I asked a few weeks ago what everyone thought about this crazy idea I'd heard that maybe God might allow divorce for causes other than adultery. I said I would go away and think about it and come back.
Here's the "come back" part.
It will be a year or two before I'm fully comfortable with any position after such a major change in perspective, but I'll tell you where I am today and that I'm surprisingly enough, pretty comfortable with it. In this post, I'm not going to go into a lot of explanation regarding the scriptural digging that brought me here. If the whim strikes me, or someone asks, I might put together such a tour de doubt. We'll see.
Anyway, here's the score. I do not stand behind the accuracy of these opinions yet, but I throw them out for thinking out loud purposes.
From my earliest age, marriage was presented to me as a sacred union, in the sacramental sense. The bonding of two people in marriage was a spiritually "creative" event. Where there were two people before, now there were almost three. There were the first two people, and there was this third person who was the combined spirits of those two people. God saw them as one person, and that mingling of spirits happened before God as much as on Earth. Their union became a conduit for the grace of God into their lives and into the world, and its maintenance as much a sacred requirement as the Lord's Supper or baptism.
At the same time, marriage was presented to me as a profound spiritual failure for anyone who might have a call of God on their life. This was never explicitly stated, but it always seemed to be written between the lines. Paul thought it was better if I abode alone. The person who marries will have tribulation, and will have split allegiances. Jesus found those who eunuched themselves to be rare and highly gifted people. Some had the gift of singleness, and the rest succumbed to putting out the fire of selfish sexual or emotional desire by marriage, even at the detriment of the kingdom.
As frequently observed here and elsewhere, I am a little hard on myself at times. I doubt anyone ever actually put these burdens on me, but that they tried to present a balanced message. I probably heard the burdens much more strongly than they were intended. Still, I believe I was hearing an actual implied "ideal" behind the pragmatic "balance" that was being presented. I believe the unrealistic ideal of celibacy was mentioned, and the second best ideal was a high spiritualization of marriage.
Let me file away the thoughts on celibacy for a minute, and concentrate only on the elevation of marriage to a sacrament.
Adam says he will become one flesh with his wife. Nowhere in the Old Testament does anyone go beyond this simple description of marriage. It is not until Paul says in 1 Cor 6 that being joined to a harlot is a joining of a body dedicated to Christ with sin that the definition of marriage begins to get a little sticky, especially when that passage is linked to "be not yoked unequally." But even then, Paul never says anything about the spirits of the believer and the harlot having been joined. The joining is human, not sacramental.
At some point some man decided he could gain power by making marriage and its act a matter of direct spiritual concern. Some priest came up with the idea that marriage should be handled with the same gloves as new birth, baptism and the Lord's Supper - namely priestly gloves.
This was not a blessing to anyone.
Instead, as I look at scripture I am come to see marriage as a contractual relationship. I don't see any other contractual relationship in scripture that parallel's marriage, either. Marriage towers above every other contract I can think of. In almost every other part of life, we are told to let our Yes be Yes, and our No be No, and that everything more than this is sin. In marriage, we see conditions and penalties like in no other binding agreement. The partners must provide shelter, food and the duties of marriage to each other, or the marriage is justly made null - even when the wife is merely a freed slave. If a man marries a slave and he later abandons her, she goes out from the marriage a free woman. She goes into the marriage in bondage and leaves the marriage a freed woman without paying the price of a slave's release. (Exodus 21:7-11)
Per Moses, the three duties of marriage listed above are contractual obligations binding upon both parties. And God played by those rules. He provided for Israel, and betrothed Himself to her. In Israel the betrothal period was no cooling off period before the marriage, but the true and binding beginning of the marriage, even though it was a period of chastity. So God was fully, if yet chastely, married to Israel when He divorced her. She had violated the duties of marriage, and God justly cast her from Himself. God expressed regret for her decision, but no remorse for His own action. And He did not consider Himself to have hindered His right to be fully and desirably married in the future.
If marriage is a spiritual sacrament, extending into the heavenly realm, then such freedom in divorce is not available to humanity. If marriage is a contract with valid binding/freeing conditions, then freedom equal to God's is available to us. When our contractual expectations are violated, we have a right to require the breach be remedied in some appropriate way. When no other way is appropriate, then divorce is a fully allowed option. God used it.
But Jesus changed the rules. Or rather, Jesus' words to the rabbis have been interpreted as a changing of the rules. Jesus seems to say that there are no longer three contractual obligations in marriage, but only one. The man need no longer provide food and shelter to the woman or even sex, as long as he refrains from fornication.
Given the perceived tightening of the rules by Jesus, I have always maintained that divorce is legal in all conditions where it is desirable, but remarriage is only allowed when one spouse has committed adultery, and then only for the victimized spouse. Hence, I have always felt personally justified and free to remarry (except for the celibacy discussion which I am defering until the end.)
This has been a hard place for me. I have friends who initiated divorces because of abuse, and I could not have blessed their remarriages. Then again, as ladies who had already had children and who had been abused in marriage, not one of them ever had a desire to remarry so my silence was a moot point. It was an awkward thing for me, even if not really for them.
If Jesus truly ramped up the requirements of marriage, then I must stand by His words. Those women should not divorce, but could. If they did divorce, though, they could not remarry without committing adultery. This passed every test of doctrine, but failed the ultimate test of all doctrines - does it leave the donkey in the pit until the end of the Sabbath? (Luke 14:5) Any time a doctrine hurts someone honestly doing everything in his or her power to please God from a true heart, the doctrine is wrong. It's just a matter of figuring out how and why.
Then I read the argument about which I asked my question of everyone. The argument stands on its own two feet, but the proof to me is that it allows me to pull donkeys out of pits on Sabbath days. It allows me to bless the honest remarriages of honest women who are brave enough to try again. (Please remember that for my own case, I had been given my "get out of pit free" card already.)
The argument is simply this. Jesus was asked by the rabbis whether ambiguous term "duties of marriage" meant any of the hundreds of legitimate duties of marriage, or whether it specifically meant fornication. Jesus answered strongly that divorce is separating something that God put together (flesh), and that it was only permitted for fornication. The argument was that the rabbis did not ask about divorce for lack of food and shelter because those were obvious points. Divorce simply was allowed in those cases. The point up for debate was what the ambiguous term, "duties of marriage," meant. Therefore, Jesus also did not state the obvious, but only answered the point up for debate. "Duties of marriage" could not be made the legitimate cause of a divorce except in case of fornication. (And "fornication" is "porneia" in Greek, which includes things we hardly call fornication these days. Divorce for pornography addiction is legitimate even by the tightest interpretation of Christ's words.)
The argument delved into other Greek which I am not going to do here, but it was persuasive.
More importantly to me, the argument aligns with the things I see in 1 Cor 7, and other such places. It aligns with the donkey stuck in the pit. It aligns with marriage being a joining of flesh on earth, as opposed to spirits in heaven. It even aligns with marriage as a flesh and blood type of the marriage of the Bridegroom to His church, because He divorced the fornicating bride and married one whom He had made pure.
So divorce for true and continuous violation of any of the three contractual obligations is authorized by God, and a remarriage afterward is pure.
But this brings me back to the discussion of celibacy.
I have believed for the last 4 years that I could be freely and cleanly remarried, but I've not believed it in my heart. For the last 30+ years, my gut has believed that marriage is the lesser path. The scripture says some people are given the gift of singleness and some people are not. Full Stop. So if remarriage was a lesser path the first time around, then how empty must it be the second time?
Only that's not what the scripture says. And I did not realize it until recently.
Paul actually says refering to marriage:
1 Cor 7:7
For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.
Every man has his proper gift, and to labor to exercise a gift that is not properly mine is a recipe for a misery God does not have planned for me. There is no honor to God in living outside of the gift He's properly intended for me, even if such self-denial seems spiritual as an act of "will worship."
I have made this last little argument briefly and in the first person, because I'm the only person I know who has struggled with it. It's awkward talking in the third person when I don't know anyone else to whom it might apply, so there you have it.
I hope no one thinks prematurely that they have found answers in these thoughts, because they are not yet safe to be leaned upon. They are not yet proven in any way. But if they have helped anyone in their personal sifting of the scriptures for wisdom, then I'll be quite happy.
May the Lord grant us wisdom.