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Divorce (An amputation sometimes necessary for life)

When Aron Ralston fell into a deep crevice on the mountain, a boulder tumbled after him, pinning his arm. After days, Aron realized he had to choose between his arm and his life, and so he severed his arm with his knife.

127hours3106Divorce is an amputation. It cuts into each of you, into the “one” that God has joined together. So why, Jesus was asked, was divorce permitted at all? Jesus said it was because of the hardness of men’s hearts, meaning that when a hard heart breaks the marriage covenant, it may be merciful to allow the victim a divorce.

Malachi is often quoted where we read “God hates divorce,” but you must read that phrase in context, for so often this phrase has been used as a bludgeon to hammer the victims of divorce. God’s heart breaks for you! In Malachi He was THUNDERING against the men who tossed aside their wives for pagan women. He wept for those women and he wept for the men who were professing faith yet treating the “wives of their youth” treacherously. Eugene Peterson paraphrases it like this:

I hate divorce,” says the God of Israel. God-of-the-Angel-Armies says, “I hate the violent dismembering of the ‘one flesh’ of marriage.”


This was not how things were meant to be.

InThe Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller say that 2/3’s of couples who consider divorce, if they hang on, are happy in their marriages five years later. So often it is stubborn pride, rather than a broken covenant, that leads to divorce, and the couple will regret it for the rest of their lives.


But never will you hear me say again, the way I did when I was a know-it-all young Christian, “divorce is not in my vocabulary.” It’s in God’s vocabulary, so we must not be holier than God. God knows sometimes an amputation is necessary for life and gives exceptions, which we will study.

Our own gentle Nanci, whom I was privileged to meet and love, shares this testimony:

My first marriage was an emotionally destructive relationship…I was pelted with hurtful words and actions, disinterest, deceit; we attended counseling three different times in the 10 year relationship.  I have said before, I view the end of that marriage as a blessing; had that marriage not ended, I would not be enjoying the emotionally uplifting relationship with my husband of 14+ years…my daughters would have not witnessed the loving, kind, respectful relationship they witnessed…they would not have the “family” relationship “our family” provided that they now hold and value…  I reiterate…the steps are difficult and require calm, strength, and fortitude, but they will either benefit the marriage or benefit the individual.

May we have compassion, may we study these challenging and controversial passages with hearts open to what God might teach us for ourselves, our children, and our sisters and brothers in Christ.

On a personal note, I believe we must honor marriage and fight for it. Our hearts are deceitful and proud and usually divorce is regretted. Having said that, I also think that when there is unrepented and continual abuse, that it is abandonment (The Christianity Today article we will read this week takes that controversial stance) and that it takes courage and faith to separate and demand the spouse get help. Why? He or she may opt for divorce instead and you will need to trust God to be your husband. But abuse, physical or emotional, is so devastating to both the spouse and the children, and so likely to be passed to subsequent generations, that, in my opinion, separation in these situations takes the same kind of courage that Aron Ralston had in severing his arm.

Sunday Icebreaker:

1. What stands out to you from the above and why?

Monday-Wednesday Bible Study:

The prevailing teaching on marriage, beginning in Genesis, is that the two shall be one. The other commands about marriage, including divorce, flow from that central teaching.

God thunders at the men who have disregarded their holy union and instead of covering their wives with protection, have covered them with treachery. He is holding them accountable — as he did the husbands in 1 Peter 3:7.

2. Read Malachi 2:13-16

A. How are the men giving an appearance of godliness?

B. Why isn’t the Lord answering their prayers?

C. The Hebrew of verse 16 is difficult, but I do think Eugene Peterson caught it above. What is God saying?

D. If you are a victim of divorce or have a friend who is, how might this passage bring comfort?

3. In Mark 10 and Matthew 19, Jesus addresses divorce and adultery. Many Jewish men were divorcing their wives for “any cause,” even burning the toast.

A. What question in Matthew 19:3 is asked of Jesus?

B. How does Jesus go back to God’s plan for marriage in Matthew 19:4-6? What is He communicating about marriage and divorce?

C. What is the next question and answer from Jesus in Matthew 19: 7-9?

D. Challenge question: why does adultery break the marriage covenant?

E. What is the response of the disciples to this? Why, do you think?

F.  What does Jesus say in Matthew 19:10-12? What does this mean and how might this be applied?

Next week, when we look at the mystery of sex (and how it parallels our relationship with Christ) we will see it is a gift and it is wrong for groups to forbid it, as the Catholic church has for priests. (1 Timothy 4:3)

4. Read 1 Corinthians 7:12-16

A. Why, according to 1 Corin. 7:12-14 should a believer stay with an unbeliever and not file for divorce?

B. What exception is made in verse 15 and why? What do you think the phrase, “not enslaved,” or “not bound” means?

C. Why is abandonment the breaking of a covenant?

5. Now here is the controversial part. I agree with the following article from Christianity Today. He defines abandonment according to the Old Testament. This article drew heat however. Please read it, summarize it, and comment on it. (Please copy and paste) http://www.agathosministries.org/Sermons111107b.pdf

Thursday-Friday Sermon by Tim Keller

6. Please listen, summarize, and comment.



7. What is your take-a-way and why?

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  1. My takeaway:    This was a really rich week of digging in and looking at hard issues from different points of view, especially from those who so graciously shared their own stories.  This level of openness and back and forth expression in a group setting is rare and valued even though since it’s online, we aren’t able to quickly ask and answer questions of each other.    In some ways, it works better this way, for those of us who are high visual learners.  Helps to see words and process them and be able to come back to them.   (I like what Diane said though…….that if we were all in one class, we would probably drive the teacher crazy.  Smile.)  This is such an amazing group of earnest women.   So, rather than summarizing a few things that stood out to me, I think my biggest takeaway is that everyone has a story.  Everyone has a lens through which they see and experience these hard issues.   I admit that I would rather be studying the psalms where we can still sharpen and encourage each other, but usually without the risk of such a sensitive topic.  But, like others have said….it is good that Dee has taken us here.  Divorce is an issue that effects every single one of us in various ways and to varying degrees.  I am grateful for the resources shared here this week and once again, glad to have this lesson to look back on, when questions again arise.  I learned a lot.  I don’t have a precise conclusion about the material, but I have seen God’s redemptive hand in so many lives here this week.  Keller’s sermon was good!  I didn’t take many notes…..but enjoyed the word ‘haloop’; a covenant partner; a deep friend… and also the definition of ‘cleave’ being equivalent to a covenant.    I also relished his emphasis that the wedding ceremony is not primarily for the bride and groom to declare their present love for each other, but to promise their future love; something that is sometimes absent in ceremonies today.

    1. Wanda–I love how you put this “everyone has a story. Everyone has a lens through which they see and experience these hard issues.” I miss the Psalms too, and I am not a good “debater” of these hard topics the last few weeks…but I know the exercise has stretched me out of my comfort zone and I know that is good, as much as I like my comfort zone 🙂 I am thankful we do have a “safe” place here to discuss these things, and there is so much mutual respect and a common love for the Lord. I am learning SO much from you wise women! True Koinonia 🙂

  2. My takeaway is that the study of these scripture passages relating to divorce, such a hard issue, were a good way to look at God’s view of divorce and to hear each one’s interpretation. I have a deeper insight because of this and found the article very helpful as well. The context  and cultural aspects are helpful, also. Yes, we all have experienced this subject on a personal level which gives us a biased look. I didn’t hear the Keller sermon, since I didn’t see that it could be viewed without a cost and so missed that. I was interested to read more about Piper’s view and find he draws a hard line. I understand, but not all can accept this and it does affect children, also, in  adverse ways, as does divorce.
    The vivid introduction of the comparison to an amputation will always stick with me. thanks, Dee, for pulling us together to study this difficult subject.

    1. Shirley, “Yes, we all have experienced this subject on a personal level which gives us a biased look.”   I think this is my take-away.  In the past, I wrestled with this topic until I was in agony.  (This time, I was only half-way there!)    I feel as if I am trying to decide which bias is best and get nowhere.  The only way for me to turn over more rocks is to learn Hebrew and Greek. 

      When I asked someone about the I-B article and criteria for allowing divorce, he responded that it was similar to two teenagers who are dating asking “how far they can go.”  And I think that’s why this question ALWAYS puts me in agony — my focus no longer is on the Gospel.  A couple posts this past week reminded me of a sermon on the topic I heard this past year, a position which seemed to be in the middle of the continuum of Piper and Instone-Brewer (if it was even on the same continuum).   Seldom have I heard divorce/remarriage addressed with such humility and grace; the sermon was about sin and forgiveness, and the pastor pointed straight to the Gospel.  It’s not as if anyone was “off the hook.” (and it was hard to hear, but it also pointed us right to the cross). Julie’s example of asking for forgiveness even when her husband had been unfaithful was a powerful example of this. 

      I can see that (an amended version of) Instone-Brewer’s article would be helpful for someone currently in an abusive marriage who is receiving the “submission” message from the church, though I agree with Jackie that he omitted the importance of separation. But it’s confusing for me to use as any kind of foundation for decision making, partly because (as Kerryn described well) it excludes almost nothing as criteria for divorce, but mostly because it takes my focus off the Gospel.  I experience more freedom in seeking forgiveness than in justifying behavior.  I’d much rather take the perspective of extending grace because of God’s grace to me.  
      I know what the statistics are and the likelihood of changing abusive behavior, but I also know that believers aren’t bound by statistics.  Something that seemed to be missing in the article was the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives.    Though I COMPLETELY disagree with what Piper said about women submitting to abuse, I do respect his respect for a covenant.  And the lack of internal consistency with I-B’s arguments in the CT article ripped me up inside (his later clarifications helped).  I do know that if I agreed with everything Instone-Brewer has written, I wouldn’t fit into any of the evangelical churches around here (he does make a strong case for annihilation).  That’s maybe where my real struggle lies — just not so sure I want to be associated with evangelicalism because I’m no longer convinced it is the most Biblical approach to Christianity; there seems to be too much of a need to make Scripture fit our own personal and cultural biases.  I know how this topic impacts me, and at the beginning of the week, I wasn’t sure if I should participate at all.  Besides, I come from a long line of sinners, and if ancestors would have taken I-B’s perspective, part of my family would have become extinct.  Yet I see God’s redemption — in a family in which an abusive preacher had several children, a number who became abusive alcoholics…    Trying to determine whose biases are correct takes my focus off the Lord, my Redeemer and Comforter — and wears me out.  And I go through this when I try to look for loopholes in dating someone who is divorced and whose ex is not remarried.  I still believe that even in the situation in which a guy was abused by a wife who left him that I should pray that God would woo her to himself and restore their family — rather than allow something serious to develop between us.   This whole topic is way too real for me.  As much as I like the person and want loopholes, I want God more — and I believe he can restore that family; I know he is wooing the ex-wife.

      1. Renee thank you for sharing here. Your post really resonated many different things with me.  The comment trying to determine whose biases are correct takes my focus off the  Lord, my Redeemer and Comforter  and wears me out is one I can so relate to. Proverbs 3:5,6 is a life verse for me and it’s in EVERYTHING. I too enjoyed this study this week and it gave me a lot to pray over for my own life. I am glad you decided to take part along with everyone else.

  3. I know I have been gone awhile from commenting but have taken time to read your entries. :-0 “Everyone has a story”. Thanks, Wanda. True koinonia. Thanks, Elizabeth. So many stories of hardships and sorrows but the fingerprint of God has been evident as He “writes” our stories. Thank you, ladies for sharing.

  4.  My take-away and why?
    That we really do need our God to determine whether something as severe as an amputation is necessary in order for life to continue.  As Kerryn said, Divorce is a last resort, just as amputation is.    And in either case, whether we are facing amputation or not, we need each other’s support and encouragement as we journey on.  
    I Thess. 1:3  We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work of faith, labor of love, and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  
    God has designed us to need each other and to glean from each other’s stories.  Valuable.
    Grateful for you sisters here tonight.

  5. I am currently reading Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. Still at the beginning, and there is a very telling critique of the way our society experiences pain and suffering. Not well – avoidance is the major strategy. Our society thinks that pleasure and happiness is the purpose of life, and the increasing divorce rate may be related to avoiding the struggle of working through issues. As a strategy, it backfires, as divorce creates so much pain and suffering.
    I’ll explore Keller’s thoughts about singleness as a calling further. It opens my eyes to look for the opportunities of my current situation rather than focusing on the challenges.

  6. 6. Please listen, summarize, and comment.
    Keller says that divorce is not the unforgivable sin…I always learn so much from Keller’s clear, organized sermons.  From time to time when the subject of divorce is brought up, I think of Jesus saying on the cross, “it is finished”…and wondering why some deem this not to cover divorce.  Clearly, Jesus paid the price for all sins…divorce is “missing the mark,” a failure of sorts, sin…but as with other sin, Jesus covers us, He has paid the price for this failure.