Once upon a time, a friend told me, “When I’m struggling the most, I ask myself, ‘What part of God’s character don’t I understand?’” This question crossed my mind often during the last months of my marriage, as I realized that what I knew of God’s character didn’t line up with what the church taught on divorce. The church was telling me that there was no way out…that I had to accept being abused and cheated on for the rest of my life, because the abuse and cheating weren’t “physical”….that is, he never had a physical affair, and he never physically harmed me. Part of my heart was screaming, What’s the difference? And the rest of it was trying to live in quiet submission to what I was sure was true.
I read many articles and books, hoping somewhere along the way I’d find some ray of hope. What I didn’t want was something that told me divorce was ok, but didn’t support it with strong biblical evidence. I didn’t want circular reasoning or ear-tickling. I wanted facts that didn’t compromise my own dedication to truth. But all my looking kept leading me back to the same conclusion: I was stuck.
As you probably know quite well, there are lots of books out there on Christians and divorce. Most of them say pretty much the same thing: You can’t. So most Christians stay in terrible marriages, even abusive ones, because they believe God gives them no way out. And this may be good and right and true in many cases where someone is just looking for “a way out” and really could, given the right help and advice, make changes that would save their marriage and family. But there are others who really do NEED a way out — some for their own personal safety, or that of their children — but don’t believe such a thing exists.
I had a really difficult time reconciling that kind of teaching with what I know of God’s character. I kept asking myself, “What part of God’s character don’t I understand?” hoping that somehow I would grasp some truth about him that would make “You’re stuck” make sense.
I know God doesn’t always make sense, and he’s much wiser than I am, and he has my best interests at heart, and all that jazz. But none of that was cutting it when it came to facing the fear and misery in my day to day life. What about God’s compassion? Mercy? Grace? What about his words about saving people from bondage? I certainly felt I was in bondage, but I had so long determined to be “in chains for the gospel” that I had come to accept it as normal. But still, part of my heart screamed. And it was getting louder all the time.
Finally, I found the website of Danni Moss, a Christian woman who had been in an abusive marriage and had gotten out. Her articles gave me hope for the first time, because she was solidly biblical in her approach to the problem of abuse within Christianity. She also introduced me to a book that was my first glimpse at a truly biblical discussion of divorce and abuse within Christianity. That book was “Not Under Bondage”.
Although the book took a long time to arrive, it was well worth the wait. Finally, someone had delved into the original meanings of the words in the original languages and made sense out of them.
The author hit on some of my nagging questions. Am I in bondage? Do I have the rights of a slave? How does a God of compassion and love allow this kind of suffering in marriage? And most of all….Do I have the right to leave?
I also was vaguely interested in whether I could remarry if I did leave, because I already had read Paul’s “out” clause, where he states that “if” a woman leaves her husband, she must remain unmarried. He basically says a woman can leave, but she remains married no matter what. I figured, like most people, that this was the only “way out” God allowed for women who are abused.
This book, however, took a very different approach. It explained so much…and gave me such hope…without ever stating that divorce was the answer to a difficult or challenging marriage, but only in serious situations which God, in his mercy, grace and love, did indeed allow.
I strongly encourage anyone who is considering divorce to read this book. If you know you’re being abused — even if it’s “only” emotional abuse — you need to read this book and understand God’s heart for you.
(Review first published at When Christians Divorce but that site is no longer online.)