One of the strangest things in the world to me is the way so many people have made divorce and remarriage the greatest of all sins. When I talk with people who were once active members of the church but are no longer a part of the body, the most common response to the question, “Why did you leave?” is, “I got a divorce and just didn’t feel welcome any more.” Many have said, “I was told there was no way for me to be forgiven of the sin I had committed by getting a divorce and marrying someone else, unless I was willing to get another divorce and go back to the wife I had divorced to begin with.”
Please understand, sin of any kind is a bad thing. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) So, I’m not trying to make this sin seem to be one that is insignificant. There is no such thing as an insignificant sin. When one considers the fact that it was our sin that sent Jesus to the cross, any sin is horrible. But the cross made it possible for any sin to be forgiven. Remember when Jesus talked with the rich young ruler and told him if he wanted to be perfect to go and sell all he had and give to the poor and come follow Jesus and he would have great rewards in heaven. The young man went away sorrowfully because he had great wealth and was unwilling to give it away to be pleasing to God. As he walked away Jesus said to those standing by, “It is hard for a rich man to be saved. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved. Remember the disciples were astonished at his statement. Their statement was, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus answered, “With men it is impossible but with God all things are possible.” Think of the situation for a moment. Jesus had given an illustration of a powerful statement. The powerful statement was: “It is hard for a rich man to be saved.” That along was a shocker. In their mind one who was rich was being blessed by God and his very wealth indicated he was in a good relationship with God. But Jesus turns the whole table over by saying that not only was the rich man not a good example for them to be following if they wanted to please God. It was going to be hard for him to be saved at all. Then he tied the whole statement down tight with the illustration, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved.” He wasn’t referring to some small gate in the wall of the City of Jerusalem that a camel had to squeeze through to get in. He was referring to the eye of a needle that a woman might use to sew a garment with or that a doctor might use to sew up a gash in a person’s arm. He used hyperbole to show that this was something from a human standpoint that would be impossible. But with God the impossible seems easy.
Where did Jesus or any other inspired person ever say that it was so difficult to be saved when one has gotten a divorce and remarried? I know the reasoning that has gotten people to such a notion. Notice a little of that reasoning. Some have declared that in God’s eyes the person isn’t really divorced at all but remains married to the first wife so that if he tries to marry someone else the second marriage isn’t really a marriage at all. They would claim that it become polygamy instead of another marriage. Usually the basis for such an idea is to point to John the Baptist statement about Herod’s marriage to Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. John said that Herod had not right to her. The argument is that she had divorced Philip and had married his brother but God didn’t recognize the second marriage. One detail that seems to be missed is there is no indication that she had ever been divorced from Philip to remarry his brother. Second, John didn’t say why he had to right to her. Moses said that a man was not to take his brother’s wife since to do so was to uncover his brother’s nakedness. How can we know it wasn’t that law that John had in mind when he said it wasn’t lawful for him to have her?
When Jesus met with the woman at the well he said to her, “You have had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband.” Are we to suppose that five is the limit and God stops joining people after that? It seems far more likely that she had been divorced and remarried to these five different men and was now just living with a man she had never married. The very fact Jesus commanded one not to divorce a wife and marry another except in cases of sexual immorality demands that it is possible for one to divorce and remarry. There is no reason to command us not to do what we can’t do any way.
Then some would say that a person can’t repent of the wrong divorce without breaking up the second marriage and going back to the first. Repentance is a change of mind or will that turns from sin to God. In a rather high percentage of the cases even if one divorced the new partner, there is no way to go back to the first because the first has gone on and is no longer interested. But think about the whole notion that to repent of an unscriptural divorce you need to get another divorce. If God does join a couple in married, even when that marriage isn’t all it was supposed to be, then putting away the second wife would be just as much a divorce of one who is innocent as was the first. Why couldn’t one repent of the first divorce by becoming faithful and true to the marriage partner they now have and refusing to ever break up another marriage? Surely there is a time to stop the cycle of sin and build on the marriage that is now intact. When David committed adultery with Bathsheba and she became pregnant, he did all that he possibly could to hide the sin. He had Uriah brought home from his service in Joab’s army and tried to convince him to go to his house and have sexual relations with his wife so all would think it was Uriah’s child. When that didn’t work he tried to get him drunk enough that he would go down to her, but that didn’t work. Then he gave command for Joab to put Uriah in the middle of the worst part of the battle and withdraw from him so he would be murdered by the enemy army. Then he took Bathsheba as his wife and intended to move forward as though nothing had happened. God brought afflictions upon them which brought the death of the child. But God didn’t say to David, “You must get rid of her.” He didn’t demand a divorce since the marriage hadn’t started right from the beginning. Instead when David went in to have sex with her after that, God blessed their relationship by opening her womb to have another child who was Solomon, whom God would choose as the new king and the one through whom the Messiah would come into the world. That marriage certainly started wrong. But it didn’t stay wrong. When David repented of the sin as recorded in Psalms 51 God freely forgave him and he stayed with his wife. Certainly someone will point out that her first husband is now dead. Yes he is dead because David had him murdered. The notion that it would be better to murder the former husband so there is no need for divorce is pretty scary. It began in sin, but through repentance became blessed by God. That is the bottom line.
(More to follow)