Is divorce a sin?
When I first set out to answer this question, I thought that it would be one of the “easier” ones for me to tackle. I have been through a divorce and I believed that I had thought through the issue fairly well. On top of that, our denomination is fairly clear on the topic with a stance that does not condone divorce yet at the same time offers hope to a person who is facing or been divorced. It is a stance that I would say reflects my personal views as well.
“God’s plan is for lifelong, faithful marriage. The church must be on the forefront of premarital, marital and postmarital counseling in order to create and preserve strong marriages. However, when a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness…Divorce does not preclude a new marriage. We
encourage an intentional commitment of the Church and society to minister compassionately to those in the process of divorce, as well as members of divorced and remarried families, in a community of faith where God’s grace is shared by all.” (Book of Discipline, electronic edition page 161)
What happened as I began to answer the question, though, was that I began to recall very vividly the “struggle” I had when I was going through my divorce. Although no one in the church ever spoke a word of condemnation to me, I “felt” it. Most likely what I was feeling at the time was a combination of guilt brought on by thinking I had “failed” and some misunderstandings of my own concerning Scripture.
When you read the New Testament passages that speak about divorce and especially about divorce and remarriage, it is extremely clear that both are considered sinful. (It appears to me that there are four main passages in the Gospels that deal with the issue of divorce – Luke 16:18, Mark 10:1-12, 1 Corinthians 7:10 and Matthew 19:1-12.) The clearest of these passages, the Matthew reference, says flat out that a divorced person who remarries is committing adultery. At that time in my life, age 23, I could not even imagine going through life single. And yet, when I was reading the Bible, I knew that to remarry would mean that I would be breaking one of the commandments. I knew the United Methodist position, but just couldn’t make all the “bad feelings” about myself go away.
To me it was pretty clear, Scripture said that divorce is wrong and remarriage after divorce is sin. Our denomination said that divorce doesn’t preclude a new marriage. How could that be? Wouldn’t the person who divorced and remarried be living in perpetual sin? Wouldn’t they need to “repent” and change their way, their life and stop the sin that they are committing?
I searched the Bible for some way to say that it would be okay for me to one day remarry but I couldn’t find anything. Yes, my divorce did meet the slim criteria set forth in Matthew for the possibility of remarriage but I didn’t want my eternal life hinging on the reasons my first marriage ended. A lot of times – and this was certainly true in my case – infidelity in a marriage is just a symptom of something deeper being wrong. I couldn’t trust my eternal life on how we look at what went wrong. I needed assurance!
It wasn’t for some quite some time that I began to understand that my problem was in how I was reading the Bible. I was looking for a tree – God was offering me the whole forest. It happens each and every time we look at the Bible for some “pat answer” to what is right and what is wrong and how that affects people who follow Jesus.
Romans 13:8-10 says, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” The single most important thing we do as Christians is told to us in this passage – love one another! (Now, I know some would say, “Preacher, that’s just looking at a different ‘tree’ and basing your eternal life on it.’” In one way I would say, “Yep. Sure is.” In another way, though, this passage isn’t so much a “tree” as it is a “sign” pointing us to the forest God gives us. If you have any doubts, just read John 3:16 AND 17!)
I can tell you this much…there was no way for me to remain married and “love” my first wife. Besides the child we gave to this world, the most loving thing we did for each other was ending our marriage!
And the way I feel about my present wife, Pam? Well, suffice it to say that one of the greatest gifts I have ever received from God is the gift this Godly woman is to me. After meeting Pam and getting to know what a gift she was to my life, it would have been silly for me to reject her based on the passage from Matthew. I would have practically been denying God’s love for me not to accept the love he was sending me through Pam. Marriage was not just an option…It was a fulfillment of the love God had for me!
So, is divorce a sin? Yes, it most certainly is. The question that wasn’t asked is this: “Can a divorced person remarry?” Yes. They most certainly can. We would have to stand in judgment of a person for the rest of their life because of the “sin” of divorce if we deny them the right to remarry when God brings someone into their life that most certainly makes them complete – “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:6 (Not Jerry Maguire!)
I hope this answer was worth the wait…next question? “How was there nothing in the beginning?”