The Compassionate Side of Divorce and Remarriage


To gain an accurate understanding of what God thinks about divorce and remarriage, we have to understand what He originally intended marriage to be.

"But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.'  'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Mark 10:6-9

God intended marriage to be permanent.

Marriage is a Covenant not a Contract

A contact is between 2 people.  Each expecting the other to meet certain terms of an agreement.  If one person fails to meet the terms, the contract can be broken.

A marriage covenant is between 3 people.  A man, a woman, with God at the center.  In a covenant marriage each spouse agrees to trust GOD for the success of the marriage rather than the other person.  They also agree to follow the roles of marriage outlined in the Bible.

The marriage covenant creates trust in God because it refuses to give up even when the other person does not follow their covenant promise.

It believes that all things work to the good of those called according to God’s purpose.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

What are the roles of marriage that each spouse agrees to?

Roles of Marriage

The Man

God asks man to be the LEADER of the home.  He asks man to make vital decisions in defense of the home.  He is to keep evil away from his family guarding it diligently.  He is to SERVE his wife.  He is to be sensitive to her needs as he is his own.  He is to step up and take pressure off of her as it seems fit.  He is to make his wife feel safe.  He is to work so there is income to meet the needs of the family.

The following scriptures help us to understand his role:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:25-33

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
1 Peter 3:7

Two key words for a man’s role in marriage— he is to LEAD and SERVE.

The Woman

God asks a woman to DEFER to the man’s leadership in the home.  Her role is to HELP and encourage her husband.  She is to make a house a home seeking ways to make it comfortable for everyone to live there.  She is to be a fortress for her husband, allowing him to be vulnerable without fear of rejection.  Her beauty should come from inner strength of character.  She should be such that her husband can come to her for advise without fearing domination.  She should be his most adamant supporter always helping, hoping and believing in him even when things look down.

The following scriptures help us to understand her role:

Wives, submit (DEFER) to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Ephesians 5:22-24

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a HELPER suitable for him.”
Genesis 2:18

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
1 Peter 3:3-4

Two key words for a woman’s role in marriage— she should DEFER and HELP.

When Marriage is Treated as a Contract

When marriage is treated as a contract divorce ensues.

Three stated reasons for divorce:

1.  Irreconcilable differences.

2.  Verbal or physical abuse.

3.  Adultery.

Irreconcilable Differences

The Bible doesn’t allow for divorce due to irreconcilable differences.  Why?  Because marriage is a covenant.  God is capable of overcoming all problems for those who put their trust in Him.

Verbal and Physical Abuse

The Bible doesn’t allow for divorce due to verbal and physical abuse.  BUT, it does allow for separation.

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
1 Corinthians 7:10-11

Adultery

The Bible doesn’t allow for divorce due to adultery, though some people think it does because of the following verse.

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Matthew 19:9 also found in Matthew 5:32

These are the only two places in scripture that refer to “marital unfaithfulness” as grounds for divorce (and only in Matthew).  The bulk of scripture squares with the belief that marriage is permanent.  This is why someone is said to have committed adultery if they remarry.  In God’s eyes they are still considered married. (see Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18)

So what is the explanation?  What is Jesus referring to when he speaks of “marital unfaithfulness” as a reason for divorce?

Jewish Betrothal Experience

Jesus is referring to the Jewish betrothal experience.  We see an example of this in the accounting of Joseph and Mary.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to DIVORCE her quietly.
Matthew 1:18-19

Here we see that Joseph and Mary were not yet married, Mary was PLEDGED to Joseph.  But because Mary was found with child Joseph believed she had committed fornication, he had a mind to “divorce” her.  

In Judaism when a woman was betrothed to a man they were considered married, even though the marriage ceremony had not yet occurred.  Today, we would say that they were engaged.  If fornication occurred during the betrothal period, the injured party could “divorce” the other person.  This is what Jesus is referring to when he speaks of “marital unfaithfulness”.  A PARAPHRASE of this verse might read like this:

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for ENGAGEMENT unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.
Paraphrase of Matthew 19:9 also found in Matthew 5:32

Why God Hates Divorce

Clearly the Bible protects the sanctity of marriage.  Why does God hate divorce so much?  It’s because divorce breaks the TRUST relationship established in the marriage covenant.

A marriage covenant says, “God we TRUST you to help us work out our marriage even when we can’t.”

Divorce tells God you don’t trust him.  That your problems are too big for Him to handle.

Divorce is actually a sin against God.  Divorce is a FAITHLESS act.  However, God ALWAYS works to reestablish the TRUST relationship.  He does this in a variety of ways.

How God Works to Reestablish a Trust Relationship

His first response to those who divorce is to reestablish the marriage covenant through RECONCILIATION.

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be RECONCILED to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
1 Corinthians 7:10-11

This scripture tells us not to divorce, but if we do, to remain single working towards reconciliation with our former spouse.

But what happens if one party remarries?  Deuteronomy 24 explains:

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry HER again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4

This scripture shows us that IF one party (let’s say party A) does NOT work towards reconciliation and remarries (party C), then the other partner (party B) is to never remarry THAT person (party A) again.

Let’s view this in formula form:

If (A & B) are married and (A) divorces (B) and marries (C), and (C) later dies or is divorced from partner (A), even though (A) is now single again, it is detestable in God’s eyes for (B) to ever remarry (A).

In other words, all HOPE for reconciliation with the former spouse (A) is gone once he/she remarries.  There is nothing left for the unmarried spouse (B) to reconcile to.  That marriage is officially DEAD.

In light of this, questions are raised...

1.  Can the unmarried spouse (B) now remarry?

2.  What is the fate of the spouse (A) that remarried without reconciling to his/she former mate (B)?

To answer these questions it’s important to remind ourselves of God’s purpose in marriage and His reasons for wanting reconciliation once a divorce occurs.

It is to restore TRUST in Him.

With this in mind, let’s answer the question of partner (A’s) remarriage first.

The Remarriage of Partner A with C

What is the fate of partners (A & C) according to scripture?

It is important to note that the sin of partner (A) was NOT in the REMARRIAGE to partner (C), but in the DIVORCE from partner (B).

Why?

Because it was the divorce that broke fellowship with God.  It was the divorce that told God “I don’t trust you”, not the remarriage.

Because of this breech in trust, couple (A & C) are living in sin.  They are committing adultery.  The adultery is to God and partner (B).  It is to the marriage covenant relationship.

Does God render this couple’s situation hopeless?  No.  Is there anything couple (A & C) can do to right the situation?

The answer is YES.

In all of this God is simply trying to RESTORE the trust relationship of a covenant marriage.  In that the previous marriage between (A & B) is now dead due to the remarriage of (A), God’s HOPE is forward not backward.  God does not want them to now undo what they have done (thereby instigating divorce once again).

What God wants is to REDEEM the new marriage by having partner (A & C) REPENT of partner (A’s) faithlessness (divorce) from partner (B) and recommit THEIR marriage (A & C) to a covenant relationship.

In this God re-institutes TRUST, He reconciles a fallen brother.

But now, what of partner B?  Can partner B remarry?

Is It Okay for Partner B to Remarry?

The answer is YES.

As in the case of partner (A & C), God’s purpose is to reestablish TRUST in Him.  In that reconciliation CANNOT come from partner (A) since partner (A) has remarried partner (C), partner (B’s) HOPE is forward also.  

The Bible gives partner (B) specific instructions on what to do.

If the person wants to remain SINGLE, they can:

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
1 Corinthians 7:8-9

Or if they want to REMARRY, they can:

But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.
1 Corinthians 7:15-16

The unbeliever in this case is the spouse that remarried (partner A) and would not reconcile.  After all, isn’t that how you would describe a person who initiates divorce— an unbeliever?

Note:  This verse is talking about marriage.  It is not addressing a person’s state of salvation i.e., “unbeliever”.  It is addressing the state of mind of someone who commits divorce.  They are an unbeliever in God to the extent that they won’t TRUST Him in a covenant marriage.

Conclusion

God asks us not to be an adulterous people.  God wants us to TRUST Him even in a difficult marriage.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?  But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”  Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
James 4:4-8

Of course ANY person considering remarriage (A, B, or C) should only do so only if they are committed to a COVENANT relationship in marriage.  If someone chooses to marry they are committing to a TRUST relationship with God in a 3 party covenant— you, your spouse and God.

Concerning the Laws of Divorce

God gives laws for a purpose.  When we look at any law we are to ask ourselves “What is the intent and purpose of this law?”  This is called the SPIRIT of the law.

For example, laws governing speed limits are given for the purpose of creating even traffic flow and safety.  Though a police officer could technically give you a speeding ticket for going one mile over the speed limit, (LETTER of the law) he/she probably wouldn’t, because doing so would violate the spirit of the law.  Traffic flow and safety problems are not caused by going one mile over the speed limit.

The same is true with God’s divorce laws.  The law of divorce was given to promote TRUST in God.  Because divorce fights against that trust, God hates it.

So while God hates divorce, He will allow remarriage if the SPIRIT of the marriage covenant can be established.  That is, if remarriage establishes covenant TRUST.

Jesus experienced people who insisted on holding the letter of the law OVER the spirit of the law.

At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”  He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.  Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?  I tell you that one[a] greater than the temple is here.  If you had known what these words mean, ‘I DESIRE MERCY, NOT SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.  For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Matthew 12:1-8

The words “I DESIRE MERCY, NOT SACRIFICE” mean, “I want you to walk in the spirit of the law not the letter of the law”.  Jesus is telling the Pharisees, that they are missing the point of God’s laws if they are ONLY trying to fulfill the letter.  Jesus is saying God wants us to fulfill the SPIRIT of the law— even in remarriage.