Jehovah expects those who are married to remain faithful to the marriage vow. When uniting the first man and woman in marriage, Jehovah stated: “A man . . . will stick to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Later, Jesus Christ repeated that statement and added: “Therefore, what God has yoked together, let no man put apart.” (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:3-6) Hence, Jehovah and Jesus view marriage as a lifelong bond that ends only when one partner dies. (1 Corinthians 7:39) Since marriage is a sacred arrangement, divorce is not to be taken lightly. In fact, Jehovah hates divorces that have no Scriptural basis.
What forms a Scriptural basis for divorce? Well, Jehovah hates adultery and sexual immorality. (Genesis 39:9; 2 Samuel 11:26, 27; Psalm 51:4) Indeed, he finds sexual immorality so despicable that he allows it as grounds for divorce. (For a discussion of what sexual immorality involves, refer to Chapter 9, paragraph 7, where sexual immorality is explained.) Jehovah grants the innocent mate the right to decide whether to remain with the guilty partner or to seek a divorce. (Matthew 19:9) Hence, if an innocent mate decides to seek a divorce, that one does not take a step that Jehovah hates. At the same time, however, the Christian congregation does not encourage anyone to seek a divorce. In fact, some circumstances may move the innocent mate to remain with the guilty one, especially if that one is genuinely repentant. In the end, though, those who have a Scriptural basis for divorce must make their own decision and accept whatever consequences it may bring.
In certain extreme situations, some Christians have decided to separate from or divorce a marriage mate even though that one has not committed sexual immorality. In such a case, the Bible stipulates that the departing one “remain unmarried or else be reconciled with” the mate. (1 Corinthians 7:11) Such a Christian is not free to pursue a third party with a view to remarriage. (Matthew 5:32) Consider here a few exceptional situations that some have viewed as a basis for separation.
Willful nonsupport. A family may become destitute, lacking the basic essentials of life, because the husband fails to provide for them, although being able to do so. The Bible states: “If anyone does not provide for . . . members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.” (1 Timothy 5:8) If such a man refuses to change his ways, the wife would have to decide whether she needs to protect her welfare and that of her children by obtaining a legal separation. Of course, Christian elders should give careful consideration to an accusation that a Christian refuses to support his family. Refusal to care for one’s family may result in disfellowshipping.
Extreme physical abuse. An abusive spouse may act so violently that the abused mate’s health and even life are in danger. If the abusive spouse is a Christian, congregation elders should investigate the charges. Fits of anger and a practice of violent behavior are grounds for disfellowshipping.
Absolute endangerment of spiritual life. A spouse may constantly try to make it impossible for the mate to pursue true worship or may even try to force that mate to break God’s commands in some way. In such a case, the threatened mate would have to decide whether the only way to “obey God as ruler rather than men” is to obtain a legal separation.
In all cases involving such extreme situations as those just discussed, no one should put pressure on the innocent mate either to separate or to stay with the other. While spiritually mature friends and elders may offer support and Bible-based counsel, they cannot know all the details of what goes on between a husband and a wife. Only Jehovah can see that. Of course, a Christian wife would not be honoring God or the marriage arrangement if she exaggerated the seriousness of her domestic problems just to live separately from her husband, or vice versa. Jehovah is aware of any scheming behind a separation, no matter how one may try to hide it. Indeed, “all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of the one to whom we must give an account.” (Hebrews 4:13) But if an extremely dangerous situation persists, no one should criticize a Christian who, as a last resort, chooses to separate. In the final analysis, “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”