Thursday, August 27, 2015

When is Divorce a Sin?

A recent Christianity Today story looked at people's opinions on when divorce constitutes a sin:

Overall, about four in 10 (39 percent) Americans say divorce is a sin when one partner has committed adultery. A similar number says divorce is a sin, even in cases of abuse (37 percent) or abandonment (38 percent).

By contrast, about a third (32 percent) of Protestant pastors say divorce is a sin in cases of adultery. That drops to about a quarter for divorces in cases of abuse (28 percent) or abandonment (27 percent).

Many are surprised to hear that some think divorce in the case of abuse is a sin. I'm surprised that some think divorce in the case of adultery is a sin. Alright, so when is it a sin?

So what are the foundational texts on divorce? Let's start with Jesus:

"I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (Matt 5:31-33, emphasis added).

"I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery" (Matt 19:1-11, emphasis added).

In both cases, he seems to say that the sin — adultery — comes from remarriage.

The other NT passage on divorce is from Paul:

"A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife" (1Cor 7:10-16, emphasis added).

Again there is this idea that remarriage is the problem.

So when is divorce a sin? I don't think it is. Remarriage is a sin unless the divorce was caused by adultery.

What about abuse? Get out of there! You don't have to keep living with that person. But that doesn't mean you can remarry. And there's the rub.

Our society is so hedonistic it can't conceive of a life of celibacy. Even in the church, people just assume divorce means remarriage. But people do it. Some people live their whole lives without ever having sex. Some are widowed at a relatively young age and never remarry. And people can live celibate lives after separating from a bad spouse.

Do we want to do that? Of course not. But righteousness has to come before pleasure. The Lord has called us to live above the level of normal people. We bless those who curse us, give 'til it hurts, and forgive as we have been forgiven. Sometimes we have to choose celibacy to honor our God.

So does this mean divorce is always OK as long as you're willing to stay single from then on? No.

"'The man who hates and divorces his wife,' says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'does violence to the one he should protect,' says the LORD Almighty" (Mal 2:16).

God doesn't like divorce. Jesus made it clear: "What God has joined together, let no one separate" (Matt 19:6). This is not something that should be done lightly.

This isn't for people who aren't getting along. This isn't for people who have "fallen out of love." Divorce should not happen because of "irreconcilable differences." But when it does happen, it's not the end of the world. If you're willing to pay the price.