Letter to Remina

Dear Remina (not her real name). I understand your concern because today many people including believers, have various reasons for their actions, some trivial, others most dreadfully serious and some even life-threatening. Discernment is needed. Every case is different. All effort must be made to bring about reconciliation by God’s grace. God is for us and for stable and holy marriage. Yet that is not always possible.

And I agree with you there are “terrible situations of domestic violence that seem insane to remain in”. That’s why I say Christian leaders have to treat people with compassion and grace rather than simply washing their hands and dismissing people with an authoritative dogma.

Yes, as you say, in the John 4 story “Jesus didn’t say ‘go divorce your current husband’. She was not a Jew yet she showed fruits of repentance by witnessing for Jesus to all the townsfolk! But there is no suggestion that she had to divorce her current husband. In fact if she had divorced her current husband she might have continued to wreak havoc and confusion by breaking yet another covenant, another “one-flesh” union, destroying another home.

The Bible teacher you quoted sounds very correct. But in that article he leaves a lot left unsaid. The Pharisees took pride in “being logically and biblically correct”. But Jesus said to them “I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13) He is for the powerless, the needy, the broken. “A bruised reed he will not break; and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matthew 12:20)

“Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1) “If I have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13)

In marriage, we are told to strive for peace (1 Corinthians 7:15). Much damage is often already done. We are under the New Covenant and God writes His words on our hearts. Certainly grace is not lawlessness.

With divorce, marriage has ended, the covenant is broken. This is not what God wants but it happens and nothing humans can ever do can change it. All we can do, as with many awful sins like abortion, wicked slander, vicious verbal abuse, etc, is to determine never to repeat them.  If we go on repeating sin we are living in darkness, slaves to sin. Is it really that okay to tell someone to go and undertake another divorce, to ‘put asunder’ again?

This subject is complicated and cannot be reduced to simple dogmatic assertions.

If we think we can make up for our sin by works, great sacrifices—for example, by the traumatic ending of another marriage, it may be just seeking to justify ourselves like the Pharisees both ancient and contemporary. This will not lead to freedom, but confusion, disruption, condemnation, guilt will remain. We cannot justify ourselves. Jesus has made the sacrifice for us, become sin for us. At great cost.

I agree “True repentance is not verbal admission only; one must cease or at least try to refrain from continuing in a sin in order to claim biblical repentance.”  But righteous action will depend on individual circumstances.

So in one situation, S Paul advised “if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances” (1 Corinthians 7:15). He added “Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them”(7:20). So how do we apply that to each situation?

And privately, Jesus’ disciples were stunned  by Jesus’ simple statement about divorce: “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” But Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given”. (Matthew 19:11)

The believer in a second marriage must be determined never to repeat known sin in any of its forms. And how can that be done if he or she is told to go and destroy another marriage? Especially a marriage that has the peace, the blessing of God upon it and both have married “in the Lord” and are committed to His kingdom and then by ‘putting asunder’, the other would be destroyed.

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