Divorce - Reasons for it

What’s the difference between fornication and adultery? Do those terms refer to physical acts, not a “lusting in your heart” type of act, between a spouse and someone other than who they are married to? If a person does do something along those lines, could a marriage be so damaged that God allows for a divorce?

Fornication is any sex outside of marriage. So people who are not married to each other and who are having sex are guilty of fornication. But they are only also committing adultery if one or both of them is married.

Jesus went one step further with these issues. He said, “Even if you look at a woman and you lust for her, you’ve already committed adultery in your heart.” So in a sense, everybody has committed that form of adultery. You might say. “And that’s why we need the blood of Jesus to forgive us and to cleanse us.”

Jesus absolutely allowed for divorces. That’s why the Scripture allows for that in 1 Corinthians 7 and Matthew 19. Moses even allowed for it back in the Old Testament. However, the only marriage that is beyond repair is one where there’s hardness of heart.

In other words, adultery itself is repairable. If somebody has committed adultery, you can recover from that. But the actual hardening of your heart that comes – and the betrayal of trust that comes – from that adultery is a much more difficult hill to climb than just forgiving the adultery itself.

Forgiveness has to be given – period. The blood of Jesus forgives us, so we have to forgive others whether or not they are sorry. But often trust has been betrayed and hardness of heart has taken root. Those are the things that you have to address and decide whether you can overcome.

I’m obviously not endorsing divorce, but after you’ve exhausted every other measure and every other way to reconcile that relationship, then obviously it is permissible in the Word of God.

Divorce - Reasons for it

My husband and I are currently seeing a Christian marriage counselor. And my husband has habitually viewed pornography for two years. Our counselor has said that my husband has broken our marriage covenant. He very strongly disagrees with that and does not believe that he has broken the covenant. He bases that on Matthew 5, I think, where the Lord is talking about lusting after a woman and committing adultery in your heart and I just wondered what your thoughts are on that.

Well, you’re bringing up two points. Number one, what are our thoughts on what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 5 about a man lusting and committing adultery? And the other point you’re bringing up is whether what your husband has done constitutes breaking his covenant with you? And my view of that is as wrong as it is that your husband has given in to pornography for the last two years, that does not constitute that he has broken his covenant with you because he still wants to be married to you and he still wants to get the counseling and get the help that is needed in the situation.

So, no, he’s not broken the covenant with you. The only time that he would break his covenant with you is if he divorced you in his heart first and then legally. Legal is just the paperwork that catches up with what people have already done in their heart. So, it doesn’t sound to me, from what you’ve said, that he has not done that. It sounds to me like he has an emotional crisis in his life, an emotional problem and weakness in his life, and he needs to continue to get counseling to overcome the problem with lust that he has. That’s what he needs. He needs mercy and he needs help with the area of lust in his life. He needs tough love sometimes with that, but he needs a plan of how to break free from lust. That’s number one.

Number two, what are my thoughts on what Jesus meant when He said that if a man lusts after a woman in his heart, he’s already committed adultery. I believe what that means is if that man is fantasizing about that woman and allows that fantasy to play in his mind and to occupy his mind, then he has committed adultery in his heart. But I don’t believe that if a man recognizes that a woman is beautiful that he’s committed adultery in his heart. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that lust and recognition are the same thing. I believe that lust means that you are going to do whatever you can do to have that thing or to have that and to fantasize about that and to roll that over in your heart and mind continually. Then yes, there is adultery that is taking place.

But it is in the heart. And Jesus was simply internalizing the gospel and saying, “Look, what’s in our heart is what matters more than just what we do on the outside because what we do on the inside is eventually going to show up on the outside.” He was trying to get people to realize that Christianity is a heart issue, not just a behavior issue. And that’s why the focus was on the heart.

But I’m not excusing your husband at all. I’m not saying pornography isn’t lust and it isn’t sin – it is. It’s wrong and he needs to break free from it, but he needs counseling to break free from it. Again, I don’t know enough about your situation, so I don’t want you to just take my word as the only word, but compare it to the Word of God. If your husband wants to stay with you and wants to work it out and wants to deal with the problems in his life, then he hasn’t broken his marriage covenant to you.

If your husband is caught up in pornography and refuses to change and he’s not adhering to the counsel that’s being given to him and he’s not following the counsel that’s being given to him, you don’t need to subject yourself to that. I would consider a time of separation if it’s at that point – and I can’t read your mind or read your heart. But I know that a lot of people think that “the only way I can get out of this marriage is if he committed adultery against me or if she has committed adultery against me.” And if the marriage is that bad where you have to find a reason like that, then obviously there are worse problems in a marriage sometimes and we need to address those problems and see if those can be fixed. See if you can find it in your heart to truly love your husband again. And if you can, then praise God. And if you can’t, then God would understand that and He is a merciful God and He is the God of second chances.

I’m not encouraging you to do that. I’m just saying that God would understand that if it comes to that. But you should go through intense counseling before it would have to come to that. I understand the pain that you must feel and we want to help you and God wants to help you. You don’t have to make your husband out to be the bad guy for you to get the healing that you need in your heart. And God will heal you. If God can heal inside the marriage, He will and if he has to take you out of the marriage to heal you, He will because God loves the people in a marriage more than He loves the institution of the marriage. He loves the institution of the marriage, but He loves the people more and He loves you more.

Divorce - Reasons for it

The Bible says that if you look at a woman and lust after her, you’ve committed adultery. So if a man does that, does it give his wife grounds for divorce?

That’s a good question. The assumption is that she has grounds for divorce if he has physically committed adultery. If that really is the grounds for divorce then, yes, it would equally be grounds for divorce if he continually lusted after women. Because he’s just as much committing adultery, according to Jesus, as if he actually had performed the act.

But that begs the question of whether adultery is truly a biblical grounds for divorce. And I would say that, according to Jesus, it could be interpreted that way. However, if we look at the whole context of what Jesus said, it’s not adultery that becomes the grounds for divorce; it’s the hardness of heart in the husband or wife who’s been cheated on. It’s the hardness of heart that will determine whether they should get divorced. Can their hearts be softened? Is this relationship salvageable to the point where her heart can be softened toward him and his heart can be softened toward her?

The real issue in divorce was pinpointed by Jesus when he said, “Moses gave you a certificate of divorce because of the hardness of your heart.” God can forgive adultery, but can you? If you can forgive and the other person is truly wanting to change and is willing to go through the process of restoration, then adultery should not be the grounds for divorce. But if your heart has become so hardened toward this person and you don’t see hope that it could be softened, then by all means you should be divorced.

So, while Jesus did equate lust with committing adultery, in and of itself, adultery should not be the reason for divorce. Because if you are not willing to forgive, chances are there’s a problem on your part. But if he continues and you go to get counseling and he will not change, then there’s hardness of heart on his part. He’s unwilling to change! In which case, it may not be your hardness of heart that’s an issue; you may have a soft heart and be willing to forgive him. But you may be confronted by an unwillingness to change. And that’s more grounds for divorce, from what I read in the Bible, than the actual adultery itself.

The same applies to pornography. It’s that same hardness of heart. The sin can be forgiven. The blood of Jesus cleanses all of us from sin. The real issue is whether the person wants to change and go through the necessary process to show the fruit of repentance. If so, his heart is softening, and that should give you reason to soften yours. But if he’s addicted and not willing to change and get help, then his heart is hard, and you can’t stay in a relationship with somebody like that.

Divorce - Reasons for it

I have been divorced twice. Both husbands physically abused me and one ran around with other women. Both were addicted to drugs. Does God allow for divorce under these reasons?

Does God allow for divorce for those reasons? Absolutely. Relationships are based on trust and when somebody is addicted to drugs, when someone is running around with other women, when someone is abusing you, you can’t trust that person. You shouldn’t have to sleep in your bed and wonder if someone’s going to hit you or wonder if someone is going to have been with someone else, or you’re now with a man or a woman who’s been on drugs.

Again, this all stems from being in a relationship with someone you shouldn’t have been in with in the first place. So why compound the problem by staying in a relationship with someone that you shouldn’t have been in a relationship to begin with? Had you sought God’s direction, you wouldn’t have married that person to begin with. Had you done things God’s way, you wouldn’t have married that person to begin with, so don’t stay in the prison of an abusive relationship in order to try to honor marriage, when really you didn’t honor God to begin with because you didn’t follow His way of identifying what is a healthy relationship and what is not.

Divorce - Reasons for it

I recently learned a friend of mine was abusive to his wife. I think it was mental abuse and maybe some physical abuse as well. They are both Christians. He does not realize that he has a problem even though his wife has removed herself from the situation. Is there any way to know if there are grounds for divorce if this man doesn’t repent?

In a situation where a man is accused of abusing his wife physically, emotionally, and verbally, you need a measurable standard by which you can determine whether that is real abuse or not. That is why that couple needs somebody counseling them from the outside to determine whether it is really abuse or not. Some women just don’t like a man being in charge in a relationship. They will call anything abuse. But some men really are abusive – and some women really are abusive – so an objective moderator is needed in that situation to come to the conclusion of whether it’s abuse.

If it is abuse, I do not see God prohibiting people from divorce in Scripture if they are in an unsafe situation. God told us to guard over our hearts and to be responsible for our families and ourselves. If you are in a dangerous situation and you need to leave that dangerous situation, God will not frown on you. God does frown on divorce for selfish reasons. If you are getting a divorce because you don’t want to learn to love, you don’t want to learn to forgive, you have a hard heart, you don’t want to work it out . . . those are the things that God was warning against divorce. He wants married couples to work it out, to walk in love, and to learn to forgive.

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