Mark 10 - Divorce

I sat down the other day to get back to my Bible reading, but I didn't get very far. Jesus' words on divorce in the beginning of Mark 10 really made me think.

Mark 10:1-12 - Jesus in this passage gives no acceptable reason for divorce. None. Luke 16 agrees, but both Matthew 5 & Matthew 19 show Jesus making an exception for sexual immorality. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 seems to broaden this slightly by allowing at least separation if an unbelieving spouse desires to leave the believer. Paul says the believer is no longer bound in such cases, which seems to imply that divorce is appropriate.

Today, of course, divorce happens for far more trivial reasons. Of course, there are reasons that aren't so trivial such as abuse. Was there no spousal abuse in Jesus' or Paul's day that they did not feel compelled to address it? I hardly think that's possible. So why didn't they? It seems that the abused wife would be one whom Jesus would want to protect and address, yet he did not. So we are left to search our own souls and dig through he old and new testaments to determine for ourselves what is best.

Of course then there are situations where folks divorce and then become believers. Are they given a fresh start? Does it become like they were married? A lot of questions but not many definitive answers. The new testament only covers a couple of the many scenarios we might encounter. It seems that God is content to simply state that he hold marriage in high regard and we ought to as well. We must keep that in mind as we ponder these things and sort them out as we need to.

This reminds me that Codepoke has written some good, thought provoking stuff last year on divorce. This post in particular speaks to a way to interpret Jesus' words that handles the seemingly glaring omission of abuse. The big question being - What if the recorded words of Jesus weren't his only convictions on the topic? Codepoke's post was inspired by this compelling Christianity Today article by David Instone-Brewer. He makes the argument that Jesus wasn't answering a universal 'when is divorce OK' question but rather a specific question on a specific controversial kind of divorce popular in Jesus' day called the 'any cause' divorce.

These ideas are attractive to me for the same reasons they are attractive to Codepoke. They provide compassion and a path of escape for the victims of abuse and neglect. (Read this older post from Codepoke too on how divorce might be seen, actually, as mercy from God.) Of course, that does not make it true or valid, but it does seem to mesh with our Lord's compassion shown in other areas, like the woman caught in adultery or the good Samaritan as well as the constant drumbeat of the Old Testament about caring for the neglected and outcast. Codepoke points out the same, stating that he's not yet completely comfortable with the position (or at least he wasn't last November), no matter how attractive it may be or how neatly it seems to tie up some unclear loose ends. I'd say that most Christians have found the idea that a woman cannot escape an abusive marriage unless the man cheats a little uncomfortable and frankly have looked the other way when such a woman in fact gets a divorce.

I have to say that I'm more ready than Codepoke was to accept this. It makes too much sense to me for a lot of reasons. Have a read of Codepoke's post (and the thoughtful comments as well) and the CT article and let me know what you think.

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That's a tough nut to crack. I'll give those articles a read.

We talked a little on this subject at our retreat recently and what it boiled down to was that it was amazing the the only thing some couples can agree to do these days is divorce. We talked a bit too about the need to remember that we are one flesh and that our bodies are not our own.

Here's what I wrote a few months ago on the subject.

And here's a more complete treatment of the topic by a mainline church elder.


This is good stuff, Salguod, and thanks for thinking of my thoughts.

I have solidly moved over to the new position since Nov. Abuse is definitely a valid cause for divorce, even emotional abuse. If a woman would be better off out from under the roof of her husband than staying under it, then it's clear the man is not providing shelter for her, and that's a clear violation of the Exodus standards for marriage. And if a divorce is valid, then remarriage is valid.

Jesus standards here are cut and dried that a man cannot validly divorce a woman for "any cause," but that he must only divorce her for a failing listed in Exodus. And the last condition listed in Exodus is not "anything annoying" but a sexual betrayal.

Each soul facing the maelstrom of divorce's mileage may vary. But, to my mind, there are too, too many victims of abuse painted as perpetrators in the church.

The problem I see with divorce is not that it happens, but that it always has to be, "no fault." The church should not be so foolish. We should identify fault, and we should identify it wisely. I see a few elders who have driven their wives to divorce, and the elder is declared innocent. This is an injustice. But more often, much more often, I see the church unwilling to declare the abandoned, betrayed, or victimized spouse innocent, and this is also an injustice. May it's day end.

Scott, I'd agree that it is tough. But I wonder, would you agree that a 'plain reading' of Jesus' words leaves many gaps to fill? What I mean is, if I take these passages as all I need to know about divorce (even adding in Paul's teachings) I'm left with many of the hard questions still unanswered. What about a man who spends money on his toys, but won't work? What about the woman married to an unbeliever who is happy to stay married, but gets drunk a couple times a week and beats her silly? Taking Jesus' and Paul's words at face value, and as the complete teachings on divorce, seems to condemn women in such circumstances.

The idea that Jesus' recorded teachings may not fully encompass his convictions open the door to fill in those gaps. We can then go to the OT to flesh it out. It makes sense to me that, unless he directly teaches otherwise, his convictions would match the OT.

Alan - Thanks for the links. I had read your post but forgotten it. I honestly don't think I'm going to read that book-length link though.

I hope you'll take time to read at least the CT article and come back and give your thoughts on it (you too Scott). I'm very interested in what other folks think of it.

Thank you. You guys really touched my heart on this one.

Doug, as always - good stuff here to think about.

I've got a bit of twist on divorce based on sexual betrayal that I'd love to run by your readers. What about betrayal based on an addiction to pornography? Is a woman justified for leaving her husband after 25 years of marriage because she's caught him viewing pornography on the home computer?

And to put some meat on this question. Once confronted, he does everything that you would expect to be biblical in facing up to his sin, i.e. he openly confesses his sin to his wife and asks for her forgiveness. He confesses to the elders at his church and asks for their forgiveness and assistance. He also get's counseling from his pastor, and he enrolls and becomes an active participant in a church run anti-pornography counseling group.

From the wifes perspective, it's simply too little too late. She see's 25 years of betrayal. 25 years of the man she thought only saw her, was in reality, in his mind having tens of thousands of affairs.

Thoughts?

Rong - First, you know that there is no easy answer and the only ones who can realistically advise this woman are the spiritual folks involved in her life. Divorce is something to never be entered into flippantly or lightly. It's a last resort, an escape clause for the spouse who is wounded. Second, I am not a counselor. I have not helped couples through these waters. Lastly, I am not an expert on the subject at all. My post was a reaction to this passage of scripture and a couple of other articles. All that said, I'll play along with your speculation a bit and give you my opinion.

The simple answer on one level is that I think that pornography does fall under the category of unfaithfulness, so in that sense, yes I believe that woman is justified in seeking a divorce. Go read Codepoke's articles, I think he touches on it briefly.

That said, there are many other things to consider. Was this sin hidden for 25 years and only now revealed? If so, I would think that the Christian standards of forgiveness and grace must apply. In other words, I'd question the motives of a woman who finds out about a sin, even a long running sin, and immediately turns to divorce, especially given the man's response in seeking counseling and help.

If this has been known for some time, with little progress made, and his sudden desire to change is prompted by her threat of divorce, then I have more sympathy for her. Then again, what if she's know about it for years and hasn't confronted him or sought help herself?

Lastly, there is the question of how well she's fulfilled her physical marital commitment to him. If she's denying him what he has a right to under the marriage covenant, then she bears some level of responsibility for creating an environment where the sin was more attractive. Don't hear me wrong, the sin is still his, but to use an imperfect analogy, if you hand an alcoholic a beer you are not innocent if he relapses.

I'm sure there are more things to consider. It takes someone with a lot of discernment involved in their lives to wade through this. There is a lot of hurt, but hurt can be overcome with grace, love and repentance. In the end, the pain of divorce may be a releif for this woman from the constant pain of betrayal.



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  • Rong - First, you know that there is no easy answer and the only ones who can realistically advise this woman are the spiritual folks involved in her life. Divorce is something to never be entered into flippantly or lig...

  • Doug, as always - good stuff here to think about. I've got a bit of twist on divorce based on sexual betrayal that I'd love to run by your readers. What about betrayal based on an addiction to pornography? Is a woman ju...

  • Thank you. You guys really touched my heart on this one. ...

  • Scott, I'd agree that it is tough. But I wonder, would you agree that a 'plain reading' of Jesus' words leaves many gaps to fill? What I mean is, if I take these passages as all I need to know about divorce (even addin...

  • This is good stuff, Salguod, and thanks for thinking of my thoughts. I have solidly moved over to the new position since Nov. Abuse is definitely a valid cause for divorce, even emotional abuse. If a woman would be bet...

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