Divorce and forgiveness

I know the bible is against divorce, stating one should reconcile to their partner or stay chaste(single). How does forgiveness from God fit into the picture? In regards to moving forward and potentially remarrying another person.

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Hey @Ashton_South_Africa, this is an important topic for our day, both the issue of divorce and the notion of forgiveness. There is great discussion on Connect about this topic that you might check out for further thoughts on this: Relationships post divorce.

That said, it’s perhaps helpful to start with what you started with that:

“I know the bible is against divorce”

I don’t know that to be the Biblical truth of the matter. The Bible does speak about the issue of divorce in multiple places, and perhaps most notable for our purposes here would be the times when Jesus addressed it Himself. He outlines the exception for divorce being “sexual immorality” (Matthew 5:32 & Matthew 19:1-11). There, the grounds are most commonly understood to be unfaithfulness by one spouse. That said, it isn’t a mandate that marital unfaithfulness must result in divorce, only that divorce is permissible if and only if there is unfaithfulness as its grounds.

So, what then for the other option—one where there is unfaithfulness but there is not divorce? That is perhaps a clear picture of where forgiveness comes in. One spouse may choose to forgive the unfaithfulness and also to not divorce; to stay and reconcile the marriage over that unfaithfulness. What strength that must take, what courage. God doesn’t want someone to stay in an abusive relationship; however, he leaves us with the choice to be made whether we stay and choose to work things out (including forgiveness at its center) or not. But whether or not divorce results, as Christians we are called to forgive as we have been forgiven by God in Christ (Ephesians 4:32).

Now, to the other point in your question: in the event that divorce happens, whether on Biblical grounds or not, we must consider the broader picture you asked about: God’s forgiveness. For the believer, Christ’s atoning work on the cross paid the price for our sin—past, present, and future. That’s why there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). That means that we can be forgiven by Him, and we can move beyond our past hurts and the past ways in which we have hurt others. But that does not mean that we are free to sin and do whatever we want, because we are free in Christ now. That was the problem the Corinthian church had where Paul told them that while all things were lawful, not all things were helpful, that they were free to now do in Christ (1 Corinthians 10:23); therefore, they were exhorted not to abuse their freedom in Christ.

Something that’s been helpful for me to think about on this issue is what Jesus told the Pharisees that, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Matthew 19:8). That means it wasn’t part of God’s original design for us to be separated once we were joined in marriage. But because we live in a fallen world and are affected by sin, marriage has been distorted through the acts of sinful men, just like our relationship with God was affected by sin. So, if we look to how God dealt with that relationship disruption—the major ‘unfaithfulness and divorce’ of man rebelling on God—it can give us a picture of how God’s forgiveness and love can show through even the greatest sin. And that picture is clearest seen at the cross, where His love and mercy were on display. He redeemed us from our prior relationship fail with Himself through Christ and is working to make all things new. The liberty that comes from knowing God’s Grace allows us to no longer live in fear of condemnation, but to know that we are loved in an unmerited way. That allows us to move forward in life and get a fresh start to respond to God’s love more properly. And similarly, I would imagine that if we can accept His forgiveness and begin to love Him as he deserves, it will have a ripple effect that allows one to potentially remarry and move forward even after a marital relationship falls apart.

Does that mean that one should remarry after a divorce? It doesn’t. Does that mean one shouldn’t remarry after a divorce. It doesn’t. But it does mean that through Grace we can be reconciled to God and in right relationship with him, and from there it can help to reshape our earthly relationships as we love God and love others in the way that Jesus told us (Mark 12:30-31).

A couple of helpful resources to check out further:

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Thank you Gary, this is incredibly helpful and I will definitely go to those sources you have mentioned.

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Ashton, thanks for opening a discussion on this important question, and for recognizing the centrality of forgiveness. Gary has unpacked this in such a thoughtful and thorough way, with some excellent resources. For me, there seem to be a couple areas where forgiveness could be needed: firstly seeking God’s forgiveness for marital shortcomings or failures, and secondly granting forgiveness to a partner who has wronged the other. To bring these two areas together, I just wanted to linger on one of the verses Gary mentioned, Eph. 4.32: ‘Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.’ We’re pointed to the ultimate expression of God’s forgiveness, accomplished through Jesus’ cross. And as Gary mentioned, here God has dealt with our sin, to the extent that He offers pardon for our worst offences when we repent. The cross reminds us that our restoration was immeasurably costly to God. We’re told this is our model for forgiveness, so perhaps we should not expect forgiving one another to be an easy journey. But it’s not one we take alone, or in our own strength, but with God and by His grace. I can’t speak for someone who has suffered marital breakdown, and would not want to minimize how profound a violation this could be. I was so thankful for the talks today, like Naomi Zacharias and Abdu Murray’s, acknowledging how seriously God takes the suffering of His creatures, and the hope that can be found even there, particularly as we look to Jesus. This is such a small offering to address such a deep question, but I hope its helpful.

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Ashton, thank you for your genuine question. Gary and Meaghan have posted great insights. I just want to propose another angle. When we read Jesus’ teachings closely we should conclude that He teaches that God cares not just about the actions but about the heart and character from where they originate. In this light, I think a good way to think is not just" what is permitted or can be forgiven by God?" but “how can I be the kind of person that Jesus thinks about?”
How can I be a person that receives supernatural grace to revive a marriage that seems dead and to forgive wounds or humiliations? And/Or how can I be the person that has enough love and enough wisdom to recognize that a relationship can’t continue in the current course not because God can’t help a spouse but because he/she has been resisting God’s transformative grace.
In the same vein, I imagine that a good question to ask is not will God forgive me if I remarry but is God calling you to remarry? Has God been leading me to this or do I feel I will not be fulfilled without marriage or a romantic relationship?
To conclude, what I am suggesting is thinking about our attitudes and motives (heart & character) not just commandments or what is “lawful”

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Hi, @Ashton_South_Africa :wave:

There have already been excellent responses. But allow me to share some thought on the subject.

In John 4 the Lord met a Samaritan woman living in an adulterous relationship.

John 4:16
Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.

I’m not an expert in language. But what I see in the words Jesus used in this phrase is acceptance and not condemnation. Without any denigrating word He told the Samaritan woman to call her husband, the sixth man he is now living with. Here Jesus recognizes, affirms their husband and wife relationship, albeit being adulterous.

John 4:17a
The woman answered and said, I have no husband.

Knowing well that she is living in error the woman responded in denial perhaps convicted of her sinful relationship.

John 4:17b,18
Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.

Jesus, assenting to her self-condemnation, validated her conviction.

The combined result of the whole conversation starting on the water from the well to the Living Water, true worship, and Christ’s revelation of Himself as the Messiah led to the woman’s change of heart and a powerful witnessing effort in Samaria bringing the men out in pursuit of Christ.

John 4:28-30,39-42
The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? Then they went out of the city, and came unto him.
And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did. So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days. And many more believed because of his own word; And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.

What more can validate the woman’s conversion than the harvest of souls of whom she has invited? What more can testify to her forgiveness than Christ rewarding her conversion with the fruits of her witness?

The way I see the narrative, Jesus’ confirmation of the Samaritan woman’s relationship with the man she’s living with as her husband despite her self-condemnation shows that the Lord accepts her current situation. And that by quenching her thirst, Jesus is directing her to sin no more and walk in the new life she has now come to know.

John 4:15
The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.

With regards to moving forward, notice that Jesus’ instruction to call her husband (v.16) came after the woman’s request to have the living water (v.15). This emphasizes the need to make things right right where she is.

Hope this helps :relaxed:

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Thank you everyone, your feedback and guidance has truly been so helpful to me. andrew.ashraf this is something that has crossed my mind about this situation, about it being a heart position and motive. Its such a beautiful place to be in once that revelation has taken place. A friend shared with me some scripture that really felt condemning in the way it was put across by her. Its something I have been journeying with God on and many people weren’t able to help me with an answer or guidance. Which I then understood its something I needed to journey with. Your line about someone resisting God’s transformative grace was something I was witnessing and tough to watch as well as be a part of.
On the other side of it, I know where my heart is now and the joy of knowing that if God is not calling me to marriage, that is something I am completely OK with.
Thank you everyone :grin:

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@andrew.ashraf Amen to your entire comment!!! Thank you so much for sharing!

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@Ashton_South_Africa thank you so much for asking this question, and to everyone for the thoughtful and very helpful responses.
This is something that I have also been wrestling with as well, and had to make up my own mind on what I believe.

What has been really helpful to me personally, is to come back to the central message of the Gospel. Isn’t it the grandest story of forgiveness, redemption, new birth and transformation?
If that can’t apply to every area of my life, doesn’t it mean salvation and redemption somehow falls short? That there are exceptions to God’s Grace? Nowhere in the Bible do I see that being the case.

It can still be really difficult when you encounter people with a firm believe that remarriage is wrong / sin. But again, I think of Jesus’s words about the Pharisees in Matt 23:4 - they tie a heavy burden on other people, but are not willing to lift a finger themselves to move the burden.

Praise to the One who came to carry our burdens!

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