Unhelpful Observation: “God permits divorce, BUT He never commands it.”

2014-07-19 13.29.42

“God permits faithful spouses to divorce adulterous spouses. BUT He never commands it.”

-Unhelpful Pastoral Advice

This is technically true.

God does not directly command anyone to divorce.*

But before getting smug over one’s rightness on this matter consider what God does say regarding adulterous spouses:

God commands His people to kill adulterous spouses!

–see Deut. 22:22 and Lev. 20:10

Divorce is a merciful alternative to the death penalty, in my opinion.

God’s justice says that adulterous spouses deserve death. Mercy says that they do not have to die. Continuation of the marriage is a totally separate discussion.

To be clear, the statement that God only permits and does not command divorce fits the New Testament accounts to some degree. Jesus talks about divorce being permitted by Moses as a concession to a human’s hard heart (see Mt 19). That said, context is important regarding this teaching.

I see Jesus’ teaching as more of a clarification regarding divorce in the Deuteronomy 24:1-4 situations–i.e. situations where adultery did not take place as the death penalty was already in effect for such as stated in Deuteronomy 22:22. In my reading of this passage, the hardness of heart is not about faithful spouses ending marriages ravaged by sexual immorality (for more see my talk here).

Besides these Biblical points, I am concerned about the spiritual and emotional environment such statements set in the church when spoken by pastors.

It can generate an environment of unbiblical divorce shame.

When I hear statements like “God permits but never commands us to divorce,” I get an image of a disapproving parent looking down on a faithful spouse who chose divorce. “I had hoped you would have chosen better”–idea.

If that is not a subtle shaming message, I do not know what is!

The “God permits but does not command divorce” pastoral statement sends the message that the faithful spouse who chose divorce is a “Class B” Christian. They did not stick around in working through the adultery/infidelity. Choosing divorce is clearly marked as the lesser option.

Such messaging completely ignores the need for the adulterous spouse to genuinely repent. But that is not a surprise when keeping marriages “intact” is the idol.

Another problem with this message is that it fails to take into account the faithful spouses who are served the divorce papers without any input. Some of us did not get a choice. Our adulterous (ex)spouse cheated on us and divorced us.

What is truly shameful is someone cheating and/or abandoning his or her family. That is shameful! God is clear as well that such is truly unacceptable (see Exodus 20:14 and Hebrews 13:4).

Personally, I would prefer pastors and Christian counselors would retire that statement:

“God permits but never command divorce.”

It is a hard enough situation dealing with the trauma of adultery discovery. Adding the burden of having a pastor or Christian counselor subtly trying to manipulate you into staying in a marriage ravaged by adultery is unnecessary.

God may never have commanded divorce directly.

But He DID command without any ambiguity the end of marriages ravaged by adultery in the Old Testament (e.g Deut. 22:22 and Lev. 20:10).



*However, an argument against the statement that God never commands divorce could be made from the book of Ezra.