Myth #10 Grounds for Divorce
The first time I wrote about this particular myth it created quite a firestorm of reaction from readers. Most of the people didn’t agree with my position and made me quite aware of their disapproval. That’s perfectly fine. I still hold the same position though. I do not believe that a spouse’s habitual viewing of porn amounts to biblical grounds for divorce. Is it sin? No doubt about it! Is it the same as physical adultery with a partner other than your spouse, no, not in my opinion or what I see in scripture.
Having said that, I would reiterate that it is still a sin to act out with porn, or carry on a virtual affair. By no means am I suggesting that an offended spouse should be okay with such illicit behavior. This is not an attempt to let a guy off on a technicality or to lessen the impact of the sin. What is important here is to recognize that even the “virtual affair,” or porn addiction, if carried on, often leads to abuse, severe neglect, and emotional, or even physical abandonment which I believe would be grounds for divorce.
There’s no question Jesus is serious about the issue of adultery. In fact he went much farther than his legalistic counterparts. The religious leaders of his day sought to perform mainly based on the letter of the law. They set the minimum standard when it came to living a life free of lust focusing on the two-party physical act alone. It helped them feel more righteous.
But Jesus set the bar much higher. He included the inner workings of the heart. The spirit of the law as it were. His goal was to let everyone know that you can’t be self-righteous about the fact that you haven’t slept around. Don’t be smug just because you haven’t been caught physically cheating on your spouse. He let his hearers know that the sin of adultery can begin in the heart long before it’s consummated in the bedroom.
It’s natural then, based on a reading of Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” to conclude that mental adultery should come with the same consequences as a physical encounter.
What we don’t want to miss here though is the point of Jesus discussion of the topic to begin with. Again, his point is to reveal to his hearers (especially those religious experts) a fuller meaning of the law. As Brad Hambrick says, “Jesus was calling on His followers to attack each sin at its root and to read the law not as a set of right actions but as a description of right values.”
Jesus’ goal was to put a spotlight on the lame hypocrisy of wayward rabbis. To poke holes in the rabbis’ inflated religious egos. Remember too that the subject of lust comes in the context of several other christian living issues. Jesus takes on anger, divorce, and how to treat enemies. In this context then it is appropriate to make the same application to lust as we would the other issues Jesus raises. Do we believe Jesus is mandating that those who hate in their heart be locked up just as someone who physically kills someone?
Finally, at the heart of this debate is a real distinction between the subjective nature of a man’s (or woman’s) mental fantasizing and actual physical intercourse. The Bible implies something mysterious about the union of two bodies that sets physical intercourse apart (I Cor. 6:16).
My practical interpretation then is that while both mental fantasizing and physical intercourse are clearly sin, the personal consequences to the offender are different. The emphasis in Matthew 5:27-28 is on the reality of the fact that both the individual who fantasizes and the individual who commits physical adultery need to repent, and seek forgiveness.