“What did you learn?” Crosses A Line


So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.

-Job 2:13, NKJV

I remember being asked a form of the question so often asked of faithful spouses. We are asked, “What did you learn from your marriage’s dissolution?” It is a question that has always been off-putting for me. The reason being is a basic truth from a biblically solid theology of divorce:

TRUTH: A biblical divorce is a statement about the character of the spouse whose behavior God accepts as biblical grounds for marriage dissolution.

The divorce is not about the faithful spouse’s behavior. Not at all. To suggest otherwise is to suggest shared blame in the faithful spouse’s victimization. It is highly insensitive.

Rapists deserve jail.

Adulterous spouses deserve divorce (e.g. Mt 1:19).

It really is that simple. That needs to be the starting point.

When it is known that a rapist truly raped or a spouse truly committed soul rape, one crosses a line by questioning the victim of either situation over what they learned from being violated–aka “what did you do to bring this upon yourself?” It is insensitive and–I would even go as far as to say–ungodly.

It is true that we all can and ought to learn from our life’s experiences. However, certain situations dictate special care and sensitivity. Sometimes, it is better to follow Job’s friends’ lead on this matter and keep our mouths shut in the presence of such great grief (see verse quoted atop post).

“What got you through this awful experience?” is a different sort of question. It does not judge or imply shared responsibility for the awful experience. Plus, it treats the faithful spouse with respect, dignity, and humility assuming such individuals have something worth sharing that we may not have ourselves. 

That is a far cry from asking questions to judge whether or not we think the faithful spouse is “worthy” of our sympathy. You know, the sort of questions asked to make sure the divorced “has learned their lesson(s) from their ‘failed’ marriage.”

Finally, I do not consider those that asked me the questions about what I learned from my divorce did so with ill will towards me. They were not in the position to understand the assumptions and hurtful judgments that come along with that line of questioning. I do not think anyone ever taught them how to handle such matters.

I just hope pastors or other Christian readers who come to this blog learn from their mistakes.

A biblical divorce obtained by a spouse says nothing about the spouse who obtained the biblical divorce. It is a statement that God considers the behavior on the part of the other (now ex) spouse so heinous or intractable that God is willing to grant a divorce for the victim of such behavior with no shame. Remember: God never permits us to sin, after all.

6 thoughts on ““What did you learn?” Crosses A Line”

  1. “Adulterous spouses deserve divorce.”

    That is a correct statement.

    Now, I doubt that you and most of your readers will want to hear this, but I’d like to consider the topic of grace as it relates to adultery. It is true that the penalty in the Mosaic Law for adultery was death by stoning. This certainly would be a removal of sin from the people of Israel. But did Jesus teach that death was the appropriate punishment? In the account of the woman caught in adultery (John 8), Jesus prevented the stoning (if it would have been allowed by the Romans) and told her to go and sin no more. Jesus responded to her sin with grace.

    When some Pharisees questioned him on divorce in Matthew 19:7,8, they said Moses commanded divorce, but Jesus said that Moses permitted divorce. In other words, even though divorce may be the ultimate response, it is not the only response. I have little doubt that giving grace to an adulterous spouse, forgiving them, and remaining married to them would be tremendously difficult.

    However, I believe that Jesus would want grace and forgiveness to occur only when the sinner was truly repentant.

    From what I know of your blog, you and most of your readers do not have repentant spouses/ex-spouses. If they are not repentant on their own, or through the biblical process of spiritual discipline for restoration (Matt. 18:15-17), then I definitely believe that divorce is appropriate.

    To summarize, I wanted to consider the New Testament teaching on adultery so that truly repentant, adulterous spouses would be given the opportunity to continue in their marriage. I think that this would be a tremendous example of grace that would be glorifying to God.

    1. From my own experience and what I have read on DM, I believe most of us hoped to glorify God by remaining in our marriages. The problem wasn’t that we were not willing to forgive and respond with grace toward them. It was because of that desire that many of us were manipulated by unrepentant spouses and often church leadership.
      I am grateful to DM for addressing the issues he does. Faithful spouses who end up divorced because of their adulterous spouses choices do not have a whole lot of support. We are labeled as divorced and failing in marriage… We carry a lot of shame and guilt for what is not ours to carry. That is why DM’s reminder that divorce is not always sin has been very important to my healing. God allows divorce for a reason. It too can be a tremendous example of His grace. It took me longer to accept that than it should have.

      1. “The problem wasn’t that we were not willing to forgive and respond with grace toward them. It was because of that desire that many of us were manipulated by unrepentant spouses and often church leadership.”

        First, I am a man divorced with no adultery involved. In my case, the church leaders took little action to avoid divorce and, in fact, I had to make an appointment with them to discuss it when they knew about her divorce plans prior to her telling me. As a result, I have low regard for church leaders. Since my former church leaders have a track record of supporting the wives in divorces, I also have difficulty in understanding that other churches have leaders who would make great effort to avoid divorce.

        In the case of unrepentant cheating spouses who claim to be repentant, it is going to be difficult. I would think restoration would require great evidence that there has been a change. Regaining trust would take a lot of time and probably should involve strong accountability. The latter will be very difficult to achieve without excellent church leadership.

        “Faithful spouses who end up divorced because of their adulterous spouses choices do not have a whole lot of support. We are labeled as divorced and failing in marriage. We carry a lot of shame and guilt for what is not ours to carry. “

        In my case, I no longer attend my former church. They, however, do not seem to label her as divorced and failing in marriage. As for me, the elders made little, if any, attempt to show concern for my spiritual welfare since she initiated divorce. Perhaps I am negatively labeled by them, but I doubt it as I challenged the elders to tell me what I had done to justify the divorce, and none of them ever did. I suppose I should be grateful that I never felt shame and guilt about my divorce, although I did have great hurt. As far as I was concerned, she was unwilling to work to keep the marriage, so I did not think I should feel shame or guilt.

        1. I think apples and oranges are being compared here. If it was a biblical divorce, the elders should have had an answer for you. That they did not suggests to me that yours was an unbiblical divorce–i.e. your ex-wife sinned by divorcing and thereby abandoning you. Situations of adultery, abandonment, and abuse are a different story for the victims. More later….

    2. OKRickety,

      I am planning a post to respond to your comment here. It is a “good” example of a troublesome attitude many faithful spouses encounter in even well-meaning and mostly correct Christian leadership. Stay tuned….

      1. DM,

        At this point, I consider what I wrote to be in line with God’s desire for marriage (and divorce when appropriate). I understand that following God’s desired behavior can be misused by Satan, but I think I gave adequate reason to be very careful when a spouse is an adulterer.

        I will look for your post to see why you consider my comment to be an example of a “troublesome attitude”.

Comments are closed.