Beliefnet
Safe Place with Ruth Graham

Divorce within the Church has been controversial. I have talked to so many who have been wounded by Church teaching. I thought it was the “unforgivable sin”. Some church traditions have taught that divorce is not permitted unless there is adultery or a divorced person is not allowed to remarry and if they do, they are committing adultery. A divorced person cannot serve in the Church.

Many have been wounded by such legalistic teaching. We must remember that Jesus broke principles over people – not people over principles. If I err it will be on the side of mercy and grace because I believe that is the side Jesus stands on.

II Corinthians 3:13 says we live in the freedom of Christ – but that is not to mean we can use our freedom as a license to do what we want. Galatians 5:13 warns us not to turn our freedom into sinful opportunity.

God’s original plan for us was that marriage was to be a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman. It was to illustrate God’s relationship with His bride – the Church – therefore it is sacred, not to be treated lightly.

Marriage is not necessarily for our happiness alone but as an instrument for spiritual growth and development. It is a sacred covenant that should never be broken. That is His ideal. It is our ideal. But we do not live in an ideal world.

I believe legitimate grounds for divorce are: infidelity which includes pornography, homosexuality, sexual perversion; abandonment which can happen while you are living in the same house, no communication, emotional isolation and not supporting the family; and abuse which can be physical, emotional and verbal as well as neglect.

Malachi 2:16 is used as a definitive statement, “God hates divorce.” God doesn’t hate the piece of paper the judge signs. He hates the breaking of the covenant bond which can be adultery, abuse or abandonment. God may hate divorce but He loves the divorced person.

This may be news to you but divorce was God’s idea! (Deuteronomy 24:1-2)

There are 2 different words for divorce in Hebrew but there is only one in English. One word means “abandonment” having no legal right or standing in the community – not a legal divorce. Desertion. It was like being in “no man’s land”. Divorce was God’s mercy for those abandoned. The other word is to cut marital bonds – a legal divorce giving equal rights for both parties to remarry.

In the new Testament there are the same two concepts but Paul introduced another: “leaving”, not a legal divorce. If they leave they cannot remarry because they are still married. In Mark 10:12 there was no legal divorce. With a legal divorce one was permitted to remarry.

In Corinth there was such a climate of immorality Paul taught that each was to have their own wife or husband – no wife-swapping or polygamy. When Paul said it was better to remain unmarried it wasn’t because he was opposed to marriage or thought marriage was a lesser state, he thought Jesus’ return was imminent. He didn’t want anything to distract from serving the Lord.

When he talked about church leaders being married to one person he was talking about polygamy not divorce. How many good people have been banned from Church leadership or ministry over that one statement!

I have struggled with this issue because I have been divorced and remarried. It was not easy. But I do know God’s grace in manifest ways. Divorce is ugly involving loneliness, rejection, sense of failure, loss of self-esteem, criticism, financial problems, the children suffer…it goes on and on.

Divorce may be necessary but it is always a tragedy. It is tragic with difficult consequences but staying in a toxic marriage is not necessarily better or more godly.

I’ll write more about this issue in the coming weeks!

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