Divorce Debrief (Part Two): What does God think about divorce?

by Philip Pfanstiel

The problem when it comes to getting the mind of Christ in regards to divorce is that there seem to be two camps and they both know they’re right.  The law camp goes “God hates divorce” and “Jesus said if you divorce you commit adultery.”  While the grace camp says “God will redeem anything” and “Jesus wants us to be happy.”

I’m hoping I’m not the only one that sees the trap I laid in that opening paragraph.

First a disclaimer: I was 100% confident that I would never divorce and be with one woman my whole life.  Maybe if she died at 90 then I’d be the toast of the nursing home until I died at the age of 103 since I laugh a lot and God (and others) enjoy laughing at me too much to let me die too soon.

In reality, over the past two years, my marriage (of 18 years) ended in divorce (see Divorce Debrief: Part One) and this has gotten me to reevaluate a lot of what I “knew” about divorce.  To say I’m a little biased is to admit the sky is blue and water is wet.  I would like to remarry at some point.  I like companionship and clipping coupons, if by clipping coupons you mean NOT clipping coupons but can’t think of a better euphemism for binge-watching Netflix.

My second admission is that although my situation has changed, my view on divorce and remarriage has not.  I’ve always been in the grace camp, while at the same time encouraging friends and family to stick to covenant and work things out (but extending grace to those in need).  There is a blessing for couples who both choose to stay in covenant, but … well, it is a choice that BOTH individuals make.  One can no more force one to marry them, or stay married to them if they choose otherwise.  Free will’s awesomeness is nearly matched by its ability to inflict pain and suffering.

Okay, going back to the trap.  Nothing I said in the opening paragraph in quotation marks is in the Bible.  Nowhere does it say “God hates divorce” and “Jesus said if you divorce you commit adultery.”  Nor does the Bible say “God will redeem anything” and “Jesus wants us to be happy.”

Most of you in the law camp are scrambling to prove me wrong and I welcome it.  The truth is that God at times commanded divorce (Ezra 9 & 10), is Himself divorced (Jeremiah 3:8), will only redeem things for those who love Him and are CALLED according to the purpose (Romans 8:28) and never promised us happiness (though He does encourage us to choose to be joyful).

I’ve thought of writing this article for a while.  I haven’t because I have nothing to prove to anyone.  I’m not going to defend myself, nor do I feel inclined to attack others.  The thing that has led me to write this anyway is the fact that while I’m at peace with the direction I’m going (God’s will for my life is to remarry at some point) I know many others feel condemned, depressed, hopeless and guilty.  Meanwhile, those in the law camp can’t move away from their understanding even though they really want to, so they embrace stuff they hate because their paradigm demands it.  Is it for legalism that God has set us free? (Galatians 5:1).

A friend of mine described his frustration and said he hoped I could convince him otherwise.  I don’t know if I can convince him (or you or anyone) but hopefully, I can offer some food for thought and contemplation.  The truth is that I’m not a biblical noob.  I’m not a theologian, but I could go toe to toe with them and maybe even beat them in areas (since they are forced into one school of Greco-Roman theology and I’m free to explore Hebraic understandings, switch between disciplines and schools of thought).  I love being a free radical.

What I’m saying is that I may be the perfect person to recast this whole argument.  I won’t be cowered by legalist, nor will I compromise the Word of God to fit my own desires.  People may not like me but my integrity, honesty and forthrightness are on display (example this blog and my youtube channel).  I’m an open book.  You can reject me but you can’t accuse me of being dishonest or deceitful.  Well, you can but you can a lot of stuff that is illogical.

Okay, there seems to me four areas that we need to examine to really understand God’s heart regarding divorce.

  1. What did Jesus say about divorce? (see Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:1-9)
  2. What is the cultural and biblical context of what Jesus said?
  3. What is the purpose of marriage, and what is God’s objection to divorce?
  4. A logic puzzle would be why did Paul disagree with Jesus (compare Matt 5:31-32 with I Corinthians 7)? Either Paul is undermining what Jesus said, or maybe our understanding of what Jesus said needs a new perspective.

Most start with #1, then skip #2 and then repeat #1 when they come to #3 (and I’ve not heard anyone talk about #4 – it’s my contribution to the debate).  I like flipping things (my name is Ph(i)lip for a reason).  So let’s start with number #3 – which is a very good place to start.

What is the purpose of marriage?  In Biblical studies, there is a concept called “The Law of First Mention.”  Basically, if you look in scripture at the first time something is mentioned you’ll find a deeper truth or revelation.  With this in mind, what is the first problem (“not good”) mentioned in the Bible?  What is the first solution?  And what is the first “very good?” 

For those familiar with Genesis the first problem is that Adam (man) had been commissioned / CALLED to a task by God but that in order to fulfill his calling he needed a companion and there were no suitable helpmates (Gen 2:18-25).  God then put Adam into a deep sleep and created Eve (woman) from Adam’s side.  The creation of woman became the first solution and the first “very good.”

Essentially (since this is not a scholarly paper I’ll cut to the chase), Adam being alone would prevent him from fulfilling what God had called him to do.  So God created Eve (WO! man!) and brought them together.  In essence, marriage was created to empower Man to fulfill the Call that God had given him.

I think an appropriate comparison is to that of the Sabbath day.  So many traditions had become encrusted on the Sabbath day that Jesus had to correct this perversion by reminding the Legalists that the “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

I think it is fair and consistent with the teachings of Christ to say “Marriage was made for man (male & female), and not man for marriage.”

Besides, I always find it curious that people will hold religiously to verse 31-32 in denying people grace or a second chance at a Godly marriage and do so with both eyes and hands (read verse 29-30).  I’d find their case more consistent if they were missing their eyes and hands – but that’s just me.  If you are going to shackle people down with laws, and religious traditions best try it on yourself.  I’d applaud them for their extreme literalism, legalism, and lack of hypocrisy with both my hands.  Then I’d wonder if I should teach them about hyperbole – or if that would just be cruel. 

Returning to the Cultural Context:  Biblically men could have multiple wives (so a woman leaving a man wouldn’t prevent him from marrying).  A divorced woman could either be received back by her husband (it was VERY rare for a woman to divorce her husband), return to her family or find a new husband.  Women had a very difficult time providing for themselves at that time and in that culture.  Now a separated woman didn’t have the option of finding a new husband because legally she was still married to the first.  So if she got together with another man than that would be adultery.  In essence, some men’s hearts were so hard toward their wives that they would put them aside (separation) but NOT give them a decree of divorce.  This would effectively screw over their separated wife and in her dire straight she might find another man anyway and now her (ex)husband could claim she was an adulterer (and post it on FB and his other social media accounts to make him look better).  This website does a more thorough job of explaining this. 

Basically, the men at that time were a bunch of asses.

What if Jesus was saying; “either give her the decree of divorce and set her free or remain married to her.  But to separate from her and leave her in limbo is a dick move you hard-hearted hypocrites.”

Sorry for being crass, but I’ve found nothing about divorce that is G rated.  Plus I could see Jesus being crass at times when confronted with self-righteous hypocrites.

A topic for a future blog post involves the many “Systems of Control” – I did do a video blog about this last fall (Controlling, Commanding and Calling the Chosen).  For our purposes, there are key areas in our battle that the enemy needs to control in order to subjugate and defeat us: access to resources and morale (the will to fight/win) are HUGE ones.  I think marriage (and a lot of the legalism that has encrusted it) and divorce is a major choke point as it plays so much into identity, morale and the ability to fight successfully and train up the next generation of warriors.

I don’t find much to like about satan but his ingenuity with sin is at least creative.  He entices people to sin (i.e. sex outside of marriage), then condemns them so they try to fix it (marriage), then haunts and undermines the marriage until it too fails, then places the legalistic barrier to prevent them from properly divorcing, and when their lives fall apart puts up more barriers preventing them from being restored, redeemed and healed.  And then their children have no other pattern to follow but the one they saw their parents fall into, so they repeat it.

Catch 22 x 3 if you will … oh, that would be 66… interesting.  Satan knows that marriage was the answer to the problem preventing mankind from accomplishing God’s Will/Call.  If satan can get us all confused about the answer then we’ll never solve the problem, much less accomplish the CALL.

Ultimately, are we more about “thy kingdom come they will be done”  or “if we do everything right, then we’ll be done”?  Curious that the four women mentioned in the lineage of Jesus were not the most perfect examples of female chastity.  I wonder why Matthew focused on them?  Could be Matthew (the most educated and meticulous of the disciples) knew that God cares more about our heart and accomplishing His purposes, then in doing everything “the right way.”  I seem to remember Jesus dying for mankind because we COULDN’T do it “the right way.”  Amazing Grace is a great song, I just wish more Christians would extend it to others after they’ve tasted of it (Psalm 34:8).

As a follower of Christ, I want everything I do (especially something as major as marriage) to be done right and to please God.  One misunderstanding that I had is that if I did everything right then I was guaranteed success.  I didn’t do everything right but compared to most relationships I was … AM a sinner.  Comparisons obscure the truth so I’ll resist the desire to defend myself with them.  Relationships don’t come with guarantees and sometimes Stephen is stoned.  Jesus is crucified.  And burgers don’t come plain like you requested.  Life is HARD and unfair.

I want to please God but I also know myself and living alone under a rock is just not going to happen.  And to be honest God has made it very clear to me that to tape back on the leg (see part one) that ran away from me isn’t going to happen either (and would be pulling me AWAY from His calling, so again focusing on His Call comes FIRST, and marriage [as is established in Genesis 2] is the answer to obstacles preventing the completion of the commission).

I also find it curious that the woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus alone.  Uh … if she were caught in adultery shouldn’t there be a man by her side who was also going to get stoned?  Legalist, I’ve noticed, are great at enforcing rules on others in whatever way best serves them.  I personally wonder if the man was a Pharisee and was given a pass.

The argument in review: Nothing I’ve written here should be taken as suggesting divorce is good or recommended.  The truth is that those who have gone through it (whether they initiated it, deserved it or where blindsided by it) know just how horrendous it is (and the negative effect on children is WAY beyond the scope of this blog).  I prayed for a long time for a resurrection and have seen and heard testimonies of marriages that were redeemed and reconciled.  I’ve seen others where one spouse holds on too tightly to the severed leg and the gangrene hinders their fulfilling the call of God.  Oddly others have gone into wonderful, God-honoring second marriages which empower them to fulfill the Call of God.   Still, others have repeated the same mistakes and have left a trail of regret, pain, and denial in their wake.  The truth is that marriage, divorce, and remarriage is not a one size fit all: “do it this way, God will like you and everything will go right for you.”  This promise is one of the most damaging that I’ve seen erstwhile Christians embrace because when things go wrong (and they will) the resulting condemnation and regrets are overwhelming.

Instead, I propose that we seek God, ask for wisdom, seek counsel, find out what His Will is and then do that with all our heart.  For those counseling those hurt by divorce – be quick to listen, slow to speak – there may, unfortunately, be a time when the roles are reversed and you’ll be grateful to receive the same grace that you gave to others.

In my own case, there came a point where God spoke to me to move on.  Others He may say to hold on.  The simple truth is that God (who is Lord of the sabbath and marriage) does speak and will speak to us if we will seek, listen and remain teachable.  And as Mary said at Cana, “whatever He tells you, do it.”


A sundry thought: I Timothy 4:1-5 contains an interesting thought.  Essentially in the latter days (now), people will be led away by “doctrine of demons” and one of the things that they will do is forbid to marry.  No one, that I know of, forbids people to marry if they are perfect, pure and made of porcelain.  But introduce the reality of humanity, free will and the fallen world and so many rules, conventions and contradictions spring up like hairs on the back of Big Foot playing Spider Man.  I wonder if this is what Paul is warning about (forbidding remarriage – not Big Foot getting goosebumps).  Just a thought.