Thursday, December 1, 2011

Divorce & Remarriage

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about divorce and remarriage:

Q:  Under what circumstances does the Bible allow for divorce?  After a divorce, are one or both of the parties allowed to remarry, and under what circumstances? 

Strictly speaking, the Bible allows only one circumstance under which a marriage ought to come to an end.  That circumstance is the death of one spouse.  A widow or widower is given no special restrictions in the Bible regarding when or whom they may marry beyond those given to other single Christians, so they may remarry as soon as their own conscience allows them. 

However, in light of human sin, Jesus is recorded in the gospels as allowing one condition under which a marriage may end by divorce, which is adultery (sexual unfaithfulness) on the part of one spouse.  In such a case, Jesus said that the spouse who was the victim of the adultery has the option (but not the requirement) to divorce the spouse who committed adultery.  As in all things, the Bible prefers reconciliation of the marriage when possible, but does allow for divorce as a result of adultery when reconciliation is not possible. 

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul gives several pieces of instruction, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as an Apostle, regarding marriage and divorce.  In doing so, he specifically rejects the idea that spouses may divorce, even over matters as  serious as religious differences, but he does expand upon Jesus’ instruction to allow for divorce in the case of abandonment by one spouse.  Under the circumstance where one spouse unilaterally leaves the marriage against the wishes of the other, he does not fault the spouse who was abandoned for the dissolution of the marriage. 

In reading these instructions from St. Paul, Bible scholars and Christian ethicists have typically concluded that these instructions not only include the allowance for divorce as a result of literal abandonment, but also what has been termed “malicious abandonment.”  Malicious abandonment would include such circumstances as abuse by one spouse toward another, and addiction or other circumstances under which the actions of one spouse significantly compromise the safety of the other spouse or the children in the family. 

Under the circumstances listed above, one spouse in the dissolved marriage would be ethically and morally faulted with causing the divorce, while the other would be considered justified in their decision to end the marriage.  At the same time, a divorce is never solely the fault of one spouse.  Since all marriages are between two sinners, both spouses have always sinned against the other in some manner, even if not in ways that justify divorce.  Remembering this, it is important that both parties acknowledge their sins to God (and perhaps to one another or to their pastor) in the aftermath of the divorce and repent of them, knowing that Jesus’ death is sufficient to forgive all sin, and taking corrective action before considering remarriage.

After a divorce, a pastor would treat every situation individually when divorced Christians are considering remarriage.  If the divorce was not Biblically justifiable based on the criteria above (adultery, abuse, abandonment) then he will need to address this in caring for those desiring remarriage.  If the divorce was Biblically justifiable, then he will have different needs to address in his spiritual care of the person depending on whether they were the guilty party in their divorce or the victim. 

A victimized spouse is morally free to remarry, but should certainly seek guidance and pastoral care as they enter their new marriage, because of the mental and spiritual factors involved with recovering from divorce.  On the other hand, it is also necessary that a spouse guilty of causing their divorce repent of their sin and take corrective action before a responsible pastor will agree to participate in joining them in a new marriage. 

Ultimately, Christian ethics insist that marriage is intended to be a life-long commitment between a husband and wife, but human sin has interfered with this intention and continually causes broken marriages.  Acknowledging this, it is the task and desire of the Church and its pastors to care for all who are broken by the effects of sin in the world, especially making use of God’s gifts of Prayer, Blessing, Scripture, and Sacraments so bring the forgiveness of Jesus to those who have sinned, allowing them to proceed in a new life. 

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