Ask Pastor Mike: Physical Abuse & Divorce

Ask Pastor Mike – Week of October 1

Question: As a pastor, what do you tell people who are getting physically abused? How might divorce go along with that?

Physical Abuse

When someone comes to me and communicates a situation of abuse, I begin by asking questions and doing a lot of listening. My desire is to understand the person’s situation in order to care for that person well. Although each situation is unique and may require independent counsel, abuse must be addressed promptly. The nature of the abuse and safety of those involved must be evaluated in order to discern the best path forward. 

To do this, abuse must be defined. In our world today, people may mean various things when they use words, such as abuse. For some, abuse may imply anything that does not go their way or that which infringes upon their desires. Pastorally, when I think of an abusive situation, I think of actions such as: assault, violence, cruelty, and forceful control. Abuse is a way of life that causes damage to a person in such a manner that one’s health or worth cannot be preserved. An abuser does damage to another person’s safety, and God hates abuse. For example, if a woman is being physically abused by her husband in such a way that it is unsafe for her to be in the home, I would advise that she remove herself from the home. There is no place for this way of behaving in a relationship, especially a marriage.

Adultery & Divorce

God hates divorce because it is abuse against His design for marriage. Genesis 2:24 says: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” In Ephesians 5, Paul presents a glorious picture of Christ’s relationship with the church as being reflected in a marriage. This is God’s design for marriage–that it would reflect the gospel in Christ’s love and the church’s submission. Therefore, when a man and a woman divorce themselves from one another, the majestic picture of the gospel is broken in their lives, among other consequences. This is heartbreaking and grievous. 

In Matthew 5:32, Jesus says: “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” This message is repeated in Matthew 19:9. The term “sexual immorality” here is translated from the Greek word, porneia, which means sexual sin of a general nature. Porneia includes adultery–sexual immorality among married individuals–and fornication–sexual immorality among people, regardless of their marital relationship. The basic truth here is that sex is only meant to be shared between a husband and a wife. When infidelity occurs, the unity of marriage and the picture of the gospel that it was intended to portray is broken. 

Desertion & Divorce

Likewise, desertion may fit the category of permissible divorce. 1 Corinthians 7:15 says: “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.” Because marriage is a union of two people, if the husband or wife deserts the other, with no intention of returning or reconciliation, the marriage bond is broken in order to seek peace. 

I, along with many other pastors, believe that abuse is a form of desertion, and it may even fit the broader meaning of adultery, which could be characterized as marital unfaithfulness. I believe abuse can be a form of abandonment because abuse can be a means of forced desertion. Abuse may cause the same effect as if one’s spouse would pack up and move to another state. Because every abusive situation is unique, it is wise to seek godly counsel from a pastor or biblical counselor. I welcome you to come to me, if you need advice.

If you feel unsafe in your home, you may need to leave. If a situation turns violent, do not be reluctant to call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233). 

If someone is abusing you, it is not your fault, as each individual is responsible for their own actions. While abuse may warrant grounds for divorce, you should not make this decision alone. Invite one of your pastors into the conversation to listen, pray with you, and offer you biblical counsel and advice.

One further note. Paul’s letter, as written in 1 Corinthians 7:15 refers to “the unbelieving partner.” If you are being abused by someone who claims to be a believer, church discipline should be practiced. This involves following Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15-20, regarding how to address sin among believers.

At FBC, we desire to come alongside and care for those who are involved in abusive situations. If you need help, please ask.