Till Death Do Us Part?
Deserted and Divorced
Karen E. Pansler, J.D.
I am deserted and divorced by my husband.
Am I still under bondage to him?
Am I free to remarry?
Does the Bible really command "till death do us part"?
I thought about suicide. As I sat in my car outside our church, I actually thought about killing myself. What cast me so far down into the depths of despair that I actually wanted to die? Believe it or not, I just left my pastor’s office. My husband deserted me and I was searching for comfort and wisdom. Why did this happen to me? Who could best answer one of the mysteries of life? Your pastor. Right?
Well, that’s what I thought. My husband and I both attended church regularly. Tom paid large tithes to the church. He went to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and often on Wednesday nights. However, he was not a true Christian. He was a hypocrite. After our wedding, much to my horror, I discovered he was a drunkard and a pervert. He had betrayed me. He deserted me only after a few months of marriage. So, I turned to our pastor for Biblical counsel.
As I sat in our pastor’s office, I felt humiliated, devastated, and heartbroken as I told him that my husband deserted me. Our pastor graduated a well-known seminary and was a successful minister for years. He was working on a doctorate in divinity. He was not young, but middle-aged. In other words, he should have some insight into the harsh experiences of life and could pour words of comfort on my broken and bleeding heart. Right? Well, this revered man in our community told me that God caused my husband to desert me. Just as God hardened Pharaoh’s heart against Moses and the Israelites, God caused Tom to harden his heart against me. Why? Because I had sinned and God was punishing me! "What sin?" I asked myself. I was not aware of any gross sin in my life that would cause God to harden my husband’s heart against me. I was even more devastated! Not only did my husband reject me, but God rejected me, too? What was the use of living if both my husband and God deserted me?
I left our pastor’s office in tears and without hope. I sat sobbing in my car and wanted to die. But God spoke to my heart: “Karen, you know that what he said is not true. His words are not My words.” A peace swept over me. Yes, I knew the Bible well enough to know that God never turns our spouse against us. That was about nineteen years ago. To this day, it angers me that this pastor and other ministers give such ungodly counsel to the brokenhearted.
If you’re like me, deserted and divorced by your spouse, do you have to remain unmarried for the rest of your life? Are we condemned to a degrading lifelong bondage to a spouse who has betrayed and deserted us? Is the marriage bond for better for worse, till death do us part? Is this Biblical?
What if you’re married to an abusive spouse? A criminal? A child molester? In part two of “Till Death Do Us Part?” we’ll discuss the Biblical grounds for divorce. Part one discusses if we’re wrongfully deserted and divorced by our spouse. Wait! Don’t stop reading this message if you haven’t been deserted by your spouse. Read on. Hopefully, you'll gain insight into the tragedy of desertion and make you compassionate toward those who suffer through it.
Frankly, I hated writing this article because it brings back so many painful memories. I would rather try and forget the painful past, but the reason God allowed me to experience desertion and divorce is because it gave me the insight to write this message. I must try and free other men and women from the bondage of false notions about marriage and divorce. If you’ve been unjustly deserted by your spouse, my heart goes out to you. You know that the pain can’t be put into words. Words can’t describe the crushing and insufferable heartbreak and heartache that it brings upon you. That’s why I have to try and free others from a lifetime of degrading bondage. Who is enslaving us? False teachers. Men and women who preach a false doctrine of marriage and divorce.
We must always keep in mind that there’s true Christianity and there’s false Christianity. True Christianity is founded solely on God’s Law. False Christianity is built on man-made notions and doctrines. They are not based on true interpretations of God’s Law. They are based on man-made traditions and are usually oppressive. It isn’t just sin that enslaves us. False Christianity also enslaves us. False teachers put a heavier burden on us than God’s Law commands. They enslave us to false doctrines or false commandments.
For instance, the scribes and the Pharisees ask Jesus why His disciples disobey the tradition of the elders by not washing their hands before eating bread. Jesus answers, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” He points out that they changed God’s commandment to honor our father and mother. They don't want to take care of or support their parents. So, pretending to be zealous for God, they vow to devote to the temple treasury the money which their parents might claim for their support. The scribes and Pharisees cleverly escape the obligations of the fifth commandment to honor your parents. Their man-made doctrines and traditions displace the Law of God. In other words, they teach their traditions, not Biblical Law. They replace “Thus saith the Lord” with “Thus saith us.” They give their words more authority than God’s Word. Christ condemns them as hypocrites: “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15: 1- 20; King James Version).
Then Christ goes on to warn us about the blind leading the blind. Many men and women claim to worship God, but really worship traditions or worship themselves. Avoid false teachers! We must not be blinded by their dazzling words, dazzling dress, dazzling success or dazzling prosperity. (See “Dazzling Disciples”)
We must read and meditate on the Word of God so we’re not led astray by blind leaders. There are many men and women who claim to speak with Divine authority, yet teach false doctrines and false commandments. We can’t blindly worship false teachers that enslave us to false doctrines and false commandments. Remember, the truth sets us free. Jesus urges, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31, 32). Christ liberates us from man-made rules! We must daily read the Scriptures and meditate on them. We must know the gospel truth if we want to be free from oppressive false Christianity.
So, is marriage “till death do us part”? First of all, let me make it perfectly clear that marriage is a sacred covenant between husband, wife, and God. As you know, man and wife are to be one flesh. The Divine ideal is that two souls will unite in love, sympathy, and aim; and that the two will think, feel, and act as one. In other words, they are one flesh.
Marriage is a loving relationship established by mutual agreement or a covenant. Husband and wife mutually consent to unite into one family. They agree to unite in love, interests, and actions. They join together to establish a loving, godly home to fulfill their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. The marital bond joins them together in both physical unity and spiritual unity.
Naturally, the strongest marital bond is between two believers. For believers, their handbook for building their marriage and their home is the Bible. True believers build their home on the Rock; unbelievers build their house on the sand. That is why the Bible tells us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers - the believer and the unbeliever will be building two separate homes (2 Corinthians 6:14; Matthew 7:24-27).
However, when a spouse treacherously breaks the marriage covenant, is the innocent spouse under bondage to that spouse until death, even if the other spouse remarries or remains unmarried? Is the deserted spouse free to remarry?
In Jesus’ day, just like today, there was much debate over divorce. The Pharisees were divided into two fighting factions. Some followed the teachings of the school of Shammai and some followed the school of Hillel. Followers of Shammai felt that sexual intercourse between a married person and someone not their spouse was the only cause for divorce. Followers of Hillel allowed a number of petty excuses for divorce, including such things as bad breath, poor cooking, seeing someone else he liked better, and other unjust causes. This is like our present day no-fault divorce. In an attempt to entrap Jesus, they ask Him if it’s lawful to put away your wife for every cause (Matthew 19:3). Don’t forget that the Pharisees are Jesus’ enemies and are always trying to entrap Him. They’re trying to get him to give an answer that they can use against Him. Notice they ask Christ if it’s lawful to put away your wife for every cause. Specifically, according to Jewish law can you put away your wife for every cause?
Jesus refers to the Scriptures and the original institution of marriage. “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:4-6). In other words, Jesus encourages husband and wife to uphold the sanctity of marriage. The duty is binding on both partners.
They next ask Jesus why Moses commanded to give a writing of divorcement and to put the wife away. Jesus answers that because of the hardness of their hearts He let them put away their wives. The Law of Moses regulated divorce because of the evil in their hearts. God created marriage. God did not create divorce; man created divorce. Consequently, Moses commanded there must be a written bill of divorcement. It could not be done by spoken words alone (Deuteronomy 24:1). Therefore, the Jewish law was superior to the Arabic law which allowed a husband to divorce his wife by spoken word only. Regulating divorce prevented its being undertaken lightly and rashly. The Mosaic Law tried to discourage divorce, not encourage it. The Divine ideal was always for husband and wife to be united as one flesh.
Matthew records Jesus as saying that whoever puts away his wife except it be for fornication and marries someone else commits adultery; whoever marries her that is put away commits adultery (Matthew 19:9). Christ seems to be siding with the followers of Shammai who believe sexual intercourse with someone other than your spouse was the only cause for divorce. And whoever marries the woman who is put away commits adultery.
However, remember when studying the scriptures we must look to the entire Bible to help us interpret verses. There are three other similar statements about divorce made by Jesus recorded in the Gospels. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that some of you say if you put away your wife you must give her a writing of divorcement; but He says that whoever puts away his wife except for fornication causeth her to commit adultery, and whoever marries her commits adultery (Matthew 5:32). Here again He seems to side with the school of Shammai who allows divorce for adultery only. Remember the opposing school of Hillel allowed a man to divorce his wife for petty excuses. Legally the wife was bound to her husband as long as they both lived or until he divorced her. If the woman was given a bill of divorcement, she was eligible to remarry.
It is important to note that Jesus says that a man who puts away his wife for a cause other than fornication causeth her to commit adultery. In other words, the husband sins against her. If she remarries, the husband who put her away is responsible and accountable for the adultery. The guilty husband is the cause of all the aftermath of his wrongful action. If he is the cause, then he is also the person accountable for the consequences.
Moving on to Mark, it is the same encounter with the Pharisees as recorded in Matthew 19:3-9. Mark records Jesus as saying that whoever puts away his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. And if the woman puts away her husband and marries another, she commits adultery (Mark 10: 11, 12). Again, the guilty person is the husband or wife who puts away their spouse. It doesn't add that if the one who is put away remarries, he or she commits adultery. The phrase except it be for fornication is not included. No grounds for divorce are mentioned.
Luke records Jesus as saying that whoever puts away his wife and marries someone else commits adultery and whoever marries her that is put away from her husband commits adultery (Luke 16:18). Again, the phrase except it be for fornication is not included. It is important to note that again Jesus says a man who puts away his wife commits adultery. In other words, he sins against her. This seems to agree with Matthew and Mark. If the wife remarries, the husband who puts her away is responsible and accountable for the adultery. Simply put, the man who divorces his wife is the guilty person and causes all the aftermath of his wrongful action. Therefore, he is accountable and responsible for the adultery.
Let’s digress for a minute and talk about adultery. What is adultery? Adultery is voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than the spouse. However, Jesus warns us in Matthew 5:28 that a man who looks on a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Now the modern-day scribes and Pharisees wrongly teach what the ancient scribes and Pharisees taught. They feel only the man who physically commits the sexual act is guilty, but not the man who fantasizes about sex with another woman. But Christ teaches that the physical act or the mental act is wrong. It isn’t just the man who has sexual intercourse with someone other than his wife who is an adulterer. Christ preaches the man who lusts after another woman is an adulterer, too.
To illustrate, what if your spouse is enslaved to pornography? As you know, pornography can have a profound effect on the marital relationship. Now, what is the purpose of pornography? To incite lust. Those who look at pornography lust after the men and women in the pictures. Christ preaches it doesn’t matter if we physically commit the sexual act. We commit fornication in our hearts. When we look at pornography, we are guilty of fornication. The guilty spouse lusts after other men or women; consequently, he or she commits adultery. A husband or wife who watches pornography is guilty of fornication and adultery. An unmarried man or woman who watches pornography is guilty of fornication. More important, for each person we lust after, we’re guilty of committing fornication. So, if we’ve lusted after thirty men or women, we’re guilty of fornication with thirty men or women. Woe unto those who look at pornography!
In a letter to the church at Corinth, Paul urges the Corinthians to flee fornication because some of the church members were guilty of this sin (1 Cor. 6:18). Paul counsels them, “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” (7:2) For some reason, Paul feels that the Corinthians could serve the Lord better if they were single, but he commands those who are married to remain married. Paul argues, “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” (1 Corinthians 7:8, 9). Not all men or women can or should remain celibate. This is confirmed by the recent revelation of the plague of Catholic priests molesting children. Paul continues, “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife” (1 Corinthians 7: 10, 11). In other words, after conversion stay married. Later on in the letter Paul explains that if the unbelieving spouse departs, you’re no longer under bondage (1 Corinthians 7:15). “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God has called us to peace.” That is the bond is broken. He or she is free to divorce and remarry.
This agrees with the Law of Moses that if you were legally divorced you could remarry. Legally the wife was bound to her husband as long as they both lived or until he divorced her. The Law of Moses allowed a man to divorce his wife if he found some uncleanness in her. Uncleanness is discussed in part two. If the woman was given a bill of divorcement, she was eligible to remarry any man except a priest (Leviticus 21:7, 14; Ezekiel 44:22). It required a “writing of divorcement” – a public document granting the woman the right to remarry. So, an unclean woman who was divorced was allowed to remarry. Therefore, today wouldn't it be permissible for a clean woman, or one who has not sinned, to remarry?
Unquestionably, God hates divorce. But like every other truth the Lord gave, the modern-day scribes and Pharisees pervert its true meaning, frame it according to their own ideas, and hold us in bondage. It isn’t the written bill of divorce that breaks the heart of God. It’s the treachery and betrayal of one spouse toward the other that breaks His heart. It isn't just the legal decree that breaks the heart of God, but the selfish and destructive acts of the spouse who breaks the marital covenant – the treachery and unfaithfulness that precede it.
The prophet Malachi teaches that God hates “putting away” and condemns severely any man who deals treacherously with the wife of his covenant. (Malachi 2:13-17) God commands that we don’t deal treacherously with our spouse. In other words, don’t betray his or her trust. Don’t be disloyal. Don’t be traitorous. Don’t be unfaithful. Don’t fail to honor the marriage covenant. If your spouse deserts you for no just cause, he or she is an unbeliever. No matter how loudly he or she proclaims to be a Christian, they're an unbeliever – a hypocrite. No true believer will deal treacherously with their spouse.
If your spouse leaves you, let him or her go. Seek the Lord and seek reconciliation with your spouse for a reasonable amount of time. Then let him or her alone. The bond is broken and you’re free to divorce and remarry. Yet, don’t grovel and degrade yourself. I hate to admit it, but I actually got down on my knees and begged my husband to stay. I would never do it again. Even though my husband was kind to me before marriage, after our wedding he was cold-hearted and cruel. Even though he never physically hit me, his emotional blows were brutal. I greatly suffered from his cold-heartedness. It just about destroyed me.
Many Christians frown on divorce. And if you’re divorced, deep down in their heart they feel you must not be a true Christian if your spouse deserts you. They wrongly believe the myth that it takes two spouses to destroy the marriage. “There are two sides to every story in a divorce.” Well, that’s not always true and I’m sick and tired of hearing it. And if you’re the innocent victim in a divorce, you’re sick of hearing it, too. Does the deserted spouse always cause the deserter to leave by committing some unpardonable sin against him or her? No. Often only one spouse is guilty of breaking the marriage bond.
Today Christians may not stone us, but they throw cruel words and hard looks at us that cause more pain than if we were stoned. Instead of embracing the deserted and divorced with love and compassion, many hint that we must have done something unforgivable to drive away our spouse, or that we are living out of God’s will. We’re judged, sentenced, and punished by their pharisaic minds. They secretly feel we must be hiding some deep, dark secrets. They treat us as if we're the guilty spouse - we committed adultery or some other serious sin.
Often, we’re treated like lepers – cast out into exile. When deserted and divorced, our spouse, family, friends, and church members may drive us into physical, emotional, or spiritual exile. We're outcasts. Rarely do we hear words of wisdom, words of comfort, and words of encouragement.
Be strong! Don't let the world destroy you! People will beat you down and make you feel worthless. They will rob you of self-worth and hope. I heard of a man destroyed by the world. His wife deserted him unjustly. To my knowledge, he wasn't guilty of any wrongdoing. She just didn't want to be married any longer. He was a minister and because he was divorced he lost his church. No one wanted a divorced pastor. His family refused to support him. He was cast into the depths of despair. He bought a gun, drove to a secluded place, and blew out his brains. I believe this man heard no words of comfort, no words of hope, and no words of encouragement. He was judged and condemned as an outcast, so he killed himself. The world destroyed him.
Thankfully, not everyone commits suicide. However, sadly, some turn to legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, and other destructive acts when the world forsakes us. Be strong! God knows your heart. If you're unjustly deserted, know in your heart that God cares about your heartbreak and heartache. He cares. He truly cares. He knows that desertion is a violent act that causes us to cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out (Malachi 2:13). He knows that others despise you and condemn you. Many feel we're condemned to a lifetime of loneliness. But to enslave us to lifelong bondage after our spouse deserts us is oppressive. It transforms the marital bond from a covenant into bondage enslaving us to lifelong captivity.
In Matthew 19:10-12, immediately after Christ’s discourse on divorce, the disciples say that maybe it is good not to marry. But Christ explains, “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given” (19:11). Christ then explains that some can repress their sexual desires. But He accepts that others can’t. “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (19:12). From the beginning, God said it is not good for us to be alone; He created a help meet for us (Genesis 2:18).
For better or worse, for richer or poorer, till death do us part? False Christianity or religious oppression enslaves us to lifelong bondage and loneliness if we’re deserted and divorced by our spouse. Christ longs to break the yoke of bondage which binds our hearts and souls to false doctrines. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). God hates to see us deserted and divorced for no just cause (Malachi 2:11-17). If your spouse deserts and divorces you, man-made traditions and false doctrines will keep you forever yoked to him or her. Take heart! Christ sets you free to remarry!