The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deu 29:29 KJV)
Making decisions is a daunting process. There is much that goes into a decision, especially one that will change a life.
Take, for example, a decision to separate or divorce a spouse. This decision is terrifying enough, but it is often muddled by poor counsel. As Christian counselors and pastors, we must ensure that our counsel is based firmly upon scripture, and not the opinions or biases of men.
Whole books have been written on appropriate grounds for divorce, but the purpose of this post is to address just one area where we often go wrong.
We must remember that we cannot make decisions based upon what we hope God will do in the future. This belongs to the secret things of God. God has revealed to us what he wants us to know so that we can make right decisions that are honoring to him, but he has reserved the future for his hand alone.
To put this practically, suppose a wife reports – again – to the elders that her husband refuses to keep his marriage vows. Perhaps he is violent, abusive or engaged in fornication. Perhaps he is a drunkard or a reviler. Let’s assume that these facts are not in dispute. Everyone knows that this is what the wife has been enduring for years.
When she reports that she is filing for divorce, the answer of her elders is often something like this: “God can change hearts. Stay in the marriage. What will you do if he repents? What if he changes?”
It seems to me that this puts an unendurable burden on the heart of the wife (or husband, as the case may be). The church is asking her to make a life-altering decision based upon what God may or may not do in the future. But how can we ask our sheep to sin in this regard?
The devil took Jesus to the temple and told him to throw himself down, for God promised that he would not allow his foot to be moved. In other words, the devil told Jesus to make a decision based upon requiring God to act in a certain way. But Jesus called this testing God, which is forbidden in the law.
Let’s apply this to our example. The way that things stand now, she has grounds for divorce. Assume, again, that this is not disputed. But she is still counseled to remain in the marriage “in case he repents”. But repentence is a gift of God. Only God can change a heart. So now we are asking this woman to make a life-altering decision, or even put her life in danger, based upon what we hope God will do in the future.
But our text in Deuteronomy forbids doing just that. We cannot make our decision based upon the “secret things of God”. We are required only to make wise decisions based upon what we know today.
As of right now, is your husband a reviler, drunkard, abuser, fornicator? As of right now, is the marriage broken? As of right now, has he pulled asunder what God has joined together?
We can only make these decisions based upon what is revealed to us. To pry into the future is forbidden by God and is only a short step away from soothsaying and fortune-telling.
It is cruel and ungodly to force a spouse to stay in perpetual limbo because God may or may not act in the future, especially when Jesus himself said that God gave us divorce because of the hardness of men’s hearts. Because men’s hearts are still hard, divorce is still sometimes an option.
To ask what the offended spouse would do if there was repentance is neither helpful nor biblical. I could ask what I would do if I won the lottery or became rich and famous, but to base your life and obedience upon a fantasy is not honoring to God. Let’s not fall into the heresy of Creflo Dollar’s prosperity gospel in our counsel to hurting men and women.
CAN God bring repentance? Of course he can. That isn’t the question. Can God fill your bank account with gold? Of course he can.
Why is one fantasy wrong while the another is right? Would it be foolish to buy a new car or a new house based upon hoping that God can fill our bank account with gold? Of course it is. Then why would we counsel a spouse to stay in a broken marriage based upon hoping that God will grant repentance? All we can do is make the best decisions that we can based upon what we know NOW. Is the man a fool addicted to his folly? Of COURSE God can change his heart, but that isn’t the point.
Wisdom would dictate that throwing yourself off of the temple would be suicide. It would have been a denial of God. Wisdom also dictates that fools return to their folly. This is the norm, just as falling from the temple results in death.
As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. (Pro 26:11 KJV)
This is what fools do and will continue to do apart from God’s free and unmerited grace. God can, of course, intervene. He often does, or we would all be lost. We call upon men and women to repent and believe and pray for God’s intervention in their headlong rush to hell. We urge, we exhort, we confront. But when it comes to decisions – whether we are judges deciding on a sentence, church courts deciding on discipline, or spouses deciding on divorce – we must act in wisdom, not in fantasy.
Only God can soften a heart, and we pray that he will. But we have to make our decisions based upon what God has revealed to us, not through crystal-ball gazing or empty hopes.