This post is not a part of the leadership series, but I can hardly talk about preventing divorce without talking about surviving it. I arguably know diddly about the former, and am so far still doing the latter.
There are several things to talk about, and I will do two of them in this one post. The first is my position on the scriptural, legal rules around divorce. The second is how to live through it. The third is how the church should react to divorce.
Update: I have over 2000 words on the scriptural argument around divorce alone, so it looks like this post will only cover the first point.
Is Divorce Legal Before God?
Divorce is not a sin. It just isn't.
Of the divorces I personally witnessed, in every case one person was sinning by causing the divorce, and by not deciding to mortify his/her disdain for the spouse. I have seen cases where both spouses were equally wrong, and cases in which one spouse truly was almost innocent. I have seen cases where the disdaining spouse filed, and cases where the disdained spouse filed.
I always default to respect for the disdained spouse who files. We are such chameleons that it is hard to know who is right and who is lying, but for an abused spouse to file can be the hardest, and the rightest decision they will make in their whole lives.
I know of marriages where staying would have been an affront to God. In those cases, filing might even be a qualification for leadership, not a disqualification.
Once sin has broken the marriage, there is no sin in legally leaving it. There's room for debate about what makes a marriage broken or merely damaged, but Jesus declared that there are times when the marriage is broken.
I have personally known very few Christian remarriages, so my opinions on remarriage are weaker. Jesus made room for remarriage, and I believe that He did so because it is a good thing. The old testament says that remarrying the spouse you divorced after that spouse has been with another mate is an abomination. As such, I tend to believe that remarrying the spouse who divorced you is usually a bad, bad idea.
I am against reconciliation after either spouse has moved on, and will actively counsel against it for 3 reasons. In reverse order of priority: 1) The departing spouse needs to know that there is no road back while they are making their decision. It may give them pause. 2) The scripture says so. 3) The abandoned spouse needs to be able to close that door, paint it over, and know that they are safe. They will never again have to wrestle in that particular pit of alligators. That man or woman is gone, and will never be allowed to get close enough to hurt them that way again. Never.
I will also note that I cannot think of a divorce that I witnessed in which one or both of the spouses did not leave the Lord. That is a hugely significant fact in my mind.
OK. That's my opinion, and I know it's a minority view. For the record, my views on this subject have not substantially changed in over 20 years. My divorce has refined them a little, but not reversed them on any point. Let me lay out the scriptures that took me here.
31 "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
Obviously, this is the biggie.
Before we can look at what these two verses mean, though, I think it is important to pull in some of the context quotes that surround it.
28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.
30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.
34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all:
Estimate the number of times you have heard someone quote the sermon on the mount with regard to divorce, and proclaim with certainty that no one should ever divorce, and even more certainly never remarry. Now, count the number of times you have heard someone recommend gouging out an eye or whacking off a hand. Is there any correspondence?
What can we learn from this?
Someone is slanting this message for some reason.
The verse plainly says that divorce in the case of adultery is legal, and that remarriage is as well. Jesus was tightening the screws on the Pharisees because they thought marriage was a trap from which they needed occasional release. I call a Pharisee to the stand:
1 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"
4 "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' [a] 5 and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh' [b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
7 "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"
8 Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."
10 The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."
11 Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others have been made eunuchs; and others have renounced marriage [c] because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."
What God has put together let no man separate, but when it is separated it is not justice, mercy, or wisdom to require a victimized spouse to continue to be victimized. Nor is it just, merciful or wise to require a divorced victim to spend their remaining years alone. God does not treat His children like this.
Sexual immorality tears asunder that which God has joined. I grow frustrated with blatherings about not divorcing for "a one-night stand." I have never seen a divorce over a one-night stand. Divorce is always about disdain, and disdain either flaunts its conquests outside of marriage or protests its disappointments within the marriage. No happy couple could be torn apart by a one-night stand, so why torture the victim of a divorce by questioning whether or not they have been hurt enough to warrant giving up on the marriage? Why do that? They are having a hard enough time wrapping their mind around the fact their life is about to be shredded and used to line a kitty-litter box. Accept that this is not happening because they got bored.
Notice verse 10. The Pharisees were driving this discussion, but when the question gets really touchy, it's Jesus' own disciples who are asking it!
The disciples are appalled that Jesus might ask them to go through their whole lives with just one woman. They would rather be lonely all their lives than risk dying trapped in a marriage to a woman grown inconvenient. This custom of the Pharisees had taken over even the decent men of the day.
So Jesus stands against this type and custom of divorce. He speaks the simple truth. Divorce, excepting for adultery, is a cause of adultery. Divorce in the case of adultery is completely permitted, as is remarriage. The parallel passage in Mark does not mention the exception for adultery. There are those who put great stock in this ommision, but for the life of me I cannot understand why. Whatever. The single sentence quote in Luke from this whole discussion also omits the exception, but Luke omitted 9 other verses of this discussion too. Again, this ommision does not daunt me.
I enjoy the answer of Jesus to His disciples in verse 11. They suggest that they would be happier to live single if they cannot divorce for trivialities. He accepts their magnanimous/sulking offer, and proceeds to tell them how to fulfill their lofty goals. That is good for a healthy chuckle!
1 Cor 7
10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
This verse also omits the statement allowing divorce in the case of adultery. Now I begin to sound like a broken record if I say that I don't care whether he forgot it. So, I will look at the verses that Paul references. Remember that he says he is quoting the Lord with this command.
1 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, 4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.
First, and most obvious, God allows divorce. Paul is quoting God's law, but it must be understood in the context of God's law. What God has put together, don't tear asunder, but if it must be torn there is a legal way to do so.
Second, the divorced woman is allowed to marry again, even though she was divorced for a trivial cause (not adultery.) You will note that she is described as, "defiled." It is the fact that she married again without the cause of adultery that makes her defiled, not simply the act of remarrying. Jesus explained this in Matt.
8 I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.
God gave divorce to us, because He knew that sometimes it's the only answer. He divorces Israel. It was not His preference, but when she tore asunder that which God had joined, He did not sulk forever. God closed the door, and moved on. He divorced her, and opened the way to marry another, a spotless, bride.
The context of Jer 3 is God calling Israel back to reconcile their shattered marriage. That chapter and the passage from 1 Cor 7 both seem to say that I am wrong to resist marital reconciliation. Like I said, I am not as strongly convinced on this subject as I am on divorce, but my opinion is entirely one way.
I offer 2 answers to that objection.
To Jer 3) This is really no argument. God's call to reconcile with Israel failed. Israel would not return to Him, so I take Jer. 3 as proof that I am right. Reconciliation does not work.
To 1 Cor 7) In almost every case of divorce I have ever seen, the departing spouse left the Lord. I heartily believe this is because they never knew Him. Therefore to reconcile with such a spouse is remarrying Christ to Belial. It is better to live alone than to go through that, and better to have bamboo shoots under your nails than to go through it a second time. So, again I am convinced that trying to reconcile after either party has "moved on" is not a good idea.
In the case that a departing spouse were to return whole-heartedly to Christ, I could possibly entertain the thought of not totally opposing the reconciliation. That spouse would have an uphill struggle winning my recommendation, though. I would set my face against him and test him over and again. Forgive him? Sure. Trust him? Let him earn my trust, and it won't be easy. The first clue that he is merely hoping to return to a safe bed, rather than to the Lord, and he's gone.
I probably need to balance some of my pro-divorce rhetoric now. I really am not in favor of it.
10 Do we not all have one Father [b]? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another? ... 14 You ask, "Why?" It is because the LORD is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
15 Has not the LORD made the two of you one? You belong to him in body and spirit. And why has he made you one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. [d] So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.
16 "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate it when people clothe themselves with injustice," says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.
It is a sin to the wife or husband who is unfaithful. It is God Who is watching, and God Who hates divorce. Such unfaithfulness will not go unpunished.
But must we punish the victims? When we tell them they should live the rest of their years alone, do we do the kind of justice God will commend?
I don't think so.
So, I allow divorce, favor remarriage, and discourage reconciliation after either party has lived with another mate.
May the Lord cover me if I am wrong.
The next post will be a little more personal, and will try to describe the confusion that is a real divorce.