Whether the Bible allows divorce and remarriage has been debated for centuries. If you are battling authorities who say that divorce is not allowed and remarriage is always sinful, then you are not alone!
Martin Luther fought that battle against the Roman Catholic Church. In his day, the Roman Catholic Church imposed rules (canon law) on the populace – which made life very hard for victims of adultery, desertion and abuse. The Pope’s laws gave no justice to those who suffered grievous mistreatment by their spouses. In his book The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), Martin Luther pointed out some of the contradictions in the Pope’s laws.
[Begin quote from Martin Luther]
As to divorce, it is still a moot question whether it be allowable. For my part I so greatly detest divorce that I should prefer bigamy to it, but whether it be allowable, I do not venture to decide. Christ Himself, the Chief Pastor, says in Matthew 5:32, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, Matthew excepting for the cause of fornication, maketh her commit adultery; and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.” Christ, then, permits divorce, but for the cause of fornication only. The pope must, therefore, be in error whenever he grants a divorce for any other cause, and no one should feel safe who has obtained a dispensation by this temerity (not authority) of the pope. Yet it is a still greater wonder to me, why they [the Roman Catholics] compel a man to remain unmarried after bring separated from his wife, and why they will not permit him to remarry. For if Christ pennies [permits?] divorce for the cause, of fornication and compels no one to remain unmarried, and if Paul would rather have one marry than burn, (1 Corinthians 7:9) then He certainly seems to permit a man to marry another woman in the stead of the one who has been put away.
Would to God this matter were thoroughly threshed out and derided [decided?], so that counsel might be given in the infinite perils of those who, without any fault of their own, are nowadays compelled to remain unmarried, that is, of those whose wives or husbands have run away and deserted them, to come back perhaps after ten years, perhaps never. This matter troubles and distresses me; I meet cases of it every day, whether it happen by the special malice of Satan or because of our neglect of the word of God.
I, indeed, who, alone against all, can decide nothing in this matter, would yet greatly desire at least the passage in 1 Corinthians 7 to be applied here – “But if the unbeliever depart, let him depart. For a brother or sister is not under servitude in such cases.” Here the Apostle gives permission to put away the unbeliever who departs and to set the believing spouse free to marry again. Why should not the same hold true when a believer – that is, a believer in name, but in truth as much an unbeliever as the one Paul speaks of – deserts his wife, especially if he never intends to return? I certainly can see no difference between the two. But I believe that if in the Apostle’s day an unbelieving deserter had returned and had become a believer or had promised to live again with his believing wife, he would not have been taken back, but he too would have been given the right to marry again.
Nevertheless, in these matters I decide nothing, as I have said, although there is nothing I would rather see decided, since nothing at present more grievously perplexes me and many more with me. I would have nothing decided here on the mere authority of the pope or the bishops; but if two learned and pious men agreed in the name of Christ (Matthew 18:19 f.) and published their opinion in the spirit of Christ, I should prefer their judgment even to such councils as are nowadays assembled, famous only for numbers and authority, not for scholarship and saintliness. Herewith I hang up my harp, until another and a better man shall take up this matter with me. (Psalm 137:2).
[End quote from Martin Luther. Source: The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Chapter 6, paragraphs 26 & 27. For ease of reading, scripture quotes have been italicised and the quote broken into four paragraphs by Barb.]
What strikes you, dear readers, about these words by Martin Luther?
Several things occur to me.
Firstly, and most importantly, Luther’s humility. He confessed his perplexity and his concern for victims of marital mistreatment. He didn’t arrogate to himself the authority to proclaim his view as law. He didn’t claim to have the last word on this subject — “Herewith I hang up my harp, until another and a better man shall take up this matter with me.”
Secondly, I wonder what Luther would have made of views that came out later, after 1520, and after his death.
I wonder what he would have made of Thomas Cranmer’s view that abuse is grounds for divorce.
I wonder what he would have made of the puritans who argued that divorce for abuse was grounds for divorce.
I wonder how he would have responded to the current positions on divorce and remarriage which wash around the so-called evangelical churches.
I wonder what he would have made of my book.
a) Male abuse and violence against women
b) Mental health and mental illness
These are big topics which intersect in complex ways.
Violence against women and mental health is a research paper that examines the way that mental health intersects with trauma, complex trauma, disability, coercive control, access to justice and parenting. The paper is produced by ANROWS — Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety.
I don’t often share research papers on this website. I’m sharing this one in the hope that it may help some of our readers, especially the professionals who follow this blog but seldom or never comment.
The purpose of the paper
To effectively meet the needs of women at the intersection of gender-based violence and mental health impacts, improved collaboration and coordination is required across mental health, sexual violence, domestic and family violence, justice and child protection sectors.
This synthesis is designed for policymakers and practitioners engaging with women affected by violence, including domestic violence and sexual violence, who are also experiencing mental health impacts; and/ or who are developing policy and practice frameworks responsive to violence against women and mental health.
— from the blurb at the ANROWS website.
The key points
- For women experiencing violence, mental health problems can overlap with trauma, complex trauma and disability, making simple diagnoses and treatment difficult.
- Mental ill health can be a compounding factor, a barrier, an outcome and a tool used by perpetrators of violence against women.
- Access to justice can be impacted at the intersection of mental health and violence against women, because the criminal justice system is not designed to accommodate trauma.
- Women with mental health concerns who have been subjected to gender-based violence can be harmed by institutions tasked with helping them.
- The co-occurrence of violence against women and mental health concerns can have parenting impacts, damaging the mother–child relationship and impacting the child’s mental health.
- The complexity of the intersection of violence against women and mental health often requires collaboration between mental health, sexual violence, domestic and family violence and other sectors to provide effective care.
— from the blurb at the ANROWS website.
Do any of those key points ring bells for you, dear readers?
For me, what jumped out most was the part I’ve put in italics from the second point:
- Mental ill health can be a compounding factor, a barrier, an outcome and a tool used by perpetrators of violence against women.
Abusers can indeed use mental ill health as a tool with which to perpetrate abuse.
For example, an abuser can excuse his abusive behaviours by asserting that they are uncontrollable symptoms of his mental illness.
Another example is when an abuser claims his partner is mentally ill when she is not; rather, she is prudently and judiciously resisting his abuse.
Another example is when an abuser gets his target sectioned (involuntarily admitted) into a psych ward.
One of our readers recently donated some funds to our Gift Books program, so it seems like a good time to remind folks about the offer. Click the link to learn what books we offer free to impoverished survivors of abuse.
If you want to donate funds to the gift books program, you can do so by purchasing an Amazon gift card for A Cry For Justice. It is pretty easy to do this.
- sign in at your Amazon account and go through the steps to purchase a gift card
- you will be asked who the gift card is for
- you can say it is for the A Cry For Justice account at amazon.
- or you can say it is for the email address: firstname.lastname@example.org which is the email address A Cry For Justice uses at Amazon.
The steps I have described work at the amazon.com website (the US site of Amazon). I am not sure whether you can do them at amazon.ca, amazon.com.au, amazon.uk, etc.
A minor way you can contribute to the gift books offer is by purchasing any book we have on our Recommended Books list. When you click on any book in that list and buy it from Amazon, a small amount of the purchase price goes to A Cry For Justice. Those funds build up until Amazon sends a gift card to A Cry For Justice.
I never use such gift cards for my personal needs. I only use them to purchase gift books for survivors of abuse who are struggling financially.
Like a man in prison ever desires to be delivered, whether he be eating or drinking or sleeping, and like someone who is sick desires always to be whole, so every true Christian prays continually – yea, even when he seems not to pray. For prayer consists not in much babbling (Matthew 6:7) but in spirit and truth (John 4:23,24) and in the vehement desire of the heart towards God.
— the New Matthew Bible’s note on 1 Thessalonians 5:17
“Pray continually” is a verse in the Bible that has been misused to lay false guilt on many true Christians. How many genuine believers have felt that they are disobeying this instruction if they are not praying every waking moment?
The New Matthew Bible’s note breathes compassion and empathy for afflicted Christians. Let us take comfort that prayer consists not in much babbling, but in spirit and truth and in the vehement desire of the heart towards God.
I have shared previously that I find the notes in the New Matthew Bible spiritually uplifting and illuminating. The notes are comments by William Tyndale, John Rogers, Erasmus, Church fathers, Martin Luther and other Reformers.
If you feel you have only a little strength, you can also take comfort from the fact that the church of Philadelphia had a little strength, and it was the only church which was not admonished in the book of Revelation.
For you have a little strength, and have kept my sayings, and have not denied my name.
— Rev. 3:8a (click here to read it in context)
When they could snatch a bit of time at the riverbank, out of eye or earshot of their masters, the captive Israelites didn’t have to sing happy songs on demand. There they could sit and weep.
By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, / when we remembered thee, O Sion.
As for our harps, we hanged them up on the trees that are therein.
For there they that led us away captive required of us a song, and they that plundered us a melody: / ‘Sing us one of the songs of Sion.’
How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, / let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, / yea, if I
prefer not Jerusalem in my mirth.
(Psalm 137, Myles Coverdale’s translation, Book of Common Prayer)
The riverbank must have been a relatively safe place for the Israelites who were living in exile in Babylon, under the thumb of their oppressors. There they could take refuge for a little while from the humiliating demands of their captors.
Picture the Babylonians ordering the captives: “Obey us! You have no rights here! You should smile and laugh when we tell you to! Take that miserable look off your face! Put on a joyful face! Stop looking unhappy! Sing us songs of mirth! Entertain us! Make us look good!”
Over to you, dear readers. Do you have memories of being ordered to smile when you wanted to weep? And for those readers who cannot weep because your abusers wiped out your natural functions so you cannot physically shed tears, feel free to answer in whatever way is most appropriate for you.
By the way, I have recently moved the comments form to the top of the comments thread. I did this to encourage more newbies to comment on posts. I hope it doesn’t deter people from reading all the comments. Feel free to give me your feedback on this.
Further reading on the topic of tears and weeping
Thou Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth; / and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
They shall perish, but thou shalt endure; / they shall all wax old as a garment;
And as a vesture thou shalt change them, and they shall be changed; / but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.
And: You, Lord, in the beginning, laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands. They shall perish, but you shall endure. They all will grow old as does a garment, and as a vesture you will change them, and they will be changed. But you are always, and your years shall not fail.
All the heavenly bodies will dissolve.
The skies will roll up like a scroll,
and their stars will all wither
as leaves wither on the vine,
and foliage on the fig tree.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
And look on the earth beneath.
For the heavens will vanish away like smoke,
The earth will grow old like a garment,
And those who dwell in it will die in like manner;
But My salvation will be forever,
And My righteousness will not be abolished.
Isaiah 51:6 34:4
Nevertheless, the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which day the heavens shall perish with terrible noise, and the elements shall melt with heat, and the earth with the works that are in it shall burn.
If all these things will perish, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy living and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, in which the heavens shall perish with fire and the elements shall be consumed with heat? Nevertheless, we look for a new heaven and a new earth according to his promise, wherein righteousness dwells.
2 Peter 3:10-13
Therefore I will shake the heavens,
And the earth will move out of her place,
In the wrath of the Lord of hosts
And in the day of His fierce anger.
When I put out your light,
I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark;
I will cover the sun with a cloud,
And the moon shall not give her light.
All the bright lights of the heavens I will make dark over you,
And bring darkness upon your land,”
Says the Lord God.
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
Look, the Lord is leaving His place
and coming down to trample
the heights of the earth.
The mountains will melt beneath Him,
and the valleys will split apart,
like wax near a fire,
like water cascading down a mountainside.
Immediately after the tribulations of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall move.
… Heaven and earth shall perish, but my words will abide.
Matt 24:29, 35
And I looked when he opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake, and the sun was as black as sackcloth made of hair. And the moon became even as blood; and the stars of heaven fell to the earth, even as a fig tree casts from her her figs when she is shaken by a mighty wind. And heaven vanished away, like a scroll when it is rolled together. And all mountains and isles were moved out of their places.
And the kings of the earth, and the great leaders, and the rich, and the high commanders, and the mighty, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in dens and in the rocks of the hills, and said to the hills and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the presence of him that sits on the seat, and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of his wrath is come, and who can endure it?
“For as the new heavens and the new earth
Which I will make shall remain before Me,” says the Lord,
“So shall your descendants and your name remain.”
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.”
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were vanished away; and there was no more sea.
Bible versions used in this post
- Psalms: Book of Common Prayer
- Other Old Testament passages: NKJ and HCSB (HCSB indicated by green font)
- New Testament: New Matthew Bible.
John Masefield is one of my favourite poets. My grandfather and father knew many of his poems by heart.