No, it’s not a tough question. It’s an easy question. Of course divorced people can remarry! These questions are only tough because religion has told us that divorced people are unforgiveable sinners. They’re lepers who blight our perfect little churches. As long as they sit quietly and help with our programs, they are welcome. But the moment they start looking for love, they’ve crossed the line. They had their shot at love and they messed up.
What a graceless thing to say! I cannot imagine anything further from the heart of Christ than telling someone they cannot experience love, that they are bound by the mistakes of their past and they have no future.
The two Pharisees
There are two sour-faced Pharisees stalking the modern church. The first one is called Against Divorce and the second is called Against Remarriage. The first one loves to quote 1 Corinthians 7:27 and the second quotes 1 Corinthians 7:11. Let’s look at each scripture in turn:
Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. (1 Cor 7:27a)
This is a healthy exhortation because divorce is destructive. God hates divorce (Mal 2:16) because it hurts his kids. Your loving Father doesn’t want to see you go through that pain.
But some have turned this exhortation into a law. “Thou shalt not get divorced!” Since the law inflames sin (Rom 7:5) this message is actually promoting divorce. Thus it hurts the church two ways; by stirring up sin and then condemning the sinner.
If you take these words as law, you must be consistent and preach the whole verse:
Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. (1 Cor 7:27b)
If the first part is a law then so is the second. If divorced people are sinning, then so are those who get married. Obviously that is not what the apostle of grace is saying. He’s saying don’t seek a divorce. He’s saying divorce is not something to look for.
The hand grenade of divorce
Divorce is something to avoid, if you can. In our marriage, Camilla and I decided years ago that we would never say the word divorce, not even in jest. (This is not a law for us, just a healthy choice. There are situations – abusive marriages, for instance – where it could be appropriate to use the word.) To say the word divorce during an argument is like pulling out a hand grenade. It escalates matters. Fear of the hand grenade will kill your marriage. How can you be open and honest about your differences when you fear your partner pulling the pin? Paul is saying keep the hand grenade out of your marriage. Don’t seek it. Look for Jesus instead.
But the fact is some people get divorced and sometimes for very legitimate reasons. What about them? Can they remarry? Enter the second Pharisee.
“Remarriage is a sin – the Bible is very clear about this. There can be no possibility of remarriage except to the original spouse.” And then they quote the verse that says a woman must not separate from her husband:
But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. (1 Cor 7:11)
Paul is preaching restoration, which is something we all hope for. If that which has been broken can be put back together, then wonderful. But what if it can’t? What if the man is a violent abuser? What if the other partner has remarried and now has 14 kids? What if there is zero chance of remarriage?
“Then it’s game over,” says the Pharisee. “If they marry another, they break the command and sin against God.”
Such a law-based message is at odds with the redemptive prospects of grace. “All things are lawful,” says Paul on two occasions, “But not everything is beneficial.” This isn’t about keeping the rules but whether your choices lead to life or death. It’s not good for anyone to be alone, but some people are not ready to get married. It’s not good to divorce, but some are literally dying in their marriages.
Divorced people are sometimes treated like second-class citizens. The message they hear is, “We will accept you for as long as you follow our rules of conduct.” Those who speak like this are far from the heart of God (see 1 John 4:8).
Religion vs reality
It boggles my mind how we treat some people in the church. A sinner gets saved and we embrace him as a brother. A pastor commits adultery and we work hard to restore him. The chief of sinners becomes an apostle and we go “Isn’t God amazing?” But apparently grace doesn’t extend to divorcees, for they must stay on probation for the rest of their lives.
“There’s a difference, Paul. The pastor and the sinner both repented and were forgiven. But the divorced person who marries another obviously didn’t repent, indeed, they are living in sin, and so they cannot be forgiven.”
So now we’re preaching conditional forgiveness? We’re telling people that Jesus won’t die for their sins unless they repent?! That’s the back to front. That’s the perverted message of DIY religion.
When Jesus went to the cross he carried the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). No person and no sin were excluded from his sacrificial work. This is why we preach unconditional forgiveness. The punchline of the gospel is not “repent to be forgiven.” It’s “God loves you – repent and believe the good news!”
God’s love is not affected by your marital status
Whatever sins you have done were carried on the cross long before you did them. There is nothing you can do to make God love you more and nothing you can do to make him love you less. If there is an unforgiveable sin, it is not divorce. (If you’re wondering about what Jesus had to say on the subject of divorce, see my next post.)
So to the married, I say this: do not seek a divorce and don’t treat grace as a license to sin. Only a fool would exchange heavenly treasure (marriage) for earthly junk (illicit intimacy).
And to the divorced, I say this: You are not an unforgiven sinner! God is for marriage and against divorce, but more than that he is for you. God justifies you, so don’t let the Pharisee condemn you (Rom 8:33-34). You are precious to your Father. He loves you and is pleased with you. Your marital status does not affect his great love for you one little bit.
Can you remarry? By the grace of God you can. Should you remarry? That depends. Ask your Father. He knows you better than you know yourself and he will lead you in the path of life. Maybe you will remarry, maybe you won’t. But with God on your side, you cannot lose (Rom 8:28).
That’s my two cents. Now I want to hear from you, especially if you are divorced. Have you experienced grace or ungrace in the church? I don’t want to turn this into a bitter thread, so please adopt a constructive tone. Give us your suggestions for how the church can do a better job of relating to divorced people.