My husband hits me and the kids, can I divorce him?
This question and the following answer were originally published in the Sept 29th, 2010, Louisburg Journal.
A. This is a serious problem, and I don’t want to be shallow, so I shall give six sobering points that I pray will serve you:
1. Your husband is a dangerous person. Your situation is a criminal case, not a church case. Call the police immediately; he needs to be in jail for crimes against the innocent. Women should not—and need not—submit to abuse (especially out of some religious conviction). Please involve the civil authorities right away; it is noble and right to do so, and it honors the Lord.
2. Religious authorities regularly tell us that women cannot get a divorce in the case of abuse. This teaching is unfortunate, and has effectively trapped many women in oppressive marriages. The fact is, the Bible does allow for a woman to get a divorce in the case of extreme neglect and abuse. In the five books of Moses there are four causes for a legitimate divorce: in the case that a husband is not providing food, or home/shelter, or marital/conjugal rights (Exodus 21:10-11), or if he is an adulterer (Deut 24:1-4). Abuse is the extreme opposite of providing what is physically required, and is therefore a biblical basis for divorce.
3. Jesus, in the Gospels (Matt 19:1-9; Mark 10:2-12), clarified a first century debate about one of these four cases: the case of adultery (the debate centered on a dodgy reading of Deut 24:1-3). He did not thereby nullify the other three cases (again, Exodus 21:10-11); all four cases truly do remain valid for the governance of families.
4. Proof that Jesus was not answering all questions regarding divorce is that his apostles could bring more clarity to the other three cases (as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 7).
5. Religious authorities regularly assert that, “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16). In reality, that is a bad translation of Malachi and one should consult a better translation—the Holman Christian Standard Bible (Mal 2:16, HCSB), as one example. Malachi 2:16 does not bar divorce. Divorce, by itself, is not the sin, but the thing that leads to divorce is the sin. God hates the root cause. Hitting a woman, and then using “marriage” (or a bad translation of Malachi 2:16) as a defense, is doubly abusive. The fact is, God himself wrote a certificate of divorce to his own people (see Jeremiah 3:8). That divorce was not evil, but the breaking of the covenant that provoked the divorce was the evil.
6. To abuse a woman is to effectively reject her. The real end of a relationship, then, is when a man physically harms his wife. He has, in essence, put her out. She is free to have a divorce and to marry another. She is free. And he needs to be in jail.