Friday, December 11, 2009

Forgiving Divorce and Remarriage

When I think about divorce, I rarely think about the kinds of divorces that are ‘allowable’. I see all divorces as a failure. True, it is rare when only one party failed. But even if so, the marriage did end because of failure. It seems to me that divorces that come about because of ‘incompatibility’, or ‘we just drifted apart’, or a mishandling of money are sinful in itself. A refusal to love would be a better way to express it. Sin is that which undermines or refuses to love. Sin and love oppose each other, they are opposites. Hate is a subheading under sin – and not all hate is sin.

The question I want to look at in this post is what does forgiving a sinful divorce and remarriage look like? In the book Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church – 3 views Gordon Wenham, William Heth, and Craig Keener wrestle the issue of whether or not divorce for Christians is allowable and if consequently remarriage can also be allowed. They did a fine job of presenting their views. Yet none of them really dealt with the more common issue of how do we relate to people who get divorced and remarried and messed it all up? Those who were already adulterous and those who remarried anyway?

It is easy to say to someone, oh you’re the innocent party, you are free to remarry. What do you say to the guilty party? How are they restored?

What I say depends on when I am asked. If someone who is married comes into the church and desires to love God by loving people and I discover that they wrecked their previous marriage(s) by sinning against their former spouse(s), I don’t banish them to the back row. I do not declare their present marriage a false one, devoid of the blessing of God, and shun them. I treat them like Jesus did to the woman caught in adultery. I expect them to sin no more. I will bless their marriage. I won’t go back and try to undo the mess they made with their former marriages. I simply see them as bankrupt and encourage them to reestablish credibility. I will love them and show them how. I’ll explain, if asked, how to discover the weakness in their faith that put them in a place where God’s love for them did not satisfy. I’ll try to teach them how to grow in their faith so it won’t happen again.

If someone comes in who has just wrecked a marriage, is divorced, and asks me what to do, I’ll encourage them to seek to be reconciled to their former spouse. I’ll help in any way I can. If reconciliation doesn’t happen, I will view the divorce as final. Hardness of heart will have its way. The marriage will be over. The unbelieving will have departed and they are no longer bound to that marriage. To this person I’ll encourage to stay single. But not all will stay single. Many will have young children and want a spouse. In some circumstances it might even be best to marry again, but only to a person who loves Jesus.

Yet even here, again and again, people fail. Many marry outside the faith. Many sin and live with someone without marriage. Do we, as the church, toss them out? Shoot them? No, we start all over again.

Did you ever notice that God did not put a fence around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden? Why didn’t He? I would have chopped it down and burned it. But God wanted us to trust His word so we would learn to love Him. This is all we have now. I will not put a fence around sin. I will continue to hope that people will get tired of sin and its wages and desire to trust Jesus’ word. Like the Nazarite who broke the vow, you can always start over. Where sin abounds, God’s grace does abound even more.

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