David Wheaton, Churchman, vol 24, no 4, Winter 2010
The strength of this book lies in the fact that it has been written not by a theologian, but by a woman who has been the victim of domestic abuse. Her experience, which does not differ from what many pastors may encounter in ministry today, has been of starting out as a Christian with minimal biblical teaching and marrying a non-Christian. After five years, during which a daughter was born, she left her husband because of the abuse and was granted custody of the daughter with the husband having access.
Four years later, during which she had been attending church and studying the Bible, her husband made a profession and this led to reconciliation. However, the abuse recurred and this led to a further separation and finally divorce. So the contents of this book reflect the struggle of an author who has had to assess her own situation and experiences in the light of Bible teaching. Key to the understanding of the book is the claim that the Bible permits ‘disciplinary divorce’ where a seriously mistreated spouse divorce the offender after abuse, adultery or desertion. ‘Treacherous divorce’ occurs when a spouse obtains a divorce for reasons other than abuse, adultery or desertion, and is condemned by the Bible. The non-offending or mistreated partner is then said to be able to remarry if the offending partner was sexually immoral or has abused, deserted or unjustly dismissed the other party and is judged to be ‘as an unbeliever’.
In making these claims the writer had carefully examined both Old and New Testaments Scriptures on the subject and demonstrates a wide acquaintance with other writers historic and contemporary on the subject. An example of her grappling with the text is on p. 100 where she points out how in Matthew 5:32 the NIV for instance translating ’causes her to become an adulteress’ fails to bring out the passive form of the verb which she would prefer to see rendered ’causes her to experience adultery’. Thus helpful advice is given for pastors struggling to counsel those who are victims of abuse within marriage but feel trapped within it by biblical teaching, or those divorcees of either sex who find themselves unsure of whether the Bible would permit them to remarry.
Her conclusions may well cause many to re-evaluate some traditional teaching on divorce and remarriage, and her story should encourage all to have a deeper understanding of people who come to them during or after suffering similar experiences. Apart from an extensive bibliography there is a briefer but helpful list of secular as well as Christian ‘Further Reading for Victims’ placed in order as the writer found them helpful. This book demands to be read by all those who are called on to advise both men and women who face the sorrows and trauma of an unhappy marriage.