05 July, 2007

Divorce, Reconciliation, Remarriage and Remarriage

I shared this after one of our bible studies, and figure it's worth capturing in magnetic bits. At the time, it was in response to a couple of really bright questions; I didn't just decide to start making categorical declarations about divorce and remarriage. Here in blogville, I will be making statements out of the blue, but I hope you'll understand.

Divorce a hot button topic for most committed Christians. It might not be quite as hot as abortion, but it's in the same oven. People recognize divorce as an evil sweeping America and the world, and they want to stop it. The root cause must be found, and the usual suspects are are: lack of commitment, lack of moral fortitude, lack of commitment, lack of biblical headship, lack of commitment, lack of spiritual growth, and maybe lack of commitment.

I would like to add another cause. Lack of discernment regarding who is a Christian. In all the divorces I've observed personally, one or both of the partners was not a Christian in any real sense. Marriage is hard. Marriage without Christ is brutal, and it's brutal on both people. My sympathies lie with the Christian, but make no mistake, everyone bleeds when divorce comes.

My first point is this: If you want to slow divorce in the church, train your kids to know when someone loves Christ as opposed to just being a member in good standing of a church.

That said, it's important to admit that no one divorces over religion. My wife didn't leave me because I was too perfect a spouse, or too Christian. Everyone divorces because of real pain. And almost everyone divorces because one lover has found another. Someone has "outgrown this relationship" and is ready to move on - usually to a draft pick already waiting in the wings, or maybe not even waiting any more.

That moment is evil.

The moment that someone decides to leave their lover and even their own flesh and blood is an eruption of evil. The two were one flesh, but a third lover is brought to the union - and to the parenting. The one flesh union is both mystic and physical, but it's pragmatic, too. There are children - they are the "one flesh" made of love. If you know anyone who needs a reason not to divorce, I can recommend an incredibly depressing book about the effect of divorce on children - even children in their twenties and thirties. My ex and I read it a year prior to ever mentioning divorce. It didn't stop anything, but at least we knew what to feel guilty about. The book was right.

Divorce is evil.

I want to write about Jesus' words on divorce. It won't be easy. Not personally, and not grammatically. Grammatically, it's hard to talk about a thing that happens equally to men and women without saying "he or she" ad nauseum. I'm here going to apologize for the confusion below, because I am going to use "he" to refer to everyone involved. Since it's not clear whether the man or the woman is the offender in a given case, please understand that "he" means "he or she" for the rest of this post.

Is Divorce Allowed?

Matt 19:7&8
[Jesus said:] "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." [The Pharisees] say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? [Jesus] 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.

Marriage is a human mingling of heart, body and life. It is an investment at the deepest level, and the garden from which you take your every nourishment. Two people throw in with each other their need for daily bread, their need to reproduce and to nurture a family, and their deepest need to have a reason to get up in the morning. Their hearts hope to become reliant on each other. In marriage they became more than just one flesh, but one person.

The seeds of their hopes for love and life are planted in each other's hearts and "with this ring" they cannot be recalled.

Only they can can be recalled.

You wake up one day to find that your lover has poisoned the seeds he planted in your heart. They're dead. And you gradually realize that he's already planted again elsewhere, and that he's watering those seeds faithfully.

From the moment of that realization forward, divorce is a mercy.

I'm afraid I must be a little clearer here than courtesy usually affords. By seeds, I don't mean wild oats. I'm not refering to sexual union when I say "seeds," though sex is certainly one seed. Seeds are all the dreams, sweat and victories that we pour into each other's lives. Seeds are the strongest years of our lives, given to someone else who will remind us of them when we are enfeebled. Seeds are the joys of dreams coming true. Seeds are the hope that in later years, there will be fruit enough for two. But then, in one day, the seeds upon which you staked your future are lost forever.

[Jesus] saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away

Moses gave permission to divorce. He only gave it because of the hardness of our hearts, but our hearts are hard. To forbid divorce is to pretend our hearts are soft, when they aren't. They just aren't.

Divorce is a mercy granted by God to the innocent. When one of His children is forced to watch the seeds of his love walk away, and that field be planted by another, God grants the mercy of release. God permits the one abandoned to unlock those treasured bindings. Entirely appropriately, the divorce is usually initiated by the one who leaves. The divorcer cannot be truly "free" of his mate until the law of the land says he's free, and since he wants another so badly, he files the paperwork. And so, usually, the vicious mercy of divorce is dealt upon the victim whether desired or no. Sometimes the victim has to file when the other party wants a back door open, but this too is allowed by Moses.

Is Divorce Allowed By Christ?

Christians agree that Moses allowed divorce. They stumble, though, at the possibility that Christ revoked the permission Moses granted. Christ made anger a capital crime, when Moses set that bar at murder. Does He now allow the rending of one flesh in two? Or did Christ overrule Moses, and forbid all divorce?

Matt 19:9
And I say unto you *, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

I don't think it takes a lot of analysis to show that Christ allows divorce here. I'm sure you all already know the Jews had ruled that divorce was permissible for any reason. Jesus cut that laxity off at the knees, and said there was but one certain reason that was appropriate - fornication. In so saying, Christ allows that for one reason divorce truly is appropriate. Now, all the stodgy old ministers of days past were careful to say over and again, "This does not refer to one-night stands." And they are probably right. Falling into bed with some other, vulnerable partner is not even on the table in my discussion. When one partner poisons all the dreams of his victim and starts a new life with a new lover, though, then divorce is the only recourse the victim can have. And Christ allows it.

If there is any doubt whether the Lord gave us divorce as a mercy, it should be resolved by remembering that even He availed Himself of its sad release.

Jer 3:8 And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.

The victim of a fornicating abandonment does not sin in filing for divorce.

Let me deal with two objections:

Objection 1 What about the complaints of the one who leaves? (Allow me to call that person the faux-victim.) No one walks away from a marriage without justifying his departure. Continuing my sad little "seeds" analogy, there's two ways for a seed to die. The seed can be planted in bad ground, or it can be tended poorly. The faux-victim asserts that the seeds were tended poorly by the true victim, and that those seeds were long dead before he ever walked out.

This argument is defeated by scripture's wisdom. Love does not "move on." Love forgives, and in so doing, love heals. Yes, the victim surely failed his partner in very real and painful ways, but the the faux-victim doesn't forgive and heal. The faux-victim finds another lover who has not failed him (yet.) Fornication is, therefore, not so much the breaking point as the final nail. If both partners decide to give love, to forgive and to work to heal the other, then divorce will not come to pass. They might imaginably fail to build a living marriage, but they will not divorce. They will continue to forgive and make room for hope, even if separation comes. You will know they both were true in heart when neither seeks out a new lover.

The complaints of the one who leaves are given lie by his his actions.

Objection 2 What about mercy? We are commanded to turn the other cheek. Shouldn't we extend that eternal forgiveness we receive from God? Shouldn't we not divorce even when offended against, just as Christ extended mercy to us by dying for us while we were yet enemies?

No. In case of fornication, we should divorce. If you have gouged out your own eye, or cut off your own hand, then staying married to an active fornicator will make the same kind of sense. To remain married in such a case is an offense against justice, and one that God Himself did not allow. When Israel fornicated against Him, He was slow to divorce her, but divorce her He did.

Yes, show the mercy of God in giving a clean divorce with humility and peace. Yes, turn the other cheek for years by dealing mercifully with the one who dealt wrongly. But don't hinder justice by holding out hope that a dead marriage will be resurrected.

Is Reconciliation Allowed?

De 24:4
Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

God is against taking back the defiled. The scripture is against taking back the defiled. Do not counsel for it. No good can come of this thing.

Christian divorcee, if you find yourself laboring to believe God will bring back your spouse, give it up. Be done with it. I know in the old days they counseled that reconciliation was your only hope for remarriage without sin. They were wrong. This is an abomination.

I will not shut the door forever on the thought that God might work a miracle, and He might find a way to do something amazing. Hosea took back his wife, and God offered to take back Israel, so yes there are 1 in 1000 exceptions to the exception, but please don't believe you're one of them lightly. There are successful reconciliations, but there are many more flaming failures. Don't throw good years after bad. Let the Lord restore the years of the locusts, but Deut 24:4 says He'll do it another way.

Is The First Remarriage Allowed?

When a couple divorces, they can both remarry. And we know that in some cases those remarriages may be sinful. Jesus says that whomever remarries first is guilty of adultery, as is his new partner.

Matt 19:9
And I say unto you *, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

The first partner to re-mate reveals where his heart was all along. The first partner to re-mate sunders the one flesh relationship visibly that was already dismembered in his heart. Until that moment, the victim hoped. After that moment, there is nothing but a gaping wound where love used to be. No child of God does that to another. No child of God remarries first.

(BTW, I say, "re-mate," above not merely to insult any first remarriage, but because pragmatically that first remarriage is often not a marriage at all, but a cohabitation agreement, or a steady relationship with "committed" sex. If it's not marriage, it's still fornication. The fully legal remarriage, the bed sharing, the committed rendezvous, or serial one-night stands; it all fits into "except it be for fornication.")

whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery
And Jesus confirms this stricture. The victim of a divorce without fornication is an adulterer in remarriage. When the departing spouse remarries, he causes both himself and his new partner to commit adultery. He probably doesn't care one whit about that, but it is the truth.

Is The Second Remarriage Allowed?

I will argue in a minute that the second remarriage is a blessing allowed by God, but before I do let me set my expectations on any remarriage.

I have not experienced a second marriage, but it seems it must be a different thing entirely. There are things I gave away in my first 17 years that I will never be able to give to anyone else. The children I love will always be the "one flesh" from a union that died, and there will be no more for me. Other second marriages may be able to build on a second family. That's not an option for me. I could not again bring the idealism of my youth to the table - though that's probably a blessing in itself! Instead, I would bring fears and scars. Remarriage seems very different from marriage. Marriage is a chance to build dreams into a profitable fortress of family. Remarriage seems a conscious agreement with God that it is good that people not be alone.

I am not here trying to argue that remarriage is anything but an aberration in God's plan. I am, however, going to argue that it is a good thing, profitable for all and worth pursuing. Remarriage is a chance to make war against the nightmare effects of sin.

Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery:

"...except... "

Except for the hardness of our hearts. Except for the reaving of fornication. Except for the devastation of sin.

Jesus permits the freeing dismemberment of divorce and provides the healing of remarriage. When the hard of heart abandons his first love, joins himself to another, and leaves the victim to rebuild the shattered pieces of a life, then Jesus says, "except." This remarriage, the second one of the original pairing, is not adultery.

Many for whom I have great respect believe all remarriage is adultery. With them I must humble myself, and support them. If they were to remarry without faith, it certainly would be adultery. And so I support their decision. Except for God's mercy toward the hardness of men's hearts, and except for fornication, all remarriage would be adultery. But to ignore the, "except," and to ignore the hardness, and to ignore the fornication, seems to ignore things the Messiah was willing to heal. After the finality of fornication, there is the newness of remarriage without adultery.

Matt 19:10-12
His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

I'm a pessimist, but with each year the thought of lifelong singleness looks less and less daunting, more and more survivable. Does that mean I have been given the gift of eunuchdom? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe I was made a eunuch by an ex-wife. We'll see.

My current default position is that I will remarry, but my standards have been informed by my experiences. The fears my pain taught me are real, but so is the wisdom. I will not again marry a person on the scant evidence that they profess to be Christian. I mentioned at the beginning of this post that to slow the tide of divorce, we must teach our children how to know whether someone truly loves Jesus Christ. I recommend looking for someone with a track record of having surrendered treasures to the Lord and loved Him more deeply after suffering the loss. I know a lot of Christians who resent the Lord for things He's taken away, and there's no future with them, whether they're saved or not. If there's a better thing to measure, I'm all ears. Right now, it's the best I've got.

for the kingdom of heaven's sake.

The kingdom of heaven is forever. Marriage is only for a lifetime. Remarriage doesn't even last that long. When it comes down to what matters, all things are subject to the sake of the kingdom of God. If I can be single for the kingdom of heaven's sake, then sign me up. Right now, in my life, I see no additional value to the kingdom in my "freedom," but my eyes are open. Mayhap the Lord has something surprising in store. All cannot receive this saying, and I don't know which camp I'm in.

For most, remarriage is the thing best for the kingdom of heaven. If gardening is a glory to God, then sowing the seeds of love again in another's heart has to be a more glorious thing. If flowers are cheering, then smiles and warm glances have to be encouraging, and even inspiring. If a successful marriage is a glory to God, then a successful remarriage must be like the widow finding her lost teacozy. Heaven surely does not rejoice over a remarriage like the welcoming in of a new child of God, but the triumph of love where sin had ravaged cannot be a thing unnoticed by angels. Entered into with wisdom and courage, remarriage is a beautiful thing. I know of a couple gorgeous remarriages, one of 25+ years, and the kingdom is truly blessed by these four saints.

Let us think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. May the Lord bless each of His children.


Milly said...

From your heart. Very good sir.

Lynne said...

Wow! There is so much in this I hardly know how to respond. But I think you've cut to the heart of the matter in addressing whether the partner is truly christian. So many talk the talk (and even the doctrine) but when things move beyond their narcissistic comfort zone they prove to have self-serving and unrepentant hearts. My only question is, what do you think of divorce in cases of significant (and continuing) abuse?

Kansas Bob said...

I have walked with 3 couples in counseling since last September ... I held out real hope for 2 of the 3 marriages even though I got involved 5 minutes after midnight - all 3 marriages were seemingly over by the time I met with the couples.

Sadly, these couples spent years and years of settling for marriages that were increasingly cold, uncommunicating, unloving and passionless. My advice for anyone in such a marriage is to do something before it is past midnight in their marriage. Find a way to open up communication - attend a marriage weekend with your spouse, seek out counseling or talk to a pastor for advice.

On the plus side, sessions like these motivate me to push harder in premarital counseling sessions helping folks to communicate at a heart level and really get to know each other before they walk down the aisle.

Thanks for the post CP and sorry for the rant. This topic is one close to my heart.

Blessings, KB

Milly said...

If you are in an abusive relationship GET OUT! It hurts you and your children. It’s a rare thing for an abusive relationship to get better. To stay is putting your life at risk. It is the most common cause of injury to women ages 15 to 44.

The abuser is good at convincing himself/herself that they will stop and even better at convincing those involved. He/she will say it over and over again they will go to the minister or to a therapist then tell you they won’t do it again. Most hurt again.

I have seen what it does to a family and I can assure you that God doesn’t want that to happen to his children.

codepoke said...

Thanks, Lynne.

I did not address abuse, because Jesus didn't. But I figured I could comment on it later.

Milly is pragmatically correct. And I think even misled Christians who advise women to stay in abusive relationships for the sake of mercy, or hope, or obedience to their misunderstanding of the word of God agree that there's not much hope. An abuser does not change within a marriage. There is no pragmatic answer but to leave.

But is leaving scriptural? The abused woman (and it's usually the woman) often cares deeply about the abuser and about the standards of God. And that care is usually unhealthy in both cases. And that care is usually used against her, again in both cases, and by her friends, enemies, acquaintances, and church leaders. She is truly worried about offending God by leaving, and it takes a lot to make her feel safe in leaving.

She needs to leave. Like Milly says, she needs to leave and not believe all her abuser's promises of doing better. And that process of leaving needs to end in a legal divorce if that's what it takes to give her back a real life and health.

But is that scriptural?

Religious leaders have tried to help victims by saying that abuse is as bad as or worse than fornication, so the abused is free to leave. I almost roll with that. Fornication and abuse are different, though. Both break hearts, but only one brings in a third party.

I'm with Milly. Get out and stay out. And the church needs to step in and help the victim to get out and stay out. This victim will need a place to live and help to start a new life. She'll need help with her resolution to do the brave thing, and leave. She will need protection from a known violent man. She will need friends to fill the void in her life. And she'll need legal help to make sure the kids are safely away with her, and cared for when she's not able to be there, and, and, and.

Jesus' statements are not explicit here, but I think He clearly allows divorce in this situation. I believe common sense supports this divorce, too.

I don't believe, however, that remarriage is allowed after fleeing abuse.

This is just human reasoning, but here it is.

1) The abuser will probably remarry, making the point moot.
2) The relationship has been shredded, but as long as there's a wisp of smoke left, there's an opportunity for healing.
3) The abuser is human, and within the reach of the love of God. When there's no other woman brought in, there is still room for a miracle.

There's another point that I did not bring up in my post. I just could not quite make it flow, but it's important. An over-quick remarriage results in a repeat of the first's mistakes. I don't know how long someone should wait, but it's sure more than a year or two.

We all stand the risk of marrying the wrong person again, and in the case of victims of abuse, there is an even greater possibility that they will enter a second abusive relationship. So,

4) Not marrying again stops the cycle.

I say, divorce an abuser with a 100% clean conscience, but not in hopes of marrying again.

What do you think?

codepoke said...

Thanks for the rant, KB.

I have adjusted my position slightly on this since I last posted on it last year. Then I said that respect is the lynchpin. If either party loses respect for the other, the marriage is terminal. And if a marriage is hurting, the right answer is to restore that respect of the stronger member for the weaker.

I think I now see that commitment without warmth was probably the error of an older generation. And warmth without commitment is the error of ours. I still think respect is the cornerstone, but I've expanded my thinking a bit.

I too am talking with members of couples that are close to ending things, so I am very interested in your take on the importance of respect. Do you agree that it is the cornerstone, or is it just a piece of the puzzle?

codepoke said...

Thank you, Milly. Well said.

codepoke said...

These people do counseling on abuse as an organization. They come highly recommended by people I trust.

Milly said...

As some know abuse is a hot issue with me. I’ll post on it when I have time the worship slides need me for now. I will say that we need to give to shelters. When they leave they leave with very little sometimes sneaking out in the middle of the night. The better the shelters are the better the chance of them not going back to the abuser and things won’t be better because now he/she knows that they would leave so the danger is greater.

Think about your local domestic violence intervention when you want to help someone in need.

Kansas Bob said...

I agree with you about mutual respect CP. What do you think about unconditional respect?

codepoke said...

Wow, KB. Tough one.

I remember you putting that post up, and I wanted badly to say something about it, but I could not figure out what to say. Eventually, the moment had passed, and I just let it slip.

All respect is earned. There is no such thing as unconditional respect. Yet Paul commands the wife to respect her husband. What a horrible place to be, to be married to a man who cannot earn respect, but must be respected.

I think there are a couple of things at work there. First, the woman lives with the man, so she knows all his weaknesses intimately - along with his intimate weaknesses. She has to guard against only seeing the very real weak parts of her man. The correct answer is not to quit seeing the weaknesses, but to weigh them against the strengths as often as she can.

Not being a woman, I have no idea whether that's even close to right, but that's what it seems like. Being a man, though, I can testify without reserve that a woman who does not find that in her man worthy of respect will make that prophecy come truer than she could even imagine. We need respect at home in a deep, unspeakable, cornerstone kind of way. If we don't have it, we fall.

Restoring lost respect is genius-level work, though. It's not just a simple command/obey everything's OK kind of deal.

Milly said...

I know where my husbands short comings are but I still respect him because his strengths out weight it all. Sure I get angry with him he isn’t perfect, something I’m thankful for because I fall short of perfect a lot. I see that he has some great qualities. I think that women at times fail to see the men in front of them because they focus on the stuff that sets them off while the things that are the good are just furniture so to speak. They are there and you pay very little attention to them until they break or are moved. Then you miss them.

Lynne said...

What do i think? I know there's no scriptural warrant, but in cases of significant physical abuse I humanly would allow remarriage. once upon a time I would have been much more hardline, but to say she is still bound to the person whowas so cruel to her is to give him a continuing power over her life that he has forfeited any right to. I have also seen women who have only been healed from the damage of a previous husband's abuse by experiencing the love of a decent man. Is that wrong?

For me it grows more problematic when you talk about less blatant forms of abuse? What about the woman whose husband would never lay a hand to her, but who finds a hundred ways of verbal and emotional abuse to shred her soul. At what point does she say "enough!" where along the continuum do we draw a line? I wish I knew! (and yes, someone I care about is in such a messy situation)

As for unconditional respect, no you can't make yourself respect someone who has seriously lost your respect (especially if they are unrepentant)but there is a place in Christ where you can find a way through, not by lying to yourself a calling bad things good, but by honouring them as someone made in the image of God who has the potential, in Christ, to become so much more than what he is now, and you can honour that potential even when there is no way you can honour what they are presently doing. just a thought ..

Milly said...


Abuse is abuse and mental abuse does damage. She should leave him. God may not have every situation spelled out nice and neat for us in the Bible but Jesus shows us how we are to treat each other. Mental abuse leads to some pretty hard conclusions eventually she’ll find herself against a wall and her decision will be to walk away or give up. She should walk away and seek help so that she can move on with her life. There are lots of great guys out in the world who don’t hurt women.

Catus said...

well, some reading here. My wife has decided to bail. Restraining order, the whole bit. All wrong, and the church should have something to say about this. Courts, the state, lawyers.. their interest is in conflict. Reconciliation is not in their interest. Going to the state to disolve your marriage, without first trying to save it, is waaaaay outside the rules for a Christian, and the church should have something to say about that.

I detest the state, and lawyers, and all those who benefit from dissolving marriages rather than helping them.

codepoke said...

Hello Catus,

I hear the pain. I've been there. Of course, my wife was not a Christian, so she could not possibly have cared any less what any church would have said. She was, in fact, blatantly anti-Christian by the time she left and might have enjoyed trashing whatever the church had to say.

I gather your wife is still inclined to Christianity.

That does make life complicated.

Save yourself a lot of heartache, and find a way to grant her every benefit of the doubt, and live at peace with(out) her as much as you are able. Give her all the room she could ever hope for, and be fair to the point of giving if you possibly can. I'm not telling you to let her rob you blind, but be fair before she has to ask. You will greatly appreciate the simple decency and peace this will give the rest of your life.

As a practical way of achieving that end (since it's so against nature as to be ridiculous) is not just to quote Christ to yourself day and and day out. Find yourself a wise, brave counselor who's willing to tell you when you're doing something right and question you when you're doing something questionable. I'm not talking about marriage counseling, but about personal counseling. And you may not need all that spooky stuff or drugs or anything. You probably just need wise, objective, brave counsel.

You'll be so glad you spent the money.

May the Lord keep you until the last day.