As I said, I am going to attempt to dive a little deeper into this topic. I have written and rewritten this post multiple times in the last few days. To be honest, I’ve gone from downright angry to attempting to be firm yet gracious. I only hope that comes across in my words.
Since I began writing about my divorce, I have been repeatedly faced with criticisms about choosing divorce. I have been told that if I remarry, I will be living in adultery and therefore condemned to hell. I have been told that the only option is to stand in the gap for my now ex-husband as long as it takes until he repents. I have been told that because I made a covenant before God and man to this individual, it holds until death do we part—regardless of the circumstances surrounding our divorce.
I have several problems with this particular viewpoint, however.
- It heaps guilt and shame upon those of us who, for whatever reason, have experienced the hurt, pain, and shame of divorce. Always remember that Satan comes to shame, blame, and condemn; the Holy Spirit comes to lovingly convict and correct.
- This interpretation of scripture is only one view. Holding to this view and forcing it upon everyone is forcing man-made religion upon people and discounting the personal relationship that we are afforded with God through our Savior Jesus Christ.
- The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts, souls, mind, and strength. The second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. We win others into the Kingdom by the love we show, not be forcing a questionable and judgmental doctrine upon others.
- It is hard enough for us as divorced individuals to muster the courage to walk through the doors of a church alone; if we experience condemnation and shame, it is a sure way to get us to turn our backs on the one thing—Jesus Christ—who can heal us, put us back together, and use our painful circumstances for our good and his glory.
When I learned of my husband’s adultery, I offered forgiveness. However, that forgiveness was rejected as he continued in his hard-heartedness, continued in his relationship with the other woman. While I was fighting to keep my marriage together, he was choosing to live in unrepentant sexual immorality. I learned that it only takes one person to walk away from a marriage; however, it takes two people, fully committed to God and to working through issues, to keep a marriage together. In my case, I could not save my marriage alone.
It took me a year, many amazing Christian advisors and counselors, and many tears and agonizing prayers to walk away. When you enter marriage with a forever mindset… When you never thought or uttered the word divorce… When you gave your all to a marriage only to be rejected… When you never wanted anything more than to have a marriage that goes the distance… When you longed to be like your grandparents who were married for 72 years… There is no way to express how difficult it is to hear God whispering, “It’s ok to walk away.”
But, I did hear those words.
In that instant, I was free! In that instant, I knew that I had done everything I could do. In that instant, I knew that God had given me the freedom to walk away, that he had set me free from the covenant.
Over the years, I have struggled with guilt and shame. What if I had prayed more? What if I had stayed longer? What if I’d had more faith? The truth is, only God knows. My personal opinion is that God knew my husband was not going to repent and therefore he set me free. He came so that we might know the truth and the truth would set us free (John 8:32). He does not want us to live our lives in bondage, and I was in a place of bondage.
Now is where it gets sticky.
I believe with all my heart that God set me free from my marriage. If God set me free, no one has the right to tell me that I am bound to my husband until one of us dies. However, there is a mindset that would say divorce is never allowed for a Christian. But, it is only one interpretation of scripture.
There are black and white issues in scripture. Don’t kill. Don’t commit adultery. Love God. Love others. Show mercy. Give generously. There are no exceptions to these commands.
Then there are gray areas, areas in which even the experts cannot reach complete agreement. It is completely clear that God’s perfect plan was one man and woman for life. However, he gave an exception in the case of sexual immorality. Paul gave an exception in the case of abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. Moses permitted a certificate of divorce. Was it ever God’s preferred, perfect will? Never! But, God recognizes that we live in a fallen world where hearts can become hardened toward him. Therefore, he gave exceptions.
Briefly, I am going to provide some reading material for you.
I found this article on Crosswalk.com, and it resonated so well with me!
This link was sent to me by a reader encouraging me to stand on the permanence of my marriage, purporting that I must remain faithful to my now ex-husband.
This article provides an overview of the different views of marriage and divorce and gives some examples of when divorce may be allowed.
Here’s an interesting article about God’s own divorce from the northern kingdom of Israel.
Another article from Crosswalk.com that discusses biblical reasons for divorce.
These articles represent some vastly different views on marriage and divorce as it relates to the Christian. But, let me start by pointing out one similarity: Each article is written by a student of scripture, one who has studied deeply and has a much greater understanding than I do. And therein lies my biggest issue: Even the scholars cannot agree on the interpretation of scripture on this subject. Any time there is a gray area in scripture, I believe God would call us to extend a significant amount of grace and mercy rather than cast judgment and try to force others to accept our interpretation of scripture.
While we all agree that God’s perfect design was for a lifetime commitment, we live in a fallen world. Unfortunately, sin abounds. Many of us did not want our divorce, but we were not given an option in the situation. Our spouses abandoned us—some physically, some emotionally. We might have been victims of abuse (it doesn’t have to be physical abuse). Some were married to non-Christians who chose to walk away (the Bible addresses that one, too).
If you come to me and say, “I believe God is calling me to stand in the gap in prayer for my now ex-husband,” I am going to rejoice with you! I will stand beside you and encourage you every step of the way. I will be on my knees in prayer for you, your spouse each and every day. I will offer you every word of encouragement that I possibly can.
However, if you come to me and tell me that I need to be standing in the gap for my ex-husband, praying for reconciliation, I will call Pharisee. To try to take one interpretation of scripture and put it on me discounts my walk with Christ, all of the time I have spent on my knees in prayer seeking him. It discounts everything that he has spoken directly to my soul through scripture, through his people, through my own relationship with him. It sets me back in my walk, in my journey, as I have struggled through overcoming the guilt and condemnation already heaped upon me by the Accuser of the Brethren and by fellow Christians.
To insist that there is only one right interpretation of these scriptures—whether it is praying for reconciliation or the divorce is allowed interpretation—is the height of pride and arrogance. It reeks of Pharisaism. You see, the Pharisees were known for taking the scriptures, putting their interpretation on them, and holding everyone to their man-made rules for following scripture. They put themselves in the place of God—judging everyone by their outward actions, their adherence to their interpretation of scripture. While they were looking at outward appearance, only God has the right or the ability to look within and judge our hearts.
Let’s go just a step further. What did Jesus have to say about the religious leaders who stood in judgment over the people? He said they were like white-washed sepulchers, clean on the outside but dead on the inside. “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions” (Mark 7:8). People who try to hold you to a specific interpretation of scripture in a gray area are clinging to a man-made tradition rather than to God.
And yet, how did Jesus respond to sinners? To the woman caught in adultery, he refused to condemn her. Instead, in his grace and mercy, he set her free and told her to go and sin no more (John 8). His best friends were the sinners and tax collectors—the lowest of the low. He spent his time with the outcasts, the downtrodden. It was the prostitutes who lavished him with love because they understood the depth of his forgiveness. It was the sick who flocked to him, knowing they needed his healing. It was the dead that he raised back to new life.
What did Jesus say was the greatest commandment? To love God and to love your neighbor (Matthew 22. And, BTW, this statement was in response to the Pharisees who were trying to trap him.)
How about the Old Testament? What about the scripture that says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God“ (Micah 6:8).
So…what is the answer?
- Love God with all your heart. If you are doing your best to walk closely to Him, the Holy Spirit will guide you on the path he has for you. No one can determine that path in the gray areas except you in communion with the Spirit. Perhaps he will lead you to stand in the gap for your wayward spouse/ex-spouse. If so, stand strong in faith! Perhaps, however, he will set you free as he did for me. Hold your head high, knowing that you are approved by God even when others try to convince you that their way is right.
- Love your neighbor. There will be those who continue to try to turn you to a particular interpretation of scripture. While you should be strong, you can do so with love and not condemnation. I have been the object of insults because I disagreed with the stance others took. I try to never stoop to the level of hurling insults. I always try to take the high road. But, this road sometimes means a firm, strong stand (as I said, I have been accused of pride and anger).
- Always, always, always err on the side of grace and mercy. I have been in a church service when the pastor referred to “divorced people.” I felt myself horrified and humiliated. I remember thinking—even saying—that if my faith had not been so strong, if I had been someone going through divorce looking for love and acceptance and help, I would have never, never, never stepped back into a church building. We as Christians tend to be known more for what we are against than being known for our love. We are guilty of keeping others away from Christ by our religious talk and our judgmental attitudes. I don’t want to be guilty of scaring others away. Jesus said others will know we are his disciples if we have love for one another (John 13:34-35). I want my love for others to draw people to Christ.
- Never let anyone heap guilt and condemnation upon you. Satan is the accuser of the brethren. He comes to steal your peace. He comes to throw guilt and condemnation upon you. He wants you to suffer, to think that you will never be able to be used for God’s kingdom again because of your divorce (or whatever is in your past). However, the Holy Spirit never condemns, never throws guilt at you. The Holy Spirit comes to convict, to show you the error of your ways, to draw you back to himself. If you are suffering guilt and condemnation, it is not from God. If you are walking with him, doing your best to live in obedience, your sins have been thrown as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
While I am not angry with anyone who tries to convince me that I must cling to the hope of reconciliation, I refuse to accept that there is anyone who can say with 100% certainty that he/she has the correct interpretation of these scripture. I have made the decision that I have the Holy Spirit living within me. He is here to direct me, to guide me, to lead me into all truth. I stand today knowing that he has led me to this place where I am free from my ex-husband. Why this path is the one he chose, I may never fully understand. But, I know I stand redeemed in the eyes of my Savior.
And, I live for an audience of The One. His opinion of me is the only one that matters.