On Counseling Against Divorce

picture of a divorce decreeAs discussed in this post a couple of weeks ago, Paige Patterson (president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas) has been in the news, lately, for audio recordings of statements made in 2000.  In those recorded statements, Patterson purportedly said abused women should focus on praying and “be submissive in every way that you can” and not seek divorce.  He went on to say, “I have never in my ministry counseled anyone to seek a divorce and that’s always wrong counsel.”

As disturbing as this 18 year old recording is (and it is definitely disturbing), even more alarming is Patterson’s current refusal to recognize or admit (the biblical word is ‘confess’) there was anything wrong with his prior statement.

Patterson has issued several statements claiming to have been misrepresented or misunderstood.  He has apologized for a separate incident in which he spoke of a 16 year old girl in a sexually objectifying manner.  He has ‘apologized’ for people having misunderstood him.

However, on the topic of his counsel to an abused wife, not only has he refused to apologize, but he has also doubled down…asserting the advice he gave was sound advice and biblically based.  He clarified that he has counseled “on more than one occasion” women to leave abusive husbands, and that physical or sexual abuse of any kind should be reported “to the appropriate authorities.”  He then reaffirmed his position on divorce, “I have also said that I have never recommended or prescribed divorce. How could I as a minister of the Gospel? The Bible makes clear the way in which God views divorce.”

Sadly, many Christians have backed Patterson’s position as being sound biblically-based counsel.

So, let’s review Patterson’s position.

Patterson (with the support of many Christians) counsels abused wives to focus on praying, “be submissive in every way that you can” and not seek divorce.

This is horrendous counsel!  Study after study has demonstrated being more submissive generally invites more abuse.  It props up the abuser’s skewed perspective that he is somehow justified in abusing his spouse.  Likewise, study after study has demonstrated that the abuse tends to escalate over time, becoming increasingly harmful as the abuser seeks higher levels of power, control, and self-gratification.

The counsel of Patterson and other proponents of Divorce Mythology condemns an abused spouse to a lifetime of continued, ongoing, escalating abuse, with no hope of escape or peace.

That counsel does not sound much like the Good News of the Gospel.  It has little in common with the oft-repeated biblical theme of Redemption from covenants of abusive bondage.  It has no place in the description Jesus gave of Himself at the start of His earthly ministry:

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,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)

Nor is it reflected in how our God of Divorce modeled divorce from an abusive partner who repeatedly and willfully violated the covenant vows.

Yet, despite strong biblical evidence to the contrary, Patterson and his supporters (in apparent idolatry of the institution of marriage) have concluded divorce is forbidden…thereby condemning those they counsel to a lifetime of slavery to evil.

Now, this is the point on which Patterson and his supporters call foul, claiming he has been misrepresented and misunderstood.  After all, Patterson claims he has “on more than one occasion” counseled women to leave their abusive husbands.

Clearly, by “leave” Patterson did not mean “divorce,” since he also said, “I have never recommended or prescribed divorce.”

So, he counseled them to leave…without divorcing…which leaves the abused spouse still legally bound to her abuser…for life.  The legal bond provides easy access for the abuser to continue tormenting her.  In many cases the marriage gives him legal access to her finances, providing yet another avenue of ongoing abuse.

Moreover, the whole premise of forbidding divorce is this crazy notion that no matter how egregiously the marriage vows have been violated, no matter how unrepentantly the abuser has trampled the sacred vows in his treachery against the spouse he swore to love, honor, and cherish…that somehow the abused spouse is still under obligation to the covenant vows.

With divorce forbidden, the pressure to reconcile with the abuser is incredibly high.  If divorce is forbidden, she is still married with all the legal and covenant obligations that implies.  The abuser, knowing this, will take full advantage, faking repentance to regain control…and conning church members, family, and friends into becoming allies of the abuser, “How can you be so cold-hearted toward your husband?  He feels really bad for what he did.”

And because he is still her legally wedded husband, she has no good response…and may be ensnared in the trap of returning to her abuser.  After all…doesn’t the Bible have much to say about how we are to treat a lawfully wedded spouse?

Meanwhile, Patterson apparently sits unconcernedly on the sidelines, claiming “as a minister of the Gospel” he has no other choice.

Contrast Patterson’s position with God’s position toward Israel when they were enslaved to Pharaoh:

I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (Exodus 6:6)

God made a point of saying He would not only deliver Israel from bondage, but He would also redeem them.  He not only physically separated Israel from their oppressor, but He also brought about the dissolution of the covenant bonds, so they had no legal obligations or ties to Pharaoh.

Since Patterson claims he is following scripture in giving this counsel to leave without divorcing, let’s see what scripture actually says on this topic.

When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. (Deuteronomy 24:1-2, KJV)

The Law given to Moses by God clearly makes provision for divorce by requiring a certificate of divorce to legally dissolve the marriage, leaving both partners free to remarry.

Note that the certificate of divorce is scripturally required.  If a man separates from his wife, God requires him to legally divorce her.  A man is not biblically permitted to separate from his wife while trying to retain some sort of legal control by refusing to divorce.

God did not forbid divorce.  He did forbid separation without divorce.

God did not forbid divorce. He did forbid separation without divorce. Click To Tweet

Some claim that Jesus gave commands concerning divorce that reversed the commands God gave Moses.  But that makes no sense.  In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

Jesus did not replace, reverse, add to, subtract from, or abolish the law given to Moses.  He supported the law and transcended the law by showing righteousness can never be attained through strict adherence to external rules, because true righteousness is a condition of the heart.  In the same sermon, Jesus went on to say,

For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)

Our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees, because the Pharisees were seeking to attain righteousness thru strict adherence to external rules.  Jesus continued His sermon with a series of examples beginning “You have heard…” in reference to the law and continuing “…but I say unto you…” with a demonstration of how God calls us to transcend the law through our heart attitude.

In the first of this pattern of examples, Jesus said,

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Jesus starts with the law, “Thou shalt not commit murder,” then goes on to transcend the law by showing that just keeping the external law is insufficient.  Righteousness is a heart condition, and a heart that harbors bitterness and anger cannot be righteous.  Jesus did not overturn, void, replace, add to, or take away from the law, “Thou shalt not murder.”  Rather, He transcended the law by demonstrating that righteousness is more than rigorously keeping external laws.  Righteousness is a matter of the heart and can only be attained through the power of the Holy Spirit in giving us a new heart and making us a new creation.

Then Jesus moved on to the second in this pattern of examples:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

Again, Jesus is agreeing with the Old Testament Law as being righteous and true…and He again transcends the law by showing external behavior is insufficient for righteousness.  If someone desires in their heart to commit adultery, their heart is evil, even if they don’t physically violate the law.  Stricter rules do not help.  We need a new heart thru the power of the Holy Spirit.

In His third in this pattern of examples, Jesus addresses the Law of Divorce from Deuteronomy:

 It was said also, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32, ASV)

Again, Jesus quotes the law from Deuteronomy, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.”  He does not reverse the law, alter the law, nullify the law, add to the law, nor take away from the law.  Once again, Jesus transcends the law by demonstrating the heart issue:

…but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife (separates without a certificate of divorce), saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away (separated without a certificate of divorce) committeth adultery. (emphatic parenthetical phrases added for clarification)

In quoting these two verses, I chose the American Standard Version as being truer to the original Greek and consistency of translating the same word the same way throughout.  Many English translations use the word “divorce” to replace “put away” in some instances.  However, the original Greek uses the same word (apolyo) all three places in these verses, and the most literal translation is “put away”…which could be either with or without a certificate of divorce.

The law Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy explicitly requires a man to provide a certificate of divorce if he puts his wife away (separates from her).  We know Jesus was not contradicting, changing, overturning, adding to, or taking away from the law given to Moses…as Jesus had just stated He was not doing that.  We know Jesus was, in fact, transcending the law by demonstrating righteousness is a matter of heart condition that cannot be attained through rigid conformity to external rules.

Therefore, it is clear that just as in the two previous examples, Jesus was supporting and agreeing with the original law while also demonstrating its insufficiency without a righteous heart.  In these two verses, Jesus agrees with the law that, yes, a man must provide a certificate of divorce if he separates from his wife.  Then He goes on to say that if the man separates from his wife without legally divorcing her, then he is guilty of causing her to commit adultery…and causing anyone who marries her to also commit adultery…because she is still legally wed to her first husband who failed in his obligation to grant her a legal divorce when he separated from her.

Jesus did not forbid divorce (which would have directly contradicted the law God gave to Moses).  Jesus agreed with the law forbidding separating without divorce.

Jesus did not forbid divorce. He forbade separating without divorce. Click To Tweet

Jesus did not equate remarriage after divorce with adultery (which would have directly contradicted the law God gave Moses).  Jesus transcended the law by saying a man who separates from his wife without legal divorce has taken upon himself the guilt of any future adulterous relationships she may enter into.

Lest anyone mistakenly turn this into a gender-biased issue in which God’s intent for a woman separating from her husband is somehow different from a man separating from his wife, the Apostle Paul expounds on this same theme.  In giving pastoral direction to a woman who is separated from her husband but still legally married, Paul instructs her to either reconcile with her husband or divorce.  Paul is very clear in admonishing her to not indefinitely remain married-yet-separated.

…but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband… (1 Corinthians 7:11)

In this verse, ‘unmarried’ (agamos) clearly means ‘divorced.’  I discuss this further in this post and this post.

The counsel Patterson claims as the only advice he could give “as a minister of the Gospel” directly contradicts what the Bible says on the topic.

I want to add one more thing.  Some of the people reading this post may currently be separated from their spouse while legally married.  This post is not intended to heap guilt onto your already overly-stressed life.

As Jesus so eloquently demonstrated in the Sermon on the Mount, righteousness can never be attained through strict adherence to external laws.  No law could ever address every possible situation in human relationships.  Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to guide us in difficult life decisions.  It is not my place to tell you what needs to be done in your unique and very personal situation.

Furthermore, I believe temporary separation to find safety, to find healing, to make decisions, is often wise.  I believe permanent separation without divorce is usually unwise and tends to lead to a very stressful unsettled state of existence.

This post is intended to demonstrate the falseness of counselors claiming biblical authority in always counseling abused spouses to never divorce…to separate if needed but never divorce.  As a general rule, this counsel is usually both unwise and biblically unsubstantiated.

 

Your thoughts?

 

When is Divorce Permissible?

wedding band placed over definition of divorceWhen is divorce permissible?

This question is asked over and over.  People want an itemized list of the precise situations in which divorce is permissible, accompanied by specific scriptural references to back it up.

Most pastors are more than happy to provide such a list.

The tradition in which I was raised said divorce is permissible only for adultery or abandonment.  Then they would hasten to add that divorce is never required, only permitted…implying divorce is never the best course of action…just an option for those of lesser faith.

Some were quick to add, “Divorce really shouldn’t even be in a Christian’s vocabulary”…as though they hadn’t just made use of the word divorce themselves in forming the sentence prohibiting its use…and as though divorce were such an awful thing we’re better off pretending it doesn’t even exist.

If pressed, they would emphatically state that divorce is always sin…though sometimes permissible.  Which doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Why would sin ever be permissible?  And if it is permissible, how could it be sin?

They had a ready list of scripture references to back up their position…Matthew 19 for adultery…1 Corinthians 7 for abandonment.  They called these the exception clauses…because divorce is prohibited except for these exceptions in which it is permissible…though not required.

Notice the use of legal language, here.  Make no mistake.  This is a legal discussion.

The topic of biblical divorce is almost always discussed in theological circles as a point of legality.  What does The Law say about divorce?  Except they don’t use the words legal or law, because the New Testament scripture is quite clear in telling us that those who are in Christ are not under the law.

So, we have this legal debate amongst theologians making use of legal terms to argue their points…in which all participants are making their arguments based on the assumption that The Bible (i.e. The Law) generally prohibits divorce, but then provides these exception clauses for which divorce is permissible in some circumstances.

And it is these exception clauses that everyone is debating.  It is the exception clauses that parishioners ask questions about.

When is divorce permissible?

Does physical violence count as abandonment?  Does emotional abuse count as abandonment?  Does emotional withdrawal count as abandonment?  Does being too lazy to work to provide for your family count as abandonment?

And we have a wide array of legal points being continually debated…with most parties very emphatically stating their position in very confident tones…as though only an idiot or a reprobate could possibly fail to agree with their position.

Sadly, many are also more than willing to sacrifice an abused woman’s health, safety, and well-being to protect the position they’ve staked in this legal debate…despite acknowledging that as a Christian she is not even under The Law.

And this legal debate has literally been going on for thousands of years.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” (Matthew 19:3)

Theologians (also known as lawyers…because in a theocratic society they are the same thing) were having this same debate over 2000 years ago, when Jesus walked this earth.

When is divorce permissible?

If the answer is as clear as these legalistic theologians would have us believe, why has it been a point of debate for thousands of years?

I’ll tell you why.  It is because scripture is not at all clear in answering this question.  In fact, the biblical authors seem to almost go out of their way to be intentionally vague on this topic…persistently refusing to answer this question.

In Deuteronomy 24:1-4,  the Mosaic Law very clearly makes provision for divorce.  It requires that if a husband sends his wife away, he must also give her a certificate of divorce, so that both parties are free to remarry, with no obligation to the marriage vows.  Furthermore, if the woman marries another husband and he also divorces her, then the first husband is forbidden from remarrying her.

Most theologians today agree that in this Deuteronomy passage God was protecting women from a form of legalized prostitution that was common at that time.  For enough money, a man would verbally divorce his wife (put her away without providing a certificate of divorce) and allow another man to have sexual intercourse with her.  Then the second man would divorce her, and the original husband would reclaim his rights as her husband.

So, in order to protect women from this immoral practice, the Mosaic Law required a certificate of divorce be issued, and forbade a former husband from remarrying a wife who had married another man.

The Mosaic Law is virtually silent on the topic of when divorce is, or is not, permissible.  It simply says, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her…”  The Mosaic Law made no attempt to define what all circumstances might be considered “some indecency.”  Although it clearly made provision for just divorce, The Law never defined under what circumstances divorce was permissible.

This was, in fact, the point of the legal debate the Pharisees brought to Jesus in Matthew 19.  They were in agreement that The Law required a certificate of divorce to be issued, as Jesus noted in Matthew 5:31.  However, they had an ongoing legal debate as to what was permitted under “some indecency.”

At that time, some were exploiting the lack of legal definition of permissibility to say a man could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever…including because he found another woman more desirable…or because another man found his wife desirable.  So, they were right back to the wife-swapping tricks of their ancestors, except with slightly more protection for the abused wife in the form of a divorce certificate.

One publicized example of the day was King Herod’s marriage to the wife of his brother.  John the Baptist incurred the wrath of both Herod and Herodias by calling them out on their adultery.  As a result, John was imprisoned and beheaded.  The Pharisees were probably hoping for a similar demise for Jesus when they asked him this question.

Jesus did not hold back in denouncing this immoral wife-swapping practice of divorcing for the explicit purpose of marrying someone else.  Jesus called it adultery.  However, Jesus clearly upheld provision for divorce as being necessary, yet fell short of giving a detailed list under what circumstances divorce is permissible.  Here’s what he said:

Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. (Matthew 19:8-9)

If Jesus wanted us to have a well-defined legal list of conditions under which divorce is permissible, this was a perfect chance to provide that.  Yet He did not.  Jesus said Moses made provision for divorce because of hardened hearts…one spouse’s heart becoming hardened against the other.  He went on to say divorcing for the purpose of wife-swapping is adultery.  Yet, he included the phrase “except for immorality.”

And theologians today debate the phrase “except for immorality” in exactly the same manner the lawyers of Jesus day debated the phrase “some indecency.”  In both cases, they are attempting to draw specifics that simply are not there.  Both phrases are intentionally vague…intentionally open-ended.

Why?  Why did Jesus and Moses both refuse to explicitly answer the question, When is divorce permissible?

I would submit the question is never answered because it is not a valid question.

The question presumes divorce is forbidden except for specific clearly legally defined circumstances.  The question presumes divorce permissibility is first and foremost a legal issue.  The question presumes it is the right of a judge, or pastor, or fellow Christian to judge for someone else whether or not they should divorce…as though anyone else besides God could possibly know and judge the deeply personal issues that can arise within the intimate bounds of marriage.

I would submit that scripture is silent on this topic specifically because each individual Christian must search out for themselves the guidance of The Holy Spirit in determining the best course of action in their specific marriage.

If that makes you uncomfortable, maybe you should spend some time prayerfully contemplating why you are uncomfortable with Christians relying on the guidance of The Holy Spirit for major life decisions…and why you feel the need for legalistic rules by which to admonish others.

Jesus was, apparently, quite comfortable with that.

 

Simple Answers

She graciously steered the conversation toward a topic she knew I like, “So, how do you make a horse go?”

I paused, pondering the question and possible responses. Honestly, the question would have been easier to answer a couple of years ago when I knew less about the topic…which meant I was probably overthinking the question.  Should I start with explaining I don’t make a horse do anything, I ask him?  No, she’d think I was just being nit-picky.  Should I talk about differentiating cues for different speeds?  No, she almost certainly meant moving from a standstill to walking and continuing to walk.  Should I start with explaining it depends on the horse’s level of training?  No, she was clearly referring to a well-trained horse.  It was asked as a simple direct question with expectation of a simple direct answer.

Unsure of my reason for hesitating, she reframed the question, “When you’re riding your horse, how do you get him to go?”

I latched onto the specificity of the reframed question, “Well…with my horse I usually just shift my weight slightly forward and maybe lift the reins a little. That’s usually all he needs.  If that doesn’t get a response, then I might nudge him a little with my legs or smooch him.”

It was a simple direct question expecting a simple direct response. My response was as simple and direct as I knew how to make it.  Yet I knew it likely had more qualifiers than she expected.  I also knew was a very incomplete answer…and not very useful.

It was a very incomplete answer...and not very useful. Click To Tweet

I knew the situation she was referring to. I’ve experienced it myself a few times.  A novice rider on a rented or borrowed horse starts out with a group of riders on a trail ride.  The borrowed horse falls behind the group and slows to a gradual halt.  The novice rider clicks, kicks, swats, or in some other way tries to prod the horse to move out.  The horse responds by picking up to a trot for a few strides then drops right back to a slow walk before stopping to browse on grass or leaves.

The answer I gave was a truthful answer, but of absolutely no use to a rider in such a situation. A horse that did not respond to clicks, kicks or swats was unlikely to respond to a shift of weight or a lift of reins.

To inspire a horse to go in such a situation, one must first understand why the horse stopped. Most likely, the horse stopped walking because the rider stopped riding…or maybe never started riding.  However, that answer requires explanation of what riding entails.

Riding a horse is more than being a passenger. Riding is active.  Riding is movement.  Riding is communication.  I don’t just ask my horse to go.  I also ask him to continue going.  I move in rhythm with his movement, then ask him to move with my movement.  If I stop moving, I expect him to also stop moving.

But it’s not just movement.  It’s communication through movement.  It’s relationship, balance, timing, and movement with meaning…where horse and rider have worked out a system of communication where both know the meaning of different cues and the expected response.  And it’s not one way communication.  The rider isn’t just telling the horse what to do, he’s also listening to the horse, feeling what the horse is thinking and noting where his attention is directed.  Ray Hunt described it as, “First you move with your horse.  Then your horse moves with you.  Then you both move together.”

“How do you make a horse go?” Such a simple direct question…deserving of a simple direct answer.  Yet master horsemen have written volumes trying to answer that question, and will tell you they fall short in the telling.

Why is the answer so complicated? Because the answer involves relationship and communication…because a useful answer must first bring the questioner into a paradigm of beginning to understand a little of that relationship…and because every horse and every rider are different.

Pondering these things I am reminded of the many questions we ask about godliness, expecting simple direct answers. Why would we assume simple direct answers could possibly be either complete or useful?  Human relationships are exponentially more complex than horse relationships.  Human communication is much more nuanced and prone to misunderstanding than horse-human communication.  The Bible tells us God’s ways are much higher than our ways and are beyond our understanding.

Yet, we stubbornly persist in asking simple direct questions from incomplete paradigms in expectation of simple direct answers.

Ask ten different theologians, “When is divorce permissible?” and you will likely receive ten different answers.

But that’s not the puzzling part.

The puzzling part is that nine of those ten theologians will likely respond with a simple direct answer…confident they have provided an answer that is both complete and useful…the sum total of what God has to say on the topic.

Human relations are extremely complex. Marital relations are even more complex than most.  Marital relations in a marriage having gone so badly wrong for one or both to be asking about divorce are likely full of complex contradictory emotions and many years of trying and failing to effectively communicate or effect change.

A person asking the question, “When is divorce permissible?” is clearly interested in pleasing God. Otherwise, there would be no need to even ask the question.  Discerning God’s plans and intentions for any person’s life in any given situation is difficult, requiring listening to the Holy Spirit and understanding His cues.  Yet, many pastors and theologians seem to believe they can speak godly wisdom into people’s lives through trite prescribed wooden answers assumed to fit every situation.

And a person asking such a question is likely in very real need of wise godly input. They don’t need a trite rhetorical response.  They need help and understanding.  They need useful input and prayerful suggestions.  An answer that is incomplete and unhelpful is worse than no response at all.  A simple “I don’t know” would be much better than a misleading answer to such a question.

I am a beginner horseman. Yet I know enough to realize there is no simple, direct, useful answer to the question, “How do you make a horse go?”

How could any experienced pastor believe a useful simplistic answer could be given to a question so fraught with complexities and potential pitfalls as “When is divorce permissible?”

Anyone who believes such a question can be usefully answered with a trite canned response is lacking in wisdom and discernment.

It’s just not that simple.

Submit?

Submit…what emotions and images does this word evoke for you?

Such a simple word…with such complex relational and emotional overtones…

Listening to an authoritarian or patriarchal pastor teaching on the topic, one gets the impression that submission is the very means to salvation…as though the salvation of a wife and the salvation of her husband are both dependent on the level of her willingness to cheerfully and unquestioningly obey her husband in all things, no matter what.

For a Christian abused wife raised under such teaching, submission may be hell on earth…an impossible, unachievable task designed to make life increasingly more unbearable. Both her husband and her pastor may have beat her down with Ephesians 5:22 so many times she is in danger of losing herself in a bottomless pit of submissiveness.

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22 KJV)

Ephesians 5:22-33 is the foundational text for those who hold a view that in all biblically based marriages the husband’s role is to make all the decisions and the wife’s role is to unquestioningly acquiesce to all of his decisions. But they are staking their entire doctrine on the word submit meaning what they believe it means.

What if submit doesn’t mean obey unquestioningly?  What if submit simply means to honor and respect?  The contextual evidence strongly supports such a position.

Verse 25 of this passage says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it,” and verse 33 says, “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself…”

There is nothing about these verses to suggest the husband is to be anything other than sacrificially loving toward his wife. There is nothing about this passage to suggest it is okay for a husband to lord over his wife in disregard for her feelings or opinions, nor that the wife should meekly submit to such authoritarian misbehavior.

So, what about this word submit in verse 22?  It is important to note that this same exact word also appears in verse 21:

Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

Clearly, the word submit as used in verse 21 cannot mean to unquestioningly obey no matter what.  So why would anyone assign such a meaning in the following verse?

Many people view the end of verse 21 as being the end of a topical section…a chapter divider, of sorts. In the first twenty-one verses of the chapter, Paul is exhorting the church to walk in love and purity.  Verse 22 is seen by some as the beginning of a new topic discussing marital relations.

Viewed from this perspective, one could argue that the same word can have a different meaning when used in a different context. By this argument, the word submit in verse 21 could mean all Christians are to honor and respect each other, and the same word used in verse 22 could mean the wife is to unquestioningly obey her husband no matter what.  While I don’t find this to be a compelling argument, on the surface it does appear to be a potentially arguable point.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation of verse 22 recently caught my attention:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

The italicization of be subject is what caught my attention. In NASB, italicized text is used to denote words added by the translators, for clarity or easier reading.

I dug a little deeper, and discovered Ephesians 5:22 is one of the few verses with a substantive difference between Textus Receptus and the Morphological GNT, as shown in the BlueLetterBible.

The Textus Receptus used for King James Version (KJV) translation includes the word “hypotasso” (G5293 Strongs) which KJV translates as “submit.”

However, the Morphological GNT used in NASB translation (which is considered more reliable) does not include this word in verse 22.

Ephesians 5:22 entry in Blue Letter Bible

Blue Letter Bible entry for Ephesians 5:22 with Morphological GNT shown at top and Textus Receptus at bottom. ‘Hypatosso’ is not included in the Morphological GNT text.

Essentially, this means the first century Greek texts considered to be the oldest and most reliable do not include the word hypotasso in verse 22. These texts include no primary verb for verse 22, relying on the reader to understand that the verb hypotasso (submit) is carried over from the previous sentence (verse 21).  Presumably, some scribe added the verb hypotasso to verse 22, for clarity…to make sure the reader understands the verb hypotasso applies to both verse 21 and verse 22.

So, based on the oldest and most reliable texts, verses 21 and 22 would have read something like this:

…be subject to one another in the fear of Christ; wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (verses 21-22 NASB with italicized text removed)

From the perspective of translation, this is a seemingly unimportant detail. Whether or not the word hypotasso is specifically included in verse 22, it is clearly intended to be used as the primary verb in both 21 and 22.  In the end, NASB arrives at the same basic meaning as is conveyed in the KJV.

However, in trying to understand the intended usage of the word submit in the English translation, it is very important.  Verses 21 and 22 cannot have two differently nuanced meanings of the same word, because they actually share the exact same instance of the word.

…be subject to one another in the fear of Christ; wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

Not only is verse 22 not starting a new topic, it is not even starting a new sentence. It is an extrapolation of the same thought, sharing the same verb.  Whatever meaning Paul intended to convey with the word hypotasso (submit), he intended the exact same meaning for husbands as for wives, both toward each other and toward other believers.

So, submit, as used in this passage, cannot possibly mean to unquestioningly obey no matter what.

I believe submit, in this passage, is intended to mean love, honor and respect.

What do you think?

 

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

 

Permissible

picture of a divorce decreeOne July morning in 1994, I found myself sitting in my pastor’s living room. He had graciously responded to my desperate phone call with an invitation to come over and talk.  My wife had left me, and I had no idea what to do.  All I wanted was God’s best for our family of four young children.

“Joe, you know divorce is permissible for adultery and abandonment. If you divorce, you would still be eligible to remarry.”

His words supported what I had been taught…and he meant the words to be gracious and helpful. He was sharing the truth of God’s word as he understood it, viewing the permissibility of divorce for specific situations as God’s grace to deal with harsh realities of life in this world.  In fact, by even bringing up divorce as a valid option, he was being much more liberal than many pastors would have been.

But at that moment, those words were no help at all.

In 1 Corinthians 6:12, the Apostle Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.”

In the New Covenant, we live under grace, not under the law. So, I was not interested in what was permissible…what I could get by with.  My heart was, and is, to wholeheartedly pursue God’s will and seek God’s best!

See, this whole concept of divorce being permissible only for specific rigidly predefined situations is founded on a false paradigm. First it assumes that divorce is sin, although the Bible never calls it sin.  Second, it interprets Matthew 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7 as providing rigidly narrow “exception clauses” for when divorce is permissible.

Now, there are some basic logic errors in this paradigm.

As discussed in this post, sin is never permissible.  Therefore, since both Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul discussed situations where divorce may be a godly course of action, divorce cannot be inherently sinful.  The sin is either in what led to the divorce or in how the divorce is handled, not in the act of divorce, itself.

Also, if Matthew 19:9 is interpreted as Jesus saying all divorce is forbidden with the solitary exception of adultery, and 1 Corinthians 7:11-15 is interpreted as Paul saying all divorce is forbidden with the solitary exception of abandonment, then we have the Apostle Paul contradicting Jesus.  They cannot both be providing a rigid solitary exception in which the solitary exception is not the same.  So the whole paradigm of divorce being unlawful with the exception of certain specific narrow instances listed in scriptural exception clauses falls apart.  It is based on flawed logic.

But that summer morning in 1994, I was not thinking about flawed logic and biblical hermeneutics. At that time, I accepted the prevailing Divorce Mythology as truth.  It was what I had been taught by men I respected and trusted.  I had never had serious reason to question its validity, and to be honest, I had never studied the topic closely enough to recognize the obvious errors.

What I was struggling with that morning was of a much deeper emotional nature.

See, this whole concept of divorce being forbidden, but then having narrowly defined exception clauses for when it is permissible…it fundamentally assumes divorce is never the best course of action.

When presented in sermons, we can almost always count on the preacher to immediately add, “…but not required.” For example, in a sermon on Matthew 19, he might say, “Divorce is permissible for adultery…but not required.”  The implication being it really would always be better to not divorce …that the truly godly course of action would be to find a way to reconcile…no matter the circumstances.  It implies that no matter what led to the divorce, people who have divorced are somehow less spiritual, less faithful, less holy than if they had remained legally married.

It felt to me at the time as though divorce would be a deviation from God’s best plan for my life… condemning myself and my family to a life of something less than God’s best…some sort of second-rate grace begging scraps from the children’s table.

This false assumption of divorce never being the best course of action is reinforced even in the terminology.

Consider the word permissible.  It means permitted or allowed, and that’s exactly how it is treated… as though divorce is always wrong but sometimes grudgingly permitted under specific narrowly defined exceptions.  Many churches treat divorce as something that should always be discouraged, never encouraged…no matter the circumstances.  In effect, divorce is sometimes permissible…but always discouraged.

Then there are these exception clauses used to rigidly define when divorce is permissible.  Do you see how legalistic this whole paradigm is?  Even the terms forbidden, permissible and exception clauses are legal terms, illustrating the inherent legalistic nature of this false paradigm.

Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus consistently spoke against the legalism of the religious leaders, repeatedly demonstrating that righteousness is a heart matter. He often condemned the system of rigid rules, legal loopholes, and exception clauses debated among the religious leaders of His day.

Yet, somehow, many Christians (including many learned theologians) have embraced an unscriptural paradigm making Jesus out to have (on the solitary topic of divorce) replaced the law of Moses with a much more stringent law, including rigidly applied exception clauses for legal loopholes. This is the epitome of legalism and the very thing Jesus denounced the Pharisees for doing!

That summer morning, as I was reeling from shock trying to figure out what to do next, I didn’t need to be told divorce was permissible for my situation.  I needed to be told God is the God of divorce just as He is the God of marriage.  I needed to be told, divorce is sometimes the best and most godly course of action.  I needed to be told God’s blessing in my life and the lives of my children was not dependent on my staying married to their mother.

Who can you encourage with a message of God’s blessing and faithfulness through divorce?

 

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

 

War Room

war room movieMy wife and I have been hearing about the movie War Room for months and finally made time to watch it together, this past weekend.

There were things I liked about the movie, as well as areas of concern.

My favorite theme was the focus on prayer and God working through the prayers of His people.  I also liked the depiction of prayer tending to first change the heart of the person praying.   I have certainly found this to be true in my own life.

Another favorite theme was the need to focus on right relationship with God and total dependence on Him, rather than focusing on human relationships and trying to fix other people’s dysfunction.  This powerful truth was portrayed well in the movie.

My primary concern with the movie is its perpetuation of the false and dangerous myth that all marital issues can always be resolved through prayer.  While one could argue the movie depicted a single scenario without explicitly stating it applied to every situation, this is a very common theme in most Kendrick Brothers movies, and the repetition reinforces the myth.  A survey of movie themes leaves a strong impression Kendrick Brothers is highly committed to this unbiblical myth and very intentional in proselytizing others to embrace their perspective.  Whether intentional or not, this is certainly a primary message most viewers will receive from a Kendrick Brothers movie.

In a nutshell, this perspective tells a troubled spouse that if they will just pray fervently enough, believe deeply enough, humble themselves lowly enough, and love sacrificially enough, God will always miraculously heal their marital relationship.

Frankly, that’s a lie!

It is a very dangerous lie holding too many abused spouses in bondage to their abuser for too many years. Click To Tweet

Yes, God does answer prayer in miraculous ways.  Yes, God will bring healing in relationships where both partners are committed to seek Him and pursue His heart.  However, God will not violate human free will.  If one spouse is determined to go their own way, rebelling against God in violation of their sacred covenant vows, God will not conquer their heart by force.

If prayer, faith, humility and love were guaranteed by God to always result in healed relationships, the Apostle Paul would not have instructed the Corinthian Christians to allow an unbelieving spouse to leave the marriage (1 Corinthians 7:12-15).

God has not promised to heal every human relationship. Click To Tweet

Jesus made it very clear He did not come for the purpose of healing every relationship.

Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.  (Matthew 10:34-36)

I was also disappointed by the unrealistic reconciliation portrayed in the movie.  The husband was depicted as being very antagonisticly aggressive in interactions with the wife and daughter.  Yet he converted to a completely repentant change of heart without any boundaries having been defined or enforced by his family.  And, he had no further episodes of abusive behavior…no temptations to slide back into old patterns of behavior…just a completely new humble godly character.

While I hesitate to call anything impossible when we’re discussing the miraculous, to say the least the portrayed scenario is way outside the norm.  Most antagonistic aggressive character disordered people will never change without first running up against very strictly enforced boundaries.  Even then they are unlikely to change, and if they do, it will be over an extended period of time with strict accountability.

You know what I’d really like to see Kendrick Brothers produce? Click To Tweet

I would love to see them produce a really good movie depicting a realistic scenario of an abused wife learning to see past the lies, deceptions, and manipulations of her abuser.  The movie could show her learning to understand how much God loves her and how highly He values her.  It could show God redeeming her from that abusive marriage, protecting her through the divorce, and delivering her from the false doctrine that held her in bondage for so many years.

Now that would be a realistic movie with a solid Christian theme!

What do you think?

 

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

 

Cynical?

This morning I was listening to K-Love Radio while driving.  They had a caller giving a testimony of God miraculously reconciling him with his estranged wife.  He stated they had been moving toward divorce, each side had attorneys involved, and he had already purchased another residence.  Then, the morning of Sunday, February 14, St. Valentine’s Day, he and his wife happened to arrive at the church doors at the same moment.  They were both overcome with emotion.  They both said they needed to find a way to make their marriage work, and his wife sat beside him, in the seat he had been reserving for her each week.

Further interview questions revealed that neither party has yet apologized for anything, but they have both committed to seek counseling in their church for healing of their marriage and working past their issues.

The interview ended with cheerful congratulations and encouragement, “You’re doing the right thing,” followed by an exhortation, “We have to remember our spouse is not our enemy.  Even though it may sometimes seem like it, our spouse is never our enemy.”

Great praise story, right?  Classic example of a couple struggling with commitments until God unexpectedly intervened, right?  Every reason for congratulations and best wishes…no cause for cynicism or doubting, right?

And yet…doubt I do. Not just this story, but so many similar stories with fairy-tale-like endings... Click To Tweet

…whether I say anything or not, in my heart I wonder and pray.

I know how easy it is to get swept up in emotions, especially on Valentine’s Day, and how difficult it is to complete the hard work of reconciliation.  More than that, I know how little control either individual has over the outcome of relational issues.  It takes two committed hearts working toward a common goal to build a marriage, but it only takes one hard heart to destroy a marriage.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I firmly believe in God’s desire and ability to heal broken hearts and broken relationships.  And I firmly believe in God’s ability to perform mighty miracles.  I’ve seen His miraculous power first-hand.

Yet, in listening to this account, there were little tells that left me wondering… Click To Tweet

The fact that it was such an emotional instantaneous decision on St. Valentine’s Day…a day when emotions are likely to run high for divorcing couples.  The fact that they ‘just happened’ to both arrive at the church doors simultaneously…coincidence or contrivance?  The fact that neither party has yet apologized for anything…how serious can the reconciliation be with no discussion of issues and no repentance of wrongs?

Perhaps the brightest flag was his reference to saving a seat for his wife each Sunday…while actively pursuing divorce and purchasing another residence.  That’s not normal behavior.  One doesn’t come to church each week with sincere expectation of reconciliation while actively pursuing divorce every other day of the week.  So, why the behavior discontinuity?  One possibility (the one he seems to want us to believe) is that he was simply overcommitted in a relationship to a spouse who had no interest in reconciling.  BUT, the reserved seat seems a bit too showy for that level of sincerity…especially given how he slid that into the conversation to make sure we, the listening audience, all knew how gratuitous he was in his weekly seat saving.

No, to me, the saved seat comes across as being done largely for appearances…as a manipulation tool to influence the opinions of others.  In fact, it would be a classic abuser move, designed to jab guilt toward his victim while simultaneously eliciting compassion from the rest of the church (poor guy must be heart-broken…just look how he saves her a seat every week).

If we assume the saved seat was manipulation, we can also see how easily he could arrange to ‘coincidentally’ arrive at the church doors the exact same time as his wife on St. Valentine’s Sunday…knowing she would be particularly vulnerable on that day.

Then, for the ‘coupe de grace,’ call K-Love Radio first thing Monday morning, announcing the recommitment to the world while simultaneously giving God the ‘glory’ for the success of his manipulative scheme.  That publicly commits his wife whether she was ready or not, and by giving credit to God he projects the perception that to back out would be to act directly against God’s will.

Do you see how slickly that could be pulled off?

Now, you may be thinking I’m reading an awful lot into a few words…and you would be right.  The truth could be much more innocently naïve and much less malicious in nature.

Some would say I’m being cynical…that I’ve allowed my life experiences to make me too negative…too unbelieving.  I would say through my life experiences I have gained wisdom and discernment.

While I don’t know the truth of this specific situation, I do know the more sinister version is too often the reality.  And I do know Christians, in general, are often all too gullible and all too blind to evil.  Too often, we naively assume every marriage is worth saving, despite clear evidence to the contrary.  And that simple false assumption plays directly into the abuser’s manipulative schemes…duping good Christian people into believing the abuser is a saint while his victim is in need of repentance.

I’m not sure how I would have handled the caller if I had been with the K-Love team.  But I can tell you for sure I would not have affirmed to him he was ‘doing the right thing’ when there is a distinct possibility he may be doing great evil.  And I absolutely would not have said “Our spouse is never our enemy,” because I know sometimes a spouse is a great enemy indeed.

Your thoughts?

 

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

 

Healing

our family riding horses

Riding with family

When I married my Rodeo Queen, I understood horses and tack were part of the deal.  However, I had no idea as to the magnitude of cultural and language barriers to be overcome for effective communication.

On Monday, December 14, 2015, my doctor informed me the CT-scan of my neck showed a tumor-like mass.  Appointments were scheduled for PET-scan and biopsy surgery later that week.  We did not yet know whether the tumor was malignant, but my medical team was working under the assumption that it likely was.

In the course of one afternoon, Sherri and I were required to adjust our thinking from expecting my swollen lymph node to be a minor concern to realizing it was a huge concern.  It was a lot to try to wrap our minds around and emotions swirled.  We weren’t sure, yet, exactly what we were facing or how timing would play out, but we began to let employers know our work schedules would need to be flexible for a while.

Tuesday afternoon Sherri’s name popped up on my ringing phone.  I pressed the answer button with, “I love you!”  “I love you, too,” Sherri responded, “What did you think of that clinic I texted you about?”

I hadn’t received the text, but the mention of a clinic left me wanting time to process…to review, think, and pray.  Sherri had mentioned second opinions the night before.  While that sounded like a good idea, I wanted to get a diagnosis before we started soliciting more professional input.  My response to Sherri was brief, “I haven’t seen a text.”

“I sent you a text about a clinic.  I want you to look at it and tell me what you think. I’ll send it again, so you can look at it.”

“Okay, I’ll look at it.  What’s the name of the clinic?”  I assumed we were talking about a clinic within reasonable driving distance, such as UAMS in Little Rock or MD Anderson in Houston, but wondered if she was thinking something further away like Mayo Clinic.

“I don’t remember the name,” she responded, “but it’s a two-day healing clinic in mid-January.  I think it might be really good for us if you’re able to travel then.”

What?  I wasn’t sure exactly what a two-day healing clinic was…nor why Sherri was looking into it.  Sherri is very level-headed…not prone to rushing to try the latest health fad.  She also tends to have a healthy dose of skepticism toward spiritual things requiring more open-mindedness than her Baptist raising.  Of the two of us, I am the one more open to natural remedies and miraculous intervention.  Although I knew Sherri was upset about my impending diagnosis, this was totally unexpected.

And a two-day clinic?  What was supposed to happen in two days?  Was this two days of Pentecostal-style name-it-and-claim-it preaching with a five-step plan to claiming your healing in two days or less?  Or was it two days of charismatic info-mercial-style lectures proclaiming benefits of expensive herbs with an abundance of anecdotal testimonials combined with limited scientific study?  Either way, I was skeptical.

That’s what was running through my mind, but all that came out of my mouth was a stammered, “What? Two-day healing clinic!  I don’t…I don’t even know what that means.  What are you talking about? What…what is a two-day healing clinic?”

“It’s just a clinic…a two-day clinic to learn about healing.  I’ll resend the text explaining it.”

“Okay.  I’ll look at it, but we don’t even have a diagnosis yet.  I really think we need to focus on the PET-scan and tonsillectomy this week.”

Long pause…followed by a stifled giggle…

“Oh, Joe!  I’m so sorry!  It’s not a medical clinic.  It’s a team roping clinic….for Dawson.  A heeling clinic, as in roping a steer’s back legs.  It looks really good, but I don’t know if you’ll be able to travel by then.”

We both laughed out loud!  Some much needed levity in the midst of a confusing situation.

That’s life married to my Rodeo Queen!  🙂

One more small detail…

One week later I had a second surgery to remove the tumor which biopsy had shown to be cancer.  Coming out of anesthesia, my mind was focused on one thing, “I have to learn to team rope!  I want to team rope with Dawson, and I have to learn to rope!”  When Sherri came into the recovery room I greeted her with, “I have to learn to team rope!”

I’m not sure what that means.

People say some crazy things coming out of anesthesia, and maybe this was just my own craziness coming out.  Or maybe it was my subconscious giving voice to some deep seated desire.  Or maybe it was a subconscious recollection of the prior conversation with Sherri and the word play on healing and heeling.  Or maybe it was God, Himself, taking advantage of the quiet of anesthesia to get my attention.

I’m truly not sure.

But, as I’ve had time to think about it, the idea appeals to me.  I know I’ll never be competitive, but it would be pretty cool to learn to rope…and finding another activity to enjoy with an adolescent child is always a good thing.  Right now, I’m still recuperating from surgery and my right arm lacks the strength to twirl and throw a rope.  But maybe that’s exactly what I’ll need for physical therapy a few weeks from now.

Maybe I’ll find healing in heeling!

Sounds like a good goal, at any rate.  🙂

 

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

 

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 ]

 

Dear Anna Duggar

An open letter to Anna Duggar…and to others finding themselves in similar situations…

Dear Anna Duggar,

You don’t know me and I don’t know you or Josh.  I have, however, frequently thought of you and prayed for you over the past few weeks, as the daily news has dissected your marital relationship while exposing Josh’s infidelities.

According to reporters, your friends say “Anna will not leave him,” “She is fully and permanently committed to her marriage and her children,” and “Divorce is not even something that will be discussed.”  Your friend reportedly went on to say that you will try “on some level” to “absorb some of the blame…Maybe not publicly, ever, but privately, there will be some suggestion of whether or not she should have been more aware of the pressures Josh was under, of the issues he was facing, and how she could have better counseled him or helped him.”

Anna, your decisions and struggles during this time are yours alone, and I (a complete stranger) would not be so brazen as to attempt to tell you what decisions are right for you in this situation.

I want you to know my heart breaks for you.

I have some idea of the pain and confusion you must be experiencing, because I have faced similar situations.  Like you, I was raised believing that marriage is godly while divorce is ungodly…that divorce is always the fault of both parties…that God hates divorce…and that divorce is not an option for a true Christian.  And like you, I was faced with the reality of a repeatedly unfaithful spouse.  Although that marriage eventually ended in divorce, for many years I held the position your friend reportedly says you hold.  Determined to choose what I believed was the most godly course…to do what I believed was best for my family…I repeatedly renewed and restored fellowship, determined to avoid divorce.

My prayer for you is that you will learn of God’s grace through divorce more quickly than I did.  I pray the Holy Spirit will guide your reading of scripture and open your heart to understand God’s tremendous heart of grace and redemption toward His children who are in a covenant relationship with an oath breaker.  For your sake and the sake of your children, I pray you will at least seriously contemplate the possibility that divorce may be your best and most godly course of action.

I don’t know if divorce is the best choice for you.  How could I?  I do know you have some very difficult decisions before you.  I do know there is no easy path before you…that whether you choose divorce or reconciliation your path is filled with sorrow and anguish.  Divorce at least limits the anguish to a finite period of time allowing you and your children to heal and get on with life.  Reconciliation to an unrepentant adulterer is a path of never-ending pain and sorrow…lies continually renewed with freshly broken vows.

And therein lies the wrestling with your most difficult question, “Is Josh truly repentant?”

Your instinct will likely be (as reported by your friend) to believe he is truly repentant…because believing otherwise turns your entire life upside down.  And maybe he is…only God knows.

I pray you at least consider the very real possibility Josh may not be truly repentant…that he may go right back to the same traitorously adulterous behavior.  As harsh as that reality is to face, it is a very real possibility meriting serious exploration before making final decisions in regard to you and your children’s welfare.  Josh has repeatedly proven himself to be completely untrustworthy and entirely willing to egregiously violate his sacred marriage vows, fully realizing both the pain that causes you and your children as well the damage inflicted on your relationship.  Josh did not unintentionally ‘fall’ into an adulterous relationship with an acquaintance…rather he used the internet to actively seek out and pursue adultery.  To now take his word at face value would be neither wisdom nor faith.  Rather, it would be a refusal to accept reality.  Choosing to fully trust the proven untrustworthy is not inviting God into the situation.  Rather it is shutting the full reality of the situation out of the decision making process.

I pray you will not allow yourself to carry the burden of Josh’s guilt.  To do so is both unhealthy and unbiblical.  Yes, I’m sure you have made mistakes yourself.  That does not make you responsible for Josh’s sin.  There is a huge difference between unintentional minor mistakes and intentional egregious violations of sacred covenant vows.

Finally, my prayer for you is that God will use even this experience for your good and for His glory.  That whether this marriage is renewed or ends in divorce, you will learn God’s faithfulness in all of life’s circumstances.  I pray you will emerge from this with a deeper understanding of God’s heart of love and redemption and a fuller grace toward all of His children.

May God continue to richly bless and keep you, now and through eternity.

 

Sincerely,

Your brother in Christ, Joseph J. Pote

 

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