Practical Theology: Marital Hostages

A buddy of mine, Oswald, married a terrible woman many years ago.  Oswald was young and dumb and probably lacked chest hair, so he wasn’t the greatest find, either.  Over the last 20 years, Oswald has tired of her antics, her verbal abuse of the children, her affairs.  He walked out about 18 months ago and other than periodic visits to the child, he’s been out of her life.

In the last 8 months, Oswald has found a God-sized hole in his heart and has successfully filled that void.  He drops by the house once or twice a week for coffee and sugar-free pastries (he’s diabetic).  Recently, he decided to whine to me.

“Had another meeting with the wife and her lawyer.  I don’t understand – she won’t give me the divorce.  Demands that I pay off her debts so that she can afford to raise our 14-year old.  What more does she want?  I let that adulteress have the house and the land.  I gave her my dog for security, though she promptly starved it to death and dumped his body in the street.  I did not dispute custody, or money, or lay out her dalliances with her boy toys.  I pay for the kids’ schooling and clothes and medical care.  I just want to be done with her.”

See, the problem is that Oswald did his spiritual homework.  He knows he is free to divorce her due to her sexual sins.  As well, he knows that since he is divorcing her for proper cause, he’ll eventually have the right to pursue another woman to keep him company.  The only hang-up is his wife’s refusal to sign the papers.

He went on….

“Here in Ecuador, if she won’t give me an uncontested divorce, then I have to wait three years for the judge to order the divorce despite her refusal to sign.  That means that because she couldn’t avoid playing the field, romantically speaking, I don’t have the right to be free.  I have to wait three years, right?  Didn’t the Bible say all I needed was some certificate of divorce?  Somewhere in Matthew?  Well, here in Ecuador we don’t have that. We have angry wives holding their departing spouses hostage over money and jealousy.”

So….what do I tell Oswald?  Do I tell him that the Bible leaves it up to culture to define the process for divorce and he just gets to suck it up?  Can I justify telling him to date who he wants since the papers have been filed and they are proof of his intent to divorce her?  Do I tell him to create a certificate of the divorce like the earliest believers would likely have done?

Anyone with a great answer?




  1. Dave Miller says

    No great answer, but I can tell you what I’ve told believers who had legitimate grounds for divorce. The greater glory of God is always to heal and to restore a marriage, and to seek to be God’s agent of grace.

    On the other hand, if he believes that divorce is the only option, he probably has to submit to the process a nation sets. Not much way around that.

    Tell him its a chance to build character! My kids always loved that.

  2. Debra says

    My advice would not make him happy…but If he followed it, it would help him become holy. As he is under the laws of the country in which he lives, he is still married until he gets the final divorce. He must remain faithful to the commitment he made to his wife, before God when they first married. But God has a plan. God wants to use this time to grow him, help him learn that Christ is all sufficient in times like these, and to do that Oswaldo needs to stay “woman-free” for a while. God needs to be his all right now. He may be surprised with what God will do. Can he take this time to learn to trust fully in God? To grow in the knowledge of the Lord? He has a faithful friend whose name is Jeremy who will help him walk this road. You, Jeremy are someone who can be strong for him and always nudge him to look towards God in all he goes through. He may fall, but you can help pick him up and head him back in the right direction as he learns to repent and be forgiven and enter once again into obedience. It won’t be easy. It’s going to stretch him and try him. Temptations will be great. But this is his wilderness to travel through. It is in the wilderness that God prepares us, makes us stronger, and brings us into holiness. Oswaldo needs his time in the wilderness more than he knows. This wilderness is not a surprise to God, it’s part of his plan. Its hard for most of us to accept that God’s desire for us is to be holy, not necessarily happy. But with holiness comes true joy, and no woman can ever take that away from him. With Holiness he will become who he needs to be to enter in, in the future, in a godly, joyful, fulfilling relationship. God has much bigger plans for this next few years than just a woman for him. And who knows, God may be working to shorten that time greatly. As Oswaldo learns to be faithful to his marriage vows until the divorce is through, he will learn to appreciate the importance of God’s faithfulness to us, even though we have been consistently unfaithful to him through our lives. Give him another out, and he will miss out on the best thing he could ever have to go through!

  3. Beth says

    The wife is twisting the knife in Oswald, so to speak. Since he is trying to follow the Lord, I think that it would be fair to warn her if she doesn’t stop, that the Lord can take revenge on her. Galatians 6:7. She will reap what she sows. I suggest that you teach him to seek the Lord, and find out if He wants him to divorce her. If yes, then he will have to go through the 3 years. If no, then it may be that God will do something in the miracle area. Who knows?

  4. Debra says

    “God knows when something glorious in the future necessitates something difficult in the present.” (B. Moore)

  5. Chris Roberts says

    First, he’s not challenging custody to a woman like that why? Second, if he’s married, he’s married.

      • cb scott says

        “The legal environment is going to favor the woman in divorces as it relates to custody. No real point here in challenging that.”

        Then he should live single as a solitary man and be a man, watching out for his children from afar. He needs to come to grips with the fact that once a guy has children, he is not a free man to do as he pleases ever again. From the day a guy has a child in his life, he is a father. That should mean far more than it does in our American culture, Oswaldo’s culture, or any culture, if a man is a follower of Christ. it is a crying shame that it does not.

        • Jake Barker says

          I saw a post from a friend on FB today….perfect description of you. First thing I thought was this guy was describing CB…..I even expected him to name you in it but not. Forgive the coarse language….it’s only one word’s worth and Dave can delete it if he chooses to. Consider it my winter solstice, happy new years gift to you CB. 😉
          “An American Badass can be a man or woman. One needs to be a role model and lead by a positive example. An American Badass doesn’t start fights, but knows if he must fight, he can with courage and conviction. An American Badass doesn’t steal, lie, or subvert the society he lives in. He lives by a code of unwavering morality, and ethics that are tempered with honor, honesty, integrity, leadership, and loyalty to family, friends, and America.” Dr. Dale Comstock (Army Ranger, Paratrooper, Special Forces, Delta Force, combat veteran multiple theaters)

  6. cb scott says

    “First, he’s not challenging custody to a woman like that why? Second, if he’s married, he’s married.”

    Chris Roberts,

    Right as the rain, especially on the question of custody.

    If the woman is as this post declares her to be, he is not much more than she if all he is concerned about is pursuing “another woman to keep him company.” His primary human relations concern should be his child/children, not finding a new female to keep him company.

    • says

      I think I just heard the Hallelujah Chorus as I read your comment, cb. This is the sort of message too rarely taught these days. We are called to live sacrificially, not work to get all our felt needs met.

  7. Christiane says

    if he has a fourteen year old child in the middle of all of this trouble, that is where his attention and caring and loyalty needs to be . . . throwing money at the child for ‘needs’ does not take the place of being a real father and it’s not the money that really matters to that child

    other ladies? he can’t deal legally or personally with the one he’s married to now, so taking on another ‘relationship’ would complicate the matter, not provide him with a solution in his personal life

    the child needs a father, divorce or no divorce . . . that should be the primary concern without doubt

  8. Philip Miller says

    Having gone through a situation not that different, I would just say this. If he is a true believer and has been discipled, he probably already knows what is right and what he needs to be doing. What he needs from you is two fold; someone who hears his pain and struggling, and second someone who gently but consistently points him back to biblical truths that others in this comments stream have already pointed out. He needs to be heard and reminded. In other words he just needs a good pastor. The truth will in the long term set him free if he submits to it.

  9. Greg Harvey says

    I have to admit: this situation, even though I know it is from “real life”, feels manufactured.

    I can’t stop my brain from the thought that comes next: what if life really is a reality show with Satan scripting the situations in order to test our faithfulness not just to God but to the principles of our faith?

    In that case, we’d note that the Adversary knows us through studying us and uses tactics specifically designed to attack us at points of weakness. It’s not particularly surprising, then, that an attack would be levied at those relationships that are so important and even help define who we are to those around us. He did something very similar with Job’s wife and arguably also with Hosea’s wife.

    But–as Joseph phrased it regarding his brothers–what Satan intends for evil, God intends for good. This man can out-fox this attack by accepting the situation and remaining faithful. It is roughly the equivalent of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah responding to Nebuchadnezzar:

    Daniel 3:16-18 (HCSB)

    “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. 17 If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. 18 But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”

    I also agree that the best way to do this is to do what CB recommends.