Could Physical Abuse Be a Biblically Valid Ground for Divorce?

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Last year I was involved in helping a family that had lost their daughter at the hands of her husband to get some justice. It is believed that the husband beat her to death. A few months ago, news came from Nigeria that a gospel singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu, died allegedly due to physical abuse from her husband. One common denominator in both of these deaths was that both husbands professed faith in Christ. There were also active members in their respective churches. The question that I have heard in general and one that has been put to me in particular is: how should the church handle cases of physical abuse that are persistent and life threatening? Does the Bible have anything to say on this issue?

First things first. The Bible is very clear that marriage was designed by God to glorify him and for the good and enjoyment of husband and wife (Genesis 2:18-25). Further marriage life is supposed to be lived in love and submission. The husband should love his wife sacrificially and wife should submit to her own husband in everything (Ephesians 5:22-33). So, the Bible does not condone any form of violence or physical abuse in marriage. In fact, any form of abuse should be alien to a Christian marriage. However, because of sin marriages experience evils like physical abuse.

Furthermore, God’s plan for marriage is that it should last one’s life time. It’s never pleasing to God to see any marriage lasting shorter than that.  But because of man’s hardness of heart or sin, God’s word allows divorce on two grounds: adultery and willful desertion. Adultery is when the husband or the wife has sexual intercourse with someone else other than his or her spouse. If the wronged party opts for divorce because the marriage bed has been defiled, the Bible allows him or her to legally divorce the other party (Matthew 19:3-9).

Willful desertion is mainly in a context of a couple who got married while both of them were unconverted. If along the way one of them becomes a Christian, the converted person should not seek to leave the marriage. However, if the unconverted one wants to leave the marriage he or she should be allowed to do so (1 Corinthinas 7:12-16). In the case of those who got married while professing faith in Christ, this ground is applied when one of them willfully abandons his or her spouse and despite the church’s intervention and continued call to him or her to repent and return to his or her marriage he or she refuses.  In this case then divorce is allowable if the deserted person desires it because the deserter has proved that he or she is not a believer as initially professed.   

On the face of it, the Bible seems not to regard persistent and unrepented physical abuse that is also life threatening (by the way most physical abuse if not checked quickly escalates to life-threating) as a valid ground for divorce. However, I believe physical abuse falls under the ground of willful desertion. Allow me to explain. The abusive spouse creates an environment in which his or her partner is not safe to live in, and if this persist the abused person should leave the marriage, with guidance and counsel from the church, to protect their own life as we are all commanded in the sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13).  The abusive partner should be reputed as the deserter even though it is actually the abused that has left the marriage.

I should be quick to qualify that the decision to leave a persistent abusive partner should not be arrived at haphazardly and lightly. It should always be done with the guidance of one’s church. When church leaders establish that physical abuse is recurring in a marriage, they should recommend a temporary separation for the safety of the victim. Physical abuse in most circumstances being a crime under state laws should also be reported to the relevant authorities by the abused. On their part, the church leaders should further bring under discipline the abusing partner and counsel him or her with the hope of bringing him or her into repentance and eventually restoration. If there is no repentance then the church should proceed with excommunication. Only after a suitable length of time and a sufficient process of church discipline should a divorce be recommended on the basis of willful desertion by the abusive partner.  I believe that no single elder or pastor would arrive at this decision painlessly. Divorce is one of the most serious affronts to the dignity of marriage; however, in a situation that an abusive partner is unrepentant, the pastor and elders should not hesitate to recommended divorce with tears and sorrow.

Delighting in the Sabbath

When approaching the discussion of the Sabbath we need to acknowledge the various debates it creates. There is a debate on whether the Sabbath has changed from Saturday in the Old Testament to Sunday also called the Lord’s Day in the New Testament. While I believe in the latter, I should grant that there are brothers and sisters in the Lord who believe in the former. But that’s not what this post is all about. There is also a debate on how Christians should observe the Sabbath. Now the Bible is very clear that the Sabbath is the day of rest and worship (Exodus 20:8-13; Acts 20:7). There should not be any debate about it. Yet good and godly Christians differ on what this rest entails. While some believe that rest should include refraining from recreational activities others believe that Christians can still engage in recreational activities on the Sabbath. Again, this post does not intend to go into that discussion.

This post is about delighting in the Sabbath. God speaking through Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 58:13-14 says,

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The context of this exhortation is that God’s covenant people are rendering half-hearted worship to God. For example, at the beginning of the chapter the Lord rebukes their fasting which instead of being a time that they humble and devote themselves fully to God they continue sinning against God and one another. It is hypocritical fasting. Then in verses 13-14, the Lord draws their attention to another aspect of worship namely the observance of the Sabbath. Similarly, God’s covenant people are observing the Sabbath with lukewarm devotion. Instead of resting and worshipping God, they are using the day for their own pleasure. Now some have understood “pleasure” in the verse to mean recreational activities while others think it means normal daily business. Whatever view you hold, one thing that is clear from the verse is that God’s will for the day is that his people should observe rest; hence, he calls them to repent of their religious formalism so that they may enjoy God’s covenant blessings.

The Lord goes further to challenge his people to delight in the Sabbath, “Call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable.” Matthew Henry commenting on the verse writes,

“We must not only count it a delight, but call it so. We must call it so to God, in thanksgiving for it. We must call it so to others, to invite them to come and share in the pleasure of it; and we must call it so to ourselves, that we may not entertain the least thought of wishing the sabbath gone that we may sell corn.”

The 19th Century Anglican Bishop, John Charles Ryle also agrees with Henry and notes,

The Sabbath is God’s merciful appointment for the common benefit of all mankind. It was “made for man” (Mark 2:27)…It is not a yoke, but a blessing. It is not a burden, but a mercy…It is good for man’s body and mind…Above all, it is good for souls.”

So here are five ways that we as Christians can call the Sabbath a delight. First, we can call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that when we rest on the Sabbath, we mirror God our Father who rested on the seventh day despite not needing rest. Our Father does not get tired (Isaiah 40:28). He neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4), yet in Genesis 2:2-3 we read: “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done.” One of the greatest desires that lie at the bottom of a child’s heart is to be like his father, especially, a good father. A child regards his father as the hero no matter what others think of him. Similarly, as God’s children our greatest longing should be to be like our Father. He rested on the seventh day so we should do likewise with great delight.

Second, we should call the Sabbath (first day of the week) a delight by realizing that it is a day in which God completed the work of our redemption in Christ.  On this day, Christ delivered a killer punch on our greatest enemies. Death died, Satan was disarmed, and sin was conquered. At our church, Christ Presbyterian Church, before the worship service begins, I gather with some members to pray for the service and other needs of the congregation. We often beginning by reminding each other that this is not only a day of worship and rest but it is also a day of celebrating the greatest victory ever accomplished for man.

Third, we call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that on  this day we do not only enjoy rest and worship our God but also rejoice in the assurance of God’s blessings in our endeavors for Christ. O. Palmer Robertson says it beautifully in his book, The Christ of the Covenants,

“(The New Covenant) believer does not first labor six days, looking hopefully towards rest. Instead, he begins the week by rejoicing in the rest already accomplished by the cosmic event of Christ’s resurrection. Then he enters joyfully into his six days of labor, confident of success through the victory which Christ has already won.”

Fourth, we call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that by keeping it we demonstrate our love for God. The fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11) requires us to observe the Sabbath. As the moral law the commandment is still binding on all Christians. So, when we rest and worship on the Sabbath, we demonstrate our love for God (John 14:15, 21; 1 John 5:3).

Last but not least, we call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that it is a foretaste of our eternal rest in glory. On this side of heaven, we endure various sorrows. However, the author of Hebrews in Hebrews 4:9 reminds us that “There remains a Sabbath rest for God’s people” in which all sorrow, pain, thorns, and thistles will be no more. It is that eternal state in the new heavens and earth where “God will wipe away every tear from (our) eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).  

The Sabbath should be a delight for all God’s people. It was made for us and for our good. In our bustling world in which the six days of work seem no longer enough, we should resist the urge to go along. There are many great blessings that come with delighting in the day as I have endeavored to show above. May we always look forward to Sabbath with great pleasure and never with the thought of it as being a killjoy. 

Does God Condemn the Soul of a Christian Who Commits Suicide?

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One of the horrors we can experience as human beings is to hear that a loved one has decided to take their own life. Suicide provokes many unanswered questions. It also stirs guilty feelings as family and friends wonder if there is something else, they could have done to prevent such tragic loss of life.  One pertinent question that I often hear, especially, among Christians is what will happen to the soul of the departed? The question arises knowing that the sixth commandment in Exodus 20:13 prohibits taking away of our own life or the life of our neighbor unjustly (Westminsiter Shorter Catechism Q & A 69). Does then the soul of a Christian who commits suicide go to heaven after breaking the sixth commandment?

To answer this question, we need first to understand who a Christian is. In doing so, it is also important to distinguish between a Christian and a church member. Not all church members are Christians but a Christian will surely be a church member. So, a Christian is a person who has come to be convinced by God’s word and Spirit that he is a sinner not necessarily because he commits sin but was born a sinner and inherited the guilt of our first parents, Adam and Eve (Rom. 5:12; Psalm 51:5). Further, a Christian is the one who has repented of his sin and believes that he is accepted before God because of Jesus Christ who kept the whole law on his behalf and yet died on the cross also on his behalf that the Christian might be counted as righteous before God (1 Peter 3:18). 

When Christ died on the cross, he died for every sin of every Christian. This includes the actual sins that the Christian committed in the past, he is committing now, and those he will commit in the future. Every one of these sins, not in part but the whole, was nailed to the cross with Christ; therefore, a Christian never bears its guilt anymore (1 John 2:2). Of course, when a Christian sins, God is displeased and disciplines him (Hebrews 12:5-11) but God can never condemn the Christian because God already condemned his own Son, Jesus Christ, for those sins (Romans 8:1). This is why the cross of Christ is the greatest demonstration of God’s power, and his saving grace is so amazing. Without the cross and grace none of us would make it to heaven.

On a pastoral note, let me emphasize that suicide is not a solution to any problem that one might be facing. It is a heinous sin and causes untold pain and misery to the loved ones left behind. We should never forget that Christ remains our only refuge and help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1) hence we are to cast our cares upon him for he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). If you, dear reader, are experiencing depression or feeling like you are in an impossible situation, please seriously consider talking to someone, especially those who know God’s word and teach it faithfully.  The word of God is sufficient to bring light into our darker situations and offer hope that is found in no other than Christ alone.