God is a Divorcé Too!
By Sherman Nobles
Good news for all divorcées! God loves you and His grace and forgiveness is for you. If you are now single again, He understands your need for companionship and will provide for it. God does not expect you to live single the remainder of your life, unless He has given you the gift of celibacy. He does not expect you to try and get back with your former spouse, unless you both desire such and neither of you has subsequently remarried. If you have married again, He will bless your marriage and help you and your spouse make a go of it, if you but follow His loving care and guidance. God will even help you deal with all of the troubling baggage from your previous relationships.
God understands the pain of divorce, having experienced it Himself! Through the prophet Jeremiah, God said "I knew that the kingdom of Israel had been unfaithful and committed many sins, yet I still hoped she might come back to me. But she didn't, so I divorced her and sent her away" (Jeremiah 3:8 CEV) (emphasis mine). Yes, God is a divorcé too, although through no fault of His own!
God even forgives you if you were the sole cause of your marriage breaking up. He loves you intensely and desires to bless you and your relationships, bringing forgiveness, healing, restoration, and hope back into your life. He will take what the devil has meant for evil and turn it for good. If you will only trust and obey Him, He will lead you into a future filled with overflowing love, joy, and peace-His Kingdom. Some people, even some Christians and churches, might reject you; but He accepts you!
Some people will find the above statements disturbing, to say the least. Some will find them perplexing, asking "Why would he say such things, aren't they obvious?" Others fully agree with what I have said, believing in the grace and forgiveness of God, but they cannot reconcile apparent contradictory statements by Jesus. Responses vary so dramatically because what was just stated directly contradicts the "traditional Christian doctrine of marriage, divorce and remarriage" (henceforth called the "traditional doctrine of divorce").
The traditional doctrine of divorce leads one to say the following: "God loves you and forgives you, but if you are now divorced and single again, you must live celibate the remainder of your life, unless you had a "scriptural" divorce." A "scriptural" divorce is most commonly understood as a divorce caused by adultery and possibly by abuse or abandonment, and the errant spouse's continued long-term refusal to repent.
If you had a "scriptural" divorce, you might be able to marry again, if you can find a minister willing to perform the wedding ceremony. If you had an "unscriptural" divorce and you have remarried, I'm sorry, but God does not recognize your marriage and you are living in adultery. In fact, you are still married to your former spouse "in the eyes of God." In order to get right with God, you need to divorce your current spouse and either live celibate the remainder of your life, or remarry your former spouse if possible. If you caused your first divorce because of adultery, you're "up the creek without a paddle" and relegated to a life of celibacy as punishment for your sins. If your spouse divorces you for unscriptural reasons, you too must live celibate the remainder of your life because of his/her sin. If you have children and fit one of the cases where you must remain celibate, I'm sorry, but your children are relegated to living in a single parent home because of your sin and/or the sin of your spouse.
Thankfully, though most Christian denominations espouse the traditional doctrine of divorce, many ministers do not enforce it on the people in their care. Rather, many tend to ignore this doctrine and focus on the grace and forgiveness of Christ. Some find a way to work around it, interpreting Jesus' words as overstatements meant to counter the hypocritical teachings of the Pharisees. Still others sidestep the issue by not directly addressing the doctrine, much less teaching it, evasively pointing people to scripture and instructing them to make up their own minds.
Due to the traditional doctrine of divorce, many Christians who have had a civil divorce are not "allowed" to remarry with the "blessing" of the church unless their first marriage is annulled. To annul a marriage is to declare it invalid. An annulment "is a decree that marriage attempted by a couple was illegal or invalid according to the rules of the society and therefore was not in fact a marriage." A married couple who divorced and then had the marriage annulled, is then considered by the church to have never been married, even if the couple had children together. As the number and percentage of divorces in America has dramatically increased over the last thirty years, so has the number of annulments. To some, this might seem like a strange way of dealing with the problem of marriages breaking up. But if you accept as a doctrinal truth that marriage is indissoluble, then annulment is the only option that will free previously married people to remarry with the blessing and acknowledgement of the church.
Problems and questions abound surrounding the traditional doctrine of divorce; and there is often a significant disconnect between the traditional doctrine and its practical application in the lives of people. Why? Because the traditional doctrine of divorce is based on error, being made up of multiple interconnected erroneous beliefs and subtle, but tragic, misinterpretations of scripture! This has created a spider's web of deception that has many people captured in false religious bondage, keeping them from experiencing the freedom that is in Christ and the relational redeeming power of the Gospel! In order to dissolve this web of deceit, freeing those wrapped in it, we will need to examine closely each strand and expose the error and deception at its core.
It is traditionally believed that in God's sight, a person's first marriage is his/her only legitimate marriage; and except for death or a "scriptural" divorce (one based on adultery or the Pauline Privilege ), God does not recognize subsequent marriages. Therefore, people who divorced their previous spouses for "unscriptural" reasons and married another are in illegitimate, immoral relationships, and are actually living in adultery. In order to come into or remain in fellowship with God and the church, divorcées with "unscriptural" divorces that have not remarried should either seek to remarry their first spouse or live celibate the remainder of their lives or until their former spouse dies. Some ministers and theologians who believe the traditional doctrine of divorce go so far as to say that people whose divorces were "unscriptural" who have remarried are now in marriages not recognized by God and must now divorce their current spouse even if they now have children through these relationships. The people then must either remarry their first spouse or remain celibate the remainder of their lives.
This false doctrine has the potential to weaken and even cripple existing marriages especially among those who have been divorced and remarried. Christian divorcées who have remarried are led to question the viability of their marriages asking, "Is my marriage recognized by God or am I living in sin? Is my marriage an adulterous relationship?" Not only that, but the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage actually weakens marriages instead of strengthening them. Which is treated with more care and honor, a cast-iron (indissoluble) pot or a fragile (breakable) China vase?
The traditional doctrine of divorce has helped to increase the already overwhelming levels of fear and emotional turmoil in Christians who are caught in destructive or abusive marriages. Furthermore, it has significantly handicapped the church in reaching the lost with the Gospel, especially single divorcées and those who have remarried. For divorcées who have embraced this doctrine and remained celibate, it has cut them off from the blessings of marriage. Few people are born with, or grow to have, no desire or need for the loving committed companionship of married life. Divorce is devastating enough without the church pouring salt in the wounds of those who have felt its jagged cutting edge.
Jesus said that if we abide in Him and His Word, we will know the truth and the truth will set us free (John 8:31). Truth brings freedom from sin. Doctrinal error, false teachings, and false religions increase our slavery to sin. Understanding and accepting the truth regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage can only help to free us from sin, individually and corporately.
The title of this book, God is a Divorcé Too! is based upon Jeremiah 3:8 where the prophet Jeremiah quotes God saying that He divorced Israel. In no way is this book meant to malign God or be sacrilegious! Its purpose is to challenge radically the traditional doctrine and the negative beliefs, attitudes, and feelings that many Christians have towards divorcées! Divorce is often subconsciously equated with sin and failure, regardless of its justification. Therefore when one says, "God is a divorcé too," it's as if one is speaking evil of God.
Sadly, in many Christian fellowships, to be labeled a divorcée is to be considered someone on the fringe of acceptability, at best. At worst, it means to be rejected and completely excluded. A friend of mine in the U.S. Navy shared with me the following.
When I move to a new area and start attending a new church, the "Absolute Last Thing" (his verbal emphasis) that I hope ever comes out about my wife and I is that we have both been divorced and are now in our second marriage. People treat us differently; some avoid us like the plague.
My friend, his wife, and their children are devoted Christians and tremendous assets to any fellowship of believers. It is shameful and tragic that any Christian, much less complete congregations should treat them in such a manner. This evil is the fruit of the traditional doctrine of divorce.
The church should be the one organization above all others through whom divorcées are made to feel accepted and loved. Far too often, the church causes divorcées to feel excluded, shamed, and wrongly judged. Just ask a few Christian divorcées! Divorce is not a blight on the church; but arrogant and self-righteous attitudes are! Many people that are not raised in the church come to Christ due to recognizing their need of God through tragic losses in their lives. The first step towards salvation is admitting our need of God. For many people, divorce is the loss that drives them to their knees in search of God. The church needs to be there in their time of need, offering the forgiveness, hope, and restoration that is found only in Christ. For the Christian, should the church provide any less? I think not!
Jesus numbered Himself with sinners, and often those of the vilest sort felt comfortable in His presence. The few people that He openly rebuked were the self-righteous, hypocritical religious leaders of His day! Sadly, the opposite is true in some churches, where "sinners" are made to feel like dirt.
Why the title, God is a Divorcé Too!? First of all, it is a valid scriptural metaphor of God, although obscure, being used only once in the Bible. Jeremiah prophetically quotes God saying;
The kingdom of Israel was like an unfaithful wife who became a prostitute on the hilltops and in the shade of large trees. I knew that the kingdom of Israel had been unfaithful and committed many sins, yet I still hoped she might come back to me. But she didn't, so I divorced her and sent her away (Jeremiah 3:6-9 CEV). (emphasis mine
Of course, God's relationship with Israel is much more involved, theologically speaking, than just thinking of God as a divorcé. In Jeremiah's day, Israel was a divided kingdom with Israel's ten tribes to the North and Judah's two tribes in the South. Thus, when God spoke of having divorced Israel, He was still married to a remnant of His covenant people, Judah. The purpose of the analogy was to call Judah (the remnant of Israel) back to faithfulness in her relationship with God, affirming God's love for His people. This passage is not meant to say that God has or ever will give up on Israel as a people.
The Apostle Paul gives an extensive discourse on God's continuing love for and relationship with Israel in Romans chapters nine, ten, and eleven. Has God put away Israel as a whole? Absolutely not! God has reserved for Himself a remnant, a group of faithful Jewish believers that have or will accept Jesus, the Messiah! The Apostle Paul wrote,
I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, "LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life"? But what does the divine response say to him? "I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. (Romans 11:1-5 NKJV) (emphasis mine)
In no way is the title of this book, God Is A Divorcé Too! meant to empower anti-Semitism in the church. In fact, several aspects of this study highlight the need for non-Jewish believers to respect and value our Jewish heritage. This book is not a theological discourse on God's relationship with the nation of Israel today. It is strictly a rebuttal to the traditional doctrine of divorce, presenting what I believe to be a renewed biblical theology of marriage, divorce, and remarriage.
God being a divorcé is a valid scriptural metaphor, one that we can receive much encouragement and grace from. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16 & 17 NKJV). The metaphor of God being a divorcé is thus profitable to be taught, to correct our thinking, and to instruct us in right living so that we may be completely equipped to administer the grace of God in word and deed!
The title, God is a Divorcé Too!, radically challenges (at a gut level) one's subconscious beliefs, attitudes, values, and feelings concerning divorce and divorcées. Obviously, one does not use a metaphor as a foundation for doctrine; but any biblical metaphor of God that is at odds with our beliefs, or that causes us to be uncomfortable, should cause us to seriously and prayerfully reconsider our beliefs.
The following is a simple geometric puzzle that illustrates this concept. Please take a few minutes to solve it before reading further and looking at the solution. Simply (1) connect all nine dots in the following diagram, (2) use only four straight lines, and (3) once you start drawing, do not lift your pencil or retrace another line segment. Go!
Most people cannot readily solve this puzzle because they subconsciously believe and adhere to limits that are not stated. When a person believes something, information or options that do not agree with that belief are typically rejected with little or no consideration. In the previous diagram, one naturally sees a box and subconsciously adheres to an unstated rule that he must remain within that box in order to solve the puzzle. "Unstated" is the key word here. There is no such rule. It is an assumed limitation, a subconscious belief.
In order to solve this puzzle, one must think "outside of the box." The solution is actually quite simple once you think "outside of the box." In the following diagram, the "box" has been shaded in order to identify easily the original nine dots. Start with point A, trace the line following the arrows to points B, C, D, and back to B. Note that points C and D are "outside of the box" and there are only four line segments.
In like manner, the scriptural metaphor of "God being a divorcé" is extremely outside of the box of beliefs, values, and attitudes that most Christians have concerning divorce. Most of our assumptions and beliefs are so deeply ingrained that we quickly disregard, discredit, and even vehemently oppose any information or concept that contradicts them. When information does not fit within our box, we have a choice to make-either discredit and disregard it, or get a bigger box. Concerning the doctrine of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, I propose that we find a bigger box, one that incorporates all of the teachings in the Bible, including the metaphor of God being a divorcé.
Jesus purposefully did and said things that would challenge the religious traditions of His day that did not fit the character, Spirit, or Law of God. The title, God Is A Divorcé Too! also does this, dynamically challenging the traditional doctrine of divorce, its negative attitudes and beliefs! The traditional doctrine of marriage and divorce fosters these negative attitudes, being founded on human rules and not the commands of God. The traditional doctrine is in the same category as the hypocritical teachings of the Pharisees. Speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus said,
Isaiah was right when he spoke about you hypocrites. He wrote, "These people show honor to me with words, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is worthless. The things they teach are nothing but human rules." You have stopped following the commands of God, and you follow only human teachings (Mark 7:6-9 NCV). (emphasis mine)
The metaphor of God being a divorcé too, can inspire, encourage, strengthen, comfort, and give hope to the divorcée. Understanding God as a divorcé has great potential to bring healing and restoration to many that struggle with an overwhelming sense of failure and hopelessness due to their own divorce or that of a loved one.
God understands the pain of divorce and will heal the broken-hearted if we will but turn to Him. Even though God is the perfect husband, his wife (Israel) rejected Him, running off with other lovers. Was this due to God being at fault in any way? Obviously not! In like manner, a man or woman can be a godly spouse, contributing little, if any, to the breakup of their marriage; and in no way should divorce, in and of itself, be a mark against his or her character. Symbolism is a powerful means of communication. God identifies with the heartbreak of divorce, having experienced it Himself!
Following this paragraph and scattered throughout this book are real-life examples of people in bondage, wrapped in a web of deceit-the traditional doctrine of divorce. In an effort to protect their identities, actual names are not used. These are added to this book in order highlight the every-day sadistic consequences that the traditional doctrine of divorce has had and is having in the lives of people.
HENRY AND SARAH
Henry, one of the leaders in a small Christian congregation, fell into an affair with Sarah, a woman in his congregation. He ended up divorcing his wife, leaving her and their children, marrying and starting a new family with Sarah. He later repented of his sins against his first wife and children, sought and received forgiveness from them, and greatly desired restoration in his relationship with God. But for over fifteen years, he lived under a vexing sense of grief, guilt, and self-condemnation. He would not go back to church because he did not want to be hypocritical. "Why would he think this?" you might ask.
Henry believed that to be fully restored in his relationship with God and the church, he needed to divorce Sarah, his second wife, and live celibate the remainder of his life. He believed that God did not recognize his second marriage and that he was actually living in adultery. This was the doctrine that his church embraced-the traditional doctrine of divorce. Thankfully, he loved his second wife and family too much to do that to them. Two wrongs just do not make a right!
Within the last few years, he has begun to work through this with the help of another church, one that does not fully embrace the traditional doctrine of divorce. With his family, he now faithfully attends that church and is overcoming the shame, grief, guilt, and self-condemnation that has plagued him for so long.
The good news to Henry and anyone else in a similar situation is that God has forgiven you, and does not expect you to break up your family. Actually, God desires for you to draw close to Him; and He will give you the strength, wisdom, love, and provision to be a blessing to both families, and, of course, remain faithful to your current wife. God not only recognizes your second marriage, but He has and will continue to bless it. God will even bring healing to the wounds you have caused in others, and bring restoration to your relationships. Only accept His forgiveness and seek after Him with all of your heart! People who receive much forgiveness, in turn, love God and others all the more!
The traditional doctrine of divorce asserts that marriage is a sacrament, under ecclesiastical authority, and indissoluble. It is commonly believed that Jesus desired to repudiate the Law of Moses on divorce, legislatively making divorce unacceptable and unrecognized by God (except possibly for adultery). The Apostle Paul's teaching on marriage is also understood by many as legislative in nature, adding an acceptable reason for divorce called the Pauline Privilege-abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. All of these assertions of the traditional doctrine of marriage and divorce are false. The error at the heart of each statement is exposed in the following chapters.