Is a “Loveless Marriage” Scriptural Grounds for Divorce?

By Jason Jackson

“There is no spiritual law that demands you stay in your loveless marriage,” wrote “Reverend” Norman L. Conaway. He prefaced his remarks by saying, “I am a spiritual advisor.”

Mr. Conaway was responding to a woman whose depressing circumstance was shared with “Dear Abby,” and published in newspapers nationwide (“Dear Abby,” The Record, Stockton, Ca. November 12, 2002). This lady, “Sick at Heart,” described how she was “trapped in a loveless marriage.” She said that after her previous marriage ended in divorce, she made a “religious commitment” that she would never leave her second husband. Now, however, “Sick at Heart” feels so miserable that not even her doctor has been able to medicate her for depression — successfully.

Abby responded by encouraging “Sick at Heart” to consult a spiritual advisor. The good “reverend” from Eustis, Florida took the opportunity to write in and give this woman (and all America) spiritual counsel on loveless marriages. “There is no spiritual law…,” he wrote. This statement is either true or false. There either is a spiritual law that regulates marriage, or there is not. Mr. Conaway contends that no spiritual law exists that “demands you stay in your loveless marriage.” But what did Jesus Christ say about marriage, divorce, and remarriage?

The Lord said this: “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality [i.e., fornication], and marries another, commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9, ESV). The only justification for a person to divorce and remarry is the fornication of his or her spouse. Only in this situation is a person given divine sanction for ending the marriage and, if he or she chooses, remarrying an eligible person. But what of the “loveless” exception phrase? It may be cited prolifically by “spiritual advisors,” but it is conspicuously absent from the New Testament. It should be obvious — even to the casual reader — that the Lord’s admonition restricts divorce. But Mr. Conaway advocates divorce for “loveless marriages.” How many divorces have been on the grounds of too much love? All marriages that end in divorce are obviously lacking in love. The “loveless provision,” however, is not found in the New Testament. The question that arises then is this: “Who is going to be your spiritual advisor? Will it be the Lord Jesus Christ, or somebody else?”

Mr. Conaway suggests that “Sick at Heart” needs to forgive herself for this “mistake.” What mistake? They had love to begin with, so the marriage was not a mistake. Now, “the love is long gone,” and, supposedly, there is no spiritual law that demands that one stay in a loveless marriage. For what does “Sick at Heart” need to forgive herself? According to her “spiritual advisor,” she is guiltless.

Mr. Conaway confuses the issue further by citing the Lord’s conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4. She had had five husbands, and the one she was living with was not her husband. Conaway concluded that Jesus would forgive her — and so she should forgive herself.

The “spiritual advisor” may be more confused than “Sick at Heart.” He can’t decide whether she needs forgiveness or not. The Samaritan woman’s personal situation hardly offers a model for us today. The sparse allusions to Scripture demonstrate that this advisor is far from spiritual (cf. Matt. 7:21-23).

These observations certainly do not mean that we have no sympathy for this woman, or the millions of others who have experienced the tragedy of divorce, or who remain in loveless marriages. The answer is not, however, disregard for the law of God. There is something worse than a loveless marriage — and that is separation from God by dismissing divine law (cf. 2 Jn. 9). It is a false compassion that encourages people to enter into adulterous relationships under the guise of “God wants you to love.”

The Lord’s regulation of marriage still stands. The only justifiable reason for divorce is explicitly stated by Christ in Matthew 19:9 (cf. 5:32) — “spiritual advisors” not withstanding (cf. Matt. 23:16; Lk. 6:39).