Divorce has long been a difficult topic in the church. In our culture today, nearly everyone has been affected by it one way or another. We all know someone, whether it be a family member or close friend, who has experienced the pain of a broken marriage. Or maybe you have experienced divorce first-hand. If so, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how messy and hurtful it can be.
Divorce and the church have a long and complicated history. The Bible is pretty clear that in most cases, divorce is a sin, but it does offer a couple of exceptions. The first is unfaithfulness, (Matthew 5:31-32) and the second is in the case of an unbelieving spouse who wants to leave (1 Corinthians 7:10-15).
Marriage is a covenant designed by God. His purpose from the very beginning was for it to be permanent and life-long. Jesus taught this truth in the gospel of Matthew:
Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?” “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’” And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” “Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?” they asked. Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful.” – Matthew 19:3-9 (NLT)
Jesus’ teaching is clear. Divorce was never part of God’s plan. It was allowed because of sinful man. We find the same teaching in the book of Malachi:
Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” – Malachi 2:15-16 (NLT)
These verses (along with many others) have made the church quite legalistic when it comes to marriage and divorce. Yes, there are many today who just throw away their marriages – many who leave for all the wrong reasons. The Bible is clear that this type of divorce is a sin. But does that give us the right as believers to condemn divorced individuals for life? What about repentance and forgiveness?
I have a close friend – let’s call him John. John had a wife who was unfaithful…more than once during their time together. Finally, he had to make the difficult decision to walk away. After multiple chances and broken promises, his heart simply couldn’t take any more. Biblically speaking, he had every right to leave. Unfortunately, John received a great deal of judgement from the church and some of his Christian friends. They treated divorce like the unpardonable sin. They made him feel condemned – like he would never be able to move forward.
John’s story is not that uncommon. Divorce is often treated this way in the church. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make light of divorce. But is it really unforgivable? In John’s case, he had biblical grounds to divorce, yet many in the church still condemned him as damaged goods.
And what about the person who didn’t have biblical grounds? Can they repent and move forward? Or will they forever be living in adultery if they remarry?
So is divorce the unpardonable sin?
God’s hates divorce, just like He hates all sin. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be forgiven if we repent and change our ways. God’s grace covers all sin – even divorce.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 (ESV)
There is hope after divorce. God can and will restore us if we let Him. In the meantime, we need to be careful as the church not to judge those who have been divorced. Only God knows the hearts and motivations of those involved.
John 8:1-11 tells the story of a woman who was caught in adultery. She was literally caught in the act, and a crowd gathered around her to stone her to death. Jesus intervened. When her life was spared, He told her to go and sin no more. Her past no longer mattered. He was only concerned about her future.
I believe that God extends this grace and mercy to all who repent – even to those who are divorced.