Response to Question on Separation and Divorce

Posted: February 13, 2008 by Rick Hogaboam in Book Reviews, Theology
Tags: , , , ,


I was asked by a reader the following

Concerning separation or divorce for verbal abuse, how do you think Peter would respond to your comment based on his statement in 1 Peter 3:1-5”

This was in response to my book review

I respond as follows:

I think Peter is addressing situations much like Paul addressed where a believer is urged to remain with an unbeliever so long as the unbelieving spouse wishes to remain under the one roof.

1 PT 3:1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives

The phrase “so that even if some do not obey the word” is generally understood to simply state that the spouse doesn’t believe the gospel. Some commentators would even suggest that the phrase carries more weightiness than that and actually refers to conduct that is inappropriate. I can see it going either way, especially when Peter follows up by encouraging the wives to win over their husbands by “pure conduct”, which would contrast the supposed impure conduct of the unbelieving spouse.

To be sure in Peter’s context, we are called to suffering and this would include wives and husbands who find themselves in a very challenging marriage. Such circumstances actually serve as a testing ground for one’s faith and an opportunity to live out the gospel under persecution and perhaps win some over.

Wives in the situation discussed really had no option to just get up and leave their husbands. They would face reproach from their own family and society. They would find it hard to remarry as it is and even harder to work a job as a single woman. I think Peter is urging wives to look upward rather than horizontal and seek to glorify Christ in their conduct in such a marital union…to be empowered with a zeal and boldness to woo and win over their spouse.

As for physical and verbal abuse, I think each situation needs to be carefully measured. There are some who would say that they would keep on loving their husbands under such abuse and there is perhaps testimony of husbands won over because of a wife’s faithfulness under such hostility. There are situations where the wife, fearing for her life, seeks separation. Scripture makes provision for separation and I think it would apply in a very abusive situation. If a spouse separated under such a situation, then I think the unbelieving spouse needs to be approached as one who really doesn’t wish to live peacefully with their spouse. They need to be encouraged to change some of their behavior for some sort of reconciliation. Where the unbeliever refuses, then it confirms their desire to not really care and go it alone. In these circumstances, it is my understanding that Reformed theology would treat the unbelieving spouse as has departing and the believing spouse would be released from the marital bond. In such cases, the believing spouse would be free to remarry.

As I said, I need to do some more research, and I would definitely say that there are too many separations occurring for reasons that wouldn’t apply. We Americans can’t stand a little suffering and avoid it at all costs…with divorce being one solution. There is more to be said about a spouse who embraces their suffering and seeks to win over their spouse…it is a high and difficult calling. The Lord promises strength and will be glorified in it all.

I think I can speak with all husbands in saying that I have benefited from a gracious wife who didn’t abandon me at every turn of my own nastiness and sin. As a result, I have been won over more and more to the grace of God. I believe that Martin Luther said that marriage was a school for sanctification. I have understood the grace of God more and more through my wife’s kindness to me and I also have learned the grace of God to empower me by getting over myself when I want to be angry about insignificant things in my wife. It would be easy to take the world’s way out in the false promise that there is someone better out there who will make me happier. Sometimes such “happiness”, defined on the world’s terms is our lot in life. For many of is, it is appointed by God that we should suffer. Such suffering is paradoxically empowered by a supreme joy in God, which enables us to seek the reward of our suffering. For the joy set before Christ, He endured the shame of the cross. For us, too, we must endure suffering with our eyes set on infinite joy!!!


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