Divorce and Remarriage in the Christian Context (Part One)
Divorce and Remarriage in the Christian Context
Part One: Divorce, Remarriage, and My Own Existence
Rex J. Howe, Pastor of Student Ministries
In a 2014 article with Catalyst entitled, “Everything We Think We Know About Marriage and Divorce Is Wrong,” Shaunti Feldhahn challenges the oft quoted divorce statistics with which most of us have grown too accustomed and familiar. She writes, “Perhaps most surprising, half of all marriages are not ending in divorce. According to the Census Bureau, 72% of those who have ever been married, are still married to their first spouse! And the 28% who aren’t includes everyone who was married for many years, until a spouse died. Non-one knows what the average first-marriage divorce rate actually is, but based on the rate of widowhood and other factors, we can estimate it is probably closer to 20–25%. For all marriages (including second marriages, and so on), it is in the 31–35% range, depending on the study.” She goes on later in the article to mention her partnership with The Barna Group during which both Feldhahn and Barna calculate that the divorce rate among those who regularly attend church is 27%.
These statistics are certainly more encouraging than what we typically hear about marriage in the world and in the church. Although in my opinion, if Feldhahn and Barna are correct in their calculation about the divorce rate among regular church goers is 1 in 4, I still say we can do better. Comparing Feldhahn’s numbers according to the Census Bureau and in her partnership with Barna, the divorce statistics in our nation and in the church are still basically the same. Don’t get me wrong; I am elated if these lower figures are correct! However, I believe that the effect of the grace of the gospel and the ministry of the Spirit in marriages of Christians should cause our numbers to be lower in comparison to the general population. I recognize that even as Christians we still wrestle against the sinful nature, but we also by grace have been given power and awareness to overcome and then yield to the will of God for our lives and marriages.
My plan is to make this a series on Divorce and Remarriage in the Christian Context. Other than this first article, I’ll be interacting with a book entitled, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics by Richard B. Hays. In this article, I hope to share briefly about my own experience and identification with both divorce and remarriage. In the articles to follow, I plan to interact with Hays (1) on those New Testament texts that address divorce and remarriage, (2) on the (canonical) development of the Bible’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, (3) on his hermeneutical principles in response to the New Testament’s witness against divorce and remarriage, and (4) on his exhortation that the Christian Church is a community making the love of God visible (and one way we do this is through our marriages).
But before interacting with Hays, first let me say that I would not exist were it not for two divorces and a remarriage. Neither would my sister Jade. I find the complexity of my own existence in light of the will of God quite confounding. If the Scriptural commands to uphold marriage had been completely obeyed by my mother and father, then I seemingly would not exist. I suppose an appropriate response from me on this is that I should always rejoice when the word of God is obeyed, even at the cost of my own life. The divorces that took place prior to my existence, that indeed paved the way for the possibility of my own existence, were not without causing deep pain, confusion, and heartache for others, including children. I suppose another appropriate response from me on this is that I thank God for his grace in allowing me to have existence despite the messy circumstances that preceded my life; and moreover, I thank him for his grace in calling me into relationship with him. And as dysfunctional as it may be, I am thankful for my mother, my father, my two half-brothers, my half sister, and my full sister. I love them and continue to grow in relationship with them.
Today, my extended family has grown larger as a result of three other divorces and two remarriages. My mother and father divorced when I was 16, and they both remarried. My stepfather was also previously married, as was my stepmother. Confused yet? So, in addition to the family I started with, I now have a stepfather, a stepmother, two stepsisters, and three stepbrothers, not to mention the numerous nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, etc. While I look back upon the divorces that led to my own existence with some sort of gladness that I was able to have life, I can’t say that I have always looked at the divorce of my mother and my father with such grace and gladness. I am learning. I am learning that Christ’s redemptive grace is able to reach deeply into broken families, heal any and every wound, and make relationships into friendships, even if there was once hostility and brokenness.
As I write and interact with the Scriptures, Hays’ book, and the topics of Divorce and Remarriage, I wanted you to know that I do not come to these topics somehow lacking in experience. The temptations that lead to divorce has surrounded and bullied my family. While I am a grown man, I am still a child of divorce, and there isn’t a day that goes by in which I am somehow still affected by my family dynamics. I don’t say this resentfully; it’s just reality for me. I am eager to learn God’s grace and how to lean on his love and show his love in this family context. In other words, I’m not a slave to the dysfunction of my family; none of us are. The power of the gospel sets us free, and we are growing in this freedom.
These experiences came with me when one glorious day, Jesus reached down and saved me. Very early in my conversation, he taught me that Ephesians 4:32 is part of the new life that he had for me, “Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” This forgiveness that I received has allowed me to continue to have an extended family. It has transformed my heart to seek out these new step-relationships with charity. God in Christ has forgiven me every sin, and O how great a sinner I am. Therefore, I must then extend forgiveness, kindness, and gentleness to others whose sins may have had some affect on my life. Interestingly, the teaching in this verse that has brought healing in my experience of divorces and remarriages is the same teaching that serves as the foundation to my marriage to Aimee. I ought always to forgive Aimee, and Aimee ought always to forgive me because God in Christ has forgiven us both. Perhaps, you may feel that I am a bit naive here, and I may very well be a bit naive about some things. However, as per my experiences listed above, I don’t think divorce is one of those things. I look forward to writing and interacting with you more in the coming months about what the Bible teaches about Divorce and Remarriage. I hope that together we will receive the biblical warnings and commands concerning marriage, divorce, and remarriage and that together we will develop in our pastoral wisdom and discernment regarding various situations in which marriages become fragile. God’s grace to you and your families.