Answering Tough Questions on Divorce and Remarriage

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When is divorce permissible?

There are legitimate circumstances in which a person can get a divorce and can move on because the other party has violated the marriage covenant, namely on account of unfaithfulness and desertion (Deut. 24:1-4; Matt. 5:31-32; 19:7-9; Mark 10:2-9; Luke 16:19; 1 Cor. 7:10-16). There are other sins against the marriage that can rise to the same level of covenant unfaithfulness as adultery and desertion, including physical abuse, refusal to work and support the family, and illegal activities that threaten the safety of the family.

Paul and Jesus always make clear one point: Divorce is always because of the hardness of our hearts. Men particularly in the culture in which Paul was writing would put a way a woman for any or every reason, and Paul and Jesus are putting a stop to that. They are putting a stop to men treating women as thought they were a possession, and saying, “You cannot try to look for loopholes by which you can do away with one woman and marry another.” That is the basic premise and we should follow that edict today. That is the spirit of the law.

In any situation, we cannot say, “Ok you made a mistake, you are unfaithful, you are out!” No, that is being hardhearted. Even in that circumstance the greater good is always reconciliation. Forgiveness. The point here is not to look for a loophole, the point is to try to preserve marriage, if at all possible. In 1 Corinthians 7, therefore, Paul also says that if the unbeliever is willing to stay do not get a divorce (v. 13). The reconciliation that comes through faith in Christ ultimately becomes benchmark for all of our relationships.

My husband wants a divorce even though there are no biblical grounds. How do I convince another Christian to reconcile? The “olive branch” has been extended many times. What should I do?

Keep praying. Ultimately it is God that changes the heart. But I think that all too often we as Christians fall for cultural ideas. That idea would be God has given me marriage to make me happy. Perhaps God has not given the marriage to make one happy, but rather to make one holy. This is a radical concept of marriage, but I think that is God’s call, it is to holiness in marriage and that trumps the pursuit of mere happiness.

What has happened is we think that love is a feeling. When we do not have the feeling the whole thing is just too much effort. The truth of the matter is this: love is not a feeling, love is a commitment. Feelings ebb and flow. The commitment should never change.

You cannot change anybody’s heart. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

Perhaps right now it seems the person has closed his own heart but God can do what seems to us impossible. God ultimately is the one that moves hearts. The proverb that says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1). If that is true of the king, it is true of every one of us.

You ultimately got to rest in this: If your spouse is genuinely a believer then he will come to his senses, recognizing that to be a believer, you first have to say, “I’m a sinner.” Secondly, you have to say, “I’m willing to repent of my sin,” which is to say, “I want to turn and follow God and do it His way.” When you do that, you’ve received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of your life, you are no longer Lord of your life; Christ is the Lord of your life, and you want to follow Him in obedience. And even if we cannot find an ounce of satisfaction in a marriage, it is not about selfishness, it is about selflessness that we are called to as Christians.

I got divorced as an unbeliever. The divorce was without biblical grounds. Now I am a believer. What obligation do I have to my ex-wife with respect to reconciling the marriage?

I think that as long as the door to reconciliation remains open I would pursue reconciliation. I would do it in a way that is glorifying to God, because as a new believer, you are a new creation in Christ. In fact, as a new believer, when you are baptized, you are symbolizing that you were buried to your old life, raised to newness of life through His resurrection power. That needs to be manifest to your ex-wife, that there has been a change in you, a change that is not just articulated by the words you speak, but a change that is demonstrated by both your life and your love. I would pursue reconciliation. Obviously, you cannot force it. You cannot force anyone else to reconcile. Reconciliation at the end of the day is always going to be a two-way street. It takes someone that is willing to forgive and someone that is wanting to be forgiven, if those two aspects aren’t there, reconciliation doesn’t take place. But I think that as long as the door to reconciliation remains open I would pursue that. Once that door is closed, if it is closed through death or remarriage, then you cannot unscramble the egg. Right now, in this instance, there is still a possibility, and I think as a Christian you want to pursue that possibility.

—Hank Hanegraaff

For further study, please see the following:

Biblical Grounds for Divorce and Remarriage by Michael F. Ross

The Divorced Pastor: Is He the Husband of One Wife? by Michael F. Ross

Blog adapted from “When is divorce permissible?” “My husband wants a divorce even though there’s no grounds; what should I do?” and “I got divorced as an unbeliever. Now I’m saved, what obligation do I have to my ex-wife?

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