Divorce Ponderings

There’s nothing more painful than the death of a marriage, no place where true grace is more needed. often the church sees divorce as the unforgiveable sin. How often have your heard the line, “Divorce never entered my mind. Murder, yes. Divorce, no.” Funny as it is, what that says is divorce is worse than murder! the other side, more common today, it a casual attitude: “divorce happens. Let’s get you into a recovery group so you can get on with life and find another spouse.” It’s not that obvious, but it comes out as a victim thing where the absent spouse if the sinner and the present one is just a wounded soul.

I’ve taken a first pass at a statement of divorce. I put it here, hoping I can get some good comments to move it toward some level of adequacy.

Biblical marriage is the publicly pledged, permanent, exclusive, covenantal union of one man and one woman, husband and wife for life. Jesus confirms the permanence of marriage, saying "they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

(Matt. 19:6). Building strong marriages and families is one of the church’s highest goals (Eph. 5:22-32; 1 Pet. 3:1-7). When a marriage runs into difficulty, the priority is true reconciliation, not just patching up. Anything short of that is a failure to honor God’s commandment.

The Bible prohibits marital unfaithfulness of all kinds, including neglect (1 Cor. 7:3-4), sexual unfaithfulness before or during the marriage (Gal. 5:19-21), and leaving a marriage for another person (Mal. 2:14; Matt. 5:32). Failure to honor the marriage vows is always sin (Ex. 20:14; 1 Cor. 6:9; Heb. 13:4).

Divorce is when a marriage dies, when the soul tie, the life connection, between husband and wife is broken and cannot be repaired. Jesus addresses two specific things that can kill a marriage: hardness of heart (Matt. 19:8; Deut. 24:1) and sexual uncleanness (porneia Matt. 19:9). He is clear that there are no "approved" divorces, no circumstances where divorce is sin free. The grace agenda is always forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. But when that is impossible, where there is irreconcilable abandonment, death of the marriage, divorce is a reality. Even as Jesus condemns husbands who leave their wives for other women, He expects the abandoned wife to be remarried, charging the adultery to the husband (Matt. 5:32).

Divorce is always the product of sin, but it is not the unforgiveable sin. The goal will be to move divorced people to God’s grace, back to God’s pattern for life. That will begin with support so they will find forgiveness and cleansing for the trauma wreaked by the death of the marriage. That will always include personal sin, not just damage from the sin of the spouse and the circumstances. When restoration has brought the person back to wholeness, there is the possibility of another marriage. Though that marriage will always be overshadowed by the presence of the former spouse and the broken marriage bond, it can be successful when done under the care of the church, with honesty about sin, and the power of the Spirit for Christlike life. Grace never ignores sin, but works God’s healing in moving broken sinful people to God’s pattern for life and marriage.

4 thoughts on “Divorce Ponderings

  1. Gerry,

    This is a well written and clear explanation on the matters of marriage and divorce. Thank you for capturing this in thought and sharing it!

    Tim

  2. Divorce has been a wound I have wrestled with since the day my parents split up when I was in the 6th grade. I have thought a lot about the grace of God in restoring people after life crushing situations like divorce. My thought has been, “how do you build trust back after divorce”? How does divorce impact our overall Christian Character? How do you go from a guarded heart to a trusting heart? What is the best way to deal with big wounds like divorce? Just some thoughts…relationships take a lot of work…it is perplexing to think of how much work, time, love, and effort God invests into all of us.
    Tim

  3. I have a question about reconciliation. My husband and I divorced twenty years ago, and during this time I neither dated nor remarried. I devoted my time to raising my two sons and serving the Lord. He however, remarried after having two children with two different women and a third with his second wife. All of the relationships have ended and he is again divorced. He went through some hard times and depression and began to call just to talk. We have been talking for close to a year and has hinted to a reconciliation. I forgave him a while back in order for me to move on but I am not sure where the Bible stands on reconciliation after he was remarried. I do not want to be compounding sin in ignorance. I would love to know your thoughts.

    • This is quite a story! I applaud your faithfulness to your marriage and family even when it had to be super hard much of the time. The OT is quite clear that taking a divorced spouse back is forbidden (Deut. 24) but we are no longer under the Mosaic Covenant – that was aimed at life in Israel. Further, it is aimed at men who kick their wives out and then soon bring them back when other arrangements don’t work. The certificate of divorce leaves the woman free to move on, perhaps into another marriage.

      Genesis as affirmed by Jesus is quite clear that marriage is one man, one woman, husband and wife for life. The death of a marriage means divorce happens but the goal is always one marriage. The huge question is whether you and your husband are really to the point where you can fully trust each other and live under the marriage vows: In dependence upon God’s gracious love, I do vow that I will be your loving and faithful husband/wife. I take you to be my wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death alone shall part us. According to God’s holy ordinance and as an expression of His covenant faithfulness I pledge you my true and faithful love.” If that’s true, then I would support the – gracious, messy – restoration of your marriage.

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