Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Divorce: How to Recover (or Not)

Aivazovsky - Shipwreck
For me, being in a bad marriage is like being shipwrecked. I floated on the ocean, thirsty beyond endurance, but all that surrounded me was salt water. So when the marriage ended, I had the chance to drink my fill.

I met a man. He was sweet, handsome and fun to be with. We dated, and he fell in love and proposed. However, he was an alcoholic--functioning, but still addicted. I told him if he wanted me, he had to stop drinking. He chose the beer, and I ended the relationship.

With one divorce, I could count myself blameless. If a second marriage failed, I knew I, alone, would be to blame.

English: this picture was taken by me while ro...
Dying of thirst drives many a person to drink brackish water, or to sip from stagnant pools. Those alone will often accept any pitiful drop just so he or she is spared loneliness. Often that flings a person back into the same relationship he or she had before, and thus, fail again.

For me, I knew one thing: I was better alone. My daughter needed to understand a healthy self-respect. She didn't need to believe beer or pot or any other self-induced relaxer was essential for a good life. She needed stability found in good inter-personal relationships.

Shortly after I ended my relationship with the man who wanted to marry me, I came to the Lord. When loneliness overwhelmed me, I remembered my marriage, and my almost second marriage. I didn't want those. Alone I could live by my values, discover who I was and who God wanted me to be. I could be happy by myself.

As a Christian--first and foremost, I needed a man who shared my faith. Without that foundation, all else would fail. If he accepted my faith but did not share it, we would have friction at the roots of the relationship. Marriage is hard enough without starting on unequal footing.

Neil and Me
The Bible says we are not to be unequally yoked (2 Cor. 6:14). This does not imply leaving an unsaved spouse, but to not put yourself in a spiritual situation where you link your life with someone who does not share your most important values.

Beyond faith--don't be yoked with someone who doesn't share some of your fundamental interests. Both Neil and I love the country and art and travel. We're both family and faith oriented. Beyond that, our interests vary. Nevertheless, at our core, we are alike.

Marrying a man or a woman who doesn't share your essence will doom your marriage, and the end result will be worse that the beginning.

Are you newly divorced? Do you long for love and companionship? Don't rush into anything. Those who wait on the Lord will be rewarded by him, and their won't be any consequences for desperate decisions.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Biblical Divorce: Summary

In 1980, my first husband and I divorced. I had yet to find the Lord, but my spirit still grieved--not because I needed or desired to remain with this man, but because I knew I had broken my vow.

Through the years--I've studied the topic extensively. I did not want to stay single, nor did I want to grieve God. I asked ministers, and here are a few of the answers they gave. None resonated with me:

  1. Even if you weren't saved before you divorced, you still can never marry until that husband dies.
  2. By marrying someone else, you commit adultery. By committing adultery, you break your vows and thus the new marriage is okay.
  3. Did you ever pray about getting married? If not, then it wasn't sanctified by Jesus.
All these men, except the first, grappled with the idea that a lifetime of loneliness because of one sin grieved humans. Most ministers looked for mercy--yet some defined divorce as the unpardonable sin.

In my life, God gave me a Biblical justification. My ex-husband had been unfaithful. I did not get concrete confirmation until after we agreed to divorce. Without that certainty, I still could not have stayed with him. 

He never hit me, but he was emotionally abusive. He desired to control me and keep me from anyone that could take my complete loyalty away from him. And I say these things with the utmost humility and Godly love for this man. He fathered my daughter, one of the most beautiful people I have ever known. I've forgiven him, and I pray for him.

I do believe whom God has joined together, no man should part (Matt. 19:6).

However, marriage is more than a paper signed by two people--as is divorce. Many married couples still live together, have sex together, but have divorced the other in his or her heart. That, in itself, is divorce. If you're married--the husband is commanded to love his wife, and she must respect him. We cannot remain married and fail to do this. It is sin.

Through the years, I've come to see Biblical divorce as protection for the woman. A man could mary many women. If his wife was put out--she had nothing: no job, no alimony, no children because they stayed with the husband. If her family did not take her in, she, more than likely, had only prostitution to turn to.

If we look at the New Testament scriptures, virtually all of them talk about divorcing a wife (or at least primarily).

Deutsch: Christus und die Ehebrecherin, Alte P...
Deutsch: Christus und die Ehebrecherin, Alte Pinakothek, Raum 17, Inv.-Nr. 1217 DSCF4774.JPG (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Matt 5:31-32 "...whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality...whoever marries a woman who is divorced..." This section does not talk about the man.

Mark 10:10-12  talks about a man divorcing his wife and vice versa.

Luke 16:18  "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery. "

Mark 10:2-12  vs 8 "He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted 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; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery." 

Luke 16:18 again couches it only toward the woman.

In most of the above Scriptures, Jesus acknowledges divorce only for unfaithfulness--and usually of the woman toward the man.

I see two elements here. If a woman cheats, the man cannot know whose progeny he's supporting. He needs to be freed from that onerous obligation. 

But this protects the woman. As I said earlier, the usual recourse for a divorced woman with no family was destitution--prostitution--misery. Jesus was protecting the woman from men who had the ability to divorce her because she gave him wrinkled clothes or burned the lentils.

The only other New Testament concession to divorce has been termed desertion. Yet, if you wish to be a legalist, it would only be desertion of an unbelieving spouse, not a believer. Read 1 Cor 7:10-16 carefully.

So where does that leave us if a woman is battered and bruised? Is brought to the edge of suicide because of emotional abuse? If a Christian man leaves her? What if she (or he) simply ruins the marriage and it ends? (read the blog that follows this for more information).

There is only one unpardonable sin, and that's not divorce (Matt. 12:31). We can find forgiveness--but don't be cavalier about it. Repentance only comes from God, and I wouldn't want to gamble that He'll knock sorrow into my thick skull.

So how do we prevent divorce? There are solutions. Leave any suggestions you may have or tune in next week. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Biblical Divorce: Abuse

עברית: חתונה יהודית.
עברית: חתונה יהודית. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Instone-Brewer, David. "What God Has Joined." Christianity Today. 5 October 2007. Web. 1 November 2014.

We've all met pious people--mostly women, but men included, who stay with an abusive spouse because the Bible only clearly states adultery or desertion as reasons for divorce. However, the question always arises, how can Jesus, who says if we say "raca" to a person, we are in danger of hell fire, say it is okay for a woman to stay with a man who regularly throws her down the stairs or calls her an "expletive" idiot?

He commands us to love just as He loves us with an undying love. When asked about the greatest commandment, He says all are contained in two sentences: to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37-40). We are known as his disciples if we have love for one another (Jn. 13:35).

We do have to understand culture and elements that are understood within that society. Today, I'd have to define the word raca--whose root word comes from to spit, and it essentially means worthless or good for nothing . It was a term of severe contempt. In Jesus's day, no definition was needed.

My uncle called those he considered ignorant fools Cossacks. Uncle Al was Belorussian, and the Cossacks were brutal invaders of their territory. I once happily told a woman of Ukrainian descent that we were Belorussian. My mother was horrified. "Ukranians hate Bellorussians!," she whispered to me. "Don't tell her that." Who knew?

I taught Spanish. Not one student would use the word allegre for happy. The dictionary defined it as "gay", and no matter what I told them, they were sure that when they used that word, they were calling someone a homosexual.

So we do have to understand some context of Jesus's society. I was happy to come across David Instone-Brewer's article. Brewer is the senior research fellow in rabbinics and the New Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge. His article shed some light on divorce in abusive situations.

A few decades before Jesus's time, the Hillelittes, a rabbinical group, invented a clause for divorce for any reason--the "any cause" divorce. The Shammaites, another group of rabbis, held to a strict, moral interpretation for divorce.

The Jews in Jesus's day who were divorce had the "any cause" divorce which had simply become known as divorce.

Thus, in Matt. 19:3, when the rabbis ask Jesus about divorce for any causes, they wanted him to agree to divorce because of a burnt meal or a wrinkled garment, for anything. The two groups were pitting Jesus against both groups.

Jesus defiantly disagreed with the Hillelittes and affirmed the Old Testament We cannot divorce for any whim. Marriage is sacred. However, he defended the Old Testament, a Biblical text the church still holds, as God's word. Ex. 21:10-11 allows divorce for neglect. Exodus says, according to Brewer, "...everyone, even a slave wife, had three rights within marriage--the rights to food, clothing, and love. If these were neglected, the wronged spouse had the right to seek freedom from that marriage."

Jesus did not condone a divorce for any little thing--but for neglect. Yest.

These three rights are the basis for the Jewish marriage vows, and have been found in marriage contracts discovered near the Dead Sea. They also form the basis for our own marriage vows--to love honor and obey.

I urge you to read Brewer's article. Longer than this blog, it clearly articulates what I've tried to summarize.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Biblical Divorce--Three Reasons: Adultery, Abandonment and Neglect

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...
The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United States Library of Congress, demonstrating printed pages as a storage medium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Divorce is not the unpardonable sin. Despite the fact that divorce can be forgiven and remarriage can ensue, it is never to be taken lightly. If you love your spouse, but are not "in love", if you are best friends with him or her, then you best work on your marriage. Marriage is not romance and tingling loins--marriage is a compact of mutual respect. It honors God.

Marriage has lost its sacred nature, and we, as followers of Christ, need to resurrect that component. However, the Bible gives us clear-cut examples when divorce can be "no-fault" (so to speak) to the innocent parties--Adultery and desertion AND neglect. 

1. Adultery

Matt 19:8-9

8 Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." NIV

Most of the New Testament couches this with the man toward the woman. When a man is responsible for the well being of the wife and her offspring, he needs to know that the lineage she produces is his. That's obviously not the case today.

And Paul writes in Galations 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."KJV

In a world where women can fend for themselves through their careers, she can seek the divorce. Remember, a woman in Bible times had no means of support. If her husband divorced her, she could do little and generally lived in poverty--often having to turn to prostitution in order to survive.

2. Desertion

1 Cor 7:15-16, "But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. NIV

God does not want us to be tied to a person who refuses to live with us, support us, and fulfill what God has joined together.

3. Neglect

I've seen abused women stay in a marriage because they believe only desertion and adultery qualifies as grounds for divorce. However, we must understand the culture of the day and what the people who initially heard Jesus, understood.

Jesus did not forbid divorce in cases of abuse. I recently read an interesting article by David Instone-Brewer in Christianity Today. Brewer is the senior research fellow in rabbinics and the New Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge. His research definitively shows how Jesus never commanded a spouse to stay in a marriage if abuse and neglect abounded. Next week, I will distill his argument. However, I have included the link below so you can read the entire article.

Divorce involves humans--men and women of broken spirit. Christians serve a God who understands their needs and hears their pleas. If you have any testimony about your life as a divorced Christian, I'd love to hear from you.