Q&A on Pornography and Divorce
QUESTION: I have been married nearly 30 years. Over those years I have caught my husband buying porn magazines. I told him I don’t like it. I pay the bills and this past week I found a charge on our credit card for $81.46 for RachelleXXX through Paypal. I think it’s porn, though I am not sure what exactly he paid for. Jesus said if you lust after another woman you have committed adultery in your heart. Can I divorce my husband according to Mathew 5:32 “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness,…”?
ANSWER: The more complete discussion on marriage from the ministry of Jesus occurs later in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 19:3-12). It is clear that God’s design for marriage is that it be a lifelong union. Before a couple considers breaking that lifelong union it is valuable to be reminded about the nature of marriage and those things which do break the union.
As is often written about, sung about and portrayed in books, TV shows and movies, marriage is rooted in “love.” What is often lost is the particular kind of “love” God asks for of a couple in marriage.
The Apostle Paul’s most extensive discussion of marriage love is found in Ephesians 5:22-33. Paul begins the wider discussion in Ephesians 5:1-2 by saying, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). This is an important starting point when understanding God’s intent for a marriage rooted in “love” for it is to be an imitation of His love for us.
The Bible uses two words for “love” — PHILEO and AGAPE. While the church talks most often about AGAPE love, most people have practical knowledge of PHILEO love. PHILEO love heavily emphasizes the emotion and affection components of love. It is that “warm feeling” of emotion that occurs when a couple finds a shared set of interests and an attraction. PHILEO is perhaps most recognized as part of the word “Philadelphia” which means “brotherly (ADELPHOS) love (PHILEO).”
When Scripture uses the term AGAPE the emphasis is less on affection and more on “commitment.” In John 3:16 we are told that “God so ‘loved’ the world.” The word used is AGAPE. In 1 John 4:10 we are told, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Again, the word used for “love” is AGAPE.
And to further emphasize the role of “commitment” even above “affection” we are told “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Again, the word used for “love” is AGAPE.
To understand this “commitment-love” of God it is good for us to remember that our sins make us most incompatible with God (Exodus 33:20). The sinfulness in each of us makes us most “unlovable” to God by the world’s standards. Yet, despite God’s hatred for sin He remained “committed” to us so that while we were still sinners — most unlovable, unattractive and despicable to God — He sent His Son to die for us. It is a spirit of devotion and commitment that is to permeate all of our lives in our attitudes toward others (Philippians 2:1-11) and yes, in that Philippians reference, the word for “love” is AGAPE.
So when the Apostle Paul instructs husbands to “love their wives” and uses the word AGAPE and compares it with Christ’s love for the church, the emphasis is on commitment.
Because of this reality we pledge in marriage to remain faithful to each other in the best and worst of times. In the worst of times we may not always have that PHILEO type of love. Sometimes emotion and affection is at a low ebb or perhaps, as in the case of dementia as couples age, there is not the responsive affection that makes marriage fun. Rather, through those hard times we live by commitment.
That is why the two accepted grounds for divorce are adultery and desertion and not simply “irreconcilable differences” or “incompatibility.” Both adultery and desertion break the commitment of the one party to the other party in a marriage.
When Christ compared lusting after a woman with adultery (Matthew 5:27-28), it is important to look at the point he was making. For those who thought they could earn their salvation and God’s favor by their strict obedience to the law there is the harsh reality that many sins occur in the heart. Through nearly 30 years of marriage, has a heart problem with pornography been the only “heart” failing in the marriage? Have both of you always been submissive to each other in your hearts? Have there been times when in actions you went along but in “spirit” you didn’t? Have either of you even once looked lustfully at another person who is not the spouse? Those also would be violations, acts of adultery or desertion of the marriage commitment.
The point is that you begin with the intent of marriage — a lifelong union between a man and a woman — and your intent to preserve what God has established with your marriage.
Next, look at the soul of the spouse. If in humility you are more concerned about others than yourself (Philippians 2:3-4), does a divorce mean surrendering the husband to a soul-endangering activity of adultery? That doesn’t mean you must tolerate the adultery but rather you consider every action you take both as an act of respect for God’s establishment of marriage and also as an act of concern for the soul of the spouse.
Finally, consider the offense. You are absolutely correct that lusting is adultery and adultery is grounds for divorce. But as implied earlier, Jesus was not spelling out formulas for breaking lifelong relationships. He was illustrating that even if all sins of action can be held in check there are the unseen sins of the heart that condemn us. Adultery is one example but there are many others.
Have the two of you had a calm and Christ-centered (i.e., how would our actions glorify God — 1 Corinthians 10:31) discussion about this problem? Is it a sin that is acknowledged and for which there is sorrow? Is there a desire to correct this lifestyle or is the intent to justify it? Has it gone further than pornography? Have you sat down with your pastor or with a professionally-trained counselor to work through these problems so that the lifelong union of marriage might be preserved?
There is the reality in a world of sin that none of us are without sin (John 8:7; Romans 3:23). If we are looking for formulistic justification for divorce, and all of our hearts can be read, could our spouses find justification to divorce us?
If you approach your husband out of a genuine concern for his soul and with a genuine desire to preserve what “God has joined together” and speak with him about his sin, consider his reaction. Is he defensive and justifying of his sinfulness — unwilling to listen? If so, more than just the marriage is at stake, so is his soul. If he does not accept your counsel, the counsel of your pastor or others who seek to correct him of his error, then it is his adulterous actions which justify the divorce.
If, however, he accepts the counsel, realizes the problem, seeks forgiveness, and credibly takes steps to address what may be an addiction, then rejoice for the marriage is preserved, his soul basks in the forgiveness earned by Christ and the two of you can work both on the commitment and affection components of your marriage relationship.