This blog series will take a different approach to discussing divorce and the Bible by starting where you are. I hope to address the concerns and questions of individuals who are considering or going through a divorce and want to understand what the Bible teaches on the subject. The series aims to dig into the Bible and explore what God thinks about divorce, the origin of it, and the heart behind why it was allowed. It will also consider the heart of God towards those seeking a divorce today. And my hope is to do all of this in plain English to help people like you stay interested and actually learn, rather than tune out after lots of hard-to-follow Bible doctrine or theology. It's the kind of thing I wish I had when I felt stuck in a marriage that in my heart I knew was over, but struggled to let go of largely out of fear of failure, fear of letting God down, fear of what others would think, fear of the unknown.
Let me start by saying that in general divorce is not a good thing. It disrupts the lives of people who got married with the full and serious intention of living together until death separated them. (Granted, there are probably lots of people who get married these days with intentions far less serious. But few of those people will ever care to read a blog series like this one.) Worse still, it disrupts the lives of children born to those people. I have officiated a number of weddings where the most tension-filled part of the preparation was worry over the participation, seating, and possible interaction of long-divorced, still-bitter parents of the bride and or groom. And this doesn't begin to take into account the pain and chaos brought into the lives of the extended family of the people involved. Even when divorce is warranted or needed it's hard to go through.
However, far too often, churches and well-meaning Christians have done great harm to people as they have held them accountable to their misguided interpretations of the Scriptures.
For example, mainstream Christians have long had a field day with the Roman Catholic option for dealing with failed marriages. Under a system that presumably allows no divorce, a person with enough money and connections can get his or her marriage annulled. So a person married for 35 years with three grown kids now married on their own - maybe even having grandchildren - can be declared never to have been married at all!
All so they can be "remarried" by a priest or receive communion at mass - something they would have been excluded from if they were in fact divorced. Meanwhile, this person who had their marriage annulled could have had multiple affairs during their marriage. What is wrong with this picture!
Here's the deal though, if mainstream Christian practices were as well known as the Catholic ones, you can bet the Catholics would have just as much outrage about how we "Christians" handle divorce and remarriage. The truth is that many Christian churches and even entire denominations have created even more bizarre rules or rituals about divorce and remarriage than the ridiculous Catholic annulments.
Frequently, a woman is belittled and bullied by a man for years. Often stingy not only with money but even more with affection and affirmation. He forces her to participate in offensive and painful sexual behaviors, all the while telling her how inadequate she is. He tells her repeatedly that she is nothing but a whore to him and that he must have married her in a period of temporary insanity. But if she were ever to meet someone who treated her with kindness and have one sexual tryst with him, she could be divorced with no right ever to remarry. And the cruel man who put her in that situation could be declared an "innocent party" who could marry again, serve in the church's ministries, and - in most cases - be ordained! What is wrong with this picture!
Divorce is not a good thing. But could it be justified as an escape from someone who is mentally ill? Whether its a divorce that takes place in a marriage that might have been saved with the appropriate help early on or one that is manipulated for the sake of appearances and status or one that happens because one of the partners is seriously mentally ill, there simply isn't a "good" one. So I understand why the God of Israel would say, "I hate divorce!" Having been divorced, so do I. And so do most of the people I know who have been divorced. But simply saying that divorce is not a good thing is too simplistic and doesn't take into account the harsh and painful realities.
Listen, saying that divorce is not a good thing is not to say that some good people haven't been divorced. It isn't even to say that there are no circumstances under which someone is justified to get divorced. Neither does it mean that someone that gets divorced for less than noble reasons is to be penalized for the rest of his or her life for quitting too soon or having an affair. With the God who has revealed himself in Jesus of Nazareth, repentance leads to real pardon and the opportunity to move on with one's life.
Sometimes the emotional and spiritual mess is akin to scrambled eggs - eggs that can't be unscrambled now. But there can be forgiveness and insight from past mistakes, and there can be normalcy in a new life. One can still marry and have a family. God deals with people redemptively. God's people need to do the same.
Many of you respect the Scriptures and it's important to you to know and be convinced that we have a biblical case for what we are saying. Is there a biblical precedent for divorced persons being permitted to move ahead with their lives after serious marital failure? Is there any way to speak with the authority of God in telling a divorcee that he or she can marry again after a divorce when he or she was the one who had an affair? Is it right for the church to accept someone into membership who has been divorced and remarried? Or must the church leaders investigate the circumstances of that divorce and be convinced that their first marriage ended by no fault of their own? Is it ever acceptable for a person in their second (or later) marriage to be ordained, to be a deacon, a pastor, or lead a church?
Delving into a blog series on these controversial topics is not on my top 5 list of favorite things to do. I know it will come with hate mail and spur people on to feel obligated to "prove me wrong." But my wife and I have both been divorced. Our parents were both divorced. Many people we deeply love and care for have been divorced. And so many people, including us, have been confused and even hurt deeply by common teachings about divorce and remarriage by the church and well-meaning Christians. Probably because of that I feel called to dive into this tough topic and reach out to anyone thinking about divorce, going through one, or already divorced, to help them learn about God's redemptive plans for people - even divorced ones!
In the weeks ahead, we'll dive into the origins of divorce in the bible, why was it allowed, new testament teachings on divorce, and share several real-world stories to help us truly sync up with the heart of God and grow a new sense of comfort and confidence that you know what the Bible says and understand it. May God use this to help heal and nurture you and those you love - Amen.