Some have pointed out the seemingly one-sided nature of the power in Biblical divorce proceedings, placing the ability to divorce only in the hands of the husband, leaving wives without Biblical recourse to divorce. Let me put that notion to rest: it is not “seemingly one-sided,” it is intentionally so. Nowhere in the Bible, from cover to cover, is a woman ever given the moral right, legal power, or spiritual justification to enact a divorce, for any reason.
While this has been labelled, chauvinistic or even worse, misogynistic by the Bible’s critics, it cannot be argued that any woman today has Biblical permission to divorce. Modern notions of property inheritance and disposition, the “power of the purse,” division of assets, etc. are just that: very modern notions. Strictly within the Biblical paradigm, modern society’s ideas about marriage and divorce are untenable and unsupportable.
(As an aside, those people who are in a marriage relationship with God should take great comfort in the inability of a wife to divorce her husband. Israel has played the harlot many times, and today’s Israeli society is still running after “another man,” begging for acceptance from the nations through alliances, treaties, peace talks and concessions. Rather than trusting in her Husband to protect and provide for her, she still believes that she may spurn her wedding ketubah (covenant) while ignoring the mandates of the Torah without repercussions. Nevertheless, the certainty of her marriage is not in her hands. Stray as she will, the Holy One will not release her from His household).
In light of the fact that the family unit makes up the strength (or weakness) of a nation, when marriages (even bad ones) remain intact, a nation is strong. So, ask yourself this question: How many divorces would happen today if women could not initiate them? Current statistics record a full 70% of divorces are granted to (and thereby initiated by) women. Conversely, how many marriages would be saved, and how many more men would be forced to take responsibility if divorce was only permitted to men, and only when premarital relations were discovered on their wedding night?
But wouldn’t this result in many people being “trapped” in loveless, horrible marriages? If initiated today, as a new standard – at first, the answer is absolutely, for as long as there are sinful human beings, you’ll find some of the worst relationships. However, people would begin living in a radically different way than they are today. When considering marriage, more would center around goals and character (think Isaac and Rebecca) than around so-called “true love,” happiness, keeping the “spark” alive, etc. If the Disney criteria for marriage was reversed, “first comes marriage, then comes love,” perhaps more people would discover what “true love” is.
Those who weather the storms and crises of marriage, and grit their teeth and forge ahead; the people who grow old together and whose marriages have survived the greatest of tests, they will tell you that it was worth it, that they have discovered what was intended by God all along: that their marriage was intended to be a testimony to others – a testimony of the transformative power of God to redeem, salvage, renovate, and transform. They will tell you that most of the world does not know the definition of real love, but they have learned it.
A friend of mine described to me how his father required siblings who argued with each other to remain in the same room together until the argument was resolved and harmony again reigned. They were forced to work it out, to compromise, to show deference to the other, to demonstrate love. Notice that I did not say, “feel love.” A society which requires married couples to get along and does not provide an escape hatch will be stronger for it, will be far tougher and more resilient, resistant to adversity in other areas: economically, militarily, politically and morally.
Some statistics indicate that as much as seventy percent of all Christian marriages will end in divorce today and that this number is actually higher within the church than in secular society, where that number is sixty five percent. When people share a religious basis for their actions, their expectations are higher of each other than those whose “moral compass” is flexible, and everyone knows it. Nobody accuses a secularist or an atheist of hypocrisy, only those who are not living up to a high moral standard they claim to embrace and practice.
The truth is that when a bride and groom today vow to God and one another, “for better or worse,” they are really only thinking, “better.” When they vow, “for richer or poorer,” they are really only thinking, “richer.” When they vow, “in sickness and in health,” they are really only thinking, “health.” When they vow, “as long as we both shall live,” they are really only thinking of “bliss-and-nothing-else” for life. The reality is that they don’t really anticipate that they will ever need to remain faithful to their spouses “for worse, for poorer and in sickness, as long as we both shall live.”
If faced with only those things as certainties, and absolutely none of the good stuff, they would rather remain single. Their expectation is that only “better, richer and health” will be theirs for the rest of their days because they possess a very powerful feeling, an emotion that they call “love,” which they are convinced will be all that is necessary to overcome every obstacle and make their marriage the greatest that has ever been. There have been people whose lives were forever changed by a car accident while on their honeymoon, whose dreams were shattered by crippling illness hours after their vows were said, a wife who discovered the man she married only married her to acquire citizenship and was a practicing homosexual with no interest in beginning a family with her, “discovering” this when she came home from work unexpectedly.
What then? If we make room “in our hearts” for any avenue of escape, then we never meant those vows. Biblically speaking, provision is made for each of those things, but our society is so set against the Laws of God that they would never submit to His plan, not without Him coming down here and establishing it Himself. If we followed the gospel according to Disney, we would all “follow our hearts” from one person to another, whoever was currently making us feel “extra special,” we would “wish upon a star” that they would forever make us feel the exact same way so that we could “all live happily ever after.” Time to grow up. Life is not a movie or a romance novel.