There can be a great deal of confusion and questions surrounding divorce particularly for Christians.
The matter of divorce (and remarriage) is a controversial issue for which a number of statements need to be made:
- If you are divorced or remarried you are most welcome in this church. You are not a second-class Christian!
- God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) – why? Because it breaks a covenant and causes much pain and hardship. God has been divorced and knows firsthand the amount of hurt it causes. Through the prophet Jeremiah God said, “I knew that the kingdom of Israel had been unfaithful and committed many sins, yet I still hoped she might come back to me. But she didn’t, so I divorced her and sent her away” (Jeremiah 3:8). I’ve never found a person who enjoyed the experience of a divorce.
- Divorce is not the unforgivable sin – it is a sin, but it is not unforgivable. However this should not be used as an excuse to escape from a marriage covenant.
- Divorce is not God’s ideal – but then we don’t live in an ideal world. God’s ideal is marriage to one person for life that is why marriage vows contain the words “till death we do part.” When questioned about divorce Jesus took his questioners right back to the Book of Genesis, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”
The Bible does give three instances where separation, divorce and subsequent remarriage are acceptable, because all three break the covenant of marriage.
1. The case of unfaithfulness
Jesus said, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” The person who is free to remarry here is the victim of the unfaithfulness not the culprit. Also, Jesus is particularly condemning the actions of a person who commits adultery, divorces and then marries the person they committed adultery with. A person must not commit adultery in order to get out of a marriage in order to marry someone else (Romans 6:1).
2. The case of an unbelieving partner departing
Paul offers the following advice to believers with unbelieving partners in 1 Corinthians 7:12-15, “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.”
3. The case of violence and abuse
It sickens me the number of times over the years I have heard of pastors, priests, counselors or ministers recommending women in particular, to stay with husbands who are physically, verbally or emotionally abusive. Ephesians 5:21-33 makes it very clear that submission is to be mutual, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies … each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Love and respect don’t beat each other up! There is no room for abuse in a relationship.”
These three things – unfaithfulness, an unbelieving partner departing and violence and abuse break the marriage covenant. In most cases …
- Separation is advisable (at least a temporary one)
- Reconciliation may be possible (with much support, prayer & counseling)
- Divorce may be unavoidable
- Remarriage is permissible.