Monday, September 14

But Should the Divorced Remarry?

We looked earlier at the fact that God provided for the first divorce documents under the Law, and that the purpose of that document was to show that the marriage covenant had been broken beyond repair, and that the bearers were each free to make their own living arrangements. Remarriage was not only allowed, but presumed, based on Genesis' “It is not good for man to be alone,” and, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Without some particularly good reason, their not remarrying would have been a sin against God and against their nation.

Even into the days of Jesus and St. Paul, marriage was the normal state for adults in society, Jewish and Greek as well. When Jesus spoke of divorcing and remarrying, or marrying one who is divorced, the conversation He was speaking to points to it being about people who were divorcing one in order to marry the next in line. This, of course, is abuse and hypocrisy, and Jesus never had a lot of sympathy for either one.

As Paul was carrying out his teaching ministry, developing the Hebrew Bible teachings and Jesus' words to address the lives of the growing Gentile churches, he provided a third witness to this. The church in Corinth had been dealing with teachings from their own pagan backgrounds. Some of the key issues they were facing dealt with the family and sexual integrity, and since his time and culture are more akin to our own we will look at the way in which he answered their questions.

In I Corinthians chap. 7 we can read that they asked him about what seems to be a motto from the ascetic religions of that day: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” He agreed, to a point, but said it is better for every man to have his own wife, and every woman her own husband, and went on to emphasise that within the marriage each one's sexuality is dedicated to the other. In this he was merely confirming what had been part of the marriage covenant (wedding vows) since Moses, and is yet today.

He did point out that he was not commanding that all be married or not, but that marriage is the more practical state for most Christians “to avoid fornication.” To borrow from another passage, he warned Timothy to “flee youthful passions” and, as we recognise that not only the young have passions, he was then saying it is better to live with someone for whom we can be passionate than to be facing them alone.

But what about divorced people? Modern “wisdom” tells us, “They've had their chance. They blew it, so too bad!” God, however, Who created marriage in the first place, knows that every person and every marriage is different, each married person has a different spouse, with every one coming from a fallen background, is Himself a God of grace. We recognise that grace in other areas, but do we make our marriage ethic a holdover from an age of public stonings? Paul goes on to say,

I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. (verses 26-28, ESV)

Having earlier framed the question of whether to marry in practical terms of freedom from sexual desire, he now counsels for contentment. Some had been persuaded to divorce their unbelieving spouses, in a picture akin to Nehemiah's in the Old Testament. Paul advised against this. For those already divorced, he advised not to be seeking out a wife, but then quickly assured them that if they did marry, male or female, they had not sinned. They would not enjoy the kind of freedom Paul had, they would have “trouble in the flesh,” but marriage did not / does not separate us from God. In fact, the way in which he lumps the widowed, divorced, and betrothed together indicates that the modern taboo against remarriage did not exist in his day. Paul dealt with what today is the one sin for which people are driven out of churches and pulpits as a mere fact of life, and not more a matter of blame or discipline at all!

But should the divorced remarry?

As a moral issue, we see that the main point is to avoid immorality, not protect one's status. But we do find a paradox that even shows up today in secular counseling: “Are you loosed? Seek not...” vs. “But if you do, have not sinned.” The first prerequisite for marriage, and especially remarriage, is contentment. Subsequent marriages have an awful reputation, and it may be from this one thing. No matter how harsh and abusive the wrecked marriage was, the person is accustomed to having a mate, and to seeing themselves as part of a married “social unit.” The harsh shock of freedom often drives people back into “more of the same.” Before thinking about remarriage, then, it may take some years for a person to establish a healthy knowledge of themselves (and of God!),. It is important to be at home in the single state before assuming we will be more content should we remarry?

Some years ago I was looking into settling in Canada. One of the first things I noticed was that if somebody were working in a trade for which the government saw a need for talent, that person was welcome as long as they kept working in that field and kept buying work permits. In practice, no secure status, and not far from slavery. If, however, that person had a few hundred-thousand to invest with the government, that person was welcome just as long as the money stayed in Ottawa. In the same way, the best marriage, or remarriage, is going to be one entered with established capital rather than the intent to work at building some. “Have salt in yourself,” Jesus says, “and be at peace with one another!”

1 comment:

  1. It is worth taking note that the first Israelite to be assigned a priestly role experienced divorce himself. Moses was caught in a troublesome cross-cultural marriage with the Midianite woman Zipporah, and almost got himself killed by God because he had failed to circumcise at least one of his sons (Ex 4:24).

    Although Zipporah travelled with Moses to Egypt, he later sent her away (Ex 18:2) and married an Ethiiopian wife (Nu 12:2).

    This is not to say whether this was good or bad, but that there was no ontological change in Moses by account of his divorce and remarriage that precluded him continuing to serve as God's man on the job for Israel.


So what's your take?