My parents divorced when I was one year old. I grew up without my father. My wife’s parents divorced when she was eleven. We have both been damaged greatly by divorce. We hate divorce!
But I have to admit it: I must be a wimp; I have never preached on divorce. In every congregation I have been in there have been people who are divorced. And I fear I would upset them if I preached on the topic. I’m not avoiding the topic, but I’m glad that it hasn’t come up so far in the books I have preached on.
I have no desire to cause hurt to my fellow Christians on this subject. Divorce is a painful topic for many. Remarriage is a vexed issue. However the Bible does address these issues, and so we need to hear what it says. It says it for our good. And like any other issue, just because Christians differ in their opinions of what the Bible is saying, does not mean that there is no truth or clarity in the Bible on the issue.
Divorce and remarriage is too big a topic to deal with in a short blog piece. My basic view, for the record, is that divorce is allowed only for sexual immorality
(Matthew 5:32) or if a non-Christian partner abandons you (1 Corinthians 7:15). However, forgiveness and reconciliation are to be sought at all costs even when there has been adultery. I do not accept other reasons for divorce (separation – yes, divorce – no).
I want to raise two issues. The first issue is that of blame or guilt. Apparently an old fashioned idea was that there may be one party who is to blame for the divorce. I say “old fashioned” because this seems to be an idea that has been rejected in modern times. However recent cases of separation and divorce known to me have caused me to rethink the issue.
I do know a case where I think everyone (except the guilty party and her parents) agreed that there was one guilty party. This woman left her husband and three children for no reason. There seemed to be nothing that the husband has done wrong. She was clearly the guilty party. I know of other cases where I think there is clearly one party who is to blame as well.
So what? Well, that would influence me as a pastor when it comes to my second issue – that of remarriage. It seems to me that there is a difference in remarriage between the guilty and innocent parties, if there is such a thing. Clearly in many cases both will be at fault. But where that is not the case, it seems to me that the innocent party should be free to remarry, but that the guilty party is not free to do so. My understanding would be that the guilty party has committed adultery or has abandoned them, and so the innocent party is free to remarry.
In some cases the guilty party separates, and because they are Christian, they refuse to divorce. However in reality they have effected a divorce. They refuse to be reconciled. So they are playing a semantic game, calling their action a separation when in reality it is a divorce. Being Pharisees, they simply refuse to sign the paper that would make it legal because they know it would be wrong. However they have already done the wrong thing: their behaviour amounts to divorce anyway. In such cases I wonder whether the innocent party should be free to make the divorce official and remarry.