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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
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[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
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Monday, September 13, 2010
1021: When Is Divorce Sanctioned By God?
I say, "actual" adultery, because there are some situations where some would argue that adultery has taken place, when in fact it has not.

Consider the married woman who is raped. She has not committed "adultery" against her husband in becoming the victim of a violent sexual crime. She has been sexually violated, but she has not committed adultery.

Consider the husband who fantasizes about women other than his wife. Christ tells us in the sermon on the mount that this man has already committed adultery with the woman (or women) of his fantasies in his heart. In this part of the sermon, our Lord is exposing the erroneous Pharisaic concept of righteousness: "...unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven". The Pharisee believed that the believer attained righteousness by keeping the letter of the law; Christ was showing that righteousness required more than merely keeping the law externally. The man who hated his brother, and desired him to die, but refused to kill him - this man was not righteous, but as full of sin as the one who actually killed his brother. The man who lusted after a married woman was as sinful as the man who committed adultery. By expressing righteousness in these terms, Christ showed that those who believed you could by your way into heaven by good works were sadly mistaken - your righteousness had to be heart-deep, and not merely external.

Given that, I don't think that our Lord was saying that if a married man lusted after a woman other than his wife, that he had committed "actual" adultery - rather his point was that the man who lusted but kept himself from the external act, was just as much a sinner as the man who carried out his lust in actuality.

Thus the husband who lusts after another woman hasn't committed "actual" adultery, and therefore the wife has no grounds to divorce him on the grounds of adultery. If the man is in bondage to porn, his marriage is going to suffer, and it may eventually lead to actual adultery if he refuses to repent of it, but adultery in the heart is not the same thing as committing adultery.

Our modern age convolutes this whole idea.

Consider the married woman who is emotionally estranged from her husband, and who begins to flirt with men "online" eventually ending in a sort of virtual courtship, including but not limited to say photo passing, phone calls, or even "virtual sex". Has this woman committed adultery? She has definitely committed "adultery in her heart" - and it is probably worse than the male version, for where a man lusts after the flesh of a woman, a woman typically lusts after a relationship. But even she has not committed adultery yet.

These things are sinful, and even cripplingly so - but they are not grounds for divorce, at least not according to scripture.

Now one might argue, and I am sure that someone has or will, that we cannot have it both ways. That is, that we cannot say on the one hand Christ was teaching that it is not the letter of the law, but the state of the heart that makes a man guilty of sin, and on the other that it is not the state of the heart, but the letter of the law that makes a person guilty of adultery. But that argument defeats itself because it is comparing apples to oranges. The law describes the sin of adultery, the state of the heart determines whether there is sin. There is certainly sin in adultery, but there is also sin apart from adultery. Actual adultery requires a genuine, physical consummation.

In the case of adultery, that is, in the case where one partner physically and in person engages in sexual activity with someone other than his or her spouse - that person is committing actual adultery, and his or her spouse is allowed, according to scripture to divorce the offending spouse, providing the partner who is committing adultery wants out of the marriage (see comments below, as David Kjos was quite instrumental in pointing this out to me).

That doesn't mean that the offended spouse is -required- to divorce his or her spouse, it only means that he or she is allowed to divorce his or her spouse.

But what if the offending spouse repents? What if the adulterer/ess begs for forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. Is the offended partner required by scripture to accept reconciliation?

No, the offended partner is not required by scripture to take the adulterer/ess back.

Actually, upon prayerful reflection, I must retract my original answer. The offended party is indeed required by the whole counsel of scripture to take the repentant adulterer/ess back. Forgiveness -must- be given, and the person who refuses to restore a repentant has (in fact) refused to forgive them. Such a one is not walking in the commandments of Christ, and no church can in good conscience condone divorce when this is the case.

Thank you again David Kjos (see comments below) in challenging my thinking on this, and driving me to prayerfully reconsider it.

Here I say "actual" because there are some who would argue that a person can "abandon" another by being, say, emotionally distant. etc. That is, some would argue that one can "abandon" another by simply failing to live up to an arbitrary level of relational attentiveness. This is however, so patently bunk I am saddened that I even have to take the time to address it. It is a ridiculous notion that finds support amongst those who want the rubber stamp of God on their divorce, even if they have to fudge the facts to get it.

Here again I say "biblical" because the abandonment mentioned in scripture is not just any sort of abandonment for any reason - but a very narrow sort: You must be a Christian, and your spouse must abandon you on account of not want to be married to a Christian - that is, your spouse so rejects Christ, that they leave the marriage on account of you being associated with Him.

It is not reciprocal: A believer is not allowed to divorce an unbelieving spouse on the grounds of his or her unbelief. That's not how it works. Only when the unbelieving spouse walks away from the marriage on the grounds of "not wanting to be married to a Christian" is the divorce biblical.

Other situations:

The abused spouse: You know the scenario. Whether the couple are both believers, or one is a believer, typically the stronger of the two (sometimes it's the woman) physically abuses the weaker of the two. Does the abused spouse have the (biblical) right to divorce the abusing spouse?

No, the abused does not. Here again, one might try and make the argument of abandonment, but that is as lame as it is misplaced. Here is one situation where the wisdom of the world collides head-on with the wisdom of God. If the abuser is a Christian the abuser ought to be disciplined by his or her church. Notwithstanding, whether the abuser is Christian or not, and whether discipline is taking place, the abused should always seek protection from the abuser through the laws of the land. If the laws of the land do not protect the abused, the abused can separate herself or himself from the abuser, but cannot pursue divorce on biblical grounds just because he or she is being abused.

Don't get me wrong. Abuse can be deadly, and it is very, very serious. I am not making light of it. No abused person is obligated by scripture or God to remain in danger. The wise man, scripture teaches, sees trouble coming, and avoids it. So also the abused is not only within his or her rights to protect themselves against abuse, but is encouraged to do so.

The fact of the matter is that abusive behavior, deplorable as it is, is not grounds for divorce.

The substance abuser spouse: The same can be said for substance abusers, etc. Being married to an undesirable spouse, a bad spouse, or even a dangerous spouse/parent is not grounds for divorcing them.

The "jerk" spouse: Sorry, but marrying a jerk is perfectly acceptable to God.

I don't love my spouse any more!: Too bad. Seriously, many are surprised to learn that the bible doesn't mention love as a pre-requisite to marriage. Loving your spouse can make a marriage more enjoyable, but just as love is not a biblical requirement for marriage, so also the lack of it is not a valid reason for divorce.

Closing thoughts
II am sure entire books are written on this topic, and all kinds of people will find all kinds of ways to justify divorce, but scripture is not so loose. Marriage pictures the union of Christ and His church, and divorce mars that image. It is never God's intention for any to divorce, God hates divorce.

That being said, I don't believe that it is theologically sound to suggest that God -will- save a failing marriage as long as someone in that marriage has faith. I have heard preachers follow up the "God hates marriage" quote with the teaching that for this reason we can pray that God will save a marriage, and that He will, so long as we do not faint in our faith. I think that is a stretch, and a dangerous one at that. God hates sin also, but that doesn't mean that if we ask God to stop us from sinning we will never sin again (how many of us would be sinless already were this so?).

Sadly there are far fewer Christians who are so committed to God that they would continue to invest themselves in a marriage that has turned for the worse. Just as the culture vows, "for better or else" so many in the church do as well. They are willing to stay in a married relationship so long as it continues to serve their interests or satisfy their needs, but as soon as they find themselves less than satisfied, they follow the world in divorce, and all the truths in scripture will not persuade them otherwise.

I offer no advice with this teaching other than to say that if you walk in the Spirit, come what may, it will be better for you than if you do not.


posted by Daniel @ 10:25 AM  
  • At 2:23 PM, September 13, 2010, Blogger David said…

    "... forgiveness does not require the kind of reconciliation that ends in a restored marriage."

    I think you're teaching a watered-down version of forgiveness. I think genuine repentance requires genuine forgiveness, with no "buts." That's certainly the example Christ sets when we commit spiritual adultery. And if marriage is an allegory of Christ and the church, that's the example we must follow.

  • At 3:07 PM, September 13, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    David, It may be that I am teaching a watered down version of forgiveness. I confess my gut reaction - the visceral instinctive tug in my soul is to say forgiveness "requires" the believer to always pursue reconciliation. Yet I find myself (presently at least) unable to reconcile that reaction with the fact that Christ Himself allowed for divorce in this particular situation.

    If I command my son to stay away from the pit in the back yard, and contrary to my command he goes near it when I am not looking, and falls into it so that he cannot get out of it, and I hear his cries and I find him in the pit, He can ask for my forgiveness, and I will surely give it, but that doesn't get him out of the pit.

    Perhaps I am making too fine a distinction, but if so, I am not sure what I am trying to make an allowance for in doing so.

    You know how some people are inclined to say that because scripture command against drunkenness, we should interpret that, by extension, to be a command against drinking altogether. I am concerned that some will see the command to forgive as really meaning we should be reconciled - and the text in this case seems to leave room for forgiveness without restoring the marriage.

    I am happy to take any instruction you may offer on this point, and that without guile.

  • At 7:35 AM, September 14, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    You know, reading my words again, I think I could have phrased that particular pericope better.

    "... scripture does not require the forgiveness of adultery to end in a restored marriage, but it does require genuine forgiveness."

    or something like that. I mean, that is the intent I was going for at least. I think I will change that in the post.

  • At 8:45 AM, September 14, 2010, Blogger David said…

    I don’t see the command to forgive as a command to be reconciled per se. I see it rather as a necessary consequence, like faith/works. We are justified by faith, not works, but faith without works is dead. Likewise, forgiveness without reconciliation is empty.

    And what about the example of Christ? Does he ever refuse to be reconciled to his repentant bride? Further, look at Matthew 18. Does the church ever have the option of not receiving a sinning member who repents?

  • At 11:59 AM, September 14, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    David, like yourself, I expect that reconciliation ought to follow forgiveness, even as works follow faith.

    However, our Lord, in unilaterally denouncing divorce, made this one exception: except in the case of immorality.

    I do find it intellectually difficult to read back into this clearly phrased exception any notion that in essense and in practice negates the original exception.

    My interest in this situation is not to speak about what is best, but rather what is allowed. It is better, or so Paul writes, to remain a virgin and not marry, but if this is unacceptable, let them marry, they do not sin. I think that restoration is best™, and yet divorce is allowable. I believe this is what scripture says.

    Am I really off on this?

  • At 12:36 PM, September 14, 2010, Blogger David said…

    “I expect that reconciliation ought to follow forgiveness, even as works follow faith.”

    Ah, but here’s the point: I don’t think works ought to follow faith, I believe, according to Scripture, that faith, without exception, produces works. Where there are no works, there is no faith. Likewise, where there is no reconciliation, I question whether there has really been forgiveness.

    I don’t think the text in question says any more than you’re saying; on that, I agree. However, I think you’re reading it in isolation from the whole counsel of God. I think the adultery exception implies unrepentant, continuing adultery — adultery in the present. Otherwise, where is the opportunity, to forgive once again, let alone “seventy times seven”? So I would say that where there is no present, only past, repented-of adultery, there is no exception clause.

    However, supposing I am wrong about that: what motivation — not legal grounds, but Spirit-led motivation — might one have to refuse reconciliation with a repentant spouse?

    My word verification is "union." A Word from the Lord&trade:, possibly?

  • At 12:37 PM, September 14, 2010, Blogger David said…

    Rats. That's "Word from the Lord™"

  • At 1:27 PM, September 14, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    David, Aha!

    Now that's a good "Aha!" as opposed to a sloppy or poor one.

    Sadly, I have only approached the throne of grace for the first time in this matter when I read your last post. Not that it was particularly persuasive (and I mean no slight in saying that), but rather that I realized that I was not so much seeking an understanding as wearing the mantle of the learned.

    So when I humbled myself before the Lord, within a single minute of doing so, I was aware of something I hadn't noticed previously.

    Yet before I expand that thought I want to express some regret at having used the word "ought" in a way that was rather ambiguous. You know well that I do not believe faith is genuine unless it produces (or will produce given time) works. Yet the word "ought" suggested that works were merely possible and not a necessary outcome. In my defense, I use the word ought in the same way when I say that if a man can be born again, he ought to have been born the first time also. If that helps to explain my original usage.

    Now, back to the point. After I spent only a few moments in earnest prayer, I suddenly noticed something I hadn't noticed before.

    Of the two scenarios given ([1] unbelieving spouse leaves the marriage because he hates Christ, and [2] adultery) I failed to see what I believe is a connection between these two reasons - in both cases the other partner wants out of the marriage.

    Thus I find myself quite suddenly in full agreement with your objection.

    Such is the Lord we serve. I would be ashamed of my former blindness if there was any hope of me opening my own eyes by my own strength or wisdom. Instead I am just thankful I see what you were getting at - and this because we serve a gracious God.

    Let me know if I have understood your point correctly, lest I think I am repented of error, and still in it.

  • At 7:32 PM, September 14, 2010, Blogger David said…

    I hadn't actually thought of that, but I think it's true and fits well with my point. I would have said

    In one cases the other partner wants out of the marriage, in the other, there is legal justification for throwing him/her out.

    Since the latter is really "asking for it," your statement is true.

    However, that's the letter of the law. Not being under law, I think the better angle is in the question with which I ended, which you did not answer:

    What motivation — not legal grounds, but Spirit-led motivation — might one have to refuse reconciliation with a repentant spouse?

    Forgive me. I learned to ask questions like that from you, and all your "walking in the Spirit" stuff.

  • At 9:46 PM, September 14, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    David, had you asked me yesterday, I would have said that the Holy Spirit doesn't tell me how many times to brush each tooth in the morning, and so, in like way, being armed with and fluent in, scripture, I need not consult spiritual omens for motivation, ...or something similar. It wouldn't really have been answering your question, but it would have been a fair enough dodge to buy me some time to think.

    Upon reflection however, and with sober honesty, I cannot imagine the Holy Spirit motivating anyone to refuse a willing reconciliation. If a person refused to be reconciled, I would say that the person was doing so in the flesh, and certainly not in the Spirit.

    It was the right question to ask by the way.

  • At 12:49 PM, September 25, 2010, Blogger Strong Tower said…

    "However, our Lord, in unilaterally denouncing divorce, made this one exception: except in the case of immorality."

    But... Jesus granted this exception in reference to this: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” It is the but from the beginning it was not so to which we should look. We have to ask, is Jesus granting this exception, because it was the same one Moses granted. Or, is he saying that the reason for divorce still persists, e.g., the hardness of an unforgiving heart? Now thinking about what Jesus acutally said, if you divorce on any account beside sexual impurity, you cause the other to commit sexual impurity. Why? Because you have illegitemated the sexual union you had with that person. On the other hand if the other person has committed sexual impurity, you cannot cause them to do so by divorce, they have already. Is it then permission? No. Because as Jesus said, the reason that it was granted by Moses is hardness of heart, slerocardia, lack of spiritual discernment, the willingness to cast the stone... It is the, "From the beginning" that is important. They, that is Adam and Eve as Jesus is referencing, were one flesh. If there ever was a reason for divorce it was Eve's unfaithfulness, her uncleanness. But they didn't divorce. Jesus is referencing that relationship. Of all relationships, if there was a reason for divorce, that would be the one, yet Jesus says not even that was sufficient reason, from the beginning it was not so. So, if you want to divorce because of adultery, fine, but put it in perspective. To divorce is not so much to call another to account as it is to demonstrately confess how hard your own heart is in view of the great forgiveness that Christ has bought for you. Now what is impossible for men is possible for God. Still, in our weakness, we should look not to vengence and self-justification but to the reconcilliation that we are required to seek because it was granted to us. And if it is not with our wives where intimacy is at its highest, then how much more likely will we not seek reconcilliation with those who offend less? They tested Christ, and he threw it back in their faces. They wanted to justify their sin, he said, sure, but you must admit that you are just as an adulterer first. Because that is exactly what you would be if you illegitimate your sexual relationship with your wife for no good reason. And there ain't no good reason, even adultery. That was given because of sin. And that ain't no good reason.

  • At 4:38 PM, September 25, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    Um, the things is... um... if your spouse leaves the relationship because your spouse refuses to turn from the course of adultery, you may divorce your unrepentant spouse.

  • At 7:03 PM, September 25, 2010, Blogger Strong Tower said…

    Yeah, I should have qualified the abandonment thing. Abandonment is de facto divorce. In that case, I think it is legitimate for a person to make it legal. And in that case, since the abandoned is free, they can remarry. Paul is clear, that divorcing another in any other circumstance should not be the case. When it occurs he required reconcilliation. He makes no mention of adultery. He then requires that one remain unmarried. Not easy. I think the point remains, marriage is not ours to dissolve. We don't join ourselves, and we can't disjoint ourselves. Just try cutting yourself in half. That one-flesh thing is spiritual, I know, but when you carry the analogy out, the rending assunder kills both parts, dun'it?

  • At 7:08 PM, September 25, 2010, Blogger Strong Tower said…

    That was one long paragraph, eh?

  • At 7:17 PM, September 25, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    The first one was longer. :)

    I agree, the point is that the only time divorce is legitimate is when your spouse refuses to be reconciled to you, and leaves you, either because of your faith, or in order to pursue immorality. The spouse who abandons the other spouse cannot be married to another according to God's word. They may find some church that lets them, they may find some society that lets them - but any "marriage" that follows such abandonment God will not recognize as such, even if all the world is okay with it.

    Such it was for King Herod when he took his brother Phillip's wife. She left Phillip for Herod, and Herod took her. Even though Herod "married" his brother's wife, John the Baptist did not refer to her as Herod's wife, but as Phillip's wife. God does not respect the ceremony of marriage unless it respects the will of God.

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