When it comes to emotive issues (abortion, property rights, Biblical womanhood, etc), I tend to have firm, unwavering opinions. Divorce is one thing about which I have had a stubborn stand for a long time. In my view, until very recently, it was just never permissible for any serious Christian couple.
As far as I was concerned, every couple was supposed to agree as they walked into marriage that the D word was banned and would never come up. There was no leaving, and if one person left, the other would do like Voddie Baucham and follow. There was no room for a prenup, either. If you divorced, you were to stay single. After all, nobody is forced or paid to say their marriage vows. You have had time to get to know the person. You have gone into it with your eyes wide open. You have brought children into this world, for whom you are responsible. You got married; you made your bed. Lie in it. God is not mocked; reap what you sowed. I often told my friends that if I got married and my husband ever asked for a divorce, I would refuse, and I would get the best lawyers and fight it until I won. My simple reason was that it is bad manners to waste my time and youth chasing and wooing me, use up all my good years and my body, eat my food, put children in my stomach, then say you want to walk away.
Yes, divorce is a harrowing experience. Myles Munroe says death is better than divorce because when a person dies, there is closure, but if you ask a woman ten years after divorce about her ex-husband, the pain will still be evident. I’ve tried this just to see if he was right and you’d best believe he was. Yes, divorce takes a huge toll on the children and is sin. Yes, it should be the last option, if it ever is an option. But quite frankly, my view was merciless and judgmental, and God slowly began to chip at my stubborn stand. He even revealed the real reason behind it, which was bitterness about something in my past.
The first thing that happened was my realization that if every sin (except the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit) is forgivable, then divorce must be forgivable. And if divorce is forgivable, then God forgives divorce.
It felt so strange. And the fact that it felt strange just revealed the pride in me. Do you mean to tell me, I must have thought, that some divorced people will get into the same heaven I expect and hope to get into?
Shortly after that, a friend of mine tried to hook me up with a man he told me was wonderful, godly, faithful, but… divorced. This friend is someone I look up to in the faith, so I wondered why he would try to hook me up with a divorced man. He told me there had been no adultery on the man’s part; the man’s wife had left. Fair enough. But it still bothered me. Divorced? Ai… no, no, no. It was weird. So I began to search the scriptures.
And then Google. And I still maintain that God guides my Googling, because I came across JimFeeney.org. My forehead creased as I read his views on divorce. Was this man saying divorce was permissible? Eh eh? Even forgivable? And remarriage was okay after that? I looked through his website, trying to find signs of apostasy. I had my misgivings about the fact that he said he was Pentecostal, because in this day and age that often conjures up images of Praise-A-Thons and Laughing Festivals. But as I scoured through his notes and his beliefs, I found that these misgivings were unfounded; I had no reason to believe the site was not legit.
Well, the hookup with the divorced man did not happen. We sort of missed each other and so on, and we decided God had other plans. I’m so glad we did, because…
Enter Mr. Man, a few months later. He and I do not believe that relationships are a time to just kiss around and discover each other’s bodies. Like the late Pastor Bimbo said, courtship is “a time for interview, not intercourse.” So we’ve beaten pretty much every topic to a pulp. But his views on divorce were a little surprising to me. When we discussed this topic, he told me that he was of the opinion that women should not stick things out because of the children or society, or even because of fear. If they get to the point where they no longer recognize themselves and their lives are in danger, they should walk.
Eh ehhhhh???? Am I in Laodicea?
The first time we had this conversation was a few months after my JimFeeney experience. Still, I was ready to put on sackcloth and ashes and wail ceremoniously in repentance for getting into a relationship with a heathen, pagan man (not really, lol). But how could my own man – saved man of God! – think divorce was ever an option? The second time we spoke about it, well… take out the wailing and change “heathen” to “man who has been spoilt by education and America” (again, not really). And of course, being me, I made it clear that I was appalled by his stand (really). Being him, he patiently listened and made the appropriate “mmhmm” sounds at the appropriate junctures, knowing I would go and think about it on my own, later, and see that he was just being practical and was probably right.
Well, because I’m passionate about relationships, I try to catch Men on NTV Uganda whenever I can. On Monday, I watched an episode that really touched me. It was about why people stay in difficult relationships. At first, I thought Frank Gashumba was just being loud and obnoxious and needed to go sit in a corner, but I decided to pay attention to this most-interesting of episodes, instead of being mean and disrespectful to my elders. As the details of Gashumba’s and Maungo Nyarugasira’s stories began to come out, I felt such compassion for the women and men who have walked out of relationships that didn’t work. And I remembered people like my dear cousin whose immediate family members, knowing that her husband was HIV+, told her to honor tradition and her marriage and return to him. Here’s a clip:
So what’s my current take? I think I’ve come a long way, and I pray that I am not backsliding in the name of giving and receiving grace. I think that before anyone decides to walk into a marriage, he or she should take the time required to get to know the other person. This doesn’t have to be an absurdly lengthy process; I maintain that it’s possible to date for 8 years and not know the important things about someone, and it’s possible to date for 8 months and know all the crucial information that is required to make a decision for or against pursuing marriage. The key is using time wisely. Like Mr. Man says, it’s easier to stay out than to get out. It’s better to take all 8 years to get to know a person than to rush to marry in 8 months and live a life that is less than abundant.
Secondly, I believe that during the premarital period, couples should discuss deal breakers. I still think that the D word should be banned, because as human beings, when we allow our minds to permit certain outcomes, we are less likely to fight against these outcomes. At the same time, articulating exactly what each party is not willing to put up with will help a couple both work just that much harder to avoid these dealbreakers. Assumptions will not cut it. There is something about articulation that seals deals. The Bible speaks expressly about divorce being permissible if one spouse is adulterous, and while I am sure that God, who is merciful and forgiving, would want us to extend that same forgiveness to each other, He is a God who understands our frame. I have not come across any verse that speaks outright about abusive husbands or wives (although Ephesians 5 would be a good place to start). However, I know that God values us as individuals and does not condone abuse. Wisdom is the principal thing; discuss the “risk” deal breaker. Marriage is not supposed to kill you; it is supposed to make you flourish. Because companionship is a key reason for marriage, no spouse should abandon the other.
Thirdly, I believe that every couple should do everything it takes to save their marriage. When I was about eight years old, a cousin of mine, who is much older (I actually call her ‘Aunt’) called me aside and told me something I will never forget: Every family has problems. Communication, commitment, friendship, counseling, and every other possible, godly avenue should be exhausted not just because of the investment that marriage requires of people, but also because God’s will is peace and reconciliation, and with Him, all things are possible. This is the wife or husband of your youth; the person that people could not tear you away from once upon a time. That love must still be somewhere in there.
Finally, if none of these things work despite the couple genuinely trying their best, and if a woman’s (or man’s, or child’s!) life is in danger, then I believe it’s time to walk. I do not believe a man or woman should be a wuss and break away due to “irreconcilable differences” or some such ambiguous reason. But if a wife is cheating, that’s thousands of possible sexually transmitted diseases, and that’s life-threatening. If a husband beats his wife, that’s life-threatening. I never, ever thought I’d see the day when I’d say this, but I think that in such cases, a divorce would be permissible, and God would side with the harmed party. The two clear-cut issues where the Bible permits divorce are adultery and abandonment by an unbeliever. I would say that just from my understanding of God’s heart, abuse is another reason, but I have no scriptural backing for this.
Knowing there is grace makes it a little easier to fight on for a marriage, doesn’t it? Divorce should be the absolute last resort. But for those who are unmarried, I’ll reiterate my wise boo’s words: It is easier to stay out than to get out.
What do you think? Is it ever okay for a man or woman to walk away from his or her marriage, or have I refused to embrace sound doctrine, having itching ears and heaping up teachers who say what I want to hear?
Pea.You might also like: