Abusive Marriages Portray God’s Covenant With His People? – Really?
In his notoriously legalistic book What Jesus Demands From the World, John Piper makes this assertion:
…marriage is the work of God himself whereby he creates a new reality of ‘one flesh’ that surpasses human comprehension and portrays to the world in human form the covenant union between God and his people.” (P 301)
I want to announce quite loudly that this is absolutely false in the sense Piper means it. Why? Because Piper means it absolutely and thus he means abusive marriages as well. As we know, he presses his “permanence view” of marriage upon us – no divorce ever for any reason. You can see The Persistent Widow’s critique of his three chapters on this subject posted earlier here at ACFJ (Part 2 of her critique here). Piper means that EVERY marriage, even an abusive marriage, “mirrors God’s covenant with us.” As an abuse victim stays in the marriage, refusing to divorce, the victim mirrors God’s covenant with His people. Or, if her abuser divorces her, she continues to consider her marriage covenant still binding, even if the abuser takes up with another woman. We cannot help but conclude that Piper would see a victim who “chooses” to live with the abuser and suffer at his hands as practicing saintliness, mirroring God’s endurance of the sins of His people. Just to refresh our memories as to exactly how absolute Piper is on this subject, here is Mr. Piper himself. All the following quotes are from his Demands #41 and #42 in his What Jesus Demands… book:
Here Jesus seems to call all remarriage after divorce adultery. These are strong words.
Nevertheless, any man who marries this abandoned woman, Jesus says, ‘commits adultery.’ This is a hard saying. The woman who is forsaken by a man who leaves to marry another is called by Jesus to display the holiness of her marriage vows and the nature of the marriage covenant by not marrying another.
So Matthew 5:32 does not teach that remarriage is lawful in some cases. Rather, it reaffirms that to remarry after divorce is to commit adultery, even for those who have been divorced innocently, and that a man who divorces his wife is guilty of the adultery of her second marriage, and that a man who marries a woman who is put away by her husband, even innocently, commits adultery.
That is, whether you have ears to hear –or whether you have grace to receive this call to radical respect for marriage — is the mark of being a follower of Jesus. ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.’
What then would Jesus expect from one of his followers who has sinned and is divorced and remarried? He would expect us to acknowledge that the choice to remarry and the act of entering a second marriage was sin and to confess it as such and seek forgiveness….a marriage that was entered sinfully…remains less than ideal, but it is not a curse.
Here is a test for his lordship over our lives.
Is that enough? Get the full feel of it?
Alright then, to return to our main theme. Piper says that every marriage mirrors God’s covenant with us. [Whether he means a Christian marriage or all marriages including those of non-Christians is not clear because Piper tends to lump all humanity together in this book]. Really? Mr. Piper, have you not read your Bible? What exactly does God do with people who claim to be in covenant relation with him, but who give no heed to the terms of that covenant? “Oh, well, bless you all anyway. Enter my kingdom which you so richly deserve.” Yeah. Let’s all keep in mind that to be in covenant with Christ in the New Covenant (unlike in the Old Covenant) IS to be justified, regenerated, joined to Christ, indwelt by His Spirit, having a new heart that loves God and loves one’s neighbor, and on the unbreakable, unstoppable path to the resurrection and glorification. So that union is what John Piper says marriage mirrors.
And as a God-created union of ‘one flesh; this man and this woman are in a covenant analogous with God’s covenant with Israel. [MY NOTE: Christians are not in the Old Covenant. We are in the New Covenant, though even in the Old Covenant God divorced His people]. Through marriage God fills the earth with (mostly unwitting) witnesses to the relationship between him and his covenant people. This is one of the main reason that divorce and remarriage are so serious. They tell a lie about God’s relationship to his people. God never divorced his wife and married another. There were separations and much pain, but he always took her back. (p 303, ibid)
….I believe Jesus considered the marriage covenant breakable only by death and therefore forbade remarriage while a spouse is living. (p 305, ibid)
But God most certainly did divorce Israel (Jeremiah 3:1-8). Not only does Jeremiah speak of it, but the New Testament does. Jesus spent much time in the Gospels announcing to the Jews that He was rejecting them for their unbelief and would be turning to the Gentiles. You see the same thing reiterated in Acts and in the Epistles. The gospel will now go to the Gentiles – that’s the announcement.
All marriages do not mirror God’s relationship with His people. No way, no how. Let me state right out that DIVORCE of an unfaithful, unrepentant, covenant-breaking spouse is what mirrors God’s covenant with people who falsely claimed to love Him, NOT the remaining in a meaningless marriage covenant. Because that is what Christ does with those who profess to be married to Him by faith, but who are in fact hypocrites. To say that every marriage mirrors God’s covenant with His people and thus divorce must never happen is to say that a marriage in which one spouse is a wicked abuser also mirrors God’s covenant with His people. Christ does not pretend there is a covenant between Him and hypocrites.
Check it out:
Joh 6:70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.”
Joh 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
1Co 5:11-13 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. (12) For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (13) God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
Rev 3:14-16 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. (15) “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! (16) So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
Therefore our thesis stands. Loving faithfulness to one’s marriage covenant does indeed mirror the love of Christ for His Bride, the church, and for His Bride’s love for Him. But it is divorce that mirrors the New Covenant relationship of God with those who make vows to Him (i.e., profess faith in Christ) but who are only Israelites (Christians) externally, not internally by genuine faith and regeneration. Does this mean that every abuse victim MUST divorce their abuser? No. They may choose, for a time, to be forbearing and patient and in that sense model God’s patience with the wicked. But that is their choice, just as issuing warnings and setting firm boundaries is their choice. In the end, when they choose to divorce such a spouse, they can rest confidently in the fact that such a divorce also mirrors the character of God.
Rom 2:28-29 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. (29) But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.