Is Divorce A Sin In The Case Of Domestic Abuse?
Updated: Jan 18, 2019
As a minister, I spend a fair portion of my time talking people out of thinking they have found a loophole for sin.“I should be able to have sexual relations with my girlfriend because we love each other and will probably get married at some point”. Uh, no. Sex outside of marriage is a sin.
Even lusting is a sin. “That jerk won’t forgive anybody in our family so I shouldn’t have to forgive him, right”? Wrong. If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses [Matthew 6: 16 ESV]
“But everybody is doing it”. Doesn’t matter. Don’t walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners [Psalm 1: 1]
“Why can’t I divorce my wife? I love someone else. Doesn’t God want me to be happy”? No. God wants you to be holy and He wants you to be a man of character and live up to the permanent marriage covenant you made with your wife.
But there is one issue where I believe the church too often gets it wrong. Many women who are suffering from domestic abuse in their marriages are counseled that the only reasons God will accept for divorce are infidelity or abandonment. Of course, if serious abuse is happening outside of a marriage, the Bible clearly tells us to avoid such abusive and brutal people, having nothing to do with them.
For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
II Timothy 3: 2 – 5
But what if you are already married to such a person? Is there no way to protect yourself without sinning against God? There are some illuminating verses in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark which I believe need to be considered. Specifically, read Matthew 12: 1 – 14 and Mark 2: 23 – 3: 6. In these verses, we see Jesus undertaking various activities on the Sabbath (allowing his Disciples to eat, healing a man with a withered hand). Because of this, He was accused of breaking the Fourth Commandment.
One answer that Jesus gives to these complaints is that He is greater than King David, greater than the Temple and, in fact, is the Lord of the Sabbath. Obviously, I can say none of those things and so cannot excuse the violation of one of God’s rules based on that type of authority. But Jesus goes farther than just claiming authority in this scripture. He says that man wasn’t made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man. In other words, the Fourth Commandment wasn’t put in place to make our lives harder or less fulfilling. It was instituted by God to make our life better.
Jesus also quotes the Old Testament prophet Hosea in reminding the people who were accusing Him of being sinful that God desires mercy rather than sacrifice. In other words, God prefers that we show mercy to others who are in an honest need through no fault of their own rather than looking for a reason to call them sinners. Finally, in the verses listed above, we read where Jesus challenges His challengers as to whether they would treat an animal in a similar circumstance better than they are treating a person.
Just as the Sabbath was, marriage was given to humans by God as a blessing, not a requirement to test us in some way. As captives in Egypt, the Hebrews had to work every day. As people freed by God, they were instructed to rest one day a week (as God had done after creation). God made men and women to be each other’s helpmates. The purpose of marriage is to benefit people (not just the man and woman but their children as well). God absolutely intends for marriage to be a lifelong commitment. Divorce is horrible, sinful and much too prevalent in Christian society today. If I could change one sin today, divorce would honestly rank up there with murder, because of the negative consequences it spews on society and the church.
But though church leaders today cannot soften our stance on the fact that marriage is a lifetime covenant made before God, we also can’t forget that man wasn’t made for marriage but marriage was instituted for the benefit of man. God desires mercy rather than religious leaders telling women in abusive relationships to stick it out for the sake of obeying a rule. If your brother abused your dog every time you took it to his house, would you remove your favorite pet from the situation? Why would you not offer a woman (wives included) the same benefit?
While I fully understand that we cannot twist scripture to say what we want it to say and while I believe that God’s rules should be followed even when we don’t fully understand them (because Jesus promised us the most abundant life – John 10: 10), given the full teachings of Christ, I do not believe it is sinful for a woman to remove herself from an abusive marriage.
Andy’s book, Clear Vision: How The Bible Teaches Us To View The World, can be purchased here.