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When Is Divorce Biblically Permissible?

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

Marriage. That word is full of the deepest of emotions and the highest of expectations. I would also say the same for the word “divorce”. For some divorce is either a definite option or a definite no option. For others it can be very confusing. The gray areas can seem especially daunting in the Christian community as we try to navigate it for ourselves or someone else.

We know God places great significance on the unity of marriage, but why? I think Dr. Beth Felker Jones, Associate Professor of Theology at Wheaton College, explains it best when she said,

"Marriage, created by God as a “one flesh” union, is meant to be a sign of God's unbreakable covenant with us. This is an important symbol throughout the Scriptures: God is compared to a husband and God's people to a wife. When, by the grace of God, we're able to keep a marriage together, we get to be symbols—imperfect symbols, but still symbols—of God's faithfulness to his people. Marriages are supposed to last because they are symbols of God's lasting love for us."

What a beautiful picture of how our Heavenly Father desires to be intimately connected to us for all of eternity. Marriage is one way that He wants to demonstrate lavished love and eternal commitment. But what are we to do when marriages fall apart, when you’re no longer happy, or if you’re being abused or cheated on?

Some may see verses like Matthew 19:6, “They are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate” and fear they will be greatly punished if they were to ever divorce for any reason. I believe it is this fear and lack of understanding of the fullness of God’s desires for us that the Body of Christ pressures fellow Christians to stay in marriages that could be destructive or unsafe.

There is much the Christian community, therapists and pastors alike, need to learn regarding such things as domestic abuse and sexual betrayal. I have worked with many women who must heal first from, often well meaning, therapists or pastoral staff who implied in some way that she was to blame or that she could do something better to cause the abuse or infidelity to stop. There is no truth in that. No one causes another to be abusive or unfaithful.

Leslie Vernick, Christian counselor and author, states that there is a difference between a difficult or disappointing marriage and a destructive marriage. She points out that we must not seek divorce simply because we are not getting everything we want out of our marriages,

“We have such high expectations—no one can live up to that. When you’re disappointed in your spouse because they’re not as romantic or ambitious or as spiritual or as handy or whatever it is that you wanted out of that marriage, and you’re disappointed and you see somebody else who’s got those qualities, you begin to become contemptuous or critical or disappointed . . . instead of being grateful and appreciative of what you do have.”

However, when it comes to destructive relationships Vernick expresses,

“I think for a large part the church has been more focused on protecting the institution of marriage than protecting those who are mistreated within that relationship. And, when an individual in that relationship is repeatedly abusive, destructive, indifferent, and deceitful towards his partner, the church hasn’t really provided adequate answers for the injured spouse other than forgive and try harder to make it work.”

There are those who stay in dreadful marriages based on Malachi 2:16 that says that God hates divorce. I think understanding further the nature of God and not taking that verse out of context is important. I believe because of His love for us He hates the result of divorce; the things that lead to divorce, the hurt and often destruction that leads to division, harm, even trauma. I concur with Leslie Vernick when she says,

“I believe that when a spouse is physically or emotionally abused, chronically lied to, treated in treacherous ways, or living with someone who is repeatedly unfaithful, she (or he) has Biblical grounds for divorce. The marriage covenant has been broken. An official divorce just makes that reality public and final.”

Are you considering a divorce and not sure what to do? I would be honored to walk with you in finding the answers to your healing in or out of marriage. Please call 601-517-7854 to schedule an appointment.

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