God Does Not Hate Divorce
Have not read article 1 in this 3-part series yet? Catch up here.
Rather listen to the podcast version? Click here.
What if I came over to your house with an ax in hand and beat in your front door, broke a few windows, climbed on your roof, and chopped a hole in it? You would be indignant. I would be arrested. Both rightly so. With or without provocation, this is clearly not acceptable. But wait…
What if I wore a heavy raincoat, rubber boots, a helmet with a long brim in the back, an oxygen mask, arrive in a big red truck with sirens blaring and… your house is on fire! In that case, I could do all the same things, and even drag your unconscious self from your home, without your consent, and be labeled a hero! You would shake my hand (after the medics save you from smoke inhalation) and thank me profusely! Right?
A fireman operates under different rules (by God’s design, not to mention civil permissions) because of a higher law that comes into play when lives are in danger.
I bet you can figure out where I am going with this.
I apologize to those who want a short answer to this issue of divorce (and Domestic Violence, which is a big question with many variables) because what we have said thus far is not the half of it. The “God hates divorce” blanket assessment is yet even more woefully inadequate, mentally lazy, Biblically inaccurate, and possibly intentionally misleading, if not outright illogical.
With this second of three articles, we will take a look at the fact that “God hates divorce” is not the only thing he hates or even the thing he hates the most. In this second article, we will look at a higher God put in place that clearly allows divorce.
- When A Higher Law is At Play – Life is more valuable than keeping a promise.
- God Permitted Divorce When… – A hard heart will not forgive.
- God Advises Divorce When… – An unbelieving spouse wants out.
- Like-Kind Situations – Connected permissions.
- When Focus is Foolhardy… And Evil – When it violates a higher law due to favoritism.
- When the Gospel is the Point – The higher law was Jesus’ mission.
- What I Hate! – I (and he) hate it when one gender (particularly female) is valued over the other.
Interested? Would you like to read more?
God Does Not Hate (All) Divorce…
As Much as He Hates… (Part 2)
By Kerry Krissel
When A Higher Law is At Play
When a woman in an abusive marriage goes to the leadership in the church, or avoids them, due to the typical injustice and prejudice she could expect to receive, she does so precisely because a higher law is in play and she knows it. In her heart, she knows (or at least hopes) that God does not expect her to live the way that she is.
Yes, under normal circumstance divorce is not just undesirable, inadvisable, and unwarranted, but wrong. It is the product of hard (unforgiving) hearts (Matthew 19:3-9). God’s original intention was for two to be joined as one and stay that way. In a perfect world that would always be the case. In an imperfect world, where relationships are hard and must be worked for, it would be wrong. In an imperfect world where time, patience, communication, kindness, and selfless service is required to make the union work and remain undissolvable, it would still be wrong.
But life in this broken world is clearly not perfect and is often far more imperfect than is safe or sane for anyone to put up with or condone. When that level of imperfection is present, and where one partner becomes an emotional, mental, and physical danger to the other, a higher law kicks in which nullifies the lower law (divorce is wrong) and makes keeping it not only unsafe but insanely foolish and something God never intended.
Life in this broken world is clearly not perfect and is often far more imperfect than is safe or sane for us to put up with or condone.
God Permitted Divorce
We discover in the Old Testament story that God permitted divorce within the nation of Israel. Now, not under the normal or healthy circumstances, but when hearts were hard, stubborn, unyielding, and harsh, and when ears we closed to apology, reason, and compassion. Jesus talked about it to the religious leaders of his day when they tried to use the question of divorce to find something to accuse him of.
Matthew 19:3–8 3 “Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?” 4“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’ 5 And he said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ 6 Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” 7“Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?” they asked. 8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. (NLT)
Jesus does not avoid the issue in any way. God’s original intent is abundantly clear. But so is the fact that allowances were made. Both. Abundantly. Clear. Within this framework, consider the women trapped in an abusive marriage. After all the investigation is over and her husband is shown to be both abusive and unwilling to change, showing that he is of the hard-hearted variety, she is allowed to escape through the use of divorce. That does justice both to this text and the higher law that says that safety is more important than keeping a promise if doing so will end in all manner of cruelty and abuse.
Life is a precious and valued gift from God and no one should treat it lightly or violently. It is so valuable that lower “laws” can be put aside so the higher law of the value of human existence and due dignity and respect that it deserves. The woman is not being hard-hearted when she realizes that her promise cannot be honored any more without risking her sanity and possibly her life. A higher law has stepped in, temporarily pushing aside the lower law, and made way for her to escape with her sanity, soul, and life intact. Divorce is not ideal, nor his original and beautiful intention for husband and wife, but it is occasionally necessary.
God’s original intent is abundantly clear. But so is the fact that allowances were made.
God Advises Divorce
Consider this from a different angle found in another biblical teaching:
1Corinthians 7:12b-16 If a fellow believer has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her. 13 And if a believing woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him. 14 For the believing wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the believing husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy. 15 (But if the husband or wife who isn’t a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the believing husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace.) 16 Don’t you wives realize that your husbands might be saved because of you? And don’t you husbands realize that your wives might be saved because of you? 17 Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you.
This section lays out why a spouse who is a Christ-follower should stay married to one who is not if they are willing. The implication of verse 17 is that they married when neither of them was committed to Jesus Christ due to his sacrifice for them and their belief in him. It also explains how to proceed if, after one or the other of them has converted, the other who has not is no longer willing to remain married.
Here is where it gets good! Not only is the believing spouse to “let go” of the unbelieving one who wants to leave (interpret that, “get a divorce”), but declares that their bond is broken, their vows are null and void, for the sake of peace. Other interpretations of the original Greek say the believing spouse is not “under bonged” (NASB95) or is “not morally bound” (AMP).
So the unbelieving spouse’s decision to leave cuts loose the other spouse from any obligation to them. Which of necessity suggests there are free to marry. If not they would still be morally bound and should stay single. But they are not subject to the moral code of marriage anymore. This imperfect yet necessary divorce is not just allowed but advisable for the sake of keeping the peace and safety.
So the unbelieving spouse’s decision to leave cuts loose the other spouse from any obligation to them.
“In Such Cases”
Now, it gets even more interesting! This directive that God saw fit to put in the Biblical canon says, “in such cases” or “in these and other such cases.” It seems to be agreed that this is not a reference to only such cases where one spouse is a believer and one is not. The implication of the original is that of, “in other instances that are like this one, that is of the same type.”
Wayne Grudem, in a new article, translates this as, “in this and other similarly destructive situations” (Grounds for Divorce: Why I Now Believe There Are More Than Two, https://bit.ly/2AYnWA8). So “in such cases” means other instances of a like type where chaos or the absence or opposite of relational peace occurs to the detriment of one or both.
If we circle back to cases of DV we can see the obvious implications. Even if the abuser claims to be a Christ-follower (maybe to manipulate their spouse into staying?), when they act like they have rejected God and his example and teachings and so are effectively like one who is an unbeliever, the other spouse is free. Just because they say they are a believer, if their actions betray that confession it voids their claim.
A variation of this would be that the spouse who is perpetrating DV against the other may want to remain married. But when coupled with the higher law we laid out above, the two together clear the way for the abused to get out and protect herself, by God’s permission. If the unbeliever wants to stay married (which is very often the case, they do not want to give up the control), but they do not want to change, then the higher law still kicks in and permits her to chose safety, even if it is through a divorce.
Incidentally, Grudem listed numerous situations that may be “of like-kind” to the one mentioned in the Corinthian passage and several that are not:
1) Abuse – Causing similar damage to the relationship as adultery or desertion.
2) Abuse of children.
3) Extreme, prolonged verbal, and relational cruelty.
4) Credible threats of serious physical harm or murder – of a spouse or children could also, in some cases, fall in this category.
5) Incorrigible drug or alcohol addiction – accompanied by regular lies, deceptions, thefts, and/or violence might, in some cases, be so destructive to the marriage that it would also fall in this category.
6) Incorrigible gambling addiction – that has led to massive, overwhelming indebtedness could also, in some cases, fall in this category.
7) Incorrigible addiction to pornography – might also fall into this category. But I also think that this kind of addiction could be included under the meaning of “sexual immorality” (Greek “porneia”) in Matthew 19:9.
8) Situations that are not legitimate grounds for divorce: In the midst of a secular culture where divorces are far too easy and far too common, it is good to remember that Scripture does not allow divorce just because a marriage is difficult, or because a husband and wife are not getting along, or because one spouse wants to marry another person. We need to be reminded again of the warnings of Jesus that such divorces are contrary to God’s will and commonly result in what God considers to be adultery (see Matthew 19:3–9).
God Hates Most Divorces
I am pretty sure it is not Biblically accurate to say that God hates all divorce. He hates it when it can be avoided, say, through forgiveness and a healthy reconciliation process that softens hard hearts and preserves the union and his original intent. Certainly, he hates it when the motivation, excuse, and reasons, are selfish, evil, or cruel. His original intention for marriage is clear. However, I do think it is accurate to say that he hates marriages that attack, diminish, batter, bruise, and crush the female body and soul! Those two statements paint a radically different Biblical picture of marriage and divorce than the misused comment—that implies more than it was meant to— that “God hates (all) divorce.”
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.
When Focus is Foolhardy… And Evil
While reading through the book of James, I found some verses that apply to our conversation. I have spent the last year rereading the same new testament letters over and over. Beginning with Romans, I read all or part of the letter day after day and even week after week until I felt I had a decent grasp of its contents and intent. Only then did I move onto the next letter. While in James I must have read it 20 times before these verses hit me as relevant to this discussion.
James 2:1, 8–11 1 …How can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?… 8 Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. 10 For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. 11 For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.” So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law. (NLT)
They violate a law of “higher” consequence when they choose to hate divorce but permit cruelty and abuse.
This is exactly what the narrowly focused “God hates (all) divorce” people do. They choose one command, one truth, pull it out from the rest, put it on a pedestal, focus solely on it, and confidently forget or ignore the rest. Then they tell themselves they are doing good and right because of their strong commitment to that one random rule they staunchly defend. But they are themselves still lawbreakers if they ignore other things that God also teaches are important to heed. (Read Matthew 23:23-24 for another example and similar teaching that Jesus gave.) And they violate a law of “higher” consequence when they choose to hate divorce but permit cruelty and abuse.
Interestingly, when they use it to shut down a woman who claims to be in an abusive relationship, without listening fully or performing any investigation, and believe the man over her for no real reason other than they cannot imagine (him doing) what she reports is happening, or worse, simply because he is male, they favor him over her. They have become respecters of persons. They give honor to one person while showing disdain to another.
Though they may do nothing to encourage a violation of this one thing God hates, they break a pile of other laws because there are other things, higher laws, that God also or more intensely, hates. They still are breaking God’s law. And it is evil to do so. I know that a statement that is that strong may offend some but, it is the only way I can see to interpret these passages and Jesus’ teaching.
When the Gospel is the Point
James 2:1–5 1 My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? 2 For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. 3 If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person [the man], but you say to the poor one [the woman], “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, 4 doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives? 5 Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? (NLT) (Words in bracket  are mine.)
There are things God hates, equal to, or more than, divorce.
The way this teaching of James fits into the scenario I have been discussing is striking. It hardly needs an explanation. Those who are laser-focused on the “God hates (all) divorce” narrative that is ripped from its context and twisted for their purpose, ignore what should never be ignored. God has a special place in his heart for the innocent, defenseless, and those who have no voice or champion – the outsider (foreigner), widow, orphan (clan-less), slave, accused, poor, and needy. Those without a tribe or basic means to sustain life and defend limb (James 1:27).
There are things God hates, equal to, or more than, divorce. In the Old Testament narrative, we find that God hates it when those in power take advantage of those who are not (See also Jesus’ teaching in Luke 22:24-27; see also Mark 10:42-45, Matthew 20:25-28, “But among you, it will be different.”) He is a God who stands up for those who cannot defend themselves and expects us to as well. Slaves were to be cared well for by extending the hope that they would not always be slaves. Even animals were to be properly treated by their owners!
God hates it when we take advantage of others. Even the godless court systems and laws of most lands agree with God’s law that stipulates that lying is wrong, false scales are criminal, false witnesses are evil, and manipulating the courts in any way through bribery, social position, or office is dishonest and immoral. God’s law written on the hearts of man dictates that we defend the innocent and vulnerable not the guilty and well lawyered!
This work of Christ, his entire life and mission, reveals the heart of God to us better than any words ever could.
This is the very heart of the gospel. We all were God’s enemy, far away, separate from him, without citizenship in heaven, and without hope or help (Ephesians 2:12-13; Colossians 1:15-22). When God stepped into time, he put aside lower laws that dictated what he as a perfect God deserved and what we deserved as sinful humans, triggered higher laws of justice and righteousness and love, and brought rescue and protection to us.
This work of Christ, his entire life and mission, reveals the heart of God to us better than any words ever could. The stronger is to protect the weaker, not take advantage of them. We are called to give as freely as we have received (Matthew 10:8, 18:21-35). To be redeemed and eternally safe, and not help others find safety whether for body or soul, is ungrateful and wicked.
What I Hate!
From the discussion thus far, we can easily conclude that a woman must receive equal status, standing, and consideration in marriage abuse cases. Favoring the husband and misquoting God is beyond unacceptable. God does not hate divorce more than anything and everything else.
For what it is worth, I will tell you what I hate almost more than anything else. My conclusion in defense of endangered women is true whether there are kids involved or not. I hate it when people say, “Well, there are kids in the home too, so we better do something about it.” Like a woman’s life is not as worthy of protection as a child’s life?! Like one female life in danger is not sufficient to “do something about it?!”
Think about what that communicates to women. No one would say that out loud, but many embrace this inequality in practice. It is clearly an invalid conclusion and a violation of human rights when we protect a mom but not (or more reluctantly or slowly) a woman trapped in abuse who is not a mother? What we are effectively saying is that the little ones are more worthy of defending, that somehow they inherently hold more value, that they are more abused, more worthy of protection? I hate that. Dare I say that I believe God hates that also? Children are immeasurable precious… but what life is not?
I hate it every time the culture or church fails to defend a woman who needs their help. I hate it as much as I hate it when either of them tries to make men more feminine, more palatable, less rough, less unpredictable, less adventurous, or less or more anything that is not true masculinity. The statement I am making is not an attack on my own gender.
My point is that treating a woman caught in an abusive marriage with less protection, rights, belief, and respect than we do the man is reprehensible. And treating her as if she is less valuable than a child is just as indefensible.
I hate it when a woman gets up the courage to reach out and ask for help, and her greatest fears (that she will not be believed or helped) are realized, and her situation and inner health deteriorates even more because of it. Unless you have lived it, you will never understand what it takes for a woman trapped in domestic violence to tell someone. I think it is even harder in many churches. How hard (and risky) must it be, if she is ignored, to speak out a second time, a third time, a fourth time…
In the next and final of three articles I will unpack the prickly issue of perceived abuse as opposed to real abuse, and how we approach a woman’s claim of abuse if you are a leader at your church.
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.