But . . . divorce does happen. Always has, always will. Sometimes relationships become so evil that the best solution for all is to dissolve it. From the earliest times, there has been a legitimate out when a spouse proves unfaithful. Remember that unfaithfulness comes in many different forms.
Dear Thoughtful Pastor: I am a born again Christian. I love the Lord with all of my heart and mind and soul and strength. I am divorced. Can I ever, without losing my salvation, marry again?
Yes, you may.
Let me explain. Jesus did speak to his male followers and told them they didn’t have the right to divorce their wives. Here is why: Jesus was about protecting the rights of women.
In the kind of Middle Eastern society that existed then–and still does in many parts of that geographical area today (Saudi Arabia is a case in point), women, in general, have few rights. Their very survival was dependent upon their husbands and his extended family.
But men then could, and still can today, quickly divorce their wives by pronouncing three times the equivalent of this phrase “I divorce you.”
By this act, the wife is sent out, homeless, helpless, disgraced and generally without any financial resources. Her family of origin will rarely take her back. It’s a death sentence for most.
The husband, of course, is then free to marry his latest squeeze. Unfortunately, today in parts of the Islamic world a man may enter into a temporary marriage. It is not uncommon for a religiously observant man to engage in a one-hour marriage so he can have religiously-sanctioned sex. Upon his finish, he may then divorce the recipient of the sex act by using the same formula.
So, when Jesus says, “No more of this,” he was saying effectively, “You will not treat women this way any longer.”
When Jesus’ disciples heard this, their response, recorded in Matthew 19, is telling. “Goodness gracious, if that is the case, it is better not to marry.”
They said that because marriage entails real, complex, messy, expensive and often painful obligations to one another. It’s always easier to toss the old one out, particularly if the male wants a young, fresh sexual partner than to live with the realities of life-long commitments.
So, what happens then? What does God do with people who have experienced broken marriages? Are we forever marked as “unacceptable” or “well, you are OK as long as you stay single and lonely the rest of your life?”
To answer this, I look at the full expression of renewed hope given by Jesus at the moment of his greatest agony–”Father, forgive them.”
Reconciliation with God is not ours because we ask for it or because we deserve it. It is ours because that is the very nature of God whose core is love. God seeks wholeness and health, the fuller meaning of the word “salvation,” for every human being.
We are indeed God’s beloved children covered wholly by grace, able to experience the new mercies of God given daily. I call it the “grand do-over.”
It is hard to receive grace, especially after divorce
Our problem comes when we respond to this offer of full forgiveness, restoration, renewal, grace, and mercy with a “No thanks. I do appreciate it and all that, but I’m not good enough for that. Don’t mind me. I’ll just stay on the outside and suffer.”
It’s hard to be the recipient of grace. It takes courage to step up and say, “I, too, am a valued child of God. I am not stained with some indelible mark. I do not have to carry around a flaming red giant “D” for Divorced on my chest.”
It is easier to get into the habit of the faux-humble “no” to God. The real danger of this is that it may become so habitual that when we do see God face-to-face, when we do hear that final invitation, “Come in. You are clothed in glory. Be seated at the heavenly banquet. Come and partake,” that we may say “No, thank you. I don’t deserve it.”
It is my stance that God will not override our “no’s.” That is the essence of free will. God will honor us if we persist in refusing grace and redemption. And we can, by this false idea of no redemption for the human condition, effectively put ourselves out the door.
If, in this world of grace, you should be so fortunate as to find another partner, one to whom you can pledge your life and receive that pledge in return, then give a joyful “Yes, thank You” to God and set yourself free to love again.
[Note: a version of this column ran in a November, 2016, edition of the Denton Record-Chronicle. The Thoughtful Pastor, AKA Christy Thomas, welcomes all questions for the column. Although the questioner will not be identified, I do need a name and verifiable contact information in case the newspaper editor has need of it. You may use this link to email questions.]