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Monday, June 26, 2017

Letters from the Best Man (6)

The following is absolutely fictional and increasingly common. There is no Brad and definitely no Jill, in case that is not obvious. There are, however, way too many people in their position.

Dear Brad,

I was just thinking of you this morning, and voila! there goes my email notification. Funny how that works.

Your question is not exactly a surprise. Still, I wasn’t about to bring up the subject until you did. But you’re nine months into your separation from Jill and as you say, it looks as if she will almost surely file for divorce at the one year mark. While you’re a long way from considering remarriage at this point, I agree that it makes sense to get your ducks in a row, so to speak, about what the scriptures say concerning the end of a marriage before emotions cloud the issue.

Ducking and Running

For evangelicals, remarriage after a divorce is a touchy subject about which there exists a wide variety of opinions, the most common of which these days is the preference not to express an opinion. Understandably. I have a fair bit of sympathy for those who opt to duck and run rather than be pinned down about what they believe on that score.

Those brave or stupid souls who are prepared to be dogmatic about such things generally start with God’s general statement to the prophet Malachi, “I hate divorce”, which compares divorce to violence. It seems to me that provides little meaningful direction when you’re neither seeking divorce nor legally able to prevent one from being granted to Jill. Still, it should remind us that where there remains a marriage to fight for, it is consistent with the teaching of scripture to do everything we can to preserve it.

Legality and Morality

So what does that mean? When is a marriage over in God’s eyes? After all, legality and morality are two very different things. We know that Adam and Eve and their descendants were legitimately paired up thousands of years before the state got involved in marriage, which raises the question of whether a divorce proceeding actually dissolves anything in the eyes of God. After all, it is “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” We would be irresponsible if we did not at least consider whether that might also include writs issued by secular judges.

May I cautiously suggest that the Lord’s response to the woman at the well in Sychar might be relevant to this question: “You have had five husbands [literally, ‘men’], and the one you now have is not your husband [‘man’].” The contrast here is between the five men she had more or less officially and the one she definitely didn’t (perhaps he was married to another woman). Without reading into the text, we can at least infer that in the modern era it takes more than just having a sexual relationship to make a marriage in the eyes of God (and, even today, in the eyes of a community). Adam and Eve needed neither a preacher nor a piece of paper, but Jesus still distinguishes between marriages recognized by society and relationships that have not been legitimized in that way.

One Flesh and the Adultery Clause

I bring this up because some people quote the apostle Paul’s statement that “he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her” as if it means all sexual relationships, however inappropriate or fleeting, are equivalent to marriage in God’s eyes because the parties have become “one flesh”. I have a Christian friend with a chequered sexual past who is so stuck on this idea that he is constantly revisiting his history trying to figure out which of his past relationships was the real deal. But I cannot see how such an understanding of that verse can be correct given the distinction the Lord makes in that conversation at the well.

This is also relevant for another reason. Some Christians teach that adultery ends a marriage, or at least gives the offended party reasonable cause to end one. We still do not know for certain that Jill has been involved with another man, and we’d be unwise to presume it in the absence of evidence. But even if she has, I believe the option exists for you to take her back if she were to ask you for forgiveness, just as the prophet Hosea restored his wife, at least unless and until she marries somebody else.

The Bare Minimum

I guess what I’m saying, Brad, is this: it may be better not to invest a lot of time fantasizing about what the future might hold for you romantically until your marriage has been ended in the eyes of the world and until Jill has clearly and unequivocally moved on. That would seem to me to be the bare minimum Christian duty to the Lord before whom you made your vows.

Now, as to whether it’s appropriate for you to consider remarriage if and when those two conditions are met, I’m not dodging the question, you understand. But I think it might be most profitable to consider it well down the road where it belongs.

As always, love in Christ,

Tom

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