One of the interesting arguments I’ve come across when counseling/giving advice to people in rough marriages is that “God cares more about the people more than the marriage.”
An interesting take that seems to be true on the surface, but it doesn’t actually take into account the Lord’s position and is actually wrong.
Consider the story of Jephthah:
Judges 11:29 Now the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, so that he passed through Gilead and Manasseh; then he passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he went on to the sons of Ammon. 30 Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, 31 then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” 32 So Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand. 33 He struck them with a very great slaughter from Aroer to the entrance of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel.
34 When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.” 36 So she said to him, “My father, you have given your word to the Lord; do to me as you have said, since the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.” 37 She said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions.” 38 Then he said, “Go.” So he sent her away for two months; and she left with her companions, and wept on the mountains because of her virginity. 39 At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man. Thus it became a custom in Israel, 40 that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.
Obviously, Jephthah makes a terrible vow, but both he and his daughter recognize that obeying the Lord is of the utmost importance even though it may result in his daughter’s death.
Related: Numbers 30 on vows and Jesus on avoiding rash oaths/vows (because of the seriousness of them).
Matthew 5:33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.
Of course, every husband and wife takes vows to enter into the covenant of marriage.
Yeah, it sucks if you’re in an abusive situation (an actual abusive situation, not just they’re not doing what I want). If there’s physical abuse, sure, there’s possible reason to separate and stay single or reconcile. However, Jesus gave us the best example: he was totally innocent and suffered violence and abuse so that we would be reconciled to God. If only husbands and wives would model Jesus’ example in order to win their spouse to God.
Christians today think so little of God that at any sign of “suffering or abuse” they are counseled that they have the right to leave their marriage. Jesus’ example of bearing our sin and suffering means nothing to them.
Instead, God cared so much that He sent His totally innocent son to suffer violence and abuse on our behalf, and He invites us to follow His example to win others to Himself.
I think that many of these people are going to be surprised by God’s judgment on judgment day when God says “why did you counsel others to divorce” and they respond with “their spouse was abusive” that their response doesn’t cut it.
This is also another reason why the “exception clause” in Matthew 19 does not refer to divorce but likely the betrothal view (Deut 22), which I covered in Divorce Part 7 Final.
Matthew 19:3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for any reason at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 7 They *said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8 He *said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to puts away your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 And I say to you, whoever puts away his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
10 The disciples *said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” 11 But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”
God does not invalidate your marriage vows despite how bad your spouse acts (“to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part”), which means the exception cannot mean that God allows for divorce.
Indeed, only death breaks the marital covenant:
Romans 7:2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3 So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.
1 Corinthians 7:10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
1 Corinthians 7:39 A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
The Lord and Paul are consistent about this fact, and most Christians gloss over 1 Corinthians 7:39. This also means that the “abandonment” earlier in 1 Corinthians 7 cannot be a reason for release from the covenant of marriage and by extension definitely does not allow remarriage.
1 Corinthians 7:15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.
Paul is saying that a believer is not under the “bonds of marriage” or the “roles and responsibilities of marriage.” They should stay single or reconcile as they are still married to them to be consistent with the other Scripture.
Finally, to circle back to the beginning: God cares more about you being faithful to Him and honoring your word than even your physical health.