The Suicidal Nature of Husbands who Hate Their Wives
As a young pastor, with relatively limited experience, it seems to me that there is no shortage of professing Christian men who want to get a divorce, have gone through a divorce or have contemplated divorce. Divorce seems to be an open option to many professing Christian men.
I knew divorce was a great problem in South Africa, but did not fully realize the extent of the problem nor the resultant devastation among professing Christians. I had more conversations with professing Christian men on this issue, than I had thought possible in such a short time in pastoral ministry.
Most of the men I spoke to tried to justify their decision, albeit in various ways. After much prayer and deliberation it became clearer that their efforts to justify their decision had one thing in common. Their wife had said or done something that had crossed the line. In almost all cases the men have concluded that their wife is the problem. They also assured me that they have done everything they could possibly think of to solve the problem (what they mean is they have tried everything to change their wife). Finally, they have concluded that the only logical solution available to them is divorce. They often conclude, "there is no hope, she will never change," or "just when I thought she could change, she dashed my hopes."
The husband often says something like: "If only she had not done that. If only she had not said that, then I would not be in this situation." It is almost certain what she had said or done is not the cause but only the straw that broke the camel's back. The root of the problem is almost definitely to be found in the built up frustration and bitterness in the heart. The habitual frustrations and unrepentant sins of both husband and wife lead to this moment.
The foundational problem with those who say such things about their marriage is that they are unwilling to accept personal responsibility. Both husband and wife may be guilty of not owning up to their personal responsibility. However in this post I will focus on the husband's responsibility.
Too many professing Christian husbands conclude that: "It is all her fault." some may even vaguely confess: "I know I am not perfect, and I have certainly contributed to the situation." This is a superficial and general confession to sooth or silence a guilty conscience. This falls far short of owning up to personal responsibility. What they really mean by such a general confession is: "I have my faults, but this one (our marriage ending in divorce) is on her." This is an abdication of personal responsibility and a shifting of the blame, veiled as a confession of guilt.
My work as pastor is to help husbands see that their wife is not their main problem. Their fundamental problem is not with what she said or did, it is their unwillingness to forgive. A husband needs to see that, despite all his wife's shortcomings and sin that contributed to their "situation," it is his unwillingness to forgive that is causing greater damage. Husbands need to hear God's word and stop exacerbating the difficulties in their marriage: Husband love your wife as Christ loved the church, giving himself up for her (Ephesians 5:22). I am not calling on husbands to just, "let it go." Letting go is not forgiveness. Think of where we would be if Jesus had just "let it go." He would not have died on the cross, but have left us in our sin.
Christ loved his bride the church when she was unlovely and unrepentant. He demonstrated what it means to take up personal responsibility for his fallen bride. He committed himself to his bride by giving himself up for her. He took the first step toward reconciliation, by taking up his cross to die. Some men think: "I would rather die than be reconciled to my wife." Christ says: "I would die to be reconciled to my bride."
It is this love of Christ that transforms His bride. (To Husbands who have tried "everything," have you tried following Christ? Have you tried imitating the love of Christ?) You see it is Christ's willingness and sacrificial death that produces the change in his Bride. His love transforms his bride. Husbands who try to change their wife without this love will never succeed.
Professing Christian husbands have a perfect example of how to love in Christ their Lord. Christian men are called to take the first step. Husbands are called to love their wife not because she is deserving, but precisely because she is a sinner. Christ has called you to be his instrument of grace in the life of your wife. Are the sins of your wife a challenge to you? Do they frustrate you? Do you wonder how will she ever change? Hear God's answer. She will only change if you love her, not for who she is in and of herself, but for who she is in Christ. Our Lord is not going to give you an easy way out to just "let it go," nor will he let you go. The way is narrow and hard, Matt 7:13-14.
Why is forgiveness so hard? Because the one who forgives will have to bear the cost of the sin committed against them. Forgiveness is to not hold someone liable for their offences against you. Forgiveness is having the right to press charges, and not doing it. A husband and wife need Devine grace to forgive! God must enable us through the Holy Spirit to be able to forgive. We cannot forgive in our own strength, because neither you nor I can, by ourselves, bear the cost of our sins against one another.
Sin causes damage. Sin hurts. Forgiveness hurts like the antiseptic that washes the wounds of sin. No one leaves a wound open to fester, so why would we leave open wounds to infect our marriages? Apply the antiseptic of forgiveness. Rather have the sharp and painful sting of the antiseptic than the infection of sin. Forgiveness won't kill you, because Christ removed the sting of death.
How can a man who believes in and shares in the resurrection of Christ hold his wife's sin against her? Don't you pray, "forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors?" Have you forgotten the words of Christ our Lord? Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Christ expects his disciples to forgive. How many times should a husband forgive his wife? 3 times, 7 times? Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. When we forgive like Christ forgives, we gain the assurance that our life is united to Christ. We gain assurance of God's salvation. (How can I be sure I am saved? Do you forgive like Christ?)
If Husband and Wife have not been in the habit to forgive and make peace, they likely will have built up some bitterness and resentment against one another. Bitterness and resentment can be difficult to deal with, especially when it is unattended to. Oftentimes it severely affects all aspects of the marital relationship.
Husbands who have become desperate to leave their wife have allowed unresolved conflicts to harden their hearts. They need to see that their unwillingness to deal with sin and conflict, leads to more bitterness and resentment. Husbands should be on guard against this aggravation in their marriages. Their desperate attempts to evade and flee are more of the same behaviors that got them into this trouble in the first place. This abdication of their responsibility is nothing other than hardness of heart. God's word is the only solution to a hardened heart. Only God's word is powerful enough to soften a hardened heart.
The desperate husband often says things like: “She gives me no choice but to divorce.” In that state of bitterness, the husband is not looking for counsel on how to save his marriage, but for justification and sympathy in proceeding with a divorce. He wants to get away from the open wound and infection, which he thinks is only on her. He is like the man heavily wounded, dragging his friend in for help and refusing the doctors help with his own wound. Men who walk out of their marriage in such a state are only spreading the infection of sin, while they feel that they have the Lord's permission to do so! Imagine the desperation of a "professing Christian man," to have the blessing of his pastor (or Christian family and friends), to proceed with a divorce. Depending on their state of desperation, you may even expect some of them to read into what you say to them, or they can completely twist your words, in order to justify their next step. Men in this state are on thin ice. They are hanging on by a thread, if they have not already made complete shipwreck of their faith!
We all need to recognize that every husband is tempted and will have the tendency to behave like Adam who blames his wife; “The woman, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate,” (Gen 3:12). If you are as amazed as I am, at the bible’s accuracy and sharpness in getting to the root of the matter, wait there is more! A husband who is bitter and resentful toward his wife has a far more fundamental problem. Look again at Gen 3 and see who the man has an issue with: The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” (Gen 3:12). The husband does not have a wife problem, he has a God problem. We, men, must be careful not to blame our wife. A husband who blames his wife betrays himself as someone who has a problem with God. Men, take it up with the Lord, and don't take it out on your wife.
How do you show a professing Christian man desperate to leave his marriage, that he has a problem with God. (More so, how do you help the older ladies in your church to stop pitying this "poor," "good," Christian man with his difficult wife?) He is a “Christian” after all, and “Christians” are not bitter and resentful towards God, are they? "No, he loves the Lord. It's his wife, if only she were not so difficult."
You will quickly see how bitter and resentful a " "professing Christian husband" can be when you bring up Matthew 19:1-8. What does Jesus have to say about a man wanting to divorce his wife? What would Jesus think of a husband's desire to divorce his wife? Jesus said: “what God has joined together let no man separate,” (verse 6). It is true that the law makes provision for divorce, Jesus acknowledges this and so should we. But what is the reason for this provision? Jesus said: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,” (verse 8). Moses made allowances for divorce because of the hardness of men's hearts. Divorce exposed the man's heart! The man who divorces his wife is hard hearted. A divorce says more about the condition of a man's heart than it does about a wife's conduct!
In light of Jesus' words, the husband who says: “She gives me no choice,” is exposed as someone who hates his wife. The provision for a man to divorce his wife, is for the sake of mercy toward the wife. A man who is bitter toward God will often take out his bitterness on his wife. People who are angry, bitter and resentful will smash to pieces, anything reminding them of the person they are angry and resentful at. A Husband who is angry and resentful toward God, will inevitably turn against his wife. The requirement that the man give his wife a certificate of divorce, was to further protect the wife. The certificate is God's mercy toward the wife, who is not required by God to live with a man who would destroy her.
I once encouraged a professing Christian man to seek the Lord and His help to reconcile with his wife. I encouraged him to take up his cross and bear it. He needed to reconcile with his wife and work at their marriage, for the sake of his children, and also for himself! I encouraged him that Jesus never said it was going to be easy (Matt 7:13-14), but that He is with us. This man was very distraught. He concluded that I was telling him that he is trapped in this miserable marriage. He could not believe that God would expect of him to live with a woman like that. He said (in way more graphic terms so I paraphrase): “I might as well commit suicide right now, rather than to attempt what you are suggesting.”
I was surprised that a professing Christian would respond in such a way, to the gospel call. Maybe he failed in all those years of marriage to respond to the gospel call to take up his cross. Maybe he failed in all those years of marriage to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25-26). Maybe he has never understood the Gospel call?
What had caused this man to conclude that a gospel call is a call to suicide? A Husband who fails to love his wife, fails to do what is best for himself (Ephesians 5:28). "In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,” (Ephesians 5:28-29). A Husband who hates his wife hates his own flesh. A husband who hates God takes out his hatred on God's most precious gift, his wife. And a husband who hates his wife, is self destructive.
Men, your wife is a testament of God's goodness toward you! How you treat her reflects your love for God. When Adam saw his wife for the first time He exclaimed: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen 2:23). Note that God took of the man's flesh to form the woman. It is going to cost the Husband to have a Wife. It is going to cost him in his flesh. This cost is not a result of the fall, it is the way God made it. (Maybe this is the Mystery Paul referred to in Ephesians 5:32?)
The Gospel sounded like a call to commit suicide to the man mentioned earlier, while it is his own heart toward God and his behavior toward his wife that is suicidal! Whatever it is that he loves more (money, freedom, comfort), it is keeping him from repentance and faith. What is it that you love more? Anything that you love more than God, will lead to the destruction of your marriage and ultimately your own life (Proverbs 5:22-23).
Men on this suicidal path lack faith in the Gospel of Christ. In it we are taught to take up our cross daily not because we are a bunch of suicidal martyrs, but because of our hope in Christ. To do otherwise would be suicide. We lay down our life for the one who laid down his, so that just as he rose from the dead, we may also be raised with him (Romans 6:4, Ephesians 2:6, Colossians 3:1).
2 Corinthians 13:5 "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-unless indeed you fail to meet the test!"