“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
— MATTHEW 19:9 (NRSV)
Scripture passages on divorce can appear to be a ‘lucky dip’ (or a mine field) for the uninitiated – or even the veteran expositor – because of the ethical dimensions involved. That is, to mention the various vagaries of application – for there are so many cases for a single theology to fit.
Firstly, there are the commonly accepted four schools on the continuum of acceptability of divorce and remarriage: from strictest (no divorce, no remarriage) to the most lenient (both divorce and remarriage acceptable in a variety of circumstances).
What is God’s will, though?
It’s clearly that there is no divorce. But, considering that both the circumstances that lead to divorce, and divorce itself, are sin, it meets with our humanity that we will see cases where there is a falling short of God’s perfect standard. Indeed, no marriage measures up to God’s perfect standard in any event; but at least intact marriages model something of the covenant nature of our relationship with God.
When Is It Right To Divorce?
It is foreseeable that a jilted party might divorce, for it may be the only option for a fresh beginning when there was never any controlling say regarding reconciliation. There is the precondition that there has been a sufficient allowance made for both forgiveness of the aggrieving party and reconciliation. But the jilted party may have been the perpetrator of marital dissatisfaction, for instance, domestic or family violence or neglect. Surely the victim of violence has grounds to be the jilted party. And why should they suffer more by being shunned upon for happiness within a loving second marriage?
It appears clear, from Matthew 19:9, that a jilted party can divorce who has experienced the indignity of their mate being unfaithful. The olive branch of forgiveness is still, however, to be extended, and hope for reconciliation.
There are times when couples have tried everything and one or both enter despair; perhaps they are this way for years. Should misery become them indefinitely to the detriment of their children, family, neighbours and others? Sure, we can sprout “mutual submission” and laud the blessings of committing to the end, but some couples cannot last the distance; they are rent and broken from within.
If a person who has divorced, or becomes divorced, doesn’t have the gift of celibacy (and so many will consider that no ‘gift’ at all) what is to become of them if the church takes a hard line? Do they not deserve grace – a second chance? Upon their sincere and marriage-worthy recovery, including a full portion of repentance, shouldn’t they have that chance at love (again)?
A good theology on divorce and remarriage is difficult to develop. Ethical considerations are so vast. But a compassionate approach, where there is acknowledgement of sin, and the recognition of truth, works best. Nobody is beyond God’s grace: forgiveness and the bequeathal of a second chance.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.