Christian Divorce: Adrian and Dave Bish in Conversation

Christian Divorce: Adrian and Dave Bish in Conversation April 18, 2024

The response to my series on divorce and Dave Bish’s sermon have been hugely encouraging.  We thought it might be interesting to have a podcast style conversation about it.  I hope this will be helpful for you if you are going through divorce right now, if you did so years ago, or if you would like to learn how to better support others.   What does the Bible say about divorce and remarriage and how can Christians help reduce the stigma associated with it? 

If you are interested in listening to Dave’s sermon or finding out more about the  see my summary post Christian Views on Divorce and Remarriage. Transcript at the end of this page.

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Christian views on Divorce and Remarriage: A Spectrum

How to Reduce Divorce Stigma in Church

Automatically Generated Transcript

And I’m here with my old friend, Dave Bish. So Dave, I can’t remember, but where exactly did we meet?
Yeah, I was trying to think about that. Yeah, I stayed at your house once, you stayed at mine once. So we definitely met in those kinds of contexts back in the days where I used to write stuff online, I suppose, and you did, and we interacted a bit, I guess, in that kind of world, a decade or more ago, something like that, I think.

Yeah, something like that, isn’t it? Yeah, wasn’t it something to do with you and UCCF or something, was that how we met? I can’t remember now, isn’t that funny?
Yeah, I was up in your neighbourhood at some point, I think it was probably the last time I saw you, but that was definitely well over 10 years ago. Oh, there you go.
So you and I haven’t really chatted for a while, and then we just chatted just quite recently, didn’t we? Just this last week, we reconnected, really, although I have been following you a little bit online, and I think you’ve been following me a bit online as well.

What happened this last week or so that made us reconnect?

You started posting stuff about divorce and on all kinds of perspectives. And I’m an associate pastor of a church and preaching my way through Mark’s gospel. And my next text was Mark 10, where Jesus talks about divorce.
And so, you know, I’m picking up commentaries and various other resources, and you start posting stuff, and you’ve started giving me lots of the things I needed to have a look at. So yeah, I guess that’s how I landed.

But what you’re saying is somebody arranged me to help you with your preparation, by the sounds of it.
It seems like it, yeah. Yeah, so much appreciated on that.

That’s cool. So, I mean, have you had any personal experience of divorce yourself, Dave, or any of those around you at all?
So, not personally, I’ve been married for a fairly long time now, I guess. There have been people in my wider family where I guess I’ve, yeah, experienced divorce from a slight distance, not up closest, closest in family, but in the kind of wider family. And I guess, like, ultimately, I live in the UK, and divorce is increasingly common, and so among friends.
And certainly, I think I was very conscious coming to preach on the subject that as I look out on my church family, there are people who are divorced, who have been, some of whom have remarried, some haven’t. And beyond that, and that’s just ones I know about. And then beyond that, there are lots of families where, inevitably, there are stories of divorce as part of people’s own family or their friends.
So it feels like it’s just a very normal part of the experience of living in this country at the present.
Yeah, I mean, did you always feel that way? Or does that kind of gradually come to your attention? Because I know for me, until relatively recently, it wasn’t really something I had had much to do with.
Yeah, I mean, I think when I looked at some of the kind of stats, I looked at it kind of on the numerical level, conscious that this is personal, not just numbers. I think I knew that it was a growing phenomenon reality in our society. I think certainly growing up, only one family member was kind of the person I would have known who was divorced.
And I think having come from, I guess, a family where there were some long lasting marriages, for which I’m very thankful. I think I picked up a sense of the wrongness of divorce. It felt wrong and jarring and uncomfortable.
And I guess the kind of as a child growing up with marriage parents thinking, I don’t want that to be part of my family story. I don’t want to have to go through the pain that I’ve seen in other people’s situations. So, yeah, I guess I’m conscious of the reality in that way, but perhaps not as much personally.

I guess depending on the sort of church we’re in, if we are Christians in a church, it’s still the case sometimes that you might kind of escape being too up close and personal with you. I mean, it can happen. I mean, I heard one of the people wrote to me, and actually, I don’t think I’ve had as many people write to me in the aftermath of a blog series in quite a while, actually, or during, probably not since the sort of days when the high-gone days of blogging, when we were all sort of arguing about each other’s blogs all over the internet, or discussing them, as I should say. But one of the people that wrote back was talking about how they as one of the elders, I think it was, of a church, had gone through a divorce as an elder. And I thought, gosh, that must have been quite a challenge in many ways.

And for many Christians and perhaps some watching this, they might feel like that, they might be wrong, of course, because people don’t always talk about it, but they might feel like they’re the only person in their church that is going through this or has gone through this. And so it can feel quite isolating. And I know it did for me, in many ways in my own personal story.
And obviously I’m not really here to talk too much about that, but we can talk about it in passing a little bit. But yeah, I think one of the huge things about it is just how it can feel a bit like, as you say, jarring a bit, like it’s not this, this shouldn’t be somewhere where Christians, we should do better kind of thing. And do you feel like a failure, I guess?

Yeah, and I think, like, I mean, obviously the kind of, it would seem, so one of the stats I drew up last week in preparing was the Evangelical Alliance did some research a little while ago, which does suggest that evangelical Christians do divorce less than the average population kind of member, but actually still about a quarter of the cases. So it’s, in some ways, that feels surprisingly high, I think, and to think that many proportion of marriages, and I think when I look at them and think about my church family, I think, really, a quarter, is that possible? Is that likely?

But that’s the research which would suggest that overall, that is the case. And it’s just the pain of it, isn’t it? And the reality of, we don’t want to think that those happy wedding days ended up in that kind of situation, that something happened that meant that that was, yeah, how the story turned out.

Yeah. Obviously, I don’t know from firsthand experience what that’s like, but I have listened to others.

I think you’re right. And I guess stigma, I mean, that’s where I jumped on this.
I just felt to write a post about, what can we do to reduce the stigma of divorce? Because I suspect that most churches will have in their congregation, perhaps someone who looks like they’re single and maybe just looks like they never got married, but perhaps they haven’t felt that they can talk about it.

And of course, there might be people going through, real trauma in their marriages, desperately clinging on, watching their marriage on a life support machine and thinking it would be terribly un-Christian to pull the plug, but knowing that perhaps that’s what’s coming for them. So I guess in all of those circumstances, that’s someone who’s wrestling with either the prospect of it or in the here and now or having happened before, but might not feel they can talk about it. And you mentioned about, you know, experience as a pastor with people in your church.
Do you think that conversations you’ve had with people about this has some measure of that stigma evolved, do you think?
Yeah, I think there certainly is some of that. I mean, I do wonder if there’s a kind of twin thing going on, and I said this slightly lightheartedly in my sermon on it of, you know, on one level, do we divorce less because our faith helps us with our marriages? And I kind of hope that some of that’s true. But on the other hand, do we divorce less because actually the stigma is that it’s just off the table, it just can’t be a kind of consideration. And I suspect that’s probably at least as true as well, that it’s just, no, that can’t be a possibility. And I know I’ve thought that way. And I obviously, I hope that turns out to be the case that it would be no reason for that to happen. But it does discourn me to think actually if we’ve, if we’ve concluded that we’re not making room for what Jesus says, the hard heartedness, that things going wrong for a number of different reasons might be why that ends up being how things turn out. And if we don’t feel like we can talk about something, then even the, we don’t face up to it, do we?

I’m interested that you’ve got so much feedback having written on this, because I don’t think I’ve had as much interaction after preaching as I’ve had on this subject. People, I think partly encouraged that we just talked about something that we don’t normally talk about. Partly going, yeah, this is in my family background this is in my life.

I mean, as I say, I knew of some situations that others I now know about, but I didn’t know about a week ago.

That’s interesting, isn’t it?

People come and say, actually, yeah, this is part of our story. And we’re quite a mobile church, quite a transient church. And so I think you’re often, you’re seeing just the recent snapshot of people’s life story. And you’re not prying into what’s come before. And it’s probably not the first thing someone announces as they’re introducing themselves either.

No, quite, yeah. It’s like, hello, my name’s Adrian. And Im a divorce it doesn’t quite happen like that.
Yeah, and I guess, maybe you’d have some insight. I suspect that in plenty of cases, divorce doesn’t at least, in part for one person, mean moving somewhere else. And so you’re not necessarily seeing the aftermath of that in the actual situation.
And so yeah, always is an unmarried person or a remarried person who we just think is married and not knowing. And of course, that’s true for in loads of different directions for lots of people, isn’t it? Like we don’t advertise our full backstory a lot of the time.
And so much of that is messy for so many of us in so many different ways, but we all have ill look, everything’s fine. We must get to some sort of typical stereotype of what life is. Yeah, some people probably do, but that’s not everybody’s situation.
And we’re a whole lot more messy and broken and hurt than we perhaps give away when we meet one another.

Yeah, no, I think you’re right. And I think that sort of perfect Christian type of image is part of the problem, you know, that you can feel as if, as much as we talk about gospel and grace and forgiveness and the God of second, third, fourth, fifth chances, there is a sort of underlying kind of pressure that we feel sometimes from outside, but also from just inside us, to somehow live up to expectations and our lives should live up to that expectation. And yeah, the sort of the perfect image of the perfect Christian.
And the reality is, of course, as you said yourself, many of us are suffering quietly. So it is quite interesting, and I guess to any pastors watching this, you know, the encouragement would be to perhaps speak about it and to perhaps do a sermon about it and to perhaps, you know, create an environment where people can feel that they’re able to talk about it without feeling that they’re going to be judged or labelled, of course. And we’ll come on to a little bit more about what to say about it in a moment.
But I guess just from my own perspective, for sure, the way I started my first article on this was just with this notion never think about it. That, you know, I thought to myself, the moment you ever even think about it or mention it in your marriage is the moment that your marriage is a failure. And I think I’ve heard Christian teaching like that a little bit. It’s almost like a magic thing. You know, if you let the word divorce come out of your mouth and a discussion or an argument, or you let the thought come into your mind that it could even be a possibility that somehow you’re immediately on a track to failure, as it were. And so, you know there was certainly a number of years in my life where, you know, this was something that, you know, I just couldn’t bear to think about, couldn’t bear to imagine, you know, what was gonna happen.

And again, I don’t wanna get too much into my story, but there was certainly a lot of pain there, and a lot of pain as it actually happened, of feeling different, you know, and feeling like a failure, feeling like it was all my fault. And of course, I guess, it’s rarely the case that it’s all one person’s fault. And actually, perhaps we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of fault or blame in that sort of way at all sometimes, you know?

Well, I mean, it’s gonna vary case to case, isn’t it? I know everyone’s situation is different, but I think it does strike me as if it’s, I mean, anywhere where there’s a taboo subject, we’re probably asking for trouble, aren’t we, that if we don’t talk about things. And, you know, I was conscious, so we’re a very transient church, we’re quite a young church.
And, you know, I’m speaking to the, particularly the people who are in the room, not much with a wider eye than that. I’ve got, out the corner of my eye, newlywed couple wants, first Sunday back off the honeymoon. This is what they’re hearing.
You know, I’ve got couples I know are remarried. After divorce, I’ve got those who’ve been divorced and have chosen not to remarry. I’ve got a whole lot of stories I’m not aware of.
I’ve got lots of young couples who are bright-eyed and I hope enjoying the early part of married life. And it really struck me that, you know, we do preparation for people getting married, and I guess a lot of churches would do that. I’m not sure we talk a lot about divorce within that.
And I wouldn’t want it to be the major subject. That would be strange. But actually, I think there’s a safety in going like this.
We want this to work. Of course we do. And when we make the tilde ethos depart type vows, we’re hopeful and we’re optimistic and we’re hoping that that is how this marriage goes.
But like the reality is, clearly it doesn’t always go that way. That’s not everybody’s story. And as soon as you go, well, it doesn’t matter what happens, that’s out of the question. Like divorce, that’s never a possibility. I fear that we set people up for not being in a face up to difficulties and realities that may not land in their life, that may not be part of their story, but might be. And why would we presume we wouldn’t do that?

We try not to do that in other areas of life. You know, we take sin seriously. We take the mess and brokenness of life seriously.
Why do we not do that when we think about marriage? That this is not the kind of exempt area where, no, this could never happen.

That’s a really good point. Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. And I guess one of the issues there is that you can make things worse, I think, you know, and this is something I’ve spoken to a few people about who’ve been through the same sort of thing as a Christian, that that sort of almost taboos of even talking about it, thinking about it, focus, it helps you feel so alone, I think, as well.

So that’s the other thing, it means you feel you can’t talk, you can’t get help, or when you do get help, you’re frightened that the person is gonna be disappointed in you, or they’re going to look down their nose at you, or whatever. But it also, I think, can trap people in a marriage that, you know, where it actually does feel like it’s already dead, you know, like their marriage is on life support, and someone needs to pull the plug, but they don’t have the courage to do so, and feel like that would be almost the unforgivable sin to do so. And I just wonder, because I’ve heard some pretty, you know, toe-curling stories about divorces being particularly angry and unpleasant, you know, whether maybe in some situations, there’s an optimal time, and perhaps, you know, hanging on could make things worse.
I’ve came across an interesting quote, which didn’t come from Christian, actually, it came from a, I think it’s from a Turkish playwright, and he just said that divorce is like a fire exit. And, you know, if there’s no way out of the burning building, then everyone inside is gonna burn. And I think, I do wonder that there might be some people even listening to this who feel so enslaved.

I mean, it’s interesting, the word enslaved is used 1 Cor 7 in one of the key verses about divorce in the Bible. And, you know, it talks about that feeling of being trapped, of being enslaved, and perhaps in a marriage that actually the other person might have really essentially destroyed already, but you feel that there’s no way out. And I think that’s certainly something for anyone here.
And of course, we’re not trying to actually advocate or encourage divorce here, are we? And we’re not trying to say that that’s the solution to every troubled marriage, because God does believe in reconciliation and restoration and new starts for people and for their marriages. So I guess it’s gonna be hard to get the balance right moving forwards.

We don’t want to become, you know, no fault divorce people, let’s just go for it and move on to the next person kind of thing. So any thoughts about that as a wise pastor and dish, a dish, I just thought you dish, Dave Bish, sorry.
I hope I’m wise. I wanna be more wise. Yeah, I mean, I think we’re, like Christians are inherently hopeful people, aren’t we?

Like I said, we want things to, we wanna believe things can be mended. And we have a vision that says eternally, like far more can be mended than we know it can be made right. And all things will be made new.

Although actually, of course, marriage won’t be part of eternity in that sort of sense. But I think the danger then is we think, yeah, there must always be a way to fix it now. And I think sometimes the building’s burning and no one goes to their wedding day going, let’s set this on fire at some point, and let’s try and burn this house down.
But sometimes that happens. And it’s really tragic when it happens. I mean, I think lots of what you posted on this is just very helpful, that kind of Tim Keller’s thing, wasn’t it, about a divorce being like amputation.
And the ending of a marriage is terrible in any circumstance. I mean, I was reflecting just this afternoon on what I’d said, and I think I said something like, ideally marriages end with funerals, rather than of course, and of course, like, when you’re saying ideally a funeral, like you’re already acknowledging the end of a marriage in any scenario, then is a really horrible, grievous thing, because a funeral is not a nice thing, and death isn’t happening. So you’re like, we’re already in this kind of crazy, like this will be tragic at any point.

But sometimes it’s not going to be that, sometimes things are so broken, that there isn’t any restoring it in the here and now, and there can be forgiveness, and both for the wrongdoer and person who’s been hurt can reconcile, but that still doesn’t necessarily mean everything can be fixed in the here and now. And that’s true in lots of stuff, like I think across the board of Christian discipleship, sometimes we trash things so badly, that they can’t be fixed now. And some things can be and we believe in healing and believe in lots of miraculous restoration.
And that’s definitely true too, but it can’t always be. And I think we sometimes draw too much of the future into the present in that sense and go, oh yeah, there’s always, it can always be sorted out. And you think, well, sometimes it can.

And we want that. Of course, you’d want, you’re right to want that to happen, but there are situations where they just, it can’t. And there can be glorious, eternal healing and the wrongdoer can be forgiven and can still be a Christian and all of that’s still absolutely possible.
But we can also trash things in the present in a way that’s just not in this lifetime repairable. And I think we need to have that kind of sense of reality that that is how sometimes things go. And we don’t set out to do that and we wouldn’t want that to be the outcome.
But sometimes it gets to that. And there’s a whole other thing of how do we support people in married life to try and avoid getting to that sort of situation? And I get here with more talking about once it’s got to that kind of situation, aren’t we?
Yeah, of course, yeah, yeah.
So yeah, I mean, I think you’re right. I think the thing here as well, isn’t it, is that we talk about it being trashed and oh my goodness, talking about being trashed, the weather’s just changed. I’m going to move inside.
I’m getting wet. That’s so funny. Just one second as we do that.
But I think sometimes people can feel like either it’s all their fault or it’s all the other person’s fault. There’s a lot of fault blame binding, which isn’t necessarily sometimes helpful. But having said that, sometimes it isn’t, you know, you haven’t necessarily done anything to create the divorce.
And it can be the situation that divorce has done to you, rather than you doing it. I think a lot of Christian teaching always seems to assume that it’s both of you, which isn’t always, you know. I mean, sometimes it is, often perhaps it is.
And I guess none of us are a perfect husband or a perfect wife. So there’ll always be something that we’ve done that has perhaps not been ideal. But do you see what I mean?
This whole thing of feeling somehow that you failed.
Yeah, and that’s not necessarily the case, is it? And you may have done everything right, or within the bounds of, yeah, you say normal, we’re not perfect people. But yeah, and I think I felt very conscious of people like that listening.
And in some of the situations, if they’re still in the middle of the mess of a broken down marriage, that I’ve potentially got both of those people sat in front of me next to each other, who might need to hear something slightly different in the reality of a pastoral interaction in preaching. But yeah, it does seem to me that provision is made, and we’re getting to some of the answers, I guess, but for those who have been wronged, for whom it’s not their fault, it wasn’t them that caused it. If you could pull apart the pieces and work out who caused what anyway, which I would accept you can’t always do that, and it wouldn’t necessarily be very fruitful to do either.
But in particular, we know the Lord is concerned for those who are vulnerable, who are harmed, who the stuff that happens for whatever reason and in whatever way leaves them exposed and caught in a difficult situation. And it’s those kind of people who flocked to Jesus and who saw that he was someone who could offer them the grace and help that they needed. And surely it’s the Church’s job and my job as a pastor, to be providing and presenting Jesus in that kind of way to those who are in need of that care.
However, they got to wherever they are, in a sense, it doesn’t usually matter. But to know that Jesus is there.
And there has to be grace for the one who has caused the problem as well, let’s be honest. Because it’s funny, isn’t it? We often talk about forgiveness and grace, but we’re also living in a society now where cancelling is quite a common thing.
And so I think you can sometimes feel like, rightly or wrongly, and sometimes it can be rightly, that people like your friends, your family, your pastor, maybe even members of your church, you can feel as though they want nothing to do with you now and that you’ve been blamed as somehow tied with some bush. Maybe you have done something really dramatic or it’s just assumed that you must have done something wrong. I mean, I certainly had people that I know who are, you would have to say was the innocent party if you knew the circumstances.

But then again, you only know one side of the story often, but it certainly sounds pretty dramatically clear. And still, other people would say to them, oh, but you must have done something to make that person go off with someone else or whatever the situation was. So it’s kind of like that blame culture and cutting people off and division can be really painful.
And I think John Piper expressed it rather well when he said that divorce is actually often more painful than losing your spouse to death, which might surprise people when they hear that, if they haven’t gone through it. But just everything changes. You will often lose your friends.

Suddenly you’re not in that same group of married friends. I mean, that’s a whole nother story, by the way, as well about how churches often, you tend to have little sort of cliques of married people and the single people can feel left out. And so I’m not saying that’s how it should be, but that’s how it often is.

And suddenly you’re not in anymore. You know, suddenly everything’s changed. You know, you lose, at least often you lose half your family because the people who you’ve been doing life with are now sort of saying, well, that one’s my biological relative, so why are you going to be part of my life?
And you often lose friends. And yeah, often people feel they have to move on in order to get a fresh start as well because it can just be too painful to be around. And I remember talking to a friend of mine who was widowed during the same time that all this was going on for me, for my divorce.
And we had long conversations about what was worse, you know, and the fact that for her, and I did put this into the blog actually, but for her, one of the comforts of going through a grieving process is you do have happy memories to look back on. And one of the challenges with a divorce is you can feel like the previous 25 years or more of your life just has this huge sort of cloud over it. And if anyone asks you about it, you know, about your life, you know, it can just be terribly painful, actually.
You know, there might be places that you went to that are now too painful to go to. You know, there might be holidays that you went on that you think, well, I don’t really want to go back there. All kinds of things really can be incredibly painful.
And I guess, you know, maybe this is a good transition point really, to say that as churches, we need to figure out how we can be better at helping people in that kind of situation. And I guess we sort of talked a little bit about the kind of basics of being kind and loving and all the rest of it. But if I’m honest, one of the crucial issues is what are we saying?
Because if you have a very rigid view of divorce, as some people do, and we went through a lot of those views both in your sermon and in my series, where they say things like, well, divorce might be allowable in some situations, but remarriage never is, for example. That can feel incredibly tough for people who, as I put it, they might have tasted the togetherness of even bad marriage and not really want to be on their own or struggle with being on their own. And yet, we’re consigning people sometimes with some traditional views of marriage and remarriage to a lifetime of being alone.
And that can feel like you’ve thrown someone onto the pile or that no ministry opportunities will ever be open to them again, because they’re perhaps in a denomination or a church that says you can’t be divorced and remarried and be a leader. So have you got any thoughts about that? I mean, how conscious of you were you of that when you were preparing and thinking about what you were gonna say?
No, very much conscious, I think. And I think partly knowing that we probably have a range of how that’s worked out for people. Because again, because our church is being relatively transient, some of those issues have been worked out in other places and then people have moved to us.

Some have perhaps been worked out more locally. I think I’m always conscious in church life that the church ends up being, cannot end up being, it doesn’t have to be quite family centric, that we end up running programmes and support structures for married people and for their children. And there’s probably a right sense in which plenty of energy goes into doing that.
But we’ve got a significant number of unmarried people for a whole range of reasons. They’re never married, we’re no divorced. And so I think one of the challenges for us is we’ve looked at this.
So this wasn’t the first time anybody at our church in recent time had preached on divorce. Another member of our team did a couple of years ago as we worked through One Corinthians. And we made sure there to do, we did one message on being unmarried as well.
And just addressing different kinds of situations and recognizing that I’m not sure you can say that to be married is the normative default best situation for a believer. It’s a good thing, but it’s perfectly valid to be in other situations as well. And I guess the challenge for us is to run church life in a way that says, yeah, you can be in lots of these different situations.
I think the other thing is that, and I took a position on the remarriage stuff in my sermon, having laid out what seemed to me to be the kind of two main positions that someone might come to. I don’t think it’s overly helpful to be too dogmatic on that. But in a sense, as you support and counsel somebody, you’ve got to work that through, and they’ve got to work through where they stand on that.
And I don’t want to trample over the person who has concluded for them it wouldn’t be right to remarry, and has embraced the consequences of that. But I also don’t want to trample over the person who has concluded that remarrying is okay. Yeah, I think you can make some case for both, as I said in my sermon, I think I would stand on the second of those, that I think there are grounds for saying you can remarry after divorce.
I don’t think I would have said that. I don’t think because I particularly thought it through historically, I think it just grated with me that from cultural things really, that somehow that probably wasn’t appropriate. But I think when you then stop and look at it, it seems you can, I think there’s a case for that that makes a lot of sense to me at this point.
But it’s walking through that with people, carefully, slowly, recognising very much that this is coming out of a painful situation for whatever range of reasons. And this is not things that people are embracing lightly. I mean, nobody’s embracing marriage, should be embracing marriage first or second or third, or whatever, lightly.
We say at a wedding ceremony, you’ve got to enter into this seriously and thoughtfully. So I think there’s an onus on us to be really careful with people and with God’s word. But not to presume that somebody else has been reckless with the truth or doesn’t care about what the Lord says, just because they happen to have come to a slightly different conclusion on this.
That feels unhelpful to trample over somebody’s conscience in that really. And I’m very conscious, I think, when you say things publicly, you’re not having a, it’s it’s not a private pastoral conversation. It’s quite hard to do the nuance and the care of that.
And I hope I was able to do that to some extent, but I recognize the limits of the format.

No, I think you did. I think you did really well. And I think, I think it’s interesting because when I was looking at some of the quotes, I was looking at it perhaps from a different angle than someone who’s just purely researching a sermon or whatever.
But also from what I talked about the tone and the one person that came across as being quite harsh, even though he had a slightly more open view, at least in theory, to to another of the pastors, it felt to me in reading the quote that the tone seemed harsh. Now, I might have been a bit biased because for whatever reason, but that’s how it came across. Whereas there was another one, which was just quite interesting, because I think it, you know, that story reflects a little bit of the struggle and the suffering and the personal nature of it, where, you know, John Piper, I mean, it’s quite well known He has a fairly rigid view, at least personally of this, that he feels that marriage is lifelong. And no matter how it ends, actually, you should never remarry. But he was also incredibly compassionate about the struggling that people were talking about through divorce.

And I found that helpful. I mean, he was the one who said it’s often worse than losing a spouse through death, which I thought was quite insightful for someone who’s never personally been through it. But also when you look at his church situation, the church statement that they made drew up many years ago now.
Actually, they chose as a church to be a bit more inclusive than his view. And so he was quite willing to accept that there would be people who have different views. And even amongst his elders, there were some who had different views.
And so the actual church policy was different, although they don’t allow anyone to have any form of, you know, eldership or deacon type views who’ve been remarried. And, you know, his own son has gone on record publicly as having gone through a divorce and has also, you know mentioned that he’s been remarried. And there are photos of Piper attending his wedding online.
So I think that’s, you know, at least a positive there, that there’s clearly an indication of someone coming out of this for a kind of gracious approach. But I guess for people like Keller and interestingly Wayne Grudem, they’ve gone a little bit further. I don’t know what you thought of those arguments.

I’m not sure if you caught the Grudem one before your sermon or not, because I only found that quite late on in the weekend, I think.
Yeah, I think I had a chance to see it, but I already printed my notes at that point, so it didn’t particularly impact the stuff. But yeah, I mean, I think it’s really interesting to see the different perspectives on that. And it’s all this, there’s interchange, isn’t there, between what’s God’s design, what’s an ideal world scenario?
And this is a fallen and broken world. And we live in the middle of that. And yeah, I think it’s one thing to say, well, this is how things ideally would be, but to acknowledge the reality of that. I mean, I found Keller’s reflections really helpful. It particularly struck me that that’s a 1990 sermon. So which, I mean, in the grand scheme of things is not that long ago, but on the other hand, it is quite a long time ago.
And I think culturally feels like a long time ago, that he’s taking that kind of tone. I wasn’t even a believer in 1990, but my assumption would be that it would have been, that would have been an unusual perspective to have taken, to be so full of grace on this, at that stage. You know, it’s not, this is not a few years ago, reacting to, well, now it’s normal and much more common, so therefore, let’s be gracious.
It’s in a situation where, probably, I mean, certainly in this country, at that stage, it still would have been quite unusual to have as many people divorced in a church context or in society as well, and yet full of grace. But I think what’s shaping that is him going, look, we come as we are, we’ve got to where we’ve got to, and the Lord Jesus is full of grace, and he doesn’t turn people away, and there is forgiveness, and he did, I mean, I love that language, which are the worst cases. I like it in the sense that experientially, we know that we live in, I’m cautious of labelling other people’s scenarios as that’s the worst case thing.
But the stuff that feels in our own experiences, that feels most painful, most broken, most difficult, most likely to make other people think that we are beyond the pale, those are the things that Jesus specialises in. He loves people in that, he’s full of grace for people, and if there’s anything we can say in this world, surely it’s that. In a world where people get cancelled and written off and shamed and all of that, Jesus is not like that at all.
He’s full of grace, and he engages with us at that kind of level. And there’s a reason that the outsiders and the people whose situations seem most difficult were the people who flocked to him in all the Gospel accounts, because he met people in that kind of moment. And it wasn’t shape up and fix up and clean up and pretend it’s all fine, and then you can come.

It’s in the depths of it. And I don’t know about you, I hope your church experience is like this, but my assumption on a Sunday morning is like, wow, people made it here. That’s just phenomenal.
People crawled in the door, dragged themselves in off the past week and all the struggle and difficulty and brokenness of living in this world as people who are still not fully made new in every way. Wow, we’re here. Jesus says, come all who are weary and burdened.

And which of us isn’t? Which of us hasn’t found life difficult? Which of us isn’t carrying many, many burdens?
And yet here’s Jesus who offers us rest. And if the church isn’t the place where you can come for rest, whatever your story has been, whether you were the wrongdoer or the wrongdoer or whatever it’s been, and whether it’s new struggles or old ones or whatever, I don’t know who we are if that’s not what we’re able to offer people, really. So I think our tone has to be like that.

I think I’ve particularly found that with Keller. I think Grudem’s comments seem to reflect the same sort of tone. But I think even in some of the comments from Piper, he’s like we don’t want to be harsh with this. Like this is a hard position to take, and I think he would acknowledge that. It does, it makes, there’s some coherence to it. I don’t think it’s completely, it’s not quite where I’ve landed. But I see where he’s coming from.

Yeah, sure.

But he’s not wielding that against people and beating them with it. And he has his own personal story, but I don’t think just because of that, it reflects that he knows what people are like, and he knows what he’s like, and how hard life can be in lots of different ways. And so our tone and our posture with our gospel truth is kind of as important as the content of it.
I mean, the two things, I don’t think you can really separate them, although often I think they seem to jar with each other in ways that aren’t helpful.
That’s really helpful. And Dave, that sort of came across really well through you. And I’m conscious that I’ve taken quite a bit of your time already.
I won’t take too much longer, but just at this point, as a little bit of a kind of almost an advert break really, recommending other resources to people. And I think if you go to my website, which is Patheos, or just Google Adrian Warnock, you’ll see the summary post was called Christian Views, or Different Christian Views of Marriage and Divorce. And in that post, I’ve actually embedded Dave’s sermon, and I commend that to you.
Because sometimes it’s good to actually hear the word preached as well as just reading stuff. And I personally found that incredibly encouraging. And it was, of course, interesting to me to hear some of the same quotes I’d found being used, and used well and with good grace.
So I would encourage you to have a look at that. And if someone wants to dig into it a little bit more, you know, there is a lot of quotes on my site. There’s the article about stigma, which is where it all began.

But the other thing I would just really recommend for people is something called the Restored Lives Course, that is one of the many things that Holy Trinity Brompton run. And it kind of comes out a little bit of the Alpha stable. So it’s a similar approach really. And they do it online. I mean, you can do them face to face as well as some centres. But it’s something quite powerful about going online, because if you’re the only person in your church, you know, they can’t exactly throw on a divorce course just for you.
Well, they could, I suppose, but it wouldn’t, you’d miss out on perhaps one of the strengths of that, which is meeting other people. So you have a little group, there’s a short talk, and they talk about all the different aspects of divorce. And it’s very relevant for someone who’s in the middle of it, very relevant for someone who is in the recent past, but also for someone for whom it’s been years ago, because I don’t think divorce is ever something you fully move on from.

And there might well be sort of wounds and scars that open up even years later. And I’ve had a few people, you know, write in about that. And there were certainly, of course, I was on, there was a number of people who hadn’t really done much sort of thinking through of it and talking through of it, something that they’d suffered with on their own for many, many years, who finally were in a group of people who’d been through a similar experience. And also, you know, some wise, godly advice, and also some professional advice as well, talking about good ways and bad ways to go about things during divorce, and certainly things about that. So I certainly strongly commend people to look at that, whatever your church background, or even if you’re not a Christian watching this, that course is designed to be as welcoming to everyone, really, from any background. That starts in May, so you could certainly sign up for that.

Is there anything else that you can think of that might be helpful for people watching this?
No, I think, I mean, I think that I’m not familiar with that course directly. I’ve, yeah, used some of their other course materials. I’m sure that’s helpful.

I think certainly that kind of sense of being able to connect with others in different situations does seem like a really helpful approach to take. I want to say that there should be people in church with you who can talk to, that a church is a place to go if that’s the kind of situation. I’m conscious that that might not prove helpful, that pastors like me get things wrong and are not always able to offer help that would be helpful, but I want to be hopeful that that can be the case.
Yeah, I think it’s encouraging people to have the bravery to do that, isn’t it? To speak up. And it might be that going to a course with no one you know might help you have the courage to then talk to someone you do know and you can get more help.  Because I think that you may need help from several different places. But for sure anyone watching this who’s not going through it, trying to think about how you can make sure that things are set up so that people feel they can come and talk to you and that when they do, they’re not going to be judged.

Yeah, and I think, you know, for folks like me who are serving churches, like we’re in a situation where we’re trying to serve the people who are around us in the UK, you know, nearly 50% of people divorce as part of their story. Those who are believers, it’s the best part of a quarter of people. This is a real situation.
And I guess for those who, like my church, would work through books of the Bible, like when we worked through the Gospels, Jesus talks about this. So we’re going to see that when you work through books like 1 Corinthians, there’s teaching there. And I guess not to be afraid of facing that.  And it’s not that anyone says everything about that, but we can say something. And I think to break the taboo and the stigma and say that Jesus has things to say about this. And it’s risking picking at something that’s painful for people. But there’s also good news here. And there’s grace for people. And that’s helpful to engage with.
And so let’s not be afraid of doing that.

Excellent, Dave. Is there anything you’d like to ask me that we haven’t talked about?
I don’t want to pry into your stories. I think that’s…
That’s great, I do, thank you.
You might expect me to do, but that’s not my place to do. I think you’ve served people really well by gathering that stuff together. And it’s the beginning of a conversation, isn’t it?
It’s not everything that can ever be said. But to know that there’s some helpful things put together there will help, I think.

No, thanks for that. And I think that is one of the challenges, isn’t it? Because obviously, in some ways, people would maybe find it helpful if I was to spill my guts and tell my story and talk about what

“I’d experienced and go, oh, yeah, I can recognize that.
But the challenge there is that it’s not always appropriate. And it’s not really fair to my ex-wife as well, you know, because obviously I’d say my side, her side might be very different. And you can sound quite churnish quite quickly if you’re not careful as well, like, oh, well, this is what happened.
That’s what happened. And look at me kind of thing. So whereas I think, you know, obviously the writing about stigma and obviously some of that is affected by my own journey, my own experience.
And I’ve certainly had experiences of feeling some people have been unhelpful or said unhelpful things. Some people who wanted to be helpful and kind ended up saying things that weren’t helpful, but I guess that happens. And I guess as Christians, we need to be gracious there as well.
You know, that if someone with the best will in the world is trying to support you, but they say something that is hurtful and unkind, that certainly happened as well through being sick. So I mean, I had a bit of a double whammy, really. I was sick and then had this experience. And so there’s a lot of pain of that. There’s a lot of sleepless nights of tears that have happened. But, you know, through that, I would say that, you know, God has been faithful and, you know, to a certain extent, I’ve come out of the other side of that, moved on, and I’m now happily remarried. But that’s not everyone’s story, of course, and it’s not necessary, nor should it be. In some situations, people may well feel, you know, once bitten, twice shy kind of thing, and they may not feel ready or able to consider remarriage. But I think people fall into two camps on that one, really. And as you’ve said earlier, we need to be respectful of that, and not just assume that the answer is that someone should definitely get remarried, nor should we assume, you know, that they should stay single, and maybe looking into the reasons for that reason, because both those decisions could be made from a healthy place, or actually they could be made from an unhealthy place of pain. You know, I’ve been let down, I’m not going to be let down again or, you know, or I’m alone now, so I’m going to rush into a relationship that’s wholly inappropriate. And so, and I think, yeah, trying to open up and get friends and find people that you can talk to who’ve been through this experience, but also people who haven’t, because there are people with wise and kindly heads on them, like Dave Bish, my friend, who can talk to you and support you.

So don’t feel like you’re on your own and don’t stay on your own. I think that would be my main advice to anyone who’s facing this on a personal level, as I have, that you can’t get through this on your own. You need help and you need support and get it from anywhere you can find it, I would say.
Yeah, so my sense there from just listening to you is, I mean, I guess partly the kind of the broader challenge of unmarried life. People need friends, and so let’s not click and think, oh, if I’m married, I can only be with married people. And so someone who’s unmarried should be on the outside of that, to be available and be a friend is helpful. And I guess presumably within that, whatever the pain, I mean, this probably applies more widely, doesn’t it? But it’s not our place to dig up people’s painful situations, but that when someone feels safe to share, not to be chocked and appalled or, but to be able to listen and to just be there is helpful.
And that allows someone to speak as they feel able to do so.
No, I think that’s right. And sometimes you don’t have to have the answers. And I think that can be one of the challenges.
As Christians, we like to think we’ve got the solution. And of course, in one sense we do. We know Jesus, we’ve got the gospel.
The gospel is the answer to everything. But actually, you can have an unfixable problem. And you can have a situation that seems impossible.
And it’s an incredibly painful, hurtful situation. And one of the worst things that you can do in that situation, whatever it is actually, as a well-meaning Christian or a well-meaning pastor, is wade in with your size 10s and go, I know just what you need to do. If you just do this, everything will be all right. And that can be incredibly unhelpful actually. And we just have to be comfortable sometimes with sitting with people, bit like Job’s friends did. I mean, Job’s friends were great for the first hour long, as they sat with him in his pain. It was when they opened their mouths that they became less helpful. And I think sometimes we do well to just listen and just be there for someone.

Would you pray for us, Dave, as we finish?

Oh, Father in heaven, thank you that you’re full of grace for us. Lord Jesus, you’ve provided a pathway to life, to goodness for us, beyond what we could deserve. You’ve given us a promise that one day all things will be made new, that there will be something far more than anything we know in the here and now.
There will be the ultimate marriage of Christ and his church. And we long for that, but we’re not there yet. And so as we live in the here and now, give us wisdom, give us care for one another, help us in our broken situations, where

“not all things can be mended in the here and now.
To take time with each other to love well, to care well, to understand well, to sit and listen, as we’ve just said. And Father, please help us not to hide behind taboos or put those stigma things in the way of being able to talk about stuff. But we might be people who can appropriately talk about anything and walk through wherever we find ourselves, whatever has been going on, and find your grace and your goodness in that, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Amen. Thank you so much, Dave. Lovely to chat and see you somewhere in cyberspace”

 

About Adrian Warnock
Adrian Warnock is a medical doctor. He worked as a psychiatrist and in the pharmaceutical industry on clinical trials. He has been a Christian writer since 2003 and is a published author. Alongside his career Adrian also served on a church leadership team. He was diagnosed with blood cancer in May 2017 and is the founder of Blood Cancer Uncensored an online patient support group. Adrian is passionate about helping people learn to approach suffering with hope and compassion. Adrian qualified in 1995 with an MB BS medical degree from London University (in the USA this would be called an MD). Adrian also has post graduate qualifications in both Psychiatry (MRCPsych) and Pharmaceutical Medicine (MFFM and DipPharmMed). He studied theology through courses organised by Newfrontiers. You can read more about the author here.
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