much against divorce in this passage as he was against husbands and the ruthless way they were treating their wives. When a woman hears the insensitive and uninformed “God hates divorce” from a leader or respected advisor in the church, you can bet… she heard it from a man!
As a guy myself, I am not bashing masculinity or the often rough and jagged male spirit. We have enough of that in our culture already. Nor am I denying the fact that men and women are very different by design. What I am doing is standing up for a woman’s right to protect herself from a cruel and violent man by doing whatever she can to escape an abusive marriage.
What Constitutes “Cruel?”
Before we go any further, there is more that must be said, particularly about what qualifies as “cruel,” “abusive,” and “violent.” Again, the truth may be slightly different than you expect. For example, the term “violence” is often viewed narrowly as physical aggression or bodily harm. But I promise you that “violent” includes much more than an actual physical attack.
You do not have to take my word for it. Here is a description from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which by the way, mirrors other professional statements that come from differing entities speaking on the same subject.
“Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically; however, the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other.” (www.ncadv.org/learn-more)
Here are three sights that will help you gain a better understanding of the umbrella term “domestic violence”:
At the center of all marital abuse is the desire and need to have and exercise power and control over their partner.
Helpful & Unhelpful
I think the “domestic violence” (DV) term is both accurate and unfortunate. The connotation of the second half is confusing and often twisted by the abuser to defend themselves. “I swear to god, I never laid a finger on her or even raised my hand against her.” See what I mean?
At the center of all marital abuse, whether it is a man or a woman who is the perpetrator, is the desire and need to have and exercise power and control over their partner. Clearly that can be accomplished with much more sophisticated, clever, and manipulative methods than physical assault and the threat of bodily harm. “Stick and stones may break my bones but words/names will never hurt me” is a load of rubbish. The implication of this idiom is that words cannot do physical harm. That may be directly true but how many suicides are the result of verbal bullying? Cruel words lead to much harm, maybe even indirectly to physical harm, especially if the exposure is constant and prolonged.
DV & Divorce
When applied to the subject of divorce, vis-à-vis the case of a woman who is seeking protection from an abusive husband, the implications are wider rather than narrower. Much more than physical safety is at stake. Her sanity and spirit and inner well-being are under attack.
I will tell you this, a woman in this situation can become so desperate for help, for someone to listen and take their fears seriously, that they genuinely consider letting their husband physically attack them.
In DV the woman often knows how to keep the peace and how to not. They know pretty well how to stay safe and how to not. They may consider provoking a physical attack just so they can get help from people who do not get how destructive, demoralizing, intimidating, cruel, aggressive, fearful, and shame-inducing DV is. Even if, and sometimes especially if, it is not physical in nature. It is a calculated risk they are willing to take because of the agony of constant and frustrating control and manipulation. He makes everything their fault, uses “I will kill myself” threats to gain compliance, uses warped reasoning, and twists their words… it all just gets to be too much.
These battered women reason that if he kills them in their effort to get someone to listen, to believe them, that will at least put an end to the torture. It also means they will not have to carry the fear or potential guilt should he take his own life. Unless you have been in it, you really cannot understand how domestic violence degrades both soul and life… often making it feel like it is not worth living. I am sure that I do not and that my attempt at describing it falls short on some accounts. I have heard enough stories to describe it to some degree but even at that, the suffering and desperation can only be known from within it.
Much more than physical safety is at stake. Her sanity and spirit and inner well-being are under attack.
In the next (second of three) article we will unpack a higher law that God set in place that makes divorce not just necessary, but his will for an endangered woman.
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.