I saw something today I’ve seen or heard too many times. In a conversation about a woman whose husband has been found out to be abusive, someone declares that she must stay because God hates divorce. As I read those words I thought of the first time I was faced with this situation in real life.
I sat on the floor of my living room and wept as my friend told me what she’d been keeping hidden. Her new husband was abusive. He yelled, frightened, and threatened her. He never hit her directly, but sometimes threw things at her. He had been hurting her emotionally & psychologically, and scaring her physically, since before they even got married. He had groomed and manipulated and coerced her. He had threatened her. He was an abuser.
I had known something was wrong. But I never guessed this. And never guessed that after I heard all the things she’d been afraid to tell me, that I would be counseling one of my best friends to get divorced, just a few months after standing in a bridesmaid’s dress as she promised what should have been a lifetime.
I was a little surprised at my certainty. Sadness, but certainty. There was no question in my mind this was correct or biblical counsel.
God hates divorce, yes.
He hates it.
Marriage is a supposed to be picture of the Gospel. And so, when it is broken it paints a false gospel of grace that is not enough and love that does not endure all things.
As much as God hates divorce, because it distorts this picture of the Gospel covenant, how much more does He hate an idolatrous idea of marriage in the Church that puts this picture-this good gift of God- on a pedestal so much that it is more important than people made in His image and redeemed by His own Body.
Marriage is not a picture of the Gospel simply because it is permanent.
Permanence is an outcome of covenant.
And in covenant, where one party is more powerful, that party is also more responsible- more accountable- to seek and maintain the good of both parties.
So when we look at covenant marriage, the person with more power is (usually) the husband. Not because men have inherent authority or worth over women, but because they are largely bigger, stronger, and in a context where they are given more voice and privilege culturally. Women are the weaker vessel- that’s a physical and cultural reality. So men have responsibly toward women, husbands toward their wives. To love as Jesus does
Marriage is a picture of the Gospel not because of a permanece, and definitely not because of ownership or subservience of one class of people to another.
But it is because of a Bridegroom who lays down His very life for his Bride whom he loves not just sacrificially, but radically.
Radically giving up power, position, privilege.
Radically lowering Himself to servanthood.
Radically offering grace and mercy and unconditional love and value and worth.
Radically going before Her, so to absorb every punishment and pain Himself. In His own Body.
Marriage is not a picture of the Gospel when it is permanent. Marriage is permanent when it is a picture of the Gospel.
A man physically, emotionally, spiritually or sexually abusing a woman (or child, or anyone) is preaching a FALSE GOSPEL.
It is the opposite of the gospel.
To tell a woman, “stay & pray for your husband because God hates divorce, but wants to use you to save him,” is to preach a false gospel. To blame a woman for her husbands predation is to preach a false gospel. To tell a woman or child to forgive her abuser, and that forgiveness means keeping him in abusive power over her, is preach a false gospel.
It is to declare that an image bearer of the Father, for whom the Son laid down His life, and in whom the Spirit breathes life, is less important to the heart of God than an institution, an idea, a picture.
To declare she is less important to the heart of God than her husband (abuser).
To declare that justice and protection for the weak are a hindrance to the salvation of the wicked.
This is a lie.
This is the opposite of Jesus.
And it is the opposite of biblical covenant marriage, because it is the antithesis of a biblical narrative that over the course of centuries counter-culturally and radically protects and lifts up women more and more and more- flipping power on its head and pouring out mercy where there is weakness.
This biblical narrative over and over again tells stories of men who prophesy Jesus, as they lift up women from circumstances of pain and neglect and shame and abuse.
Boaz redeems & honors Ruth.
Hosea chases after Gomer with unconditional love.
Nowhere in scripture is it the woman’s job to be hurt for the sake of her husband. Nowhere is it the child’s job to be used instead of loved. Nowhere is it the innocent lamb‘s job to welcome the wolf. Nowhere.
Real covenant marriage is reflective of a Bridegroom who unfailingly responds to every circumstance with self-sacrificial love for His Bride.
Or it is not covenant marriage.
In Jesus’s day the Pharisees had turned a good gift of God (and picture of the Gospel) into an idol.
They had lifted up the Sabbath so high above the very people it was given to and for, so that abuses of power and privilege came at the expense of the lowly and vulnerable.
Jesus corrected them and they hated Him for shining light on the brokenness of their self-proclaimed righteousness.
Let us not be like them, making idols of good gifts, until we have stripped them of the very things that make them good.
God hates divorce.
But not more than He loves people.
He hates divorce BECAUSE He loves people and their flourishing. Divorce is always brokenness and suffering, not flourishing.
But so is abuse.
Even more so, because it is brokenness and suffering, wrapped in a false gospel of legalism.
And that’s not righteousness, it’s idolatry.
*Story of friend told with permission.
**Leaving an abuser is hard enough. It is almost impossible for most women. What if instead of being another hindrance to safety and healing, the Church were an avenue of help?