A Sin Which Can Be Forgiven

Toward a Biblical Perspective on Divorce and Remarriage in the Churches Today

In America few people seem to have reservations about expressing their opinions on so-called pro-life and pro-choice issues and questions. In contrast, many people seem to be hesitant to discuss openly and honestly whether divorce is right or wrong, and, if wrong, what can be done to reduce the number of divorces. In fact, while much is made of “family values” these days, there is a near silence over how the current divorce problem is related to these values.

Why this lack of discussion and debate? Probably because divorce is a public matter and many of us have either a brother or a sister (or a daughter or a son or a friend) who is divorced, and we do not want to appear to be condemning anyone who is divorced. Or, perhaps we do not want to be condemning ourselves.

Here is a starter for discussion among those who believe, teach and confess that marriage is ordained of God for the good of mankind and is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, discreetly, and soberly, in the fear of the Lord.

The Reality of Divorce

The man and the woman who enter into the covenant of marriage before God as Christians receive the blessing of the Holy Trinity upon their marriage as a “one flesh union.” Certainly, if they know their own hearts and are realistic, they expect that they will be guilty of various sins and will need to seek the forgiveness of God each day. However, there is one specific sin the Christian bride and bridegroom do not plan to commit: the sin of divorce. They have promised to be faithful to each other in good times and bad and until they are parted by death.

Divorce clearly is a sin because it is contrary to the Father’s will. The Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Father, explained that in marriage a man and a woman leave their respective families to start a new family and “What God has joined together in marriage as one flesh let no man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:6) No Christian couple expects their marriage in Christ to be dissolved by sin.

In his holy love, however, God forgives sin. For the sake of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who made atonement for the sins of the world, the Father forgives those who repent and look to him in faith, hope and love. Even the sin of divorce, though it is the tearing apart of what God has united, can be forgiven in those who are penitent and look to God for mercy.

For a divorced person to seek and receive the forgiveness of God is crucial, for by such repentance a gracious spirit can enter the heart so that he or she is able to continue to do his duty with a ready, if pained heart; but the acceptance of the grace of God does not change the basic problems caused by the divorce. Where there are children of the marriage, where there is property involved, and where ripples are sent out in a variety of directions, its effects last a long time.

Recently many Protestant churches have invested much time, skill, energy and money to help divorcees adjust to their new circumstances, especially to help them overcome feelings of guilt, failure and anger. These same churches, whose own clergy often are divorced and remarried, also have been very supportive by allowing divorcees to be married in church for a second and even third time.

However, while such compassion and care are commendable, there has been apparently little or no recognition that divorce is a sin, that it requires penitence before God and has to be forgiven by him in his Church. What often has been lacking is the godly exercise of penitence and discipline for the cure of souls.

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