A Fellow Who Believes We Are Sinning by Teaching Abuse as Grounds for Divorce
Often we do not approve comments such as the following, but in this case I think that it might be profitable to do so. In response to our article at Abuse as Asceticism he made the following comment. Because his words are the kind of thing that abuse victims so often hear from other Christians and their pastors, I believe we should post the comment here where our readers can more easily see it, and give them a chance to respond. I am going to approach the commenter as if he is not an abuser himself, but I trust that he will come to understand that the language, tone, and points that he insists upon here are going to immediately trigger any abuse victim and they are going to assume that he is an abuser with a Christian facade. Perhaps he will take this point to heart and think more carefully about how he speaks, else he simply is not going to be heard by anyone who has been victimized by an abuser. Here is what he said. My comments follow and I make them in response to the phrases I have highlighted:
Jeff, I appreciate your obvious heart for those in abusive relationships. I must, however, take serious issue with your mishandling of Scripture. Jesus CLEARLY taught that divorce is wrong except in cases of infidelity or desertion (as you pointed out). Your entire premise is based on a faulty exegesis of God’s word. Paul’s letter to the Colossians was specifically addressing food, clothing, and other external behaviors because the Colossians wrongly thought external behavior that was not ALREADY commanded by God would make them righteous. Of course, even following God’s commands that are given will not, in and of itself make us righteous. We need the righteousness of Christ. But Jesus gave clear commands regarding divorce:
“But I tell you, everyone who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery”. Matthew 5:31
You said “So often these kinds of man-made regulations being put off on us as supposedly the Word of God are in fact nothing more than the product of puffed up, fleshly minds.”
Are you seriously saying that the command Jesus Christ gave us is “man-made”? Are you actually teaching people that the word of God is simply to be dismissed except when it reaches a concensus among professing Christians?
You said “All of these man-made regulations about marriage, divorce, and re-marriage which are not agreed upon by Christians who continually debate them as if we were still separate schools of rabbis, are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
This is the real crux of your exegetical failure. Jesus commands are not followed because they have been “agreed upon”. They are to be followed because Jesus is LORD and He commands them. Period. Second, following Jesus commands regarding divorce has nothing to do with “stopping the indulgences of the flesh”. Your argument for disregarding Scriptural commands related to divorce is based on the desire to avoid abuse, not the desire to avoid indulgences of the flesh. So, the matter of divorce is completely unrelated to Paul’s instructions in Colossians 2 regarding food, Sabbath days, and other external issues.
You also said “When a pastor or Christian or anyone maintains that God forbids divorce for the reason of abuse, they are really saying that asceticism is good”. No they are not. They are saying that God commands our obedience, even in extremely difficult situations. Is God not able to rescue the godly from trials? Is God unable to bring about good even in bad situations? Are you now going to make human judgment more righteous and acceptable than Jesus’ own words?
I am not writing this to defend abusers. Not in any way, shape, or fashion. I am writing this because Christians are commanded to obey Jesus, and it breaks my heart to see supposed teachers of God’s word declaring God’s word nullified based on their own finite, limited, non-omniscient, non-sovereign view of the world. Please repent of your careless handling of God’s word, and your misleading of others into committing sin.
1. This fellow says more than once that it is very clear to him what Jesus said about divorce. He says that Jesus clearly (with emphasis) taught that divorce is permissible for adultery or desertion. Actually, Jesus didn’t teach about desertion but left that to the Apostle Paul. Paul said, as follows –
1 Corinthians 7:12-15 ESV
(12) To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.
(13) If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.
(14) For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
(15) But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.
Notice very carefully that Paul’s words in verse 12 demonstrate that Jesus did not teach exhaustively on the reasons for divorce or even in regard to re-marriage. That is why Paul says “I, not the Lord.” He doesn’t mean he is giving his own opinion. He means that the Lord Jesus did not address these matters in vss 12-15, one of which is desertion. Therefore, our commenter has erred in assuming that Jesus’ words in the Gospels were given with the intent of being exhaustive, final, and complete teaching about divorce and re-marriage. This is a very common error Christians make in handling these verses. Jesus was addressing a very specific issue, and you can read more about that context in David Instone-Brewer’s books and also in Barbara Roberts’ book, Not Under Bondage.
2. No one can, or should, make the claim that Jesus’ teaching on divorce and re-marriage is plain, obvious, and clear to all who read it. Our commenter’s opinion of what Jesus meant is clear to him, but I would very much recommend that he re-consider the difference of opinion that exists among real, genuine Christians on this subject.
3. No one here ever said that Jesus’ words are man-made. It is the tradition that men develop and pass on as Scripture that do the damage. And that is indeed the principle that the Apostle Paul sets out in Colossians 2 when he warns against “severe treatment of the body” which man tries to lay upon us.
4. But this is exactly what people do when they insist that an abuse victim must, according to God’s authoritative Word, remain married to their abuser. The argument is that their suffering is something that God desires to use for their own good and for God’s glory. Is there suffering like that? Yes – the book of Job is a clear example. But Job had no options. He was oppressed by Satan at the Lord’s own permission. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was the same type of thing. But that is God’s doing and His choice. What our commenter is saying is that when MEN bring about this suffering, we are to submit to it in the same way Job and Paul had to. With this thinking we adamantly disagree. Jesus and Paul each escaped the hands of wicked men.
5. Finally, our commenter calls upon us to repent of mishandling God’s Word and thereby leading others into sin. So this means then that unless we agree with this fellow’s take on divorce and remarriage, we are necessarily guilty before God and in need of repentance. I suppose that in some ways this is the most troublesome and sadly typical kind of thing that abuse victims hear from their abusers and from their churches. In spite of the widespread disagreement and confusion among Christians as to the reasons for divorce and the permission of remarriage, people with more zeal than knowledge pronounce judgment upon anyone who differs from their position. Well, in this sweeping condemnation of our position that God does indeed permit and condone divorce for abuse, our commenter has also condemned many other Christians down through church history who have held the very same position as us. Is he so sure he is right and they are all wrong?
Let me close by saying something that might surprise our readers, and perhaps even our commenter. I can see myself saying the very same words that he has said in his comment perhaps perhaps 20 years or more ago. I even seriously considered the permanence view (no divorce for any reason) for a time. I was zealous, but I did not have the understanding of Scripture that I have now, and even more significantly I did not have the understanding of the nature of evil (which abuse is) that I now have. I am glad to say that the Lord has taught me a few things at least, and one of them is that whenever my conclusions in Bible study end up neutralizing the following words of the Lord, then I need to take a long and hard second look at my conclusions:
Mat 12:7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.