Your best friend, Annie, finally works up the courage to make a coffee date with you and get real. “I just can’t do it anymore,” she says, eyes downcast as she traces the outline of her cup. “I constantly catch him watching pornography; he puts me down all the time; he is forceful in the bedroom. A couple times lately, he really lost his temper and scared the kids badly. I don’t know what to do. God wants us to honor marriage no matter what, right?” What do you say?
Another friend, Monica, calls you often with complaints about her husband. It seems he can never do anything right, and you’re concerned that Monica has started to obsess about what a “man of God” your church’s new, single pastor is. You suspect Monica might be getting a bit infatuated. You’re concerned about her. Could she be considering divorce?
Meanwhile, a third friend, Mary Ann, is consumed with guilt about the past. After studying the Bible, she has come to the conclusion that she divorced for selfish reasons, not biblical ones. Because her ex-husband is remarried, Mary Ann can’t remedy this wrong. She is having a terrible time hearing anything you tell her about God’s forgiveness.
When we face challenging marital circumstances (whether they are our own or those of our loved ones), we may struggle with deep, hard questions: What are the biblical grounds for divorce? Are my marriage struggles just the product of two sinners marrying? Or are these struggles legitimate grounds for divorce? How can God’s Word help me discern what is right?
Many Americans (and Christians) Are Divorcing Today
The National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University reports that out of every 1,000 married women in 2014, 17.6 experienced a divorce that year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention base their numbers off of total population rather than only married people. They found that, in 2014, there were 6.9 marriages per 1,000 members of the total population, while there were 3.2 divorces or annulments per 1,000 members of the general population that same year. (It’s important to note that, by and large, the number of those marrying in any given year is not the same group which is divorcing.)
But what about Christians? Are we doing any better? It depends. In Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites . . . and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, sociologist Bradley R.E. Wright reports findings from The General Social Survey (from 2000 to 2006): “Contrary to popular belief, Christians and members of other religions have lower divorce rates, about 42%, than do the religiously unaffiliated, about 50%.” He goes on to explain that, for evangelicals, regular attendance at religious services makes a big impact on the divorce rate: “60% of the never-attendees had been divorced or were separated compared to only 38% of the weekly attendees.” While regular church attendance does seem to make a difference in the health and preservation of marriage, nonetheless divorce rates are still pretty high in the church. In his book, Wright says, “The percentage of divorced or separated Evangelicals almost doubled from the 1970s to the 2000s (25 to 46%).”
Marriage: A Lifelong Commitment
Scripture consistently communicates that marriage is a lifelong commitment. Jesus described the relationship between husband and wife this way in Matthew 19:6: “They are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (NIV). Dr. Craig Keener, Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, explains how crucial this understanding is, saying, “Jesus reminds us that in the beginning God joined man and woman together. ‘One flesh’ often refers to one’s relatives or kin, so the husband and wife becoming ‘one flesh’ should be a family unit no less permanent than our families of origin should be.”