Here’s what I hope City Church’s stance on Divorce is, I hope it’s the Bible’s view on divorce. We’ve actually preached a message on it. It’s number 78 on our Apple Podcast and SoundCloud. It’s called Broken Citizens. We preached it in early 2018. I think the context of this question, it may be, it may not be, and I haven’t really checked out the details of the story. But I think something recently happened that a woman died, and I think she died probably at the hands of her husband or in her husband’s house and there had been multiple cases of abuse, but the church kept on telling her to go back to the house. A lot of people are dragging and blaming the church that how could she go back, and the church’s reason was that God hates divorce. Now I think some people have now gone on to defend the church. I saw someone who essentially said how do you know what God had told the woman or what God had told the church, you can’t judge. What if it was a way of God teaching her certain things and there’s now an uproar about it.
So, here’s what I think the Bible says. I think the sentiment that God hates divorce is true because as Jesus said that wasn’t how it was designed from the beginning. It was supposed to be one man, one woman permanently from the beginning to the end. That was the design so when that is broken, it’s not a good picture. Marriage is a picture of the gospel, and we don’t want a situation where Christ divorces the Church, that would be a catastrophe. So, the unity of man and woman is a big thing.
I think I said this in that sermon, what we call no-fault divorce is actually oppressive, especially when there are children involved. Do you know what a no-fault divorce is? You get married. You have some difficulty and say; I don’t love you the same way I love you again. I saw somebody else that I love and so we now have irreconcilable differences.
Now you may move on but the children that are involved, the kind of confusion it brings into their lives, you know for you to take that kind of decision and you don’t know the impact it can put on those children, that in itself, creates a certain kind of oppression and all of those things and so we have to take the Bible’s view on divorce very very seriously.
I’ve been involved in trying to help a lot of marriages that were on the brink of divorce and there’s a reason why we try to do that. There’s a reason why governments all around the world care about marriages. Because if marriages were just disintegrating all over it will cause a catastrophe in the society. It’s terrible and so the Bible’s teaching on that is true.
But that’s not all the Bible’s teaching about marriage and divorce and can I say this is where the problem always comes. It’s when people try to claim the Bible and we don’t claim the Bible exhaustively. So, you find a particular passage in the Bible, you see that God hates divorce and then you say God hates divorce that’s the end of it. It settles everything. No matter what happens to you, you must stay there. Like really? This is all the Bible says about divorce?
Some people respond with don’t forget the children, don’t forget the children. Well, if those children exist in a marriage where there is consistent adultery, if those children exist in a marriage where there is consistent abuse, do you think God is okay with that?
I can tell you straight up from the Bible, that He’s not. Now I’m going to go a little bit deeper into this, but I don’t want you to leave here thinking that I am for no-fault divorce that’s why I’ve spoken about no-fault divorce. Alright? I hope we are clear.
They asked Jesus in Matthew 19 what He thinks about divorce. At that time actually, they had a huge no-fault divorce policy. You could put your wife away for burning your food depending on which rabbi you were talking to. Imagine how many of us will be divorced now depending on that criterion. So, there were a lot of no-fault divorces and so when Jesus answered and takes them to Genesis one and two, He’s saying look, this no-fault divorce is not right. It was permanent, one man one woman. Then they said but Moses gave them a right to divorce, and Jesus explains, you guys have abused that right that God gave to Moses for divorce. He said he gave you that exception because of the hardness of heart. Now some people have difficulty in heart, and they want to divorce. Some people have a change of heart, and they want to divorce. Sorry, once you are married, you are married.
You can’t just divorce for a change of heart, but for the hardness of heart. In the case where you can’t reconcile again on account of Jesus, on the basis of Moses, these are scriptures, you can and in many cases, I will say you should divorce.
I know some churches do this and I’m not trying to call them out, don’t forget that we are all products of our society, and it sometimes affects the way we read the Bible. But I’ll say this if we come out and ever say that there is no ground for divorce on account of the Bible, that is erroneous teaching, and not only is that teaching erroneous it is destructive. It is the hardness of heart that makes somebody say, I committed my body exclusively to you, you committed your body exclusively to me, we gave ourselves to each other and at some point in your head, you decided after I’ve given you the exclusivity of my body, you will now give your own to somebody else, totally rubbishing the sacredness of what I’ve given to you. That comes from a hardness of heart.
Now I am not saying necessarily that the first time that happens you must go and divorce, you can be right to do so. This is where we try to reconcile, people come in, there’s church discipline, you try to build the trust, but when the person is not repentant, and the person keeps doing it. There is a hardness of heart there.
So, what God then says is this, the hardness of heart will produce something worse than the divorce will produce. That’s the logic behind it. You have to choose between the lesser of two evils. It’s not at that point celebrating the divorce. It’s at that point saying because of the hardness of heart and because of God’s love and protection for people, sometimes the only protection that somebody has is to be taken out.
Let me say there is only one ground for divorce, the expression of the hardness of heart and it expresses itself in adultery that I have just spoken about, and it also expresses itself in abuse, and when I say abuse let me be clear, physical abuse. A childhood friend of mine, we grew up together. He has a sister ten years younger than him. I never met her, and I learned that, this is either in the pandemic or 2021, you probably heard of it, he stabbed her multiple times. Do we have to wait until that happens and do we claim that the Bible is telling us to? Which Bible?
If you are in an abusive relationship and the person doesn’t want to hear word, get out on the authority of God’s word. Don’t say I don’t care what the Bible says. I’m saying because you care what the Bible says, leave. Now maybe the leaving is separation first so that we can see whether something can be done. And when we’re saying leave, we are not throwing a party for the divorce. We are mourning the loss of the marriage but honestly, we are thanking God that that person has been taken away.
So, adultery, abuse, but what about the person that just says, and I’ve seen this with a number of people, just get up and just go. I know somebody who because the wife did not want to illegally move, the person just went and left a child. What kind of hardness of heart will produce that? It’s dissolved. It’s not nice. It’s not great. Divorce is messy. We live in a fallen world, but God is so kind, he’s so merciful, he’s so gracious that he says when my children and the people I’ve created are in a situation where marriage which was supposed to make them flourish isn’t, I will not always allow you to be there. I’ve given an exception for you to come out. I said this in the sermon, for some people the most dangerous place for them to be is in the marriage, it’s is in their house, going back home.
So, I hope this explains this thing well. Marriage is a beautiful thing. There are difficulties in marriage, and we have to work out to reconcile. A friend of mine told me at the beginning of the year because of certain beliefs he and his wife does not share, he said he realizes that after six or seven years that he married the wrong person and everything. By the time he finished, I said good I’ve heard what you’ve said, now don’t let me hear that from your mouth again. Not that he didn’t have legitimate reasons, but you’re married, so we are not going to talk about options outside of trying to make this marriage work. Yes, you had a problem with how you chose, and this is why a lot of you that are not married we try to tell you, stop trying to choose outside of the church, consult o. We know what we’re saying. We’ve seen many of these things, and once you’ve entered, you have entered, and it has to work. So I’m not trying to dishonor the permanence of marriage but at the same time because we love marriage and we see that some people are using marriage to take the lives of people literally and emotionally we have to say there has to be an out and that’s why in this church I’m very open and all that but if anybody goes around our divorced ladies and tries to say any kind of thing condemning, you will see my red-eye. There are few people that I feel particularly responsible for, the divorced ladies in this place. It will not be allowed for you to say any kind of bad word against them. The leaders will not allow it. The Bible does not allow it but also you don’t even know what some of them have gone through. Many of them the fact that they are standing like this, they are women of incredible strength and so whether you’re watching or thinking about that, hopefully, this is a welcoming place for such people.
Femi Osunnuyi is lead pastor of City Church, a gospel-centred urban church in the city of Lagos. Because of his passion for church planting and leadership development he also serves on the Lead Team of Acts29 and the Advisory Team of City to City Africa. He is happily married to Tosin and is father to Tofunmi and Timilehin.