Why I Speak Out

wedding band on open bible[This is a repost, with minor edits, of my guest blog on Dan Erickson’s site December, 2012.]

I am a Christian.  I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God.  I prescribe to a literal, conservative interpretation of God’s word.  I love studying biblical covenants and find a deep richness of covenant references throughout the Bible.  I view covenant as a common thread woven through both testaments, tying promises in Genesis to prophecies in Revelation.  I often describe our God as a covenant God for Whom all interactions with mankind are based on covenant.  Covenant relationships and the keeping of covenant vows are a very big deal to me.

So why does someone, with my background and convictions, write posts titled “Divorce is Sin…Says Who?”  “Free to Remarry,” “God of Divorce” and “The It-Takes-Two Lie”?

I have been accused, by people who don’t know my story, of trying to justify the divorce of my first marriage.

I have been asked, by people who do know my story, why I’ve felt compelled to change my perspective on biblical divorce.  “Joe,” they say, “you clearly had biblical grounds for divorce.  Your situation met the criteria of every exception clause as being permissible.  Why do you continue to search scriptures regarding marriage and divorce?”

And that’s just it.  My situation did meet the criteria of every “exception clause.”  I lived seventeen years in an abusive marriage to someone who intentionally and repeatedly inflicted deep emotional wounds, who seemed drawn to the intrigue of lies when the truth would have served her better, and for whom every word and action seemed designed to manipulate…even though I would have done anything for her without the need of manipulation.

Yet, I wasn’t seeking a divorce.  I wasn’t asking whether divorce was “permissible” or if my situation met the criteria of “exception clauses.”  My heart was not pursuing divorce.  My heart was pursuing a healthy marriage based on love and mutual trust.  My heart was pursuing a stable, loving environment for our family of four precious children.  My heart was pursuing what I understood to be God’s will for our family.

I wasn’t concerned with what was “permissible.”  I was only concerned with the relentless pursuit of God’s will and God’s best for our family.

My heart was broken…over and over again.  I was wounded and hurting, crying out to God for help and healing.

I saw many answers to prayer in that marriage….many miraculous softenings of her heart…many steps appearing to lead toward healing.

I also learned a lot about myself and improving communication.  The many counseling sessions were, in general, a healthy thing for me…and seemed a step in the right direction at the time.

And yet…each positive step turned out to be so temporary…

As the years passed, new lies surfaced, exposing deeper and more recent betrayals.  The lessons learned in counseling became tools used for the purpose of deceiving me further, while continuing to deeply wound me with betrayal of covenant vows.  New communication tools were used, not for strengthening relationship, but rather for giving the appearance of deepening intimacy while actually concealing deeper betrayals.

I prayed fervently and continuously.  Yet, as the passing of time continued to reveal ever deeper deceptions and betrayals, there was also a need to face the facts…to realize that no matter how much I wanted to see healing of the relationship, that might not be the end result.

One person in the relationship seeking God’s will is not enough for relational healing. Click To Tweet

The summer of 2000 was, for me, a time of intense prayer and fasting.  I was doing a lot of running, and as my feet wound out the miles, I continually begged God for healing.

“How long, Lord, must I wander in this wilderness of pain and trauma?  Please, Lord, I need your healing touch.  My heart is broken.  My marriage is broken.  My soul is crushed.  Lord, I don’t know what to do.  Please, Lord, lead me out of this wilderness into a place of healing!”

And I began to hear God’s answer…softly at first…then stronger and more persistent, “Go in and possess the land” (Joshua 1:11).

“Lord, you can’t mean that!  You know how many times I’ve been deceived and how deeply I’ve been wounded!  You want me to put aside all my legitimate fears and act as though my marriage and heart are healed?  That’s crazy!  It makes no sense!”

And yet, I felt His consistent prompting, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be discouraged or dismayed.  Go in and possess the land.”

I recalled the many stories of God’s miraculous work.  I was heartened that perhaps this is what God was going to do in my marriage.  Perhaps, this was my Jordan River to cross before seeing God’s miraculous victories!

So, I asked Him, “Lord, are you saying you’re going to heal my marriage?  That her heart will be changed toward me and our relationship will be restored?”

“Go in and possess the land.”

“Lord, what does that mean?  You want me to make myself vulnerable with no promise from you?  You never did that in the Bible!  You always gave a promise when asking for obedience in difficult circumstances.  Lord, what is your promise to me, today?”

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be discouraged or dismayed, and the Lord, Your God, will be with you, wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

So I began, once again, to change my attitude and behavior toward her.  I began to draw in my boundaries and lower my defenses.  I dropped the wait-and-see attitude I’d held since the last major betrayal, and began, yet again, to actively pursue her heart.

And she responded by withdrawing further.

Over the course of that next year, as I attempted to open up toward her, she drew further back from me.  I still faced each new issue head-on, refusing to sweep anything under the rug, wanting true healing of our relationship.  I was actively engaging in the relationship while refusing to side-step or ignore any known issues.  Finally, one evening while discussing a recent issue, she asked for a divorce, saying, “I just don’t want to do this anymore.”

There were still a lot of steps toward healing.  God was faithful through the divorce and later custody battles.  Not every battle was victorious from my perspective, but He continued to lead me and guide me…and to comfort and heal me.

A counselor asked me once, “You do realize, don’t you, that there is absolutely nothing you could have done differently to prevent this divorce?”

“Yes, I can see that.”

“And you do understand,” he continued, “that the divorce had nothing to do with you, personally?  That no matter who she married, it would have ended in divorce?”

“Yes, I can see that, too.  Thank you!”

And that’s the thing…the thing that so few Christians really understand…that I did not understand, myself, before experiencing it.

The health and longevity of a relationship cannot be determined by one individual.  Yes, we must each do our own part and be willing to love sacrificially.  Yet, no amount of sacrificial love, by one party, can ensure a healthy or lasting relationship.

In a marriage, we are each responsible for wholeheartedly living out our covenant vows in faithfulness, for the duration of that covenant.  However, neither partner is responsible for the longevity of the covenant.

I entered that marriage as an idealistic young man, believing if I loved deeply enough, believed strongly enough, prayed fervently enough, somehow God would always intervene to heal and restore the marriage relationship.

I learned, although God is always faithful to His promises, He does not violate human free will.  If one marriage partner refuses to surrender their will to Him, He will not force them to…and the marriage will not be healed.

I learned divorce is not always outside God’s will.  Rather, in many situations, divorce is God’s direct and perfect will.

In my case, God asked me to follow a difficult path of obedience.  That path did not lead to the marital restoration I hoped for.  Rather, it led toward further hardening of her heart, resulting in divorce.

God redeemed me from that marriage of abusive bondage in much the same way He redeemed Israel from their covenant with Pharaoh.  That divorce was a part of God’s perfect plan for my life, just as surely as deliverance from Egypt was part of His perfect plan for the nation of Israel.

God has used these experiences to drastically change my view of His heart toward His children who are enslaved in covenants of abusive bondage, or who have experienced divorce.  In recent years, I have become more outspoken about my views on these topics.

I’m speaking out, not to justify my own actions, nor because of emotional pain or bitterness in regard to that marriage.

My actions in that marriage and divorce don’t require justification, and I am now happily married to a godly woman, with whom I enjoy raising and loving children and grandchildren.

I’m speaking out against a system of biblically unsubstantiated myths regarding divorce believed by many Christians, today.

These myths lead to legalistic judgmental attitudes toward God’s children who have experienced divorce or who are currently enslaved in an abusive marriage.  They hold Christians in bondage and do not reflect God’s heart of love and redemption.

I speak out in an attempt to shine the light of God’s truth and hope in an area of blindness within the church.

I speak out in the hope someone in an abusive marriage will understand, in some situations, divorce is God’s perfect will and the godliest course of action.

In some situations, divorce is God’s perfect will and the godliest course of action. Click To Tweet

I speak out in the hope someone who has experienced divorce will better understand God’s heart of redemption and will draw closer to His heart of love.

Who do you know in need of encouragement through divorce?


[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]


24 thoughts on “Why I Speak Out

  1. Uh-oh, Joe. You brought up the free will thing, something that I have said for a long time. It got me into a heated debate with a man on another friend’s FB timeline where he really took the idea of irresistable grace to completely new levels.

    The whole idea of simply praying your spouse into right attitudes and behaviors seems very off base to me. Whether you believe in irresistable grace or unfettered free will, it can be a losing proposition. If the spouse is predestined to be that way, then no amount of praying on your part will sway her. If free will is the rule, and she doesn’t change, then you still lose.

    This idea of only doing your part despite what the other person does is tantamount to God telling you to go tilt at windmills in perpetuity. Sure, sometimes it works and praise God for that, but when it doesn’t, for whatever reason, it doesn’t, yet the innocent person so often gets the blame.

    A covenant is no longer a covenant when one person repeatedly breaks it, period. It is no longer binding, even if the wronged person chooses for a time not to enforce it.

    • Yes…I’m not sure where this concept of “praying your spouse into right attitudes and behaviors” originated, but it is certainly pervasive in Christian culture. It sounds so spiritual…but it has no biblical basis. It’s the gospel according to Walt Disney, rather than the gospel according to the Bible.

      I’m not saying we shouldn’t pray for our spouse. We absolutely should. And we should pray with confidence knowing that God works through the prayers of His people.

      But we need to also understand that God does not violate anyone’s free will. He will only work in our heart (or our spouse’s heart) to the extent that He is invited to.

      Missing this crucial point too often (ridiculously) leads to actually blaming the victim for being abused, “Well if you’d just shown unconditional love…just had more faith…just learned to better understand their needs and their love language…”

      I especially like what you said here:

      “A covenant is no longer a covenant when one person repeatedly breaks it, period. It is no longer binding, even if the wronged person chooses for a time not to enforce it.”

      I completely agree! And I believe the biblical record strongly supports this position.

      Thank you, Wendell!
      joe recently posted…Why I Speak OutMy Profile

  2. I am so glad that you have spoken out and continue to speak out, Joe. Your words help bring healing to a lot of people who have been wounded. My wounds of divorce are older now, but I still appreciate the soothing balm of our grace too.

  3. This was painful to read as I could relate to it and am still in the midst of a “no-talk zone”. Thank you for sharing and I covet your prayers. I continue to feel weak and exhausted; too exhausted to just pack up and leave and perhaps “heal”??

    • Oh, HIH, I am so sorry! Yes, the relentless barrage is so emotionally exhausting.

      I am praying for you, this morning, that The Holy Spirit will speak comfort to your soul, healing to your heart, and wisdom to your mind. I pray that our God of all comfort will wrap you in His loving arms and whisper His love for you.

      “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
      Because the Lord has anointed me
      To bring good news to the afflicted;
      He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
      To proclaim liberty to captives
      And freedom to prisoners;” (Isaiah 61:1 quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:18)

      This is why Jesus came…this is His purpose.

      Blessings to you!
      joe recently posted…Why I Speak OutMy Profile

  4. And I’m so glad you have been faithful to teach and preach about this misunderstanding of biblical covenant from a very Scripturally-sound position, Joe. This is needed and you always do an amazing job of articulating it, my friend! Blessings to you!

  5. I don’t have anyone in this position right now, but I am reminded that it is never a good idea to judge someone’s decisions because we will likely never know the full story. I would encourage you to keep speaking truth, Joe. Was it Dr Suess who said
    “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
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  6. This is so powerful! I went through a divorce many years ago. I was not a Christian at that time although I had been raised as such. When I met my husband of today, I had serious questions about why he would want to marry me due to my divorce. He is a Christian and I became one through him. Amen!! But the beliefs laid out about divorce in books by Christians and conversations with Christians made the topic very difficult for me to understand. Thank you…for you have actually clarified something for me regarding obedience to God that I have not understood until this moment in relationship to divorce. It just never connected until now! Thank you.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda
    ~ linda recently posted…Simeon WaitingMy Profile

    • I’m so glad it was a blessing to you, Linda!

      God’s perspective of divorce is a common theme on my blog, so feel free to poke around and read some of my past posts on this topic.

      Blessings to you!
      joe recently posted…Why I Speak OutMy Profile

  7. Joe, what a story to write about. It takes courage and vulnerability to talk about such topics like this. Many christians are in a situation like you were, either heading toward divorce or in the middle of one. Your story can certainly help them as they walk ahead and shed some perspective on divorce from someone who felt it was what God wanted. Glad to hear your are now in a happy marriage. God bless you and your wife as you journey through life together. #TestimonyTuesday
    Crystal recently posted…An Identity Rooted In ChristMy Profile

  8. So much I could say here, Joe. I don’t think I ever mentioned it, but your story parallels my own so precisely, including the word from God not to cut the cord when I really even wanted to, but to work some more toward restoration. I did this, thinking it might mean the healing I wanted, only to end up getting served with divorce papers, too. In this case alcoholism was a major factor, but recently I have learned so much about character disordered people, especially covert aggressives (which sounds like what you were dealing with). People like this can appear to the public too good to be true; so that just increases their spouse’s pain and sense of isolation. I’m glad for you (and me) that we did not have to initiate the divorce. But what about all those who are dealing with such destructive, hidden abuse that no one would want to believe of their spouses? I pray for such, and leave all the judging for the Judge to do. I think That Day when He does judge is going to be full of surprises.
    So glad you are blessed in your present marriage and family. A richly blessed Christmas season to you all!

    • Sylvia, I am rejoicing with you that God, our Redeemer and Deliverer, has brought you out of that abusive marriage.

      You touched on something that actually caused me hesitation as I wrote and edited this post. My story is my story and it is a story of God’s redemption in my life. I do hope that others in an abusive marriage don’t take my story as an expectation of having to wait until the abuser asks for a divorce.

      Too often, abuse targets find themselves caught between being asked, “Why would you divorce your spouse?” and being asked “If your spouse was so abusive, why did you stay?” Depending on who’s doing the asking and how, this can easily become a legalistically judgmental catch-22 with no right answer…where no matter what choice is made it will be judged as wrong.

      I see God’s heart, as expressed through scripture, as being much more open and grace-filled. Every situation is different and no two people are the same. The decision as to whether to stay and try again or to file for divorce is between that individual and the Holy Spirit. Our role, as fellow believers, should be to encourage and assist any way we can, in supporting them in their very difficult decision…while making sure they understand God is for them and for their liberty.

      ““The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
      Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
      He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
      And recovery of sight to the blind,
      To set free those who are oppressed,” (Luke 4:18)

      Thank you, Sylvia! Have a blessed Advent Season.
      joe recently posted…Why I Speak OutMy Profile

  9. Thank you so much for writing this. I too, after years of trying, came to the conclusion that it does not take two to make a divorce and that it can be God’s perfect will. I too feel as though God has freed me as he did the Israelites.
    I can’t express the years I tired, the books I read and principles I applied, the attempts I made to forgive and offer undeserved respect, and the crazy number of second chances I gave. Years and years of repeated betrayal, manipulation, and lies took me to levels of depression that drove me to want to run away or take my life. It could only be called abuse. Finally, he left.
    During a time of past restoration (after his affairs), the Lord gave me Ps. 85:8-11. I felt, at the time, that he was telling me that if the things mentioned in the passage came about in our marriage that all of our life together could be restored to goodness. But the passage starts out with, “I will listen to what God the LORD will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints-but let them not return to their folly” (NIV 1984). In the week directly after my husband finally left, I came across this verse again in my reading. It was highlighted and notes from past readings were all around it. I knew now that God was showing me that love, faithfulness, truth, and righteousness had never become the norm in my marriage (my husband confessed as much). I knew he had never left his folly. At that moment I felt God set me free. The process of divorce has been painful, but I am thankful for it and I am not sure how to express that to people. They see me happy and don’t understand that my gracious Father has given me a good gift.

    • “The process of divorce has been painful, but I am thankful for it and I am not sure how to express that to people.”

      I totally get this!

      Yes, divorce is painful…but by God’s grace it is survivable…and not nearly as devastating as living in an abusive marriage.

      Thank you for sharing this, Steph!

      God bless you!
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  10. What an encouraging post . I remember thinking some of those thoughts too – if I just love him more, etc. I didn’t want to get divorced. I just wanted him to quit hurting me. I ended up leaving and filing for divorce when the pain was beyond endurance and I realized that he had no desire or intention of changing. That he was just playing an evil game with me.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    • That is a truly difficult truth to face…the realization that the person one has sworn to love in holy matrimony is not accidental being hurtful out of ignorance…nor even selfishly being hurtful out of self-centered immaturity…but rather are intentionally and maliciously causing pain for their own sadistic pleasure and desire for power and control.

      So often, in the church, we hear divorce discussed as though it is an “easy way out” that people choose because they lack the necessary commitment to put in the hard work to build a healthy marriage. In some cases, that may be true. But in most of the situations I know of, divorce comes after many sleepless nights through much prayer and seeking, trying to find a way to build a healthy marriage. Most people I’ve known who divorced, it was because they felt they had no other choice.

      Thank you, A!
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