When it was biblically ok to give up on a marriage if ever?

Pastor Chris,
I wanted to know when it was biblically ok to give up on a marriage if ever.

– Marguerite

The Bible is clear that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). His ideal has always been that marriage would consist of one man and one woman for life (Genesis 2:24).

That being said, God’s ideal and sinful man’s reality often clash. Therefore, God calls us to strive for the ideal; but, when two people cannot meet the ideal God regulates their separation through the process we call divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 19:8).

The question then is when is divorce permitted? Obviously, divorce is permitted in cases of adultery (Matthew 19:9). The word translated “marital unfaithfulness” is the Greek word porneia. Porneia actually includes a wide range of behaviors that mean a person who is out of control and is compulsively preoccupied with self-gratification.

Another difficult case is that of abandonment. What if a wife finds herself abandoned? Can such a woman seek divorce? Yes, she can. What else is she to do? The wives referred to in Malachi 2:16 were being “put away” (lit. “abandoned”).

Another situation is that of a believer being married to an unbeliever. I Corinthians 7:12-16 tells us that if the unbeliever wants to remain married to the believer, then the believer must not divorce the unbeliever. However, if the unbeliever wants to leave (seek a divorce) then the believer is not bound in such a case.

There are other situations that are difficult, too. These situations include such things as cruelty, indecency, incest, law breaking, insanity, various mental health issues, and other sordid behaviors that can make a marriage unbearable and divorce necessary.

Even though a person has biblical rights to divorce, it does not mean that they have to get the divorce. I know cases where a person has chosen to forgive the offender and the marriage has remained intact. This presupposes repentance and a commitment to mature on the part of the offender. Often this requires professional Christian counseling in order to build new behaviors in the offender’s life.

So, for a person wondering if he or she is at a point of “giving up” on his or her marriage he or she would do well to consider these thoughts:
•    Is my own heart right with God?
•    Am I seeking God’s glory and not my own comfort?
•    Am I ready to pay the price, emotionally speaking?
•    Am I ready to exchange one set of problems for another set of problems?
•    Do I have biblical reason?
•    Can I forgive my spouse?
•    Can I forgive myself?
•    What is best for the children?
•    Have I truly tried to make this marriage work?
•    Have I taken the time to really think this action through?
•    Have I prayed until I have received God’s peace about this action?
•    Have I counseled with wise Christians who have nothing to gain by my decision?

A person needs to be careful not to seek divorce on a whim or for flimsy reasons (burning the toast, lusting after another person, he’s messy, she talks too much, etc.). Many marriages will improve if the partners will start working together and begin seeking Christ together. When that is not realistic, God regulates divorce and extends His hand of forgiveness and compassion. ~ Pastor Chris