Divorced, Now What?
The simple Biblical principle when it comes to divorce is that it is not God’s will for couples to divorce, but like every other strain of hurt, injustice, and sin, divorce happens. The Bible speaks to married couples in teaching marital oneness and forbidding divorce, but the Bible also speaks to the divorced by protecting the innocent, granting a sense of closure, and creating a safe place to heal. More specifically, what does the Bible say about life after divorce?
1. Know your Biblical rights. Without restating what I said in the previous post “Divorce, The What If’s”, the Bible gives someone who has been divorced the right to be done with the marriage and move on. Granted, as a pastor, if there is any opportunity for a divorced couple to reconcile and remarry, I seek that end. Yet, in many cases post divorce life becomes a battleground of emotional and mental manipulation. Even though the marriage has ended, one party or the other, or both may engage in deviant ways that seek to exercise control over their former spouse. In my experience the most common agent of manipulation is young children. Such action is a clear expression of evil. Passages such as Deuteronomy 24 and 1 Corinthians 7 are clear teachings that a couple should stay married, but for those who divorce these passages also serve as safeguards against post-marriage manipulation.
2. Deal with the sin associated with divorce. For many who divorce the immediate temptation is to present a strong front, that you are a survivor, and that post-married life will be better than one could ever imagine. Try as we may to package divorce as a “new beginning” paving the way to a “whole new you”, these reactions are most often birthed in pride and/or fear. Pride and fear never lead to healing; brokenness and repentance always do. There is grace for the divorced, but “’God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you (1 Peter 4:6-10).” Masks have one purpose, to hide one’s true appearance behind a false one. Many mistakenly believe that admitting sin is a failure. Yet, as awful as it may sound, the route to healing is to deal with the pain, repent of the sin, and make yourself vulnerable to mercy.
3. Be careful with remarriage. One of the sins associated with divorce is adultery (Matthew 5:31-32, 19:9, Mark 10:10-12, Luke 16:18). The Bible only grants clear grounds for remarriage, without the new marriage being associated with adultery, on two accounts- adultery and dissertation (1 Corinthians 7). In my practice of shepherding people, here are a few principles I apply in counsel on these matters:
a. After divorce remarriage is not a priority. Divorce does not deal with core issues of character whether they be one’s own personal contribution to a failing marriage, or even in scenarios of innocence, what divorce may have done to the core of a person. Divorce does not guarantee that the next marriage will be different. In fact, statistically, every subsequent marriage has a greater likelihood of divorce than the previous one. Whether you are an innocent party in a divorce or a clear contributor to the failure of the marriage it is important to take time to heal, reorient to life, and grow from the experience.
b. Take a step back from responsibility and deal with reality. Especially in the church context, I find that people hide their pain behind their service. It may sound harsh, but let’s be honest, there are circumstances in life that make it difficult to be effective and take the lead. Furthermore, your service to others during a time of crisis may not be a healthy choice for those you are trying to serve. Many will say that serving helps them escape the pain and concentrate on something they love. While this may be true, there are healthier venues to find such expression. People on cruise ships love to dance, it may relieve stress, but if the ship is sinking dancing is not a priority. For those contemplating divorce, every ounce of energy needs to be focused on saving the marriage. For those who have gone through divorce, every ounce of energy needs to be focused on recovery. Divorce changes life in countless ways. Afford yourself the time to be ministered to. Taking that time will help with healing and may even make you a more effective servant when it is time to return to what you love.
c. Every marriage is different. Every divorce is different. Every person is different. Hard and fast rules when it comes to divorce recovery may seem noble, but they are not effective. The letter (of the law) kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6b). If I am to be a competent minister, it is important for me to be an understanding and merciful one. If I ever forget, in any scenario of ministry whether it be sin, divorce, evil, injustice, or offense that “this could be me” I will be less than human and less than honest. This could be my marriage. These could be my daughters. At the same time, being understanding does not equate to being morally lax. Not everything is right. In any scenario we should encourage people toward righteousness in obedience to the Word of God.
d. When a divorced person finds love and seeks marriage they should realize that even in the best case scenario, things are going to be different. There was a previous marriage. No amount of legal paperwork or Biblical counsel can erase emotional memory. There are attachments. The Bible teaches that marriage creates oneness and sexuality creates deep, even mysterious connections between souls. This is why the Bible most often associates marriage after divorce as adultery. Remarriage should be carefully considered. The couple and the minister involved in counsel and/or the marriage ceremony should progress through these matters prayerfully.
As I write these pieces I realize that this topic is vast and far from simple. There are appropriate contexts for firmness, and other ones appropriate for gentleness. There is a place for judgment and a place for grace. I keep coming back to this statement, as many people as there are, there are even more variables. There is no way to exhaust all the possibilities. In any scenario, may God be glorified and may we be in awe of His wondrous gospel.