Marriage & Divorce
Marriage is a beautiful relationship, but it is not easy. And, unfortunately, many are ending in divorce. As Christians, divorce can be a difficult thing to navigate. What does the Bible say in regards to divorce? Are Christians allowed to divorce? And if so, what are acceptable reasons for divorce? Does God hate divorce? As we navigate these things, there has a been a teaching we have faced called “Life Saving Divorce.” In broad terms this teaching allows for many reasons for divorce. The term itself, “Life Saving Divorce,” gives the wrong picture and idea. It conveys that the only way for someone to be fulfilled and flourish is to get divorced. There are Biblical reasons for divorce, but they are an exception and not the norm. Divorce, while potentially necessary in certain situations, is not life-saving or the solution for a majority of marital problems.
Broadly speaking, “Life Saving Divorce” would advocate that it is Biblical and good to divorce for unfaithfulness, abandonment, neglect, abuse, not being supported, and not feeling fulfilled. As we regard this teaching, it is important to look at what God’s Word says about marriage and divorce.
Marriage: Marriage is a covenant relationship instituted by God. This is made clear in Matthew 19 when Jesus was asked about divorce. Instead of referring to Jewish laws or other Old Testament passages in regards to divorce, Jesus goes back to creation. He says, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh.
What, therefore, God has joined together let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6) Jesus goes on to state that the certificate of divorce was due to their hardness of heart and that if anyone divorces outside of sexual immorality they are committing adultery. In response to His teaching, the disciples said that if this was true about marriage and divorce it would be better to not get married. Some argue that Jesus is affirming the rabbinical view that would have allowed multiple reasons for divorce. However, it is clear that Jesus did not side with either of the leading rabbinical views and His statement was so strong that His disciples stated that if this was true, it would be better for them to not get married. Marriage is not a man-made relationship; marriage vows are taken before God. He is the One who joins man and woman together, and we should not lightly separate what He has put together. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church as seen in Ephesians 5. The purpose and goal in marriage is to glorify God. Marriage is not about personal fulfillment and happiness. When husband and wife are both pursuing God, they find joy and fulfillment in marriage, but that is not the goal or purpose. When personal happiness or fulfillment is made to be the chief goal of marriage, discontentment and hardship follow.
Divorce: As noted, Jesus stated that divorce is permitted for sexual immorality. He did not teach that divorce is required when one of the spouses has been unfaithful, but if there is sexual immorality, it is permitted. However, it is clear that divorce is not the goal; restoration is.
Paul also presented an allowable reason for the dissolution of marriage relationship. If an unbeliever leaves a believer, then the believer is no longer bound by that marriage relationship; they are free to remarry. The Bible does not specifically speak to divorce due to abuse. This does not mean that the Bible teaches that spouses should stay in physically abusive relationships. There are principles of protecting those who are weak and providing safety. These situations need to be evaluated carefully and, at minimum, start with separation.
Life saving divorce: There is a teaching referred to as “life saving divorce” that seeks to provide many reasons for divorce. The term itself gives the wrong connotation because referring to it as “life saving” divorce gives the idea that divorce is the best and only option for many people. It paints the picture that if you are not happy, fulfilled, or having needs met that the only answer is divorce. The teaching seeks to approach the Bible and try and find how divorce can be “biblically” justified as opposed to looking at what the Bible teaches about marriage and divorce.
The life saving divorce teaching relies on the rabbinical teachings that were around at the time of Jesus’ ministry. However, our understanding of marriage and divorce is not based on the accepted Jewish customs and teachings; they are based on the Word of God. In Matthew 19 it is clear that Jesus took a stronger stance than any of them were accustomed to. He did not go back to teachings or rabbinical thoughts but to the fact that God created man and woman and joined them together.
The life saving divorce teaching also references church discipline passages and applies them to marriage relationships. It teaches that if a husband or spouse does not fulfill their marriage vows or responsibilities then it is ok to get divorced. However, if marriages were able to be broken as soon as one spouse did not fulfill his or her vows or responsibilities, all marriages would have grounds for divorce.
Life saving divorce teaching puts the focus on personal fulfillment and happiness; and when those things are not present, then it’s Biblically allowed to get divorced. However, this is not the teaching that is found in the Bible. Divorce is never promoted. It is permitted but never encouraged. The goal for Biblical relationships between Christians is always restoration. This does not mean that we affirm or encourage abusive relationships or that there should be no accountability for sinful spouses. We affirm what the Bible does. God created man and woman. God created marriage to be a “one flesh” relationship between one man and one woman. And what He has joined together we should not separate.