Is Divorce Ever an Option in the Christian Life?

Case study: [1] Julie and Tim have been married for 10 years. In the last year, Tim has been verbally abusive towards her. Just last week, Tim went completely crazy. Julie told him to cut the grass outside and Tim got upset and started yelling at her. As he yelled and became more frustrated, he threw his phone at her. He missed her, knocking a hole in the wall. They both knew he had gone too far. Now, Julie is convinced that God is telling her to divorce Tim.  How would you handle this situation? I have written out my own response. Feel free to comment below.

Julie, I understand you are worn out with the lack of change in Tim’s demeanor. When Tim gets verbally and physically abusive, it endangers you and others around. This intimidation can cause you to feel unwilling to continue this relationship. I can’t imagine the difficulty you are experiencing right now, even to the point of giving up on Tim altogether.

I also know that God has the answer to your dilemma. Jay Adams, a certified biblical counselor, talks about the Scripture’s ability to guide us, either directly through a Scripture passage, or with certain themes in the Bible that help us make the most Christ-honoring decisions.[2] For instance, the Bible makes it clear in Exodus 20 not to murder. Therefore, this command should be avoided, no matter how you feel or what you think “God told you” in some dream or revelation. His word never contradicts His character. Murder is always wrong. However, there are Scripture references that don’t speak directly to all personal decisions. For instance, should you be a teacher or a doctor is not specified in the Bible.

What about divorce? Does God have any specific Scripture references that speaks on this issue? Yes. In Malachi 2:16, God says “I hate divorce.” Matthew 19:6 states that what God has brought together let no one separate. There are two specific verses, however, that seem to indicate God allows divorce in the case of spousal death and adultery (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). Then again, Ephesian 4:32 seems to indicate that even if adultery is committed, a couple can learn to forgive and rebuild their marriage.

As far as we know, Tim has been faithful to you. He hasn’t committed adultery. He has hurt you in other ways. His verbal and physical abuse have gotten out of control. If this abuse is ongoing, I would tell the proper authorities. You may need to separate for a season until Tim repents of his violent behavior towards you. However, I don’t think there is Scripture warrant for you to divorce him. What do you think?

After Julie expresses how she feels, I would be sympathetic. I do not want to undermine her feelings. When Tim threw a phone that barely missed her and knocked a hole in the wall, he had indeed crossed the line. He is a current threat to her safety. I think it would be proper for her to separate for a “season” in a safer condition while Tim gets help, but I would advise Julie not to get a divorce. Hopefully the conversation will lead to reconciliation and their marriage can be saved.

[1] These names have been changed to protect their identity.

[2] Jay Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling, p.24.

2 comments

  1. Greetings Julie and Tim. Abuse doesn’t have to end a marriage, but sometimes it should. Some of the Bible verses you will read about divorce makes it difficult to tell what you should or should not do. You’ll probably hear many sides to the argument. Some would say that divorce is not an option because Jesus forbids it in Matthew 19. That verse is based on a famous argument between two rabbis (Hillel and Shammai) that lived two millennia ago who argued whether or not a husband could divorce his wife if she were a bad cook who burnt a meal. You might read it in Matthew 5 as Jesus’ reinterpretation of the law in Deuteronomy 24. Where God allows for divorce and gives regulations regarding it. In Jesus’ day, divorce was different for them than it is for us today. It was called ‘putting away’ men would marry women for their dowry, divorce them, and keep the dowry that they were supposed to return – this was the type of divorce that God hates in Malachi. Even the teachers of the law taught that divorce was required if a marriage failed to produce a child within the first ten years. It will be up to you to decide what to do with the rules and regulations. So that makes the situation much less clear – God hated “putting away”, but what about divorce as a result of an abusive marriage? The Bible happens to be silent on this. Which means that’s it’s not expressly forbidden. I would suggest separation – talk to men who have been abusive, talk to women who have been abused – ask them if they saved their marriage, restored trust between them, and what it took to save it. Watch videos like: http://dod.org/programs/when-love-hurts-understanding-and-healing-domestic-abuse-when-the-bible-is-used-to-abuse-part-ii/ I even saw a story about a church deacon who was abusive to his wife and he had to learn that the teaching that gave him power over her – that he was the ‘head’ of the family fueled his aggression. He had to decide that he loved his wife more than the Bible’s teaching about male headship to begin restoring their relationship – he had to give his wive a vote and listen to her as if she had veto power because he knew he could not be trusted with it. Find out what the root cause of the abuse is – if you can deal with that then divorce might not be necessary. But know that if it is, it is no sin.

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