Editor’s note: As much as religious Nigerians condemn spousal abuse — or blame it on the woman — they frown even more on divorce. They would rather see a woman stay married and die than come out and be branded a divorcee, all because "the Bible says so". Contributing to Naij.com, Father Richard Omolade, a Catholic priest, clarifies the definition of divorce as it s presented in the Bible.
The Bible, for Christians, is the norm for all and is believed to be subject to no higher norm. This means it is the guiding light for actions for believers. This is why Christians sometimes ask: "Is it in the Bible?"
One area of human life that the expectations of many have not been met is in the area of marital relationship. Genesis laid the foundation for marriage and anchors it on the will of God. True believers must therefore observe the institution of marriage according to the divine will. Before we consider the dictates of the Bible regarding divorce, it is imperative to know what the Bible says about marriage.
According to Genesis, marriage is sharing of life, for when the man was found to be alone and lonely, God offered various remedies not proved adequate and appropriate until the creation of the woman who came and shared the life of the man. The significance of this special relationship is brought home through the exclamation of the man: "This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!" (Gen 2:23) The man saw himself in his wife. This "self" includes his true identity and destination, his hope and fears, his joys and aspirations. The woman revealed himself to him, and in so doing, completed his true identity.
This is why marriage proposal should not be offered to a stranger but to someone one has studied and has sufficient knowledge about, of course after the true discernment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. If this is allowed to take place, there will be no need for a divorce which is a permanent dissolution of a sacred bond.
Marriage unites two people and they become one (Gen 2:24). This means that marriage, according to the Bible, is between two people; thus, only a monogamous relationship is allowed in the Christian tradition.
Marriage is also between a male and a female. Hence, the recent attempts to redefine marriage do not adhere to the will of God and are forbidden by the Bible. Such "alternative" relationships may be called anything, a civil union, for instance, but not marriage.
Marriage is also not a rehearsal, it is not an experiment, it is a lived reality. That is why cohabitation, which is living together of two people but without the commitment of marriage, is a form of deceit because marriage is fundamentally a permanent state once contracted. In other words, marriage is meant to last. It is not for a day or for as long as things are good, but "until death do us part". Hence, the Bible reminds us: "What God has united, human beings must not divide." (Matthew 19: 6).
The primordial plan of God is for marriage to last, which means to endure until the death of a partner, after which the other spouse would be eligible to remarry if he or she so desires. The Gospel of Matthew makes is clear that no situation is good enough to terminate a union ordained by God. When pressed further as to why Moses instituted a writ of dismissal, which is a form of divorce, Jesus remarked that it was because the people were unteachable, because they had hardened their heart. (Matthew 19: 7-8, see also Luke 16: 18) It means the people were not living their lives according to God’s plan; they have not observed the institution of marriage as designed by the Creator. Hence Moses in his wisdom, looked for a way out, so that people will not continue in a state of bondage, he allowed a writ of dismissal to be given. What can we take from this?
First, the first option is for marriage to last; divorce then is not the first option is not an alternative life style but a negation of marriage. Hence where problems exist, couples must find ways to remedy the situation. Such remedy will include counseling, forbearance, and living a sacrificial life for the good of the marriage, the family and children.
The Gospel of Matthew allows for divorce in case of illicit marriage. Divorce here is almost a misnomer. Illicit marriage indicates that the couples contracted the marriage when in fact they were not appropriate for each other for various reasons, such as insufficient knowledge, deception or force. In such cases, the ceremony had the appearance of marriage, but in essence there was no marriage. If this situation is thus established later on, a writ of dismissal could be given. The Catholic church calls it a verdict of nullity. This means that the marriage could be declared null and void; that is, there was no marriage in the first instance and the partners can go their different ways, even when they have sired children.
A question often asked is: "What should a partner do if the spouse becomes abusive or violent?" It need be said that spousal abuse is contrary to divine will and social norms. A spouse should never be abused for any reason. Spousal abuse includes mental torture, inflicting physical pain and injury to one’s spouse. Research shows that both husbands and wives are susceptible to spousal abuse. The most common form of spousal abuse is suffered by women as wives, where it could range between 50% to 70% of households. The rate for men is usually between 15% and 30%. Spousal abuse is bad; it is immoral and inhuman. Such a treatment inflicted on one’s spouse is akin to self-destruction or injury. If it takes place and becomes habitual, it means that the partner does not recognize the spouse as his or her other self. What should be done in this case?
Violence has no place in family life; its presence in marriage is extremely detrimental to the good of the marriage and the good of the children of the marriage. Violence is detrimental to a relationship of love and could lead to its demise. In the confines of the family, women have often had to put up with incredible suffering, especially physical abuse and mental torture inflicted by their husbands. This is opposed to the good of marriage. Is this reason enough for divorce? Some would argue that it is. As we say in popular parlance, "Two wrongs do not make a right".
If the marriage is validly contracted, then Christian marriage cannot be terminated. The presence of violence is an aberration and something must be done to remove it. If this proves to be impossible, then the Church allows for separation. This means that, while recognizing the permanent nature of marriage, due to the unconducive atmosphere of the family, the couple is allowed to separate themselves, that is, live apart from each other so that the abused partner is protected from further abuse. In principle, they are still married to each other and cannot contract another marriage until the demise of one of them. The separation is granted, for the good of the abused partner, and in other cases, for the good of the children who are equally abused mentally seeing the suffering of one of their parents.
People do not change overnight, at least in most cases. Before marriage is celebrated, partners have been found to exhibit traces of their eventual behaviour that become pronounced once the marriage has been contracted. Intending couples must not be blind to these traces, but must sincerely examine the situation whether they can cope with it for the long haul. If you know of your partner's weakness such as anger and violent behaviour and went ahead to marry the person, then the much you can get if you can no longer cope with the violence and abuse is separation.
On the other hand, if the partner did not exhibit these traits to you during courtship and only began to treat you that way after the celebration, there may be grounds for nullity, particularly if it could be proven that he or she was hiding his true colour from the spouse.
In the final analysis, if wives are bones of their husbands’ bones and flesh of their flesh, they do not stop being these. As we know through medicine, the bone may become infected and ravaged by disease, the flesh may become wrinkled and cancerous, but these are still parts of the human body. The same is true of the spouses in marriage: once they found each other and voluntarily decided to be united and spend their life time together, they are required to live the rest of their lives together.
As the saying goes, marriage is life sentence, choose your cellmate carefully and there will be no need for divorce. However, more importantly, marriage is a sharing of life and love, so it is a delightful experience if done according to the will of the designer, God, the Creator of all.
Don’t marry a beast even if he has tons of money. Beasts terrorize and destroy, maim and kill. Don’t marry for looks, looks will fade and make-up will wear off. Don’t marry because your friends are all married, you didn’t come to life at the same time and your time is different from theirs.
Life is not a race, but a journey. Chart your own course and travel in safety. Don’t allow anyone, even your parents, to force you into a marriage. They will not be the ones facing the challenges. They can only sympathize with you. Marriage must be based on your own informed decision, willingness and knowledge.
Intending couples must also remember that Christian marriage is not a contract that is made between two people and some witnesses and can be cut short once the partners get tired of each other. Christian marriage is a covenant, and a covenant sealed with the blood of the Lamb and witnessed by God himself cannot be terminated. You may encounter some difficulties, but God is there to safeguard your marriage.
Services are rendered based on the terms of a contract, but in marriage, people share life and love after the pattern of God who has loved us with an everlasting love, even in our ugliness and limitations.
Fr. Richard Omolade is a Catholic minister and educator and may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp no. 08073153466.
This article expresses the author’s opinion only. The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Naij.com or its editors.
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