I’ve never been married, I’m a Christian, and I’m a forgiven sinner living under God’s perfect grace. I’d like to say I’m not self-righteous, but I’ve been told that I am. I’ve been told that I’m the most horrible kind of Christian because I judge others without any grace. If I’ve been called so, I guess I must believe that at least others see me that way, but let me explain.
I refuse to date divorcees.
For a 44-year-old, never-married, Christian woman, this seems to be social suicide . . . or at least a declaration of eternal celibacy. Either way, it’s a commitment I’ve made after much prayer and study of God’s Word. Unfortunately, it’s also a position that has warranted my being cussed out on at least one single’s site and maligned as “the worst kind of Christian” on another.
I suppose that somehow my position on who I choose to date (with the intent to marry) is a judgment on someone else’s spiritual condition. Therefore, when I say that I refuse to consider someone as a potential marriage partner who has a living spouse, I am refusing to grant them grace . . . I’m being judgmental and self-righteous. Since I can only make decisions for myself and cannot help that my decisions will affect others, I guess I have to live with the criticism.
When I tell divorced men that I cannot date them, I usually can’t get an adequate explanation through to them because of their highly emotional responses to my declaration. I haven’t quite figured out how to soften that blow, especially on sites such as eHarmony that require you go through all the guided communication before you can even ask if someone has been married before (because they don’t see a reason to make that kind of info available in the profile). So here I’m going to state my position for all the world to see, and my reasons for it, and then leave it up to everyone who disagrees to malign and cuss me out in the comments (but please keep it clean or your comment will not be posted).
Are there acceptable, biblical reasons for divorce?
Yes. Jesus himself said in Matthew 5:32 that anyone who divorces for any reason (except sexual immorality) commits adultery. This means, of course, that sexual immorality is acceptable grounds for divorce (see also Mark 10:12; Luke 16:18). In another passage (Matthew 19:8), the Christ told us that Moses gave the Israelites a means to divorce because of their hardness of heart (i.e., their sinful condition).
But . . .
Are there acceptable, biblical reasons for remarriage?
One must look at both sides of this issue because while we can make a biblical case for divorce, does it necessarily follow that remarriage is allowed or recommended. Let’s go back to Jesus’s statement in Matthew 5:32. “Whoever divorces a woman for any reason except sexual immorality commits adultery. And whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”
Now I read this as gender neutral. Perhaps that’s a bit sexist of me, but I can very well apply it to women who choose to divorce men and/or marry a man who is divorced. Maybe that wasn’t done specifically in Jesus’s time, but it makes sense that it works both ways in our legal environment today.
Also, note that Jesus didn’t qualify the remarriage with anything like he did the divorce statement. It wasn’t “whoever marries a woman who is divorced [for reasons other than sexual immorality] commits adultery.”
Now I have my own opinions why God would frown on remarriage after divorce, but I don’t have to stray that far from Scripture to voice them. Look up 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. I actually have claimed this entire chapter, but these particular verses address a woman who is separated from her husband (i.e., divorced), that she should remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. I also read this statement in a gender neutral way (Paul himself seems to imply that it works both ways earlier in the chapter).
OK, you’re going to tell me I should read a little further in the chapter. Does it not say that if an unsaved spouse wants to leave the marriage that the saved person should not be in bondage to them (1 Cor. 7:15)? Yes, I read it that way too. But what do you think Paul means by being freed from bondage? Did you read the next verse? How do you know that God is not going to save the unsaved spouse? Can you see the future? Does it necessarily follow that being freed makes it as if you were never married to that individual in God’s eyes? Or could it possibly mean that you are not under the burden to remain in the same house as the unsaved person? Perhaps you are meant to remain unmarried until you are able to reconcile with your spouse . . .”
Yes, now I’m infringing on your freedom in Christ. I’m telling you that if you have divorced or separated from your spouse, it might be a good idea to remain unmarried, so that there remains the potential for reconciliation. That’s treading on your personal liberty. OK, I won’t go there. You have to make those decisions for yourself . . . but I have to make those decisions for myself, also.
Let’s look back at that statement that Jesus made: “whoever marries a woman [i.e. person] who is divorced commits adultery.” Who is the finger pointing at in this statement? Who is committing adultery? The way I read it, it’s the person marrying the divorcee. That would be me (if I were to marry a divorcee).
Uh oh. Who am I judging now? Does it not follow that I’m avoiding a specific sin by not looking at a divorcee as a potential marriage partner? Am I calling a divorcee an adulterer? No! I’m not. I’m avoiding becoming an adulterer myself. Does this mean that I’m being judgmental, that I’m not allowing for grace, that I’m a horrible Christian?
Divorce and the charge of hypocrisy.
When we declare ourselves to be Christians before the world, it means that we instantly bring ourselves under scrutiny before people who would love nothing better than to point out how we fail that title. Of course, as Christians, we are merely forgiven sinners and will always fall short of the perfection that is the Christ we seek to emulate, so having our failures pointed out to us should not make us feel judged or criticized, but should make us willing to ask forgiveness for our failings and do better.
When it comes to marriage, many of us have stood up publicly against the redefinition of marriage to include unions that are not the one man for one woman stipulated in Scripture. Let’s look briefly at that standard. It starts in Genesis 2:24, where the creation of man and woman ends with a very thorough definition of marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (ESV).
Our traditional wedding text comes from Matthew 19 where Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees regarding divorce. Here Jesus quotes from both Genesis 1 and 2 (incidentally, this proves that these two chapters are not separate and different accounts of creation, but rather the same account): “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6, ESV). He then repeats what he said about divorce and remarriage in Matthew 5.
This is our very stance on why gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry . . . and yet, when we allow divorce and remarriage within the body of believers, we become hypocrites—holding the unsaved to a standard that we ourselves are violating . . . and violating flagrantly in our current culture. If we hold marriage in so little regard that we regularly throw away our other halves joined to us before God—to not be torn apart this side of death—then what leg do we have to stand on before society to criticize whatever they want to do with marriage? We’ve already destroyed the institution of marriage within the church body.
Divorce is so rampant, that when I look at profiles of self-declared Christian men on single sites, 19 out of every 20 (possibly more) are divorced. Shouldn’t we be different from the world? Shouldn’t we stand out as holding God’s Word and His definition of marriage to a higher standard—regardless of what the world does?
I’ve even seen the gay agenda supporters bring this up in commentaries. Christians are regularly and publicly spurning the ordained and holy vows of marriage through divorce and adultery. It’s a plague that is rotting away at our families and undermining our fellowships, and our critics see it and laugh at us. Are we not the worst hypocrites? How does this glorify God?
But he/she left me?
This is the saddest outcome of no-fault divorce in our country. Regularly, throughout our country, one spouse in a marriage declares he/she made a mistake and abandons the other, leaving him or her with gaping raw wounds of heartbreak and loss that become permanent scars. I don’t have to rely on imagination to know how this affects godly men because I’ve met some of them. It makes it even worse when children are involved, children who become locked in a perpetual tug of war between parents who often use them as weapons against each other.
I know of no solution to this. It’s something I’ve never experienced since God has blessed me with two parents who have suffered through whatever lows they had in their marriage and remain joyfully married after 40+ years.
Before I made my commitment to not marry a divorcee, I met and dated two wonderful godly men who had suffered through this type of abandonment. One of them was left by his wife during his final year in seminary—who by the time I met him nearly two years later was left very lost in his vocation and calling, since many, if not most, Bible-believing churches will not hire a pastor who is divorced. My heart ached for him. I liked him and dated him for some time, but at the end of it all, I felt very uncomfortable with the idea of stepping into the void left by his wife.
The divorcee I dated previous to him was a single father, who was forced by custody agreements to let his two boys live with their unsaved mother for half of their time. He was a godly man, who was very careful with dating in front of his sons (I never met them), but I was very much aware that he had issues with the boys because of the tug of war that resulted because of the bad relationship between him and his ex-wife. I became quickly uncomfortable with the idea of getting in the middle of that, no matter how much I liked him.
And for me, as a result of my study and understanding of Scripture—the idea that God can and does save people and bring about reconciliation—I grew more and more uncomfortable with being the one that would separate a divorced man from any chance to be reconciled with his wife. I became more and more convinced that in coming permanently between a man and his wife (estranged or not), I was the wedge that would prevent a future reconciliation. I began to realize that in my own heart, I was the other woman, the adulteress, the femme fatale, who would drive the final wedge in a severed relationship.
Doesn’t God want me to be happy?
This is the final excuse that I’ve had thrown at me by men when I’ve attempted to explain my position on remarriage after divorce.
One of my favorite pages on FaceBook these days, is a political page run by a celibate lesbian called “We Defend Traditional Marriage – and We’re Gay.” Judging from the posts on the page, the lesbian who runs it is Catholic and believes that she has been born gay, but that she can choose whether or not to live in sin, and therefore she chooses celibacy over living the gay lifestyle. I admire her for taking this stand. It can’t be easy, and she gets attacked by both the gay crowd for being pro-traditional marriage and the Christian crowd for saying she’s gay and a Christian.
I bring this up because I know personally that remaining celibate in a culture that celebrates sex and sexuality is not easy. I’m a virgin because I believe sex belongs in marriage, and I’ve never married. I even take it an additional step: I believe that sex is the consummation of marriage before God and that if you have had sex with the opposite gender (married or not), you are married to that person in the eyes of God, meaning that if you’ve had sex with more than one still-living individuals, you are an adulterer. I think there is adequate Scripture to support this stand, and it’s one of the reasons why Christians tend to enforce the idea that you should wait until marriage to have sex.[Now don’t get me wrong . . . I do believe in the forgiveness of sin. There is no sin that God will not or cannot forgive, except rejection of Him. But the way I understand it, being a Christian means that we’re not supposed to continue in sin once we repent of it. Continuing in sexual sin means quenching the Spirit, which we are warned not to do. Also, if you feel the liberty to do something, remember that we are also warned in Scripture not to cause our weaker brothers and sisters to violate their consciences (Romans 14:14-23).]
So let’s go back to the question: “Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” I would answer this with a qualified, “yes.” God does want us to be happy . . . within His perfect will for our lives. Like any loving father, God wants what is best for us, but He doesn’t withhold from us the consequences of our own sinful actions. If we weren’t sensitive to His direction and “married the wrong person” or “made a mistake” does that mean we are not held responsible for our decisions simply because God wants us to be happy?
Let me put it another way. Let’s say you had a rough youth. You smoked, you drank, you indulged in pharmaceuticals. You come to the end of your rope one day and accept the salvation offered to you through Jesus. God turns your life around and helps you spurn all those terrible habits you had as an unsaved sinner. You’re a new creature . . . who is unfortunately still living in the body you broke with cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. You have a bad liver, and then a doctor tells you that you have lung cancer. You’re dealing with the consequences of your sin even after you are saved. But God wants you to be happy, right? So why doesn’t He heal you?
Think about that for a moment. Really digest it. How are the mistakes we make with marriage any different? It’s a classic question, but it really fits here: Do two wrongs make a right?
Happiness is not your circumstances. Happiness is an attitude. Happiness is not contingent on you getting the things you think you want or deserve. Happiness is being content and joyful in the circumstances that God has put you in. (Just do a search for the word “rejoice” in the Bible.)
Earlier in the same sermon where Jesus first addresses the topic of divorce (Matthew 5), Jesus tells those persecuted for their faith to “rejoice and be glad.” Paul speaks often in his epistles of rejoicing in his suffering.
If you’re divorced, maybe instead of using “God’s desire for you to be happy” as an excuse to justify a lifestyle or behavior that could potentially be sinful, you should be rejoicing in your circumstances, using them to glorify God and proclaim His gospel. If you approach your life with joy, then you will be happy. Only a right relationship with God can produce that immeasurable joy . . . if you think that a relationship with another person is going to make you happy, perhaps you should examine a little closer what caused you to be divorced in the first place.
If you’re reading this and you are like me . . . a single person who has never been married, or a widow venturing out into the dating world again . . . and you’re concerned about never finding a person to be your other half, let me encourage you. Decide to put God first, keep yourself clean and pure, flee temptation, do not covet what other people have, and above all, be joyful and content where you are right now. God doesn’t give us bad things. He is a loving father, and if it is His will you remain single until the day He calls you home, be joyful and content with that. Be joyful, and I guarantee you’ll be happy.
I want to recommend a book I read on the topic of being single, Common Mistakes Singles Make . . . and How to Avoid Them, by Mary S. Welchel. The book was written by a divorced, single mom who for many years agonized over her desire to remarry until God pulled her into a right relationship with Him. The book is a good read for everyone—married, single, divorced, or widowed—as it puts the plight of being single in our society into very easy terms to understand. I found the book to be a great encouragement, and I hope that you will give it a chance if you are struggling with any of the issues I have addressed in this blog post.