Holding The Tension On Divorce



To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
    to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
to the pure you show yourself pure,
    but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.
You save the humble
    but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.

-Psalm 18:25-27, NIV

A tension is present when it comes to the question of divorce and faithfully following Christ. On one hand, God calls us to honor marriage and keep our vows (e.g. Malachi 2:14, Hebrews 13:4). While on the other hand, God does not tolerate adultery and certainly not ongoing sin. So, God provides a way out via divorce for those marriages ravaged by sexual immorality (see Deuteronomy 22:22, Jeremiah 3:8, Mathew 19:9, Hebrews 13:4, etc).

Much of the fire I see in the evangelical is focused on people divorcing too “flippantly.”

Rarely, do I see energy focused upon teaching an intolerance of adultery and ongoing sin in marriage. In fact, divorce is practically treated as the worse “sin” than adultery even. I know as I experienced this from a whole denominational structure and response that took my divorce more seriously than my (now) ex’s adulterous violation of our now defunct marriage.

In my experience, faithful spouses usually agonize over choosing divorce or being divorced (if they were not given a choice as often happens as well). These folks aren’t divorcing over such trivial things as a spouse failing to put down a toilet seat, for example.

They are divorcing over a culture of abuse whose nexus centers on adulterous relationship(s) and prideful defiance of God’s clear teaching on such matters.

I realize I may be getting a skewed sample–this isn’t a scientific poll–as I blog on infidelity issues here. However, most faithful spouses I speak with from this venue are super reluctant to divorce even with clear Biblical permission to do so and next to no signs of repentance from their cheaters.

The problem, as I see it, does not lie so much in a too permissive teaching on divorce from the pulpit. It lies on a too rigid and unmerciful teaching regarding the permission to divorce adulterous partners!

Something is seriously askew in our teaching as pastors when shame is brought to bear more on the victims of adultery who choose or accept divorce than those committing adultery. This is the opposite of God’s character where He rewards the faithful and humbles the arrogant–e.g. cheaters (see Psalm 18 above).

Also, remember:

In the Ten Commandments, God did not say, “Thou shalt not divorce.” 

God did say, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (e.g. Exodus 20:14).

A tension on divorce teachings is real–between being too divorce permissive and too divorce prohibitive.

To be clear: I am firmly set against using divorce to resolve communication issues, finance struggles, intercourse frequency, or other common marriage problems. To divorce of those issues alone would be dishonoring to the institution of marriage. But those are not the usual issues I address with folks visiting this blog.

What is often forgotten by jealous evangelical pastors preaching against divorce is that it is also equally an error and dishonoring to marriage as an institution to teach tolerance of adultery and to shame faithful partners abandoned by such cheaters.

Those faithful spouses did not dishonor the marriage. Their partners did.

Faithful spouses are due more mercy than they often receive on the issue of choosing divorce. It seems teachings on mercy often are only extended to cheaters and not their victims.

This is not how our Heavenly Father operates. He sees adultery victims, and He in no way shames them when they make the tough call in choosing divorce in response to the hard and adulterous heart of their spouse.

I understand pastors are afraid people will divorce too permissively, but why aren’t you more afraid of cheaters choosing sin and thereby damning their own souls to Hell?