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Question:
Hi Brent, **** and I have been dating for several years off and on. He can fill you in on the details if needed, but he told me of your website and after reading some of your very insightful answers, I would like to ask you a few questions in regards to **** and myself.
I am divorced from a mentally abusive ex-husband and have been for over 3 years. **** is divorced due to infidelity on his ex-wife’s part. Will God ever ‘approve’ if I was to remarry? Would ***** and I be in God’s grace if we were to marry? Please let me know if you need any more information. Thank you so much for your time as this is weighing very heavily on my heart and soul.

Answer:

(This question contained personal names which I have edited out). Before I give my answer to this question, I want to preface it.

Divorce has become the modern day “leprosy” in many churches, especially fundamental churches. A person would often be treated better if they were a repentant murderer, than a repentant divorcee. They would be assured of God’s forgiveness and mercy if they had killed their spouse and repented, but quickly informed they are “living in adultery” (a phrase nowhere found in Scripture) if they divorced a spouse and repented. Okay, that may be an unfair stretch, but it makes the point.

This is a shame, especially given how prevalent divorce is. Most of the blame for the high divorce rate certainly falls on society’s selfish and worldly approach to marriage in general, but we cannot ignore the the culpability of the Church in the matter due to:

  • weak moral standards which lead to poor personal and corporate standards inside the Church
  • missing healthy Christian peer pressure on those who contemplate divorce for flimsy reasons
  • poor Biblical teaching and training about marriage and divorce
  • increasing worldliness and conformation to societal norms in the Church
  • lack of effective and consistent church discipline
  • lack of compassion, support and discipleship for those who do find themselves dealing with divorce

I know of a man whose wife was unfaithful multiple times and finally ran off with another man. After turning to his church for help, he immediately started getting messages and comments like, “you know you can’t get remarried don’t you?”, “you just need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, “if you do get remarried, you can’t do it at church” and “until you know she’s actually committed adultery, you know you can’t get remarried”. That was EXACTLY what that hurting and devastated Christian needed to hear within days of his wife leaving him and taking his children. And this was from a solid, Bible-teaching evangelical church.

In my experience, I have found two extremes over and over in the modern American church. One extreme is along the lines of the comments above. Uncompassionate responses that beat down an already beaten down Christian. Many of those comments come from folks who may themselves have miserable marriages, but they haven’t committed the unpardonable sin of divorce. I have been told on more than one occasion that a person’s UNbelieving, non-Christian friends were far more compassionate and supportive than the hurting person’s church was. And this was for people going through a “Biblical” divorce or remarriage.

The other extreme I have seen much of, and it is just as bad (probably worse), is the one of “just love” when it comes to divorce and remarriage. No Bible, no standards, no Church discipline, no pressure to conform to God’s Word… just do whatever makes you happy; because “God doesn’t want us to be unhappy”. This ignores God’s hatred for divorce (Mal 2:16), the importance of marriage as the foundational unit of society, a symbol of Christ’s relationship to the Church, and the basis for life-long commitment.

Now, in the interest of disclosure, I have been divorced (“Biblically”, for those who must know). Many readers will stop right there and immediately dismiss me as unqualified to give an objective opinion on divorce. That makes as much sense as saying that a repented adulterer can’t give a Biblical answer on adultery, or a former UNBELIEVER can’t give a Biblical answer on salvation. So for those of you who are still reading….

The reason for the long preface to the answer I’m going to give, is because I believe that divorce has become the one thing that it is easy for CHRISTIANS to pick on and have legalistic, almost hypocritical reactions to. For those who have never been divorced, it’s easy and convenient to apply hardcore, cold standards – devoid of the compassion and discipleship that is needed in the midst of such a confusing and tragic time of a person’s life.

For those who have been divorced, it’s often far too easy and convenient to claim “God’s forgiveness” while choosing a divorce or new marriage that clearly ignores God’s Word on the issue. It’s a sad state that has come about as the result incremental increases in worldliness within the Church – we have become more concerned about appealing to the world’s “needs” than we are about appealing to their need for holiness.

I believe in absolute adherence to all God’s principles and commands. I’m not making excuses or paving the way for mediocrity concerning divorce. However, the pendulum has swung too far to the other end and the divorced have become the modern day “unclean” in their own evangelical, fundamental churches.

The balance? A genuine and honest striving to conform to God’s Word, then the generous application of mercy and compassion on those who have failed or been victim.

With that in mind, here is my answer to the original question:

First, “dating”. Dating, American style, is often “marriage light” with only the official and inconvenient step of a marriage license missing. Many Christians who realize they are not Biblically free to remarry, still “date” as if that legalistic approach honors the spirit of God’s standard. I would propose that any Christian who clearly is not free to remarry, should not be putting themselves through the frustration and compromise of dating and should instead devote themselves to God’s Word, service and a holy life. But that is an opinion, and I would only appeal to each person’s conscience for guidance from God.

“Dating”, as practiced today, is a whole other issue itself, but for the sake of this answer we will call “dating” the process of getting to know someone you might be interested in marrying (althought that’s a far cry from what it typically is today).

So according to your question, you have been dating, but you are not sure if you can remarry. If you cannot remarry, why date? God is not legalistic. You cannot play “technical games” with His Word. If God says you cannot remarry, then you should not be engaged in relationships that could possibly lead to marriage or that are meant to give you what marriage provides. Again, my opinion.

Next, you say you’ve been divorced for three years because you’re husband was “emotionally abusive”. There are HUGE problems with that comment.

First, the only Biblical grounds for divorce are adultery (Matt 5:32) and abandonment by an unbelieving spouse (1Cor 7:15) (there are many different arguments surrounding that statement; but it will suffice for this answer). There is no mention of the concept of “emotional abuse” in Scripture and it certainly is not given as an reason for God allowing divorce. That is a modern day invention on humanist psychology.

Additionally, “emotional abuse” has increasingly become the catch-all excuse in divorce. Any phrase with the word “abuse” in it sounds really “bad” but in reality “emotional abuse” covers anything from non-stop verbal berating to “my spouse says things I don’t want to hear”. More and more it appears that the latter is the case.

“My wife tells me I play too much golf; she’s emotionally abusive”. “My husband says I nag too much; he’s emotionally abusive”. “My husband calls me fat; he’s emotionally abuses me”. “My wifes says her friend’s husband is what a real husband should be like; she is emotionally abusing me”.

While unfortunate, even if a spouse is emotionally abusive (insulting, name-calling, berating, etc.) there is still no Biblical exception for divorce because of it.

I’ve heard much when it comes to “emotional abuse”. What it typically boils down to is two people who argue, nag, fight, fuss or call each other names and that is “emotional abuse”. Or it’s one spouse who tells the other wrongdoing spouse about their wrongdoing – and that’s emotional abuse. In other words, one spouse says “you should not stay out until 3am drinking and flirting with other women”. The offending spouse claims that the other is “controlling and emotionally abusive” for getting mad about them staying out and drinking. Don’t laugh. I’ve heard that kind of nonsense many times. That’s what we’ve come to in America where everything I do wrong is someone else’s fault. And everything that doesn’t feel good is “abusive”.

Emotional “abuse” is anything we don’t like to hear that makes us feel bad – whether it’s insults, nagging, or the truth. The word “abuse” makes it sound like an intolerable situation which we have no control over and MUST respond in a certain way. “Abuse” gives something an air of severity that makes it seem like the recipient has no choice but to “end the abuse”.

Emotional abuse has become a favorite reason, especially for females but increasingly for men as well, to seek divorce. Throwing in the word “abuse” is meant to lend credibility to the idea that divorce was inevitable and only fair so that the victim could escape the “abuse” because no one should have to live in “abuse”.

This would be a different discussion if we were talking about true physical or sexual abuse. But “emotional abuse” is far too convenient, far too nebulous, and frankly, usually nothing more than a cop out for two people who selfishly and verbally mistreat each other. Regardless, “emotional abuse” is an invention of the world, and not recognized in Scripture, and certainly not as a Biblical exception for divorce.

So the short answer is that “no”, based on what you have told me, you are not free to remarry, and God would not bless your choice to marry.

There is a big difference between the person who is already remarried “unbiblically” who is seeking to bring their convictions in line with Scripture, versus the person who knows full well what God’s Word says on a subject and blatantly choose to ignore it – and go ahead remarry anyway. I have personally seen people on numerous occassions do something directly against God’s Word and claim that “God will forgive me”.

Remarriage seems to be particularly popular for the idea of doing what you want and getting “forgiveness” later. “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission” seems to be the rule, and it is a shameful true abuse of God’s mercy.

You know what? He will forgive you, if a true Christian truly seeks forgiveness. But the person with this type of mentality is a long ways from understanding true repentance and plays a dangerous game with sin. At the very least, it shows an immature understanding of sin and forgiveness. As well, God’s forgiveness does not necessarily, nor typically, mean that you will still not face the CONSEQUENCES of your choice.

We tend to confuse consequences with forgiveness. God can forgive us for fornication, but that doesn’t mean the pregnancy that has resulted will go away, or the emotional consequences, or the inevitable relationship problems will disappear. The “consequences of sin” are a separate matter from “forgiveness of sin”. God will not be mocked. If we sow the seeds of sin, we will reap the harvest of sin – even if God forgives us of that sin (Gal 6:7). (There may be occassions when God chooses to loose us even from the consequence of sin, but that is the exception, not the rule)

From the information you have given me, my “insightful” answer, but probably not a “welcome” answer, is that you should not be dating; you are not free to remarry and no, you would not be in “God’s graces” if you were to marry the Christian friend you mention. It is my humble, and often flawed opinion, that you should devote yourself to prayer, fasting, Bible study, good works and holiness… honoring God’s standards that clearly apply to your past choices.

Now, it would take about 30 seconds for you to find a dozen different “Christian authorities” who will tell you it’s okay to get remarried and do what you want. So if you’re seeking “permission”, you can easily find it. There are always endless sources that will tell us what we want to hear (2 Tim 4;3).

So it all boils down to whether or not you are looking for “permission” or looking for truth. If you are looking for truth, then don’t take my word for it, or anyone else’s, and get your Bible out. Ask God for wisdom (James 1.5) and He will show you from His Word exactly what you should do. Read what God has to say on the matter and trust Him alone to show you what you should do. Only following Him will result in the happiness you seek.

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