“But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:15–16, AV)
The divorce between a married couple was one of the most unfortunate things that I saw while in the pastorate. The good news is that if a couple came to me when they first began to struggle, in nearly every case, the couple reconciled their differences and stayed together. However, in more than fifty percent of those counselling situations, the couple did not come to me until their situation was out of control and one already determined to divorce the other. In this case only one wanted to see the marriage reconciled while the other just wanted me to biblically condone the divorce.
One time a couple came to me and the husband had already decided to divorce his wife. He did come with her to one counselling session. However, he just proceeded to give me a list of grievances, none of which were grounds for divorce. At least not in the way I interpreted this issue in the Scripture.
In previous devotions, we examined divorce. The first principle was that God hates divorce and does not want couples to divorce (Gen 2:24; Mal 2:16; Mark 10:2-12). Yet, the Bible indicates that there are some biblical grounds for divorce. As in a previous post, we saw that Jesus stated that there should be no divorce except for the cause of sexual immorality, pornia, which refers to sexual conduct outside the bounds of biblical marriage, namely adultery. Thus, a biblical ground for divorce is adultery committed by either the wife or the husband.
Here, in this passage, Paul presents another biblical principle, desertion by either the husband or the wife. Paul indicated that if an unbelieving spouse separates from the believer, the believer is not bound any longer to the other. Let’s face it, when one separates from his or her believing spouse, it is done and the believing spouse is not bound in this case.
Yet, there is another big question. If a believer has been divorced, can he or she remarry? Well, here is where I found the most controversy among my peers. Some said no remarriage under any circumstance. Others said remarriage was allowable regardless of the circumstance. My conclusion was this. We needed to decide on a case-by-case basis.
I saw two major principles regarding remarriage. First, “Did the divorced person have biblical grounds for being in that status?” It was my interpretation that if the believer had biblical grounds for the divorce, they were no longer bound in marriage and the believer could remarry. However, there was a second issue, “Could the divorced believer live as a single without burning with sexual passion?” According to Paul’s counsel, if they could not, they should marry (1 Cor 7:8-9).
Now, here is the difficult part of this. When I did premarital counselling for couples who were previously married, I discovered that the previously married person usually had significant emotional baggage that could cause a problem when remarried. In this situation, the premarital counselling could take months rather than weeks because the issues were so deeply ingrained in the heart and mind of the one divorced. These were issues like betrayal that left deep emotional scars, which could result in trust issues, jealousy, and much more. The divorced person can overcome these issues by God’s grace, but it can take some time and much counselling.