by Paul Landkamer
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My personal thoughts on the topic, or how I think I'd like to see things, don't quite mesh with how I read the Bible. I want to make sense of it all, but seemingly cannot.
Malachi 2:16 is pretty clear that God doesn't like divorce. Since God doesn't like it, it stands to reason it's probably something we shouldn't do. It's also not so clear to me that God, Himself, authorized divorce at all. Mark 10:4 (in red letters, even) says that decree came from Moses. The whole authorized divorce thing may likely have been a creation of man. But in the Bible, be it from God or man, divorce is authorized on the grounds of adultery or unequal yoking. Biblically approved remarriage, that I've found, is authorized only for a widow, and some versions specify a young widow. Matthew 5:32 and Mark 10: 11,12 are pretty clear on remarriage of a divorcee. It's adultery. Some might say that the victim is free to remarry, but Matthew 5:32 says even the female victim of a divorce is an adulteress.
My question, for years, has been, "How can a preacher, with a clear conscience, be a remarried divorcee or perform a wedding ceremony for a divorcee, except to reunite a divorced couple?" The incident that rekindled this topic for me happened a couple weeks back. A Christian brother in my Sunday School class told of a friend of his who says he can't come back to church because he's a remarried divorcee, and therefore, is living in perpetual adultery. In our class, we've got remarried divorced couples, and even one sister who struggled through rough times in her marriage, rather than seek divorce, because she did not want to remain single the rest of her life. I interpret the Bible as she does, and hope I never find myself in that situation. Since then, I've been wrestling with how to justify this guy so he'd come back to church. I truly believe Jesus wants him back, and with his new wife, too.
We're all sinners, and Jesus came to save us sinners. Only one human throughout eternity is perfect. That's Jesus. I'll say to the guy, "C'mon back to church! Even if your old church won't have you, we will." To try to come up with more stuff to convince this guy to return to Jesus, I posed my question to a preacher friend of mine. What follows wasn't our exact dialog, but it was close, and very close to others I've had on the subject, which are mixed in here, too.
Me (M): so how CAN a preacher, with a clear conscience…[see above for the rest]?
Him (H): But God allows for divorce…
M: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know that. I'm not talking divorce. I'm talking remarriage after divorce.
H: But if you get a divorce on the grounds of adultery or unequal yoking, you can get remarried.
M: My Bible's only mention of remarriage is for widows, and some translations even narrow it down to young ones.
H: But if you weren't the guilty party in a divorce, you should be able to get remarried. Do you think God would punish someone who's not guilty by not allowing them to remarry?
M: Aren't both parties divorcees? My Bible says to marry a divorcee is to commit adultery.
H: Well, you're just getting into legalism then.
M: I could justify gossip, lying, homosexuality, theft, murder and more on those grounds.
H: But would God really…
M: Show me in the Bible; don't throw what man thinks into it. That's like saying a loving God wouldn't punish anyone. I'd love to say God would allow remarriage. But I can't back it up, Scripturally. He specifically mentioned widows, why not innocent divorcees, too?
H: Well, God allowed David and Bathsheba to stay married.
M: Yes, but technically, she was a widow. And we DO know God punished it by letting their first-born die.
H: But he showed His grace by later blessing it by letting Solomon become king. Anyway, you're saying just because something's not in the Bible, God doesn't allow it?
M: I like that God's Grace thing through Solomon. And to your question, No! That's like saying because instrumental music isn't in the New Testament, we can't have it in church. Electrical power's not New Testament either, so on those grounds, we couldn't use electric lighting, or any electrical amplification for sermons, or projections for song lyrics, and more. (Are pews even mentioned in the New Testament? The only sitting I remember is where a guy dozed off and fell off a window ledge.) What I am saying is that Matthew 5:32 and Mark 10:11 and 12 are so unambiguous I can't see any grounds for remarriage after divorce.
H: But God gives legal grounds for…
M: No, no, no! Here we go again. The key words are not "grounds for divorce", but "remarriage after divorce".
H: Well, if they commit adultery, they can repent. Are you saying adultery can't be forgiven?
M: No, but the remarried state could be called a perpetual state of adultery, according to Matthew 5:32 and Mark 10:11 and 12. That's probably what this guy is doing.
H: So do you want everyone who's remarried after divorce to get divorced ?
M: No, I don't, but to repent means to turn from the sin. I'm not convinced by Scripture that the remarriage isn't a state of adultery. What I'd like to see, and apparently, what you want to see as well, can't be backed up by Scripture.
Now what my preacher friend suggested, and he's got a really good point here, is that this guy who feels he can't come back to church, is only using the remarriage thing as an excuse. There's likely a deeper issue that must be resolved. He's fishing for anything, and if the marriage excuse falls through, he'll probably find another one, like he doesn't believe in instrumental music for worship, as an excuse not to come to my church. My brother who brought up his friend, has, himself, gotten past that excuse of remarriage after divorce. Both he and his wife were previously married. I honestly believe that God accepts them, and doesn't want them to get divorced.
Another pastor says the context of Malachi and likely Jesus' words was to the religious leaders who were actively and knowingly engaged in serial monogamy. He also feels the Words were given out of love rather than to present hard fast rules for re-marriage.
The main thing in any marriage, be it first or subsequent, is to actively seek God to be a part of it. Don't ever say divorce, re-marriage or adultery is too big for God to forgive. God can forgive anything except refusal to accept His invitation. While the guy is wallowing in excuses, he needs to surround himself and his wife in Christian fellowship. I'll still tell him, "C'mon out and fellowship with us. We're not perfect, and we're humble enough to admit it. We'll even help you hash out your questions until you're as puzzled as I am." (Might as well be honest with him.)
I so much want to find that Scriptural backing, but without twisting anything. I don't want to say "I think" or "Nowadays, people…". It sounds like a re-birth is needed. It could start with a prayer: "Lord, I am scarred by divorce and remarriage. Please heal me. Lord, You can do anything! All I can do is rely on Your Grace. In Jesus' Name I pray."
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Matthew 19:9 gives something to ponder, but still doesn't say divorcees marrying divorcees is cool.
I realize you don't want to talk about divorce, but, the remarriage. One thing that weighs heavily on me is that God said He hates divorce in Malachi 2:16. He also said that, except for reason of marital infidelity, He that marries a divorcee commits adultery. If the unbeliever leaves, let him leave. But, you, who are believing should stay if possible because God may sanctify the unbelieving spouse and even use the believing spouse for the good of the unbelieving one. I am not writing this word for word, obviously. PLEASE go straight to scripture. However, for me, I have learned in my walk that the "except for infidelity" is based on if your heart becomes hard (told through Moses in Matthew 19)...Hard hearts are like a sign of unforgiveness. You pretty much have to conclude you have a hard heart if you choose divorce over forgiving the infidelity. Even better is the suggestion not to marry at all...But, it's better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7) says the wife does not even have authority over her own body, and also the husband. It would be wonderful if the husband simply laid down his life for his wife like Jesus laid down his life for the church. As a result---one is the product of the other---the wife would naturally WANT to submit to her husband. OR the husband would NATURALLY want to lay down his life for his wife IF he was submitted to. So, personally, God would rather us work it out. He gives an out for those with hardened hearts who can't work through the unforgivenes...and that is a whole other story.