Following an upsurge in domestic violence, with particular reference to the Prince Charles Dedjoe domestic abuse incidence that culminated in the murder of his wife, Lilian Dedjoe which generated significant public outcry but saw little action.

Another sad event has occurred even before the tides could settle, that is the death of Osinachi Nwachukwu, a popular Nigerian gospel artist, which sad event took place exactly a year after the former incident.

I have read and heard a number of opinions on whether a spouse should stay in an abusive relationship or opt for divorce.

The objective of this write-up is to discuss biblical marriage, divorce, and domestic violence in marriage.

Marriage

What does God say about marriage? Let us go back to creation. In Genesis 1 verses 26 to 30 God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, … So, God created man in his own image, … And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply… and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and…. What does it mean to be made in God’s likeness and image? In Galatians 5:22-23, the likeness of God is linked to the fruits of the Spirit. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”.

Also, in Genesis 2:18-24, “And the LORD God said, it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him. Therefore, shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh…” It is interesting how some Christians take this Bible verse to suggest that the man/husband must compulsorily leave his parents’ house. Nowhere in the Bible does it mention that a husband should leave his parents’ home to be with his wife. If that was the case, God would have told Abraham to allow Isaac leave his house when he married Rebekah. Before God called Moses, he lived in his father-in-law’s house with his family.  This text implies that a man must abandon all sorts of immaturity, irresponsibility and reliance on third parties. When a man marries, he takes decisions and live an independent and responsible life with his wife without third party interferences. As a result, the woman was made for man to be a support; a physical creature with whom he can have a connection in his own image rather than that of other living things. In a man’s life, a woman is expected to be his right-hand lady. Her contribution is unrivalled.

In Genesis Chapter 3:16 “Unto the woman he said, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” When we read the Bible, we realise that God is the God of order, and thus He highly values leadership. Although God was the ruler of the people of Israel even before they had a monarch, He delegated authority to persons he deemed capable, such as Moses, Joshua, Gideon, and others to lead them. There is no evidence in the Bible that these leaders abused the people. The people, on the other hand, were their responsibility, and they ensured that they lived meaningful and purposeful lives, to the extent of leading them to wars to fight their enemies. Thus, God’s order for a man to rule a woman did not entail, and still does not indicate, that he should abuse and control her. In the God ordained union, man is merely to be the leader, while the woman is the helper. The Bible teaches us that God is our ruler. God rules in the affairs of humanity, according to Daniel 4:17, yet God does not have dominion over man. So, just as God’s likeness to rule was given to man over woman when she disobeyed God; for this reason, a husband has no authority, right, or privilege over his wife to abuse her. Except for themselves, both man and woman have control over all other living creatures. God does not exert His power over us; he has graciously given us our free will, while he desires to carry out His will in our lives when we invite him.

What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder

This phrase by our Lord Jesus in Matthew 19:6 clarifies any misunderstandings about marriage and divorce. The marriage that God has predestined was what Jesus made reference to. Marriage was part of creation. God said that it was not good for man to be alone therefore he created woman as his companion. Consequently, God’s plan from the beginning was for no one to be single, because singleness, according to Him, equalled loneliness, which was bad.

In Isaiah 34: 15 the Bible says “Look in the scroll of the LORD and read: None of these will be missing, not one will lack her mate. For it is his mouth that has given the order, and his Spirit will gather them together’.

In Genesis 24, there is a fascinating narrative of how Abraham’s eldest servant prayed to God for a wife for his master’s son, Isaac, and was exceedingly successful. God is still engaged in the process of establishing marriages. This is because God intended to be the foremost partaker of every marriage, and as He stated at the outset, everything He made, including marriage, was good; because He created us, He knows the ideal partner for each person. The God-instituted marriage is one that God has put a man and woman together; that no man should put asunder, including the couple themselves. You may face the consequences for not inquiring about your mate, but He may also show mercy and intervene if you repent and bring that marriage to him.

Role of the church

When they are ready to marry, how many Christians seek the face of God to ascertain who He has prepared as their partners? It seems people misconstrue the wedding day as the appropriate moment to first involve God in their marriage. Infact, people find their own partners, then bring him/her to the altar on their wedding day for God’s approval.

When I witness a large number of pastors praying for the newly-weds on their wedding day, I find it fascinating. I’m curious to know if these pastors are now asking for God to intervene in the marriage. After that, the congregation is invited to pray for the couple’s marriage. What good can our prayers accomplish if they have already made their decisions? How many pastors and marriage counselors truly pray and intercede for their members during their pre-counselling stage? How many churches prepare their young ones, especially the males, before their readiness for marriage and the need for them to pray for God’s direction in their search as Proverbs 3:5-6 says we should ‘Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths’.

Marriage appears to be a carnival these days. The wedding ceremony is more important to most would-be newlyweds than the marriage itself. They put up their best efforts towards the preparation of the wedding in order to get the impression they desire whiles making little or no preparation for the marriage itself.

Repentance & Forgiveness

Most if not every marriage, including God ordained marriages is fraught with challenges. However, its sustenance is mainly based on the God factor; when God is at the centre of that marriage, no matter the challenges faced, it will overcome. God is compassionate and will show you how to regain your peace of mind. Psalms 136: 1 says that we should give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

God is the God of substitutions. In Genesis 1:29-30 ‘And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.  And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creeps upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.’ This obviously demonstrates that from the beginning, God created herbs as food for all living things. As a matter of fact, animals were created with the intention of being used as a sacrifice to God. However, following the deluge, God added meat to the herbs as food from the time of Noah until now in Genesis 9:3 ‘Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.’ This demonstrates how liberal our God is. God is not an unreasonable God, yet He does not compromise on His Word. He understands our frailty, that is why we should approach and speak with Him. When we mess up and return to Him, he grants us another chance. You may not have gotten it right the first time but His Word in Isaiah 1: 18 assures us; ‘Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’

Domestic Violence (Marital Abuse)

I am yet to identify any record of abuse in any marriage in the Bible. I want to assume that if there was abuse in marriages during their time, Jesus and Paul would have included it to the grounds for divorce.

According to the Domestic Violence Act, 2007 (Act 732), domestic violence means engaging in the following within the context of a previous or existing domestic relationship: (a) an act under the Criminal Code, 1960 (Act 29) which constitutes a threat or harm to a person under that Act; (b) specific acts, threats to commit, or acts likely to result in physical abuse, sexual abuse, economic abuse, emotional, verbal or psychological abuse, behaviour or conduct that in any way harms or may harm another person,  endangers the safety, health or well-being of another person, undermines another person’s privacy, integrity or security, or detracts or is likely to detract from another person’s dignity and worth as a human being.

It also states that a person in a domestic relationship shall not engage in domestic violence. A person in a domestic relationship who engages in domestic violence commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than five hundred penalty units or to a term of imprisonment of not more than two years or to both. It should be noted that per the Act, the use of violence in the domestic setting is not justified on the basis of consent. A single act may amount to domestic violence. A victim of domestic violence or a person with information about domestic violence may file a complaint about the domestic violence with the police.

In summary, domestic violence is a crime that needs to be reported to the Police (DOVVSU) just like other crimes like robbery, rape, murder, etc. It does not matter how anointed you are, if you remain in an abusive marriage, you are likely to die. It is that simple. Couples should learn to seek God for themselves rather than relying on the opinions of others.

Anyone having the likeness of God as enumerated above can never abuse his or her spouse. God hates abuse. We are commanded by God’s word to treat our neighbors as we would want to be treated. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul admonished men and wives to love and submit to each other as Christ loved the Church in Ephesians 5:21–33.

It’s about time the church detached marriage from domestic violence. Though marriage is spiritual and should be treated as such, the church should handle domestic violence as a criminal offence. They must report any incidence of abuse reported by their members whiles interceding for the couple’s marriage. They should no longer protect one partner at the expense of the other.

In my article titled ‘Domestic violence in Ghana: An analysis of Ghana’s current Legal regime’, I made these few recommendations for the religious bodies including the church:

  • Religious bodies should supplement Government’s efforts. The options of temporary shelter from family, friends and religious bodies must be explored.
  • There should be sensitisation and education to these religious bodies to encourage their members report domestic violence instead of propagating permanence of marriage and advising victims endure the abuse thereby treating the violence as a family affair. 
  • Victims should be given all the needed support from family, friends and religious leaders as they go back to normalcy instead of blaming them for the abuse.

Also, the church should have disciplinary measures for any couple who abuse his or her partner.  There should be a proper post marriage unit in churches where victims can share their pain without been judged.

Can a righteous person die an unrighteous death?

There is a common misperception that it makes little difference how a Christian die as long as he or she was seen doing God’s work. Only God has the ability to discern a person’s righteousness. A righteous person will suffer the consequences if he disobeys God (Ezekiel 33). There have been instances in the Bible where prophets of God died irrational death because of disobedience. See 1st Kings 13:18-30 (kindly take time to read this insightful story).

Divorce

It beats my mind when some leaders advise against a couple’s divorce under the pretence that God despises divorce. Meanwhile God has given the grounds for divorce, implying divorce is accepted under certain circumstances.

Divorce was never intended by God. Deuteronomy 24:1-4, God told Moses to command the Israelites that “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she finds no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house…

Jesus, our Lord, also reaffirmed this in Matthew 5: 31-32 ‘…But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery’. Also, in Matthew 19:3-9 Jesus was asked a question on divorce is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

Jesus is referring to divorce or a man/woman putting away his/her God ordained spouse. As indicated, whatever he created or established was good. Therefore, in the eyes of God, that marriage is perfect, so He does not recognize one leaving his/her spouse. When a person does that, then you both intend to stay single and alone. Otherwise, you going for another person is literally robbing another person’s mate because God said none shall lack his mate. Meaning, when God created you, he also created your mate. That’s another reason you should ask Him to reveal your mate. Apostle Paul reiterated this in 1st Cor 7:10-11 ‘To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife’.

In Matthew Chapter 19, the Pharisees asserted that according to Moses’ a man can put away his wife for every cause. Jesus clarified why divorce came to being and how God’s original design for marriage changed because of the hardness of their hearts. Therefore, the grounds for divorce are adultery and desertion by an unbeliever [See Matthew 5:32, 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:12 -15]. In my view, unless the abuse is frequent and it is affecting the wellbeing of the complainant, domestic violence does not necessarily have to lead to divorce.

Conclusion

Before using the expression ‘what God has put together, let no man put asunder’, it is important to know who put those couples together in the first place. If it wasn’t God, that marriage can be put asunder. The type of divorce Jesus advocated does not include marriages outside the Will of God and unfortunately such couples are on their own. In fact, people are free to do whatever they want with their own lives because we have been given our free will. It makes no difference whether or not you are a Christian. However, if you repent and draw nigh to God, he will do same. It is never God’s will for us to remain in an abusive relationship. It is crucial to note that God works with every one of us on an individual basis. What He might communicate with one individual about his or her marriage might differ from another. In Ezekiel 33:18-19 God says ‘If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and does evil, they will die for it.  And if a wicked person turns away from their wickedness and does what is just and right, they will live by doing so’.

I would want to make a sincere plea to everyone who knows any victim of domestic violence to report to the appropriate authorities. On behalf of a loved one, a person can file a report with DOVVSU. Do not wait until the person’s death before venting your rage and displeasure on social media. Any victim of domestic violence should also seek professional help from the appropriate authorities, particularly DOVVSU. It is better to be divorced, than stay in an abusive marriage. When you are killed by your spouse, who will cater for your loved ones including your children? I personally know of people who have ended up at the prisons because they chose the remain in abusive relationships.  If Osinachi and Lilian had chosen to defend themselves in their abusive marriages, they may likely have also ended in prison for murder just like their husbands. Why wait until such a misfortune?  DOVVSU should embark on a nationwide education on the need for victims to report domestic abuse. I humbly submit my opinion.

The author; Claudia Coleman can be contacted on appleogodeye@gmail.com.