Ethics: The Abandoned Husband

What would you do Wednesday!

Bob married Martha eight years ago, and they quickly had three children.  After six especially tumultuous months, Bob came home from work one day and found a note taped to the refrigerator: “Dear Bob, I can’t keep giving anymore.  I need some time for myself.  Good-bye for now.”  The financial stress on Bob has been great since his factory wages only partly meet the needs of the family.  Bob has lost his home, and the children have moved in with his parents.  Two years have gone by and after repeated attempts to find her, Bob believes Martha is gone forever.  He has no idea what sort of life Martha is living and has had very little contact with her.  Though he is generally opposed to divorce, he comes to his pastor wondering if God will punish him if he gets divorced.  “Martha isn’t coming back, and my children need a mother,” he says “Would God punish me if I got a divorce and began to date again?”  How should the pastor respond?
– David Clark and Robert V. Rakestraw, Readings in Christian Ethics: Issues and Applications. vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996, p. 255.

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tagged as , in Culture,morality

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 SirBrass October 27, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Why wasn’t church discipline enacted on Martha when she first left (even if in absence)? However as to Bob, he is free to remarry as it was Martha who broke the marriage covenant and has despised the marriage. I think the overall Biblical ethic allows for the one victimized to lawfully remarry when the spouse who did the victimizing refuses to repent and return.

2 Rhology October 28, 2010 at 10:10 am

SirBrass is right on.
Go ahead and do the church discipline on Martha now. Once it’s finished and she’s “officially” excommunicated, help Bob move on.

3 JimC October 28, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Here is what should happen- he should move on and so should she. We should offer him help and assistance. We should show her forgiveness and tell her in her next marriage to do better than this one.

The marriage was destroyed. It is over. Time to offer forgiveness and healing as that is what Jesus would do.

To excommunicate her is absurd. People are imperfect in many ways. This was her way. Not forgiving her is unacceptable, that is not close to the spirit of Jesus and frankly a devil couldn’t do worse.

I think the overall biblical ethic is clear- forgive and make the yolk light regardless of the sin.

4 Rhology October 28, 2010 at 12:48 pm

We’ll forgive her IF she repents. This scenario says that she is actually not present. No one can find her. I think you forgot that part, JimC.

5 JimC October 28, 2010 at 1:28 pm

No, forgiveness comes with no strings. She can only repent of this action by no doing it again. Her being present in this scenario is beside the point.

6 Rhology October 28, 2010 at 1:34 pm

“Not doing something again” is not repentance. It’s not doing something again.

It appears your definitions are a bit messed up, at least in this subject. Besides, remember that we have no idea whether she has any intention of not doing it again – she’s incommunicado, remember?

7 JimC October 28, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Thats what i said- Not doing the same act again. It’s over finished. Now we offer forgiveness.

I don’t think it is me who is confused.

8 Rhology October 28, 2010 at 1:56 pm

True repentance WILL LEAD TO one not doing the act again, but that is not the DEFINITION of repentance, JimC.

How do we offer forgiveness? She’s not there!
Where is it commanded in the Bible to offer forgiveness to the unrepentant? God certainly doesn’t do so. Are you “holier” than God?

9 JimC October 28, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Exactly thats what I am saying, not doing the act again. How are you not getting that? It says it right there. Not doing it again.

If she is not there I can still offer her my forgiveness.

Am I holier than God? Of course not but I’m not arguing with him just your version/perception of him.

10 Rhology October 28, 2010 at 2:46 pm


You clearly don’t understand what I’m saying. Until you show some sign of properly understanding it, I’m afraid we can’t go anywhere.

One thing on the 2nd half of the comment – does God forgive those who do not repent? Yes or no?

11 Jeff October 28, 2010 at 3:43 pm

I find it funny that the first thing said up top is excommunicate her!! Not lets get some help for the husband, lets make sure his needs and the childrens needs are being met. Just a quick kick her out!! Come on people, lets take care of the most important things first, then you can wreck havoc on her later.

12 biglo October 28, 2010 at 5:58 pm

SirBrass – We don’t even know if Martha was a churchgoer let alone a believer.

13 Andrew October 28, 2010 at 7:16 pm

JimC & Jeff – I think Rhology is assuming is that the church goes through the steps Jesus laid out for us in Matthew 18:15-17, and she has still refused to listen and repent. Namely, her husband has confronted her, he and another have confronted her, and finally the church government has confronted her, but she still will not repent. Then her excommunication is almost certainly justifiable, even necessary! Paul tells us in several places that excommunication is not a vindictive act, but a final attempt to bring the person back to repentance (1 Corinthians 5:5 and 1 Timothy 1:20).

Forgive her, certainly. But forgiveness and excommunication are not mutually exclusive things. Excommunication is never absurd when a person is unrepentantly living in grievous sin. Don’t forget that Jesus is the one who gave us excommunication.

14 DavidW October 29, 2010 at 7:45 am

I get to hold the contrary position, I suppose.

He should not divorce her. She should be under discipline, even in absentia, of course. Then I would have to defer to Paul – that as long as the unbelieving party does not actively seek divorce, a chance for restoration, repentance, and reconciliation exists. She’s not being physically abusive (except in the overly soppy, sentimentalist “abuse by absence’ arguments) and there is no grounds for proving the sin of ‘pornea’ – ie, sexual infidelity. She may be completely chaste. Bob has no notion of her current lifestyle.

And the problems will not go away with divorce. He still won’t earn more money, he’ll still be relying on his parents. “The children need a monther’ he says. They have one. Not a good one, but they have a mother nonetheless. The body of Christ should be overwhelming these children with mother-ness and it would be that that as the pastor I would be concerned with.

To my mind, Bob is lonely, frustrated and overwhelmed with parenting and financial responsibilities. That is where I would gear the church to loving on this brother, encouraging him always to be praying for the restoration of his wife. Adultery is grounds for him to initiate divorce – but it’s not an automatic thing. He can still forgive her for even that. Until she remarries, reconsiliation and restoration of the family unit must be the focus of pastoral advice.

15 Alison @ Femita February 5, 2011 at 6:11 am

Martha leaves her family and by doing this she breaks the sacred bond of marriage. Nobody is perfect and we all have difficult times, but we’re talking about a two year split here. I don’t see a reason not to divorce her.

16 kishore December 31, 2011 at 1:05 pm

What if the husband loves her the most and want her back ????????? Why are u guys at the first step talking abt a divorce ????


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