Q. I know an abusive husband who beats his wife black and blue. I have no qualms advising her to divorce him. What do you think?
A. What I think is not important. What God thinks is. The Bible is very clear on the subject of divorce:
• Mal 2:16 For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
• Mt 5:31-32 It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Also Mt 19:7-9; Mk 10:11-12; Lk 16:18
• 1 Co 7:11-12 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.
God hates divorce, but allows it for the reason of unchastity, when the marriage covenant had been broken. Being married to an unbeliever spouse is not a biblical ground for divorce, nor is spousal abuse specifically allowed as an exception to the rule of “no divorce”. I sympathize with the spouse who is subject to abuse, and would advise “separation” to protect herself/himself against further abuse.
One point seldom discussed. Although God hates divorce, He Himself sent Israel and Judah away and gave them a writ of divorce because of their spiritual adultery:
• Is 50:1 Thus says the LORD, “Where is the certificate of divorce By which I have sent your mother away? Or to whom of My creditors did I sell you? Behold, you were sold for your iniquities, And for your transgressions your mother was sent away.
• Jer 3:8 And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.
Yet He waited for them and gave them opportunities to repent and return to Him. I think we can follow not only what He said but what He did.
We once met a sister who cried throughout as she told us how her husband abused her not just physically, but mentally, verbally and sexually. I don’t know the extent of his perversion, but “unchastity” translates the Greek word porneia, which is defined as illicit sexual intercourse, including:
• adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc.
• sexual intercourse with close relatives (i.e. incest, Lev 18);
• sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman (Mk 10:11-12);
So depending on what he had done, he might have broken the marriage covenant already, even though he did not have a mistress.
She did not want to report him to the police for fear that he would be jailed, and that there will be repercussions. We advised her for the sake of her own and their children’s safety, she must separate themselves from him. Since he is perverted, he might go after the children when he no longer gets excitement after abusing her.
To try to get to the root of the problem, we also witnessed to her husband in the hope that he would repent. He listened to the gospel but did not receive Christ at that time. However, we were glad to learn that he had treated his wife better from that time on, and occasionally would even come to church himself. We understand your concern for your abused friend, but I would follow the Bible as best as we can without going beyond what the Lord permits.