Any way we look at it, divorce is a problem.
It is a problem for the vast number of Christians who experience divorce, it is a problem for the pastors to attempt to heal the wounds caused, and it is a problem for theologians who cannot agree on how to deal with it. In three decades as a local church pastor, I never encountered even one divorce that was not painful and destructive at some level.
What makes it even more painful for those experiencing divorce is that often their theologians and teachers judge them harshly and condemn them to a future life of celibacy and loneliness.
The only parties who get a free pass in these circles are those who’s spouses have committed adultery; the rest are told to suck it up and persevere, or divorce and incur God’s judgement and the churches censure.
I have written a 2,600-word article on the subject of divorce, which you can find HERE, but for those who just want the high-level points, here they are:
- Matthew 5:31-32 records Jesus’ statement concerning divorce within the context of the Sermon on the Mount, and more particularly, within the context of the true nature of the Law concerning adultery. The subject matter is adultery, not divorce, and Jesus’ objective was to show the Pharisees that their righteousness was fake because when they divorced their wives they were guilty of breaking the 7th Commandment.
- Matthew 19:3-12 presents the account of how the Pharisees tried to draw Jesus into taking sides with one or other of the prominent teachers of the time. One taught that only adultery provided grounds for divorce while the other held that a man might divorce his wife for any reason. Jesus responded by defining marriage as God-given and inviolate. When questioned about Moses’ sanction of divorce, Jesus informed them that this had only been allowed because of the hardness of their hearts, but that this did not make it acceptable.
- Those who present divorce almost as an unpardonable sin often cite Malachi 2:13-16. However, this passage does not constitute an absolute ban on divorce, and how could it when Moses later sanctioned Certificates of Divorce and prohibited only one particular practice concerning divorce.
- In 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 Paul only approves of divorce when a non-Christian spouse initiates it.
- It is clear to me that God does not approve of divorce. However, divorce is not the 11th Commandment and does not constitute an unpardonable sin. It appears from Moses’ reference to a certificate of divorce that although God finds it very displeasing, He does provide for it in order to protect His people, and particularly the women. Jesus made it clear that this concession was only because of the hardness of heart and not because He or His Father approved of it.
- The Lord Jesus dealt with a woman caught in adultery in a very compassionate and forgiving manner (John 8:10-11). From this, and other passages that deal with repentance and forgiveness, we cannot argue that adultery constitutes a sin that God will not forgive, or that He will not fully restore a repentant adulterer.
- Jesus does teach that sexual union between either one or both parties in a post-divorce re-marriage constitutes an initial act of adultery, but there is no indication in His teaching that re-marriage creates a condition of ongoing adultery.
- 1 John 1:9 has, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. This is a well-established biblical principle and must apply to every class of sin except for attributing the supernatural works of Jesus to the devil (Mark 3:29).
- May a divorced person remarry? My answer is ‘yes’, provided the parties concerned realise that they have broken covenant and that God is not at all pleased with this. Additionally, they need to repent and seek to correct the attitudes and circumstances that lead to the divorce. Their pastor should be involved in preparing them properly for the new marriage covenant and pray with them for forgiveness and restoration.
- When is it acceptable to initiate divorce? In my opinion, physical or severe emotional abuse or rape are reasons to initiate a divorce. This would certainly also be the case if children were being harmed or in real danger of harm. Unrepentant and repeated adultery would also give grounds for divorce. But, in all these cases I would strongly suggest counselling or professional intervention before a divorce is finalised. Severing a marriage covenant is greatly displeasing to God and very harmful to all involved, and so divorce should always be a last resort.
Divorce is usually painful, destructive, and a negative influence on children, family and friends.
People who have experienced divorce, other than the callously self-seeking, should be treated more with compassion than with legalistic censure.