Till Death Do Us Part?
For Better, For Worse?
Karen E. Pansler, J.D.
Does your spouse get drunk or look at pornography?
Does your spouse beat you and your children?
Is your spouse a criminal?
Does your spouse molest your children?
Does God really command you to stay married?
After several years of marriage, Diana’s family and friends noticed a change in her husband’s conduct. Every time they visited her home and went to the bathroom, Diana’s husband left the room. Naturally, they were puzzled by this. It was finally discovered that her husband drilled a small hole in their bedroom closet that looked into the bathroom. When someone went to the bathroom, he watched through this hole.
Of course, Diana was horrified and sickened. She had two small children and worried about their safety. Diana pleaded with her husband to get help; he firmly refused. She left him but continued to plead with him to get help. He still refused. She finally divorced him.
Because of her strict religious upbringing, Diana felt guilty and depressed for years. She was lonely and wanted a husband; she wanted a good father for her children. She desired to remarry, but her denomination forbids it. She pleaded her cause before the Lord. He alone knew her heart. God knew that Diana didn’t commit treachery against her husband. Her husband committed depraved acts and betrayed her. He committed marital and familial treason. He violated the loyalty to his family. He failed to fulfill his duties and obligations. He dishonored his sacred marriage vows.
Diana told the Lord she would remarry only if He sent someone to her door. Well, some time later a man came to her house as part of a visitation team from a local church. Later, they were married. I’ve never doubted whether Diana did the right thing. She didn’t break the marriage covenant. Her husband broke the covenant by committing sexual perversion. God knew that Diana loved her husband. She divorced him because of the unfaithfulness and perversion of his heart, not because of treachery in her heart.
God alone knows our hearts. God knows our situation. What if your spouse is a criminal? What if your spouse molests your children? What if your spouse demeans, degrades, and despises you? What if your spouse beats you and your children? Does God really command you to stay married to a depraved or abusive spouse? Does the Bible really command us to stay with a spouse for better for worse, till death do us part?
When I worked for the state attorney’s office in the Domestic Violence Division, many men and women told me their religion forbids divorce even though their family suffers physical and emotional brutality by their spouse. Well, that’s the problem. Some religions forbid divorce, but does the Bible forbid divorce? They’re not the same. Men take the words of Christ and pervert them into false doctrines.
Many men and women greatly suffer because of the false doctrine of the martyr myth. The martyr myth commands that we allow ourselves to be tortured, beaten, mistreated, abused, and tormented under all circumstances, even at home.
To justify the martyr myth, people often quote Matthew 5:39. “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Christ observed the spirit of this command, but He did not strictly follow the letter of it (John 18:22, 23).
22 And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck
Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answereth thou the high priest so?
23 Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?
Now, did Jesus urge the man to keep hitting him? No. He boldly protested against being struck wrongfully. We must interpret Christ’s words by His own example and other Scripture. Jesus teaches eternal principles to be modified to each situation. We don’t always have to silently endure wrong. To insist upon the literal meaning of turning the other cheek is a pharisaic interpretation of the New Testament. We must look to the spirit of the Law, not the letter of the Law! Under literal obedience, evil would rule the world! Turning the other cheek would have allowed Hitler to conquer and rule the world!
Nor did the apostle Paul allow himself to be wrongly beaten (Acts 22:24, 25; 23:3; 25:9, 10). He appealed to his lawful rights as a Roman citizen.
24 The chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they cried so against him.
25 And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?
Paul didn't turn the other cheek. Here is a quote from a minister supporting a strict interpretation of turning the other cheek: “History teaches us that our liberties have been won by sufferings rather than by resistance.” Has he read the story of the oppression of the Israelites by the Egyptians? God heard the pleas of the oppressed and sent Moses to deliver the children of Israel from bondage.
And what does our national history teach us? Many advocates of the martyr myth are patriotic Americans. Have you ever heard a Christian American argue that the War of Independence was wrongly named the American Revolution instead of the American Rebellion? No. Have you ever heard a Christian American denounce our Founding Fathers as rebellious, ungodly hypocrites because they refused to obey scriptural mandates to submit to English government oppression? No. Have you ever heard General George Washington condemned as a rebel against British authority? No. Why not? It is written on our hearts that oppression is wrong; it is written in the Bible that oppression is wrong. “Ye shall not therefore oppress one another; but thou shalt fear thy God: for I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 25:17).
Yes, we celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. As you know, the Declaration lists our causes for independence. We’re all familiar with the assertion, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Thomas Jefferson further proclaims in the Declaration, “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free People.” So, does history teach that our liberties have been won by sufferings rather than resistance?
Many Christian Americans cheer the declaration of independence from tyrannical governmental oppression, but shout down the declaration of independence from familial oppression. You see, we have double standards. It's doublethink. No, we must not allow political tyrants to conquer and brutalize us. Yes, we must allow familial tyrants to brutalize us. In other words, a political tyrant may not oppress us; however, a family tyrant may oppress us. We’re hard on political tyrants; we’re soft on familial tyrants.
Oppressive religious leaders and false Christians force us into spiritual bondage. False teachers have no respect for the rights and dignities of man. They spit on our self-worth and shackle us to their man-made false doctrines that oppress us. Oppression degrades us. Oppression enslaves us.
On the other hand, the gospel makes us free. Because of Christ, we are the sons and daughters of liberty! “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18). The word bruised means oppressed.
Christ longed to free the Jews from the oppressive bondage of man-made traditions that allowed a man to divorce his wife for unjust causes: she was on the street with her hair unbraided, the husband was more attracted to another woman, and other trivia. Today God longs to free us from the oppressive bondage of man-made traditions that degrade us into being divorced for no just cause (no-fault divorce). I know a minister who divorced his wife because he felt she spent too much money. He also wanted a younger wife. I also know a religious churchgoer who divorced her husband because she didn’t feel like being married anymore.
God intends that marriage should be regarded as very sacred. Husband and wife are to be one flesh. It is intended to be a lifelong commitment; but like every other truth the Lord gave, ministers pervert its true meaning so they can hold us in bondage. Today God longs to free us from the oppressive bondage of man-made traditions that force us to suffer abuse, treachery, and other forms of unfaithfulness for the sake of the marriage. This oppression kills the spirit of the marriage. An oppressive marriage is a dead marriage.
Let’s go first to the Old Testament and learn what it teaches about divorce. Deuteronomy explains the acceptable reason for granting divorce was “some uncleanness.” We know that in the Old Testament, uncleanness refers to sin. Leprosy was the most loathsome disease in Biblical times. Leprosy was caused by unclean habits. The only way to stamp out leprosy was to isolate lepers so that the disease couldn’t spread. The leper was forced to separate from the people and the sanctuary. The leper was cast out of the camp. The leper was cast into exile.
Leprosy symbolizes sin. Sin is caused by unclean habits. So, what is uncleanness? In the New Testament, Paul urges the Corinthians to excommunicate unclean persons (1 Cor. 5:11-13).
11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within?
13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
Just as the leper in the Old Testament polluted the camp and was cast out, Paul urges the Church to cast out moral lepers. Why? Because moral lepers pollute the Church. Just as uncleanness polluted the camp, uncleanness pollutes the Church. Likewise, drunkenness, drugs, pornography, abuse and so forth is uncleanness that pollutes or adulterates the marriage. So, in the Old Testament, divorce was permitted for uncleanness. The uncleanness in Deuteronomy doesn’t refer to fornication. In the Old Testament, the sin of adultery did not have anything to do with divorce under Mosaic Law. Adultery was punishable by death (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22).
Some claim that permissive divorce was temporary and only allowed in Moses’ day. They feel that Christ repealed it. But, in the New Testament Christ is not repealing divorce. He strongly urges husband and wife to strive after the Divine ideal of physical and spiritual unity. “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh” (Matthew 19:6). He tries to stop the laxity of divorce for every cause. He discourages divorce; He doesn’t forbid divorce. To fully understand divorce, we must study the covenant between God and the Israelites in the Old Testament. Then we need to understand the covenant between God and Christians in the New Testament. First, let’s read the covenant established between God and Israel (Exodus 19:3-8).
3 And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the
mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;
4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.
5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant,
then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth
6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
7 And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before
their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him.
8 And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath
spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord.
It is very important that we notice the small word if. God says if you obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you will be My people. God does not say even if you do not obey My voice and do not keep My covenant you will continue to be My people. The promise of being God’s chosen people is conditioned upon their promise that they will obey Him. The Israelites answer, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” They agree to the terms of the covenant.
The covenant between God and Israel symbolizes the covenant between husband and wife. Israel is called the Lord’s wife. “I was a husband unto them” (Jeremiah 31:32; Isaiah 54:5). Prophets declare Israel commits whoredom or fornication by turning from God to idols (Numbers 25:1-3; Judges 2:17; Jeremiah 3:20; Ezekiel 16:17; Hosea 1:2). Because of her sins, especially her idolatries, Israel divorces or separates herself from God. Now, because of Israel’s constant backsliding, God “put away Israel” and gives her a bill of divorce (Jeremiah 3:8). Her idolatry is often called adultery because she is unfaithful to her husband or God. Israel breaks the covenant she made with Him at Mount Sinai. The separation between God and Israel is caused by her sins, not by any act of His. She is condemned as an adulterer. God divorces His “unfaithful wife” (Isaiah 50:1; Jeremiah 3:8) and sends her away into captivity.
So, God divorces Israel because she is unfaithful to the covenant. When Israel separates or divorces herself from God by committing idolatry or adultery, she breaks the covenant. As a result, God is under no obligation to keep His promises. Israel breaks the bond. God divorces her. Yet, God has compassion on His “wife,” Israel and calls “her” back to be faithful (Isaiah 54) as a bridegroom delights in his bride (Isaiah 62:4, 5).
Later, in the New Testament, Christ calls the Jews “an adulterous generation” (Matt. 12:39). They are guilty of spiritual unfaithfulness to God because they reject Christ so they are no longer God’s chosen people.
Consequently, now all true Christians are God’s chosen people. The Old Testament covenant is replaced with the New Testament covenant. The New Testament describes the Church as the bride of Christ, preparing herself for life in the eternal kingdom (Ephesians 5:23). When we become a Christian we enter into a personal covenant with Him. If we are faithful to Him we are part of the Church, the bride of Christ. If we are unfaithful to Him, we are adulterers. Unless we repent, like the Jews we are cast off; we are given a written bill of divorcement – our name is blotted out of the book of Life. “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Revelation 3:5).
Also in the New Testament, James, the brother of Jesus, rebukes and warns false Christians. “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (James 4:4) Notice James calls unfaithful Christians adulterers. He urges them to cleanse their hands and purify their hearts. He condemns those who are unfaithful to God. Unfaithful means adulterous; adulterous means unfaithful.
So, in the Bible, adultery is not just sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his or her spouse. Adultery is idolatry. Adultery is unfaithfulness. Adultery is fornication. Fornication in the Bible isn't just the sex act. Fornication also means unfaithfulness, deceit, or uncleanness. Revelation 19:2 says about Babylon, "For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand." Fornication may be either physical or spiritual. In sum, adultery or fornication is uncleanness that separates or divorces a spouse from his family.
Now the modern-day scribes and Pharisees wrongly teach what the ancient scribes and Pharisees taught. They feel only the man who commits the physical act of fornication is guilty. Remember Jesus warns us in Matthew 5:28 that a man who lusts after a woman commits adultery with her in his heart. In other words, the man who commits the physical act and the man who commits the mental act are both equally guilty. So, it isn’t just the man who has sexual intercourse with someone other than his wife who is an adulterer. Christ preaches the man or woman who lusts after another is an adulterer, too.
Specifically, the sacred marriage covenant is broken when a wife turns away from God and her husband and turns to immoral conduct. In forsaking God and husband for immorality, she adulterates the purity of the relationship by polluting it with impurity and uncleanness. Treachery, abuse, fornication, incest, drunkenness, lewdness, and other impure and unclean acts adulterate or pollute the marital relationship. Those who commit these sins are adulterers. They are unfaithful to God; they are unfaithful to their spouse. The unfaithful spouse divorces herself from God and divorces herself from her family.
Divorce is not just the legal dissolution of the marriage. To divorce is to disunite or break the union. A wife divorces her husband by refusing to honor the marriage covenant. In other words, she disavows their marriage vows. When the wife commits acts of uncleanness and unfaithfulness, she breaks the marriage bond - she divorces her husband. The husband and wife may live under the same roof, but the spiritual tie is broken. They are not one flesh. They are divorced in spirit.
I know couples who live apart permanently because their religion forbids divorce. They refuse to live together, but they self-righteously maintain they’re married, not divorced. They feel they have outwitted God. But the heart of the marriage is not a legal document – a marriage license. The heart of the marriage is two hearts united in love. Marriage is physical unity and spiritual unity. A husband and wife living apart are no longer one flesh. They say with their lips that they are married, but their hearts are divorced. They are divorced even though they don’t have a legal dissolution. A divorce decree simply ratifies the divorce. It gives formal or legal sanction to the divorce. It makes the divorce official. It confirms that the marriage is already broken. It is not the legal action that dissolves the marriage. It just finalizes the divorce. It is the personal action of a spouse that dissolves the marriage. The sanctity of the marriage bond is destroyed and there is no striving after the true ideal of home and family life.
True Christians strive for marital unity or wholeness. Now, does this mean they must be exactly alike? No. It means their different interests and personalities complement each other. Yet, the heart of the marriage is peace, harmony, understanding, and love. There is a striving for oneness.
So, what if you’re married to a man or woman who has adulterated the marriage with drugs, incest, molestation, abuse, drunkenness, pornography or some other uncleanness and unfaithfulness? First, try to help him, but don’t allow it to destroy you or your children. Ask him to get Biblical counseling. If he firmly refuses, you may want to separate. While separated, be open to reconciliation if he is willing to repent. I’m talking about sincere repentance, not temporary remorse. He must have a true change of heart. True repentance opens the door to reconciliation. Reconciliation leads to restoration. The marriage can be restored. However, sometimes God turns sinners over to a reprobate mind; therefore, your spouse may never repent. That is why you must earnestly seek the Lord’s guidance.
Let me warn you that before you separate or divorce, be sure you have good cause for your action. Plead your cause with the Lord. Remember the minister who divorced his wife because he felt she spent too much money and he wanted a younger wife? Remember the religious churchgoer who divorced her husband because she didn’t feel like being married anymore? Were these just causes for divorce? No. They dealt treacherously with their spouse.
Malachi 2:15 warns us not to deal treacherously with our spouse: “Therefore take heed to your spirit and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.” The prophet Malachi teaches that God hates “putting away” and condemns severely any man who deals treacherously with the wife of his covenant. Don’t be traitorous. Be loyal. Be faithful. Honor the marriage covenant. This also means don’t adulterate the marriage relationship with uncleanness. Let me repeat that the unclean and unfaithful spouse is the one who breaks the marital covenant because he separates or divorces himself from his wife and children.
Also, before leaving your spouse consider all the consequences. Where will you get money to live? What about your children? Can you withstand the scrutiny of your family, friends, community, and the church? Let me warn you, people will criticize and condemn you. You must be strong in your belief and cover your ears to the deafening clamor of the crowd that will condemn you. Many people feel if you refuse to suffer abuse from your spouse, you’re not a Christian. They support the martyr myth that it’s our godly duty to suffer abuse from our family. They advocate family unity at any price, even if you must suffer physical, mental or emotional abuse.
More important, you must be absolutely sure you can answer to God for your action. Now let me make this perfectly clear. This message does not encourage divorce. It permits divorce because of the degeneracy of man. God would rather you divorce an unfaithful spouse than suffer emotional, mental, or physical abuse. God never sanctions abuse in the home. If you’re abused, God is heartbroken when He sees your pain and suffering. He doesn’t condone it just to keep the marriage together legally. God intends that marriage should be very sacred. The abuse has already caused a divorce; the marriage covenant is already broken. Uncleanness and unfaithfulness destroy the sanctity of marriage and the home.
Yes, God hates divorce. But like every other truth the Lord gave, the modern-day scribes and Pharisees pervert its true meaning and hold us in bondage. As we’ve learned, God divorced Israel after she separated or divorced herself from Him by being unfaithful. It’s not the legal decree that breaks the heart of God; it’s the treachery of a spouse adulterating the marriage.
If you divorce, many feel that you can’t remarry. They condemn you to a lifetime of loneliness. But to shackle us to a lifetime vow to a spouse who oppresses us changes the marital bond from a covenant to lifelong bondage. It turns unity into captivity. The silken bonds of marital love are turned into iron chains of oppression.
Furthermore, in Matthew 19:10-12, immediately after Christ’s discourse on divorce, the disciples say maybe it’s 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). Moreover, from the very beginning, God says it is not good for us to be alone and created a help meet for us (Genesis 2:18).
For better or worse, for richer or poorer, till death do us part? False Christians and religious oppressors enslave us to lifelong bondage to an unfaithful and unclean spouse. Christ longs to break the yoke of bondage which binds our hearts and souls to false doctrines. God hates to see us enslaved to man-made traditions and false doctrines that keep us forever yoked to unclean and unfaithful spouses. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) Christ sets us free to divorce oppressive spouses!