So divorce has happened, what do you do?
This is a second part to my article on Divorce and Remarriage. What is God’s view on remarriage once a divorce has occurred?
First off, if you have experienced divorce I sympathize with you. Way too often marriages break up affecting Christians and unbelievers alike. As a follower of Christ it is especially heartbreaking because you know this is a departure from His intent.
The pain of divorce is multi-layered, cutting through the many facets of ones life (social, emotional, and even spiritual to name a few). When divorce occurs, friends change or are lost, it seems like people we had counted on find it awkward to be around us. On an emotional level, the pain is unbearable (so I have been told). This pain is akin to losing a loved one, except it’s more extensive because of the long onset of the culminating circumstances that led to the divorce. Hence, divorce is like losing a loved one very slowly, for several years even, and when it finally occurs, though they are dead to us, they are still very much alive. Possibly still inflicting pain on your soul with every unpleasant encounter, like a band aid can so flippantly rip off the scab on a healing wound.
Here we have come to the place, where a divorcee wants to remarry. And so like the disciples they not only ask the question if it’s ok to divorce, they also want to know about remarriage. Jesus gives some thoughts on this as well.
Essentially there are two definitive statements about divorce and remarriage that Jesus made in scripture, found in Matthew and Mark, and they seem to be contradictory. Let’s take a look:
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
Matthew permits remarriage ONLY if there has been sexual immorality (also translated as fornication). Mark forbids it implicitly, by indicating ANY remarriage is adultery.
Exploring the Matthew alternative first, we see that Matthew’s interpretation of Christ’s directive on remarriage, offers relief to the spouse whose partner has stepped outside of the marriage bed. But what about the spouse whose wife has abandoned the marriage, for years on end and is no where to be found, or the abusive husband, whose wife had to flee for safety. Are these bound to a lifetime of lonesome singleness?
The Mark alternative does not do any better in placating those seeking to remarry. Mark simply says, go ahead and remarry, but you will be committing adultery. He doesn’t give the exception of adultery as a reason for remarriage. What could possibly be going on here?
I believe Matthews condition of divorce and remarriage is God’s way of showing compassion to the spouse who has been wronged. As per my last article, Matthew is telling us, do whatever you can to stay married, work it out. Even in the face of adultery, broken vows, and unfaithfulness, it doesn’t have to lead to divorce. God can make a way. Try every humanly possible thing you can, counseling, comprise, patience, deference, etc. And whilst doing your part, trust God, through prayer and commitment to work things out. But, if it does lead to divorce, then God has mercy on the wronged partner. Since the divorce was because of adultery, they are free to marry without fear of judgment or reproach.
Why Mark’s interpretation then. How came adultery is not mentioned as a condition of remarriage? I believe it could be because of the following parameters.
God considers you married to the first partner even if you don’t.
Genesis 2, tells us the two will become one flesh. Romans 7 indicates only death can separate marriage.
Thus Mark is reminding us of the finality of marriage. Just because an individual can legally end a marriage for whatever reason, this, does not absolve them of the union formed with the prior partner. Somehow in God’s divine justice, the former marriage still counts. A lasting union has been formed.
Mark assumes that divorce and remarriage will not be a common occurrence, if at all.
Mark’s expectation is that if divorce happens, the single partner will not remarry. After all they have had their chance at marriage. His advise will be to live a sanctified life of celibacy unto the Lord (i.e., like a spiritual eunuch, see Matthew 19:12)
Mark’s harsh statement is really to curb the excessive divorce and remarriage scenario that plagued them in the 1st Century and still plagues us today. His hearers, were of a culture, where people will simply issue a certificate of divorce, for any reason they wanted, send their wife away, and find another (Matthew 19:7). Mark stands against this firmly, and agrees with Matthew. If you divorce, don’t remarry. But Mark doesn’t add the adultery exclusion, maybe because he cannot see another reason why anyone would divorce, or that since they have already had a first marriage, they should live celibate unto the Lord, or maybe God in His sovereignty didn’t want that added, we don’t know. Thus in order to stay safely with the bounds of scripture, my advise to those I counsel and I give to you today, is that if you are considering divorce outside of the reason of marital unfaithfulness, then take the Mark’s way, and don’t remarry.
Now, is this a blanket rule, with no flexibility? No. But it is a rule supported by scripture, and if you are going to deviate from this, then I would say don’t rush to remarry. Here is what I mean. If you do have a desire to remarry, then it should be with much counsel, much prayer, much counsel again, and after much time has elapsed. And true submission to counsel would be if your spiritual authority says its not a good idea, then you should take it as a confirmation from the Lord. Too often we let our own emotions, and needs, get in the way of God’s directive.
My prayer is that you will continue to seek God in all these things, and he will lead you, and that your utmost desire will be to please him, above all else. For in pleasing Him, will you be fulfilled.
– Pastor Olu Jegede