Sunday, July 06, 2008

Ending a Marriage

Marriage is meant to be a beautiful thing. Divorce is ugly, any way you look at it. That being said, I have run into quite a few people lately on message boards who have a real hard line stance on divorce. Basically, there position is that the only thing that ends a marriage is death. No divorce allowed (they re-interpret the exception clause about adultery). Today, I want to post about the 3 biblically valid ways to end a marriage, as I understand them.

Three Valid Endings to a Christian’s Marriage

1. Death of a spouse (Romans 7:1-3)
Nearly everyone seems to agree on this. 'Till death do us part' is true. Death ends a marriage. A widow(er) is free to re-marry b/c death has ended their previous marriage in God's eyes.

2. Departure of unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:12-16)
In a mixed marriage, if the unbeliever desires a divorce, Paul says the believer should not stop them. The divorce is unfortunate, but is, nevertheless, recognized by God. A valid divorce in God's eyes is real. The believer is free to re-marry.

3. Divorce for reason of unfaithfulness (Matt. 19:9)
Even in the case of 2 believers, if one party has sinned by committing adultery, the offended party is allowed to initiate a divorce. Of course, reconciliation would be the highest hope. But a divorce in this case would be valid. And where there is a valid divorce in God's eyes, there are 2 single people.

I would also have to admit that I don't think #'s 2 & 3 are as black & white as some make them out to be. Let's say you have a marriage of 2 professing believers. If one initiates a divorce without biblical grounds (no adultery) and resists the other parties attempts to reconcile (1 on 1, counseling, appeal to the church for help), the initiator is demonstrating that he/she is not a true Christian. After this process of attempted reconciliation, he/she falls into #2. Furthermore, I am not extremely black & white on what exactly constitutes 'adultery' or 'unfaithfulness.' Is it only sexual intercourse with another person? What about sexual neglect? Addiction to pornography? Etc. I think, as a counselor, one must determine the heart of the offended party. Are they just looking for a way out of an unwanted relationship? Or are they just being broken? These issues need to be dealt with on a case by case basis, but biblically.


Dena said...

I agree-it's not always black and white, especially about what "unfaithfulness" includes.

Steph said...

What about abuse? I've heard some preachers say that divorcing for abuse was a non-issue at the time, no one was arguing that it was wrong, so Jesus didn't bother mentioning it. I've heard other preachers take the stance that if a person being abused seeks divorce (or even separation) they are acting against God.

Personally I don't think God ever intends for His Bride to be abused. However, with proper guidance and reconciliation, divorce isn't necessary in any situation.

Regan said...

Wow, what a touchy subject!
In some ways divorce is too accepted, and in some ways it is judged too harshly.
In my denomination (Baptist), men are often excluded from leadership positions because of divorce, even if their divorce was justified. In my opinion, a person's ability to minister to others after a divorce has to be judged on a case-by-case basis. Even if they divorced for the wrong reasons, if they have repented of that sin, who are we to say they have nothing to offer in the service of God? It's not like we haven't all sinned.
I agree with your categories, though. In those cases, yes, divorce is permitted. However, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and we need to be doing some serious teaching about marriage and more pre-marital counseling in churches.
Oh, and thanks for the facebook birthday wishes. I had an awesome birthday, mainly because I took the day off work. :)

Lindy said...

I agree with Steph about abuse. In my mind it's a form of unfaithfulness- you are betraying your spouse by purposfully hurting them just as much (if not more) than my sleeping with someone else. Telling an abused woman to stay in a marriage because that's what God wants is totally wrong. There is no excuse.

matthew said...

I agree with you both, but, perhaps, with a different 'process' in mind. First of all, if a woman is being physically abused, she should 'separate' for her own safety (let alone that of any kids involved).

But I do not think abuse is a form of unfaithfulness. The exception clause is sexual in nature. But finish reading before you get upset with me!

I said in my post that there are 3 valid ways to end a marriage.

1) Death
2) Departure of unbeliever
3) Divorce b/c of unfaithfulness

The case of abuse does not involve 1 and, in my strong opinion, does not involve 3 since the greek there refers to sexual fornication/adultery.

But abuse is, of course, a very un-Christian action. The offended party should attempt to resolve the issue 1 on 1. If it isn't resolved (or has already gotten to the point where it isn't even safe to attempt), she should attempt to involve a couple of trusted others. If the problem continues, she should ask the church to intervene. If the offending party is un-interested in meeting with counselors or the church body, he has established himself as an un-believer.

His abuse of his wife is easily interpreted, by me, as a desire to end the marriage. He fits into category 2, not 3. He's an unbeliever seeking a divorce (though his words might say otherwise, his actions speak against wanting to continue the marriage).

Lindy said...

That's a lot of logical work to justify a divorce to an abuser Matt. Much more than my contention that abuse is a form of unfaithfullness. If you are hurting your spouse you are choosing to break your wedding vows. It's not that complicated in my mind

I'm also more comfortable with simply saying that abusers should be left that saying that abusers arn't really Christian. We are walking down a very dangouras road there. I don't like the witch-hunt feeling that I get when I'm in Churches that are comfortable with giving opinions about the salvation of that guy in the third road.

matthew said...

It should take some 'work' to end a marriage. The problem with allowing abuse to fall under category 3 (unfaithfulness) is 2-fold.

1. The greek refers to sexual sin
2. If we ignore the greek and allow it to just be 'unfaithfulness' we make divorce too easy. If physical abuse fits under 3, why not verbal? If verbal abuse, why not annoyances? Every marriage involves acts of a generalized 'unfaithfulness'

As to your 'witch-hunt' argument, I appreciate your concern. But I disagree. We're talking about, here, a guy who abuses his wife physically. Refuses or rejects counseling. Refuses or rejects church discipline. YET still wants to call himself a Christian! We're dealing without bold-faced rebellion.

I know we don't like church discipline these days, but we can't argue it's not biblical. This is the process necessary to end a marriage b/c of abuse.

glo said...

I actually agree with Matt on this issue. it is how i have come to understand divorce for the reason of abuse.

Robin said...

Hey Matt -- ever noticed what the WC discipline says on the issue? I've always been bothered that it leaves out some of these issues and simply says sexual sin is the only valid reason for divorce.