A Hard Doctrine?
I think the issue of divorce and remarriage is a hard one. I believe that, yes, divorce should happen only because of marital unfaithfulness, but the “no remarriage” part I have a hard time with. After reading the article, I think I agree with what is written. But it is not easy for me, because I know a few happily remarried couples, and it is difficult for me to believe that their relationship is wrong. And yet, with the divorce rate so high, something is definitely wrong there. Maybe if remarrying were more strongly discouraged, people would come to see what a serious commitment marriage is, and how it should be a lifelong pledge, and not a trial-and-error process.
I can appreciate your question. There have been any number of ‘happy’ second marriages, unlike the first ones, so rocky and full of troubles. But do not lose sight of the fact that a ‘happier’ second marriage does not prove that what somebody is involved in—a marriage to someone else than one’s first and real spouse—is right in God’s eyes. On that basis even the Pharisees could in many instances justify their divorces and remarriages—because undoubtedly some of them were married first to nagging, complaining wives who were an embarrassment with their loud, shrill criticisms all the time. But Jesus did not say, “All right, remarry if she or he is such a contentious person. I could not bring myself to make you live with that!” He still spoke against divorce and forbade remarriage (Matt. 5:31, 32).
But also, if what you suggest is true, that the greater happiness of the second marriage (remarriage) is what justifies it, then believers should be allowed to divorce unbelievers who are unhappy with the believers’ faith, and should be allowed to remarry fellow believers. But this is exactly what the apostle Paul, in the name of his Lord, would not allow. Read I Corinthians 7:10 and what follows. You may be sure that divorcing an unbelieving spouse and remarrying a believer would have been a ‘happier’ experience and a ‘better’ marriage in almost every instance, at least as far as we judge things. In fact, that’s exactly what some of the earlier new converts to the Christian faith wanted permission to do. Living with the unbelieving spouses was a difficult thing. Being married to an interested believer would have been happier all around. And yet, despite what would have made them happier, the apostle said they were not to do this. (Read I Cor. 7:12, 13.) And in the event that a believing wife did leave an unbelieving husband (because he was cheating on her) the apostle is very clear—”But and if she depart; let her remain unmarried….” Even where the first marriage breaks down, the apostle did not approve of a second marriage. Even then, remain unmarried.
In the end, it is not ‘happiness’ that determines right from wrong, it is obedience, even in unhappy circumstances. The command is not, “And be ye happy,” but “And be ye holy.” When a believer does that, even if it means remaining single, he or she will find happiness in obeying the Lord. If the church starts to make ‘happiness’ the reason remarriages are justified, there will be no end to the divorces and remarriages they would have to approve. The trouble is, nothing would be any different then than what the unhappy circumstances presently are in the church.
You are right, better and bolder instruction concerning marriage as a lifelong bond is what the members of the church need, especially the youth. It is what has been lacking in too many instances. But then the churches will also have to maintain what they have taught when marriages begin to unravel, hard as it may be, or all the instruction will soon be seen to be just a matter of empty words.
—Rev K. Koole