My Husband Has Left the Faith, What Should I do?

How should a Christian wife handle it when her husband abandons his Christian faith? How should she deal with her children in regard to their father? Recently one of my regular commenters, a woman who goes by the handle livinginblurredlines, wrote the following about her husband who once professed faith in Christ:

“hubby has decided to become a philosophical Odinist….meaning he doesn’t believe Odin and all the other Norse gods actually exist, but that there is an All-Father that encompasses all faiths that believe in a high deity, and he follows modern Odinism philosophies that embrace strength of self, traditional families, helping your fellow, and nationalism. So, he has no desire to find or attend a church, anymore. So, what shall I do concerning this and our children? When I married him 20 years ago I never thought I’d be faced with this issue!”

What follows are answers to several important questions that Christian wives who find themselves in this situation may be asking.

Can I leave My Unbelieving Husband?

The answer to this question is found in 1 Corinthians 7:13-16:
“And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?”

So, as you can see from the Scripture above, if your unbelieving husband wants to stay in the marriage with you, God wants you to stay with him. And the Bible tells us that in staying with him, you may actually win him to Christ.

Regarding the case of a woman whose husband has left the faith he once professed. We must realize that a true believer can never leave the faith as they are kept by the power of God. In 1 John 2:19 we read the following of those who made professions of faith and then abandoned them:
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”

So, in this way as a Christian wife, you must forget your husband’s past participation in church or other Christian activities. Do not dwell on it. Wipe the slate clean in your mind and deal with him as you would someone who has never dawned the doorstep of a church.

Does God Still Want to Me to Submit to My Unbelieving Husband?

The answer to this question is found in 1 Peter 3:1-2:
“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.”

So, the answer to this question is yes, God absolutely wants you as a Christian wife to submit to your husband who is disobedient to the Word. You win a husband, whether he be an unbelieving husband or a Christian husband who has some areas where he is disobedient to God in some way. You win him without a word, without preaching at him, nagging at him or complaining at him. You win him with your actions and your life before him. You win him with your submission, your pure life and your reverent attitude toward him.

My mother is a living example of 1 Peter 3:1-2. My mother became a Christian while married to my father. She completely changed her ways toward him. She submitted to him, lived a different life in front of him and reverenced him. And these actions by my mother brought him to Christ and this enabled me to be raised by both a Christian father and a Christian mother. My father would go on to study the Word of God and become my mother’s teacher. This can work ladies!

Can I still teach my Children the Gospel?

In Acts 5:26-29 we read the following story about the Apostles:
“Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”

We can see from the story above that even if your husband forbids you from teaching your children the Gospel you can and should still do that. I would suggest you do this in private settings with your children. But you can show them you love and respect their father, but that this is something that goes beyond your relationship with their father and that having a relationship with God is the most important relationship we can have in this life.

What If My Husband Forbids Me from Taking the Kids to Church?

If your husband forbids you from going to church, you can privately seek the teaching of God. While he is at work, watch sermons from Bible teachers online. And you should privately read your Bible and pray. Let your children watch Bible teaching when Dad is not around. Have them watch Christian movies and shows that teach them about God.

But Isn’t It Wrong to Keep Secrets From My Husband?

A tenant of humanism is “complete transparency in any relationship”. No secrets. None at all. But this is not how God sees things. God keeps secrets from us, and sometimes it is necessary for us to keep secrets from each other.

In Proverbs 28:13 the Bible says He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy”. But then in Proverbs 27:12 we read “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished”.

And then in Matthew 6:1-6 Jesus made the follow statements:
“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

Jesus reveals that it is not wrong to do good things in secret. Whether it is doing good for others or even good in obedience to God. It is only wrong to do evil things in secret or to try and cover something that is a sin against God.

Conclusion

The humanist atheist and the humanist Christian would both find the advice given here to be absurd because they hold individualism as the highest ideal. Nothing is more important than each individual being able to live their lives out in the open, exactly as they want to live it (as long as that life style does not violate humanist principles in any way of course).

Humanists love the word “transparency” and regularly apply it to relationships. They don’t like secrets. Whether it is the government keeping secrets from its citizens, husbands keeping secrets from wives or wives keeping secrets from husbands.

Of course, humanists always have some exceptions to their rules. For instance, humanists have no problem with women not being transparent with their husbands about murdering their unborn children. But I digress.

So, the humanist would say “If the husband and wife cannot find a way to openly live out their beliefs with one another and tolerate their differences then they should just divorce. But by no means should the wife have to live a secret life as a Christian or keep these kinds of secrets from her husband”.

But for us a Biblicist Christians, we know that there are more important things than our individual wishes and desires. We know that the institution of marriage is more important than the individual happiness of either the husband or wife. We know that marriage is based on a covenant, not total transparency. And we know that we can also find joy in the midst of less than ideal circumstances.

In Matthew 6:1-6, Jesus tells us that being totally transparent in regard to our thoughts or actions is not always the best thing. In fact, he tells us that doing good things toward God, for God or for others in secret can be virtuous. And in Proverbs 27:12 we read that it is “prudent” to sometimes hide ourselves or our actions.

It is utterly disappointing for any Christian wife to hear from her husband that he has left the faith and he is not the believer she thought he was. But God can still greatly use such a Christian wife in the life of her unbelieving husband. And she can still have a vibrant personal faith and have an impact for Christ on her children and on others.

God tells Christian wives in 1 Corinthians 7:13-16 that they must remain with their unbelieving husbands if the husband is willing to stay.

And yes, it will be more challenging in the area of submission. But God makes it clear in 1 Peter 3:1-2 that wives still have to obey unbelieving husbands and he says that wives may win their husbands by their submission, pure lives and reverent behavior.

Christian wives who find themselves married to unbelieving husbands may have to practice their faith in secret. But Jesus shows us in Matthew 6:1-6 that not only is it not a sin to do good toward God and others in secret, but that such actions can be virtuous.

Some Christian wives abuse the Acts 5:29 principle that “We ought to obey God rather man” in order to openly defy their husbands at every turn. But as a Christian wife married to an unbelieving husband, you should make every effort to not have to openly defy your husband.

Does God allow a woman to divorce her husband for failure to provide?

“Will God allow me to divorce my lazy husband who refuses to work and provide for me and our children?” This is a question many Christian wives ask. If a man fails to provide for his wife and children does God consider this a breach of the marriage covenant allowing for a woman to divorce her husband?

As I have stated in the first two articles in this series on divorce (“Why does God allow divorce” and “Does the Bible allow divorce for adultery?”) – some allowances for divorce are gender specific, and failure to provide is a gender specific reason for which God allows divorce.

God allows divorce for a husband’s failure to provide

In the book of Exodus God gives a woman these rights that are due her, and if her husband fails to give her these three things she is to be freed (divorced from him):

“If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.” – Exodus 21:10-11 (KJV)

Here Moses’s states that there are three critical duties a husband has to his wife – he must provide her with food, clothing and duty of marriage. The English phrase “duty of marriage” is a translation of the Hebrew word “ownah” which literally means “conjugal rights” (right to sex).

If a man did not provide these three things to his wife – he had to free her. We will discuss denial of sex as a cause for divorce in a separate upcoming post. For this post we will looking at a man’s duty to provide for his wife, and failure to do so being considered a breach of the marriage covenant and grounds for divorce.

Someone might ask – “Why would a man free his wife even if he was not providing for her physical needs as God commanded?” While the woman could not free herself – her male relatives or the elders of their town could force a man to give his wife a bill of divorce and free her if he was neglecting to provide for her with food and clothing (and shelter would be included with clothing).

Is God saying if a man loses his job his wife can divorce him?

No. What God is talking about here is not momentary failures of a man to provide for his family. Some men may lose their jobs (either because of their own failure, or no failure of their own) and this temporary loss of provision does not warrant divorce. In fact some men may go through some temporary times of depression if they lose their job and a wife needs to be patient with her husband and build him back up.

Some couples may agree that for a temporary time while a man is finishing college to provide a good life for his family, that his wife may be the primary source of income during this time. Again this is temporary and for the ultimate purpose of him becoming the primary provider and her being able to step down from that role.

What I believe God is talking about here is a man that chronically fails to provide, he hates working and looks for any way not to work. He will allow his family to starve and it does not bother him, or he forces his wife to work while he sits in laziness doing nothing. This is the type of man God is targeting in Exodus 21:10-11.

Is there a difference between “failure to provide” and “laziness”?

While often times the sin of laziness is directly linked with a man failing to provide for his family this is not always the case. A man may have inherited wealth, or earned wealth from a business he owned many years ago and sold. Some men can live their entire life off their savings. So this man could be lazy – sit on a couch all day, play video games and eat Cheetos. But if he provides food, shelter and clothing to his wife and children through his accumulated wealth (rather than working a job) he is still providing and thus meeting this requirement of marriage.

Does this mean laziness on the part of a husband is acceptable before God? Absolutely not! God says in the book of Proverbs:

“How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?” – Proverbs 6:9 (KJV)

Our minds and bodies were not meant to lay around on a couch all day. Rather we were designed by God to be busy (both men and women) – God wants us to be ambitious.

But there are certain sins which God considers to be breaches of the marriage covenant, and other sins while still being terrible and wrong, do not breach the marriage covenant and therefore do not warrant divorce.

Does God allow a man to divorce his wife for laziness?

No – a husband may not divorce his wife for laziness, but he may discipline her for it as her head and authority. Just because a man is expected to be the primary provider, this does not free a wife to sit on the couch all day either. God expects both men and women to be busy.

Proverbs 31 tell us this about the excellent wife:

“She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” – Proverbs 31:27 (KJV)

“I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.” – I Timothy 5:14 (KJV)

If a woman is failing to keep the home, failing to cook meals or failing to adequately care for the children a husband could discipline his wife by removing her access to his income and him directly providing the food and other necessities himself. I even once heard of a husband shutting off the cable TV so his wife could not watch her favorite shows (because of her laziness).

What about if a husband is disabled?

God only expects us to do what we are able to do. If a man is truly disabled then his wife may have to step into that primary provider role. What we are talking about here is an able bodied man that refuses to work and provide for his family.

Conclusion

God is clear in Exodus 21:10-11 that a woman is to be freed (allowed a divorce) from a husband that refuses to provide her because in doing so he has breached the marriage covenant.

On a personal note this is one of the most disgusting things I have ever seen – and I have seen it up close and personal with some of my relatives and other acquaintances.   It disgusts me to see men get laid off from their job, and purposefully sit on a couch playing video games and watching TV collecting unemployment checks for months before finally looking for work in their last month of unemployment. It disgusts me when a man sits on a couch and has his wife go out and work and provide. It is different if he is disabled, but when an able bodied man refuses to work I believe we ought to follow God’s Word in I Thessalonians:

“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (KJV)

Photo Source:

Source: TRF_Mr_Hyde at https://www.flickr.com/photos/scottchene/7702773622/in/photostream/
Used under Creativecommons license 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/