What Does The Bible Say About Love, Marriage, Abuse, and Divorce?
God designed the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman to be holy and sacred union connected and dedicated to God. To understand how domestic abuse violates God’s design of marriage, let’s look at three foundational aspects in the Bible about living as Christ’s disciple first and then marriage.
Living as Christ’s Disciple in His Love
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV)
“And I, the King, will tell them, ‘When you did it to these my brothers, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:40, NLT)
Asking Jesus to be our Lord, means we are choosing to be his disciple. Being his disciple means we are responsible to learn his heart and character as we obey and practice his commandments, words, and ways in our life. We follow Jesus because of His unconditional love, mercy, grace, and sacrifice for us. As we follow him, he will transform our mind, words, and actions to look more like his.
Unfortunately, until we know Christ’s love design, we can only use the broken love definition and design we have formed from the messages, experiences, and role models in our life. Many of us are not aware that we have deemed many abusive words and actions “normal” that are unhealthy and even abusive because we are not taught was is healthy and what is abuse.
When you don’t know God’s truth, you will love according to your broken love design by default. We can only do what we know. This fact makes it vital for us to know God’s truth and Christ’s love definitions and designs.
Abuse is not a sickness or a condition. Abuse is a learned behavior and always a choice.
Serving Christ as his disciple is a life long journey that includes learning to love our spouse and other people like Jesus first loves us. When we learn and use Christ’s love in our lives, we will have no more abuse! Our marriages will follow the next two aspects of love below and thrive in Christ’s love.
25 And you husbands, show the same kind of love to your wives as Christ showed to the Church when he died for her, 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God’s Word; 27 so that he could give her to himself as a glorious Church without a single spot or wrinkle or any other blemish, being holy and without a single fault. 28 That is how husbands should treat their wives, loving them as parts of themselves. For since a man and his wife are now one, a man is really doing himself a favor and loving himself when he loves his wife! 29-30 No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body the Church, of which we are parts. (Ephesians 5:25-30, TLB)
The passage above illustrates that a Godly husband:
- Loves his wife selflessly, even if it means dying for her.
- Shows love for his wife by growing spiritually to help her grow spiritually.
- Loves and cares for his wife as he loves and cares for his own body.
God’s design of marriage places the husband as the wife’s partner, lover, protector, provider, and spiritual leader, not her dictator. When your husband loves you like Christ, there’s no room for being unkind or abusive. The husband is responsible for loving and treating his wife like he would treat Christ himself.
Most of my initial confusion about what the Bible says about divorce, abuse, and marriage began with the misuse and misinterpretation of the following Scripture about submission. Let’s read the Scripture first; then I’ll explain God’s context for submission.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5: 21-24, NIV)
The word submission is used over three dozen times in the New Testament. However, it’s not exclusive to marriage. We’re ALL called to submit ourselves to God. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7, KJV)
Submission comes willingly from the heart of God’s children to obey His word and his Son, Jesus Christ. God’s word instructs wives to submit to their husbands, in the sense of their leadership in their partnership, which mirrors the characteristics of Christ. We must never forget that there is only one ultimate authority in our life, and it’s God, not our husbands.
Submitting to God’s instructions doesn’t include submitting to anything sinful. God doesn’t instruct, nor does He want you to “submit to (your) husband in everything,” when he’s leading you into sin or sinning against you and God by abusing you. Abuse is sin, and it is NOT the will or design of God for your marriage.
How God Designed Marriage
To fully understand the original contract of marriage between two people, we must go back to the context of God’s word. One of the best presentations I have found comes from Pastor Brent Cunningham, from Timberline Church. Listen to his exploration and the explanation of God’s word concerning abuse and divorce. You will see how the marriage contract is set up to dwell in His love with protection and divorce when necessary.
After the video, take time to read the following scriptures and seek God’s guidance and peace.
Biblical Reasons for Divorce
There are two accepted reasons stated for divorce in the Bible: ”unfaithfulness or immorality” and “desertion.”
The word unfaithful in Hebrew is:
- Unfaithful or treacherous act (deceptive, untrustworthy, dangerous, hazardous);
- Trespass (encroachment on a person or their rights by force or violence, offend, sin, commit unlawful act causing injury) against man or God.
Unfaithfulness isn’t just about adultery. An abusive husband is “unfaithful” to the sacred holy covenant of marriage he made with his wife before God the minute he begins abusing her. He promised to love, respect, and honor her.
A husband’s sinful acts of domestic abuse and criminal violence is a “treacherous act and a trespass” against his wife. Abuse and violence is NEVER love, respect, or honor. His sinful abusive behaviors break his holy promise of faithfulness; not the victim’s courage to tell the truth and make him accountable or her choice to stop the abuse through a separation or divorce. The victim is not the unfaithful spouse, the unfaithful spouse is the abuser.
The Hebrew meaning for the word desertion in the King James dictionary is to forsake; to leave utterly; to abandon, and to quit loving or serving.
Desertion isn’t just the absence of a person. Desertion covers loving your spouse like Christ, physical, emotional, mental, financial, sexual, and spiritual actions in a marriage. Even if an abusive husband is living at home, his abuse has created desertion through his words and actions by bringing fear, pain, being unloving, and abandonment from the abuse.
God Hates Divorce
I know how you struggle to find God’s answers when you believe that you’re trapped in your abusive marriage because you’ve been told, “God hates divorce.” This verse is one of the most misused verses keeping victims believing they have no option but to let their husbands abuse them.
This scripture comes from the book of Malachi, who was a prophet whose chief concern was the Israelites dishonoring treatment and disobedience to God. Malachi’s verse is about God’s marriage to Israel. And is not what the bible says about divorce and abuse between a man and a woman.
Catherine Clark Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark, in No Place for Abuse, pages 31-32, explain:
When we announce that [God] hates divorce, we do not add that the same verse declares that God hates violence. Indeed the (Malachi 2:16) passage is translated alternatively by the New International Version thus: “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering his wife with violence as with his garment,” says [God]. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith (emphasis added).
God created divorce because he knew our flaws. God NEVER says that He hates the person who chooses to get divorced. Remember, the abuser is the one who is sinning and breaking the covenant of marriage, not the victim trying to stop the abuse, to hold her abuser accountable, to seek help, to separate, or to divorce.
Your vows of marriage are made from love and respect. You didn’t promise to allow your husband to manipulate, threaten, coerce, or abuse you and your children for the rest of your life. Your abusive husband is the one who is acting abusive by choice, and he alone is responsible to repent, which is to renew his mind to be the mind of Christ and to turn completely away from the sin of abuse.
It will take many years of individual counseling, with support and accountability for an abuser to learn how to think, talk, and behave in Christ’s exceptional love. Because abuse is a learned behavior, not an illness or a condition, there’s no instant cure or healing.
I know how hard it is to come to a decision to recognize and to stop the abuse in your marriage. All I can tell you is that it’s NOT God’s will for you or your children to be abused and the Bible is often misinterpreted in what it says about divorce and abuse. If you choose to stay in your abusive marriage, you must realize that you are teaching and normalizing the cycle of domestic abuse for your children. You also need to know that, “33% of male abusers were abused as children,” according to the DomesticAbuseShelter.org.
I will not tell anyone to get a divorce because a divorce is a personal choice each victim must make with Christ. Victims have been living controlled in abuse, so telling them to stay or to get a divorce is transferring control to the influencer.
The victim must decide what they will do with God. while learning about Christ’s love design to know what is healthy. The only way to change the understanding and quality of your love is to learn God’s truth about Christ’s love from the Bible and through his life. Jesus you to live in his abundance, which doesn’t include abuse, because abuse goes against his heart, character, and love.
If you have discovered that you are in an abusive Christian marriage, you are not alone. DO NOT do anything rash! Don’t confront your husband and create a dangerous situation for yourself. You already know how difficult and dangerous it can be when your husband blows up. Take some time and pray for God to bring you His truth and clarity about your marriage while you find a Christian counselor experienced with domestic abuse.
I do recommend victims of domestic abuse who are in immediate danger to contact their nearest women’s shelter or to call the abuse hotline, 1-800-799-7233 so that you can create a safety plan together. My primary focus with victims of domestic abuse is for their safety and their children’s safety. I stand with the heart, character, and example of Christ on earth, which is in direct opposition to any form of abuse from strangers or people who profess to love you.
Reverend Al Miles, author of Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know sums up the reality of abuse for Christians. “As Christians, we must never put the sanctity of a marriage covenant before the safety of a woman and her children. A marriage where domestic violence is present is not a sacred bond. It is an unhealthy and unsanctified union (damaged entirely by the perpetrator’s behavior) that not only wounds but could also bring death to women and children.”
As disciples of Jesus, each of us is responsible to love, to speak to, and treat one another as if they were Christ himself in front of us. We are all to obey the greatest commandments, which are the opposite of domestic abuse.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 NIV
Each of us will be held accountable. “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Matthew 25:40 NLT
Recommended: Do one thing at a time, but keep moving forward!
- Find a Christian Counselor experienced in domestic abuse.
- Find a Pastor and church who support victims of domestic abuse and domestic violence.
- Join a women’s Bible study and grow a personal relationship with Jesus.
- Join a support group with the goal of moving forward and growing in your faith.
- Find a Christian life coach to help you keep moving forward.
Books to Read:
Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know sums up the reality of abuse for Christians, by Reverend Al Miles
Quest for Exceptional Love: Transform your love and relationships through Christ’s love design, by Darla Colinet (Coming Soon!)
No Place for Abuse, by Catherine Clark Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark
The Verbally Abusive Relationship, Expanded Third Edition: How to recognize it and how to respond, by Patricia Evans
Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
Keeping the Faith: Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse, by Marie M. Fortune
DO YOU KNOW ?
1 in 3 women experience abuse in their lifetime. However, Native American women are abused 4 times the national average, and they are 10 times more likely to be murdered.
Abuse and Domestic Violence are the least talked about, addressed, and provided with resources pandemic in the Christian church today.
The cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $8.3 billion per year. Medical costs, physical and mental, make up for 70% of the total.
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