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When is divorce right? Can I get forgiveness for it?
Thank you so much for your honest question. Your wrestling with this issue is understandable, and it is clearly a very sensitive matter, but we are glad you are concerned what God's view on it is, and also for the opportunity to help you if we can.
There is no single Christian position concerning marriage, divorce and remarriage, although all Christians agree that separation ‘from bed and board’ may be a lesser evil than remaining in a marriage that is damaging of the moral and spiritual well-being of family members. However, in contrast with the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, who hold that marriage is a sacrament of the Church (which in Catholic, but not Orthodox teaching, precludes divorce and remarriage), Protestants generally believe that biblically, marriage is not a sacrament offered by the Church but a covenant offered to each other before God by its partners. However, there are at least four views of what Scripture teaches about divorce and remarriage in relation to that covenant.
1. Some, especially in the Anglican Church, hold that marriage is indissoluble, so that neither divorce nor remarriage is allowed but only separation.
2. Others hold that divorce is exceptionally permitted in response to cases of adultery or desertion, but not remarriage.
3. A third view is to include in that the right to remarry for the innocent party. This approach was first proposed in the sixteenth century by the early Protestants and became their predominant view.
4. Finally, there are those who argue that both divorce and remarriage are permissible for a wider variety of reasons. They claim that this is the proper understanding of what is taught by Jesus and Paul, and that it is the right pastoral answer to marital failure, or confusing situations of remarriage, in the spirit of Jesus’ emphasis on forgiveness.
The key question is, of course, what the Bible teaches. The essential difficulty is that the Old Testament certainly permitted divorce (Deut 24:1-4) while Jesus seems to condemn it (Matt 5:31-32) yet does so while also declaring that he upholds the law absolutely (Matt 5:17-20). Should, then, the teaching of Jesus be reconciled with the Old Testament because he claimed to uphold it absolutely? Or did he introduce a higher standard on the basis that the Old Testament was incomplete, or disguised a deeper truth about marriage? It is our hope that you continue to prayerfully study this important matter, as well as seek Godly counsel that can help you to understand this matter more fully.
It is really very important that we seek God's will as revealed in Scripture, and a central part of that is to repent of sin in order to be forgiven. You appear unsure whether God will forgive you at all for what you have done. In that respect let me tell you that there is no sin so serious that God cannot forgive. The basis for a Christian's forgiveness is the death of Jesus Christ on a Roman cross 2000 years ago. Though Jesus was completely innocent, He died in our place the death we deserve, so that we wouldn't have to bear our own punishment but could be forgiven of all we've ever done. To doubt that we can be forgiven of our sin is to doubt that Jesus did enough when He died for us, and is to belittle the sacrifice He made. Jesus cried out as He died "it is finished!" and it's on that statement of victory over sin that we can rest the assurance of our total forgiveness.
So the next question surely must be, 'how do I receive that forgiveness?' Well the first answer to that question is that we receive forgiveness the moment we put our faith in Jesus, and trust Him to take our sin away and bring us to know God. The Bible speaks of being 'justified', which means to be 'made right' with God (eg. Romans 3:24), i.e. all our sin that separates us from God is removed, and we are seen as clean in His sight - all because Jesus took our punishment in our place.
This is amazing news - if we have trusted in Jesus, we no longer need to carry around the guilt of our past sin because it's been washed away by Jesus' blood shed on the cross. No more do we need to be weighed down with the feelings of condemnation and inadequacy our sin brings, but we are free to look to the future, and to walk away from our sin into the life God has for us.
So the most important question for you, and indeed for all of us is this 'have you truly put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ?’ If you have, then every sin has been taken away and you can now live free from condemnation for all eternity.
However there is one more area I'd like to touch that the Bible relates to our forgiveness. You see, there is a very real danger that when we hear of the offer of total forgiveness that Jesus gives to us, we may well think 'well it doesn't really matter what I do then'. This couldn't be further from the truth - it's true that the pressure to perform, and the worry of God rejecting us if we fail can disappear, but it still very much matters how we live, and so the Apostle John says this in his first letter:
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7)
What is the requirement that John puts in us as God's people? That the blood of Jesus would continue to cleanse us from sin. It’s not that we be perfect from now on and never mess up, but simply that we walk in the light. What that means is that we need firstly to be honest about our failures before God and often others as well. Secondly, what it certainly implies is that there must be a genuine desire to walk and live as God would want us to.
John tells us in no uncertain terms that if we claim to know God and yet hide our sin away, and if we keep our sinful habits because we secretly love them, then we are liars, and do not truly know God at all. Therefore, for every true believer in Christ, God will draw them out into this place of walking in the light, and as we do, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. So you see now why the warning from earlier is so important. We simply cannot presume on God's forgiveness while refusing to do what we know is the right thing in our lives.
So as I close, I pray that you would come to know as a reality the knowledge that all your sins are forgiven by God, that He would show you the way to go with regards to your situation, and that He would help you to walk in the light in that place of fellowship with Him for the rest of your life.
I do hope this general answer to your question goes some way to helping you find peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. If you want to know more about what Jesus has done for you please watch the video on the main part of our site: www.lookingforGod.com
In closing, I want to encourage you to get more involved with your local church. It would be good to speak to a Christian leader or another trusted church individual regarding your question. I know they would be delighted to further answer you as well as offer prayer and support as you continue your spiritual journey:
Please use our Interactive Answer Matrix and feel free to ask another question. Our helpful staff are praying for you and waiting to try and answer to you from the Bible, and will be delighted to tell you more about Jesus Christ the Lord, the Saviour of the world.
Here are some more Bible Verses for your further consideration:
- 1 Corinthians 7:10-16
- Romans 8:1-17
- Romans 6:1-14
*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise
*If anything in this answer affects you directly, then please feel free to call our confidential prayer line in the UK on 0845 4567729, where trained Christian volunteers will take your call and pray both for you and with you. If you are outside of the UK then you may submit your request for prayer on line at www.ucb.co.uk/prayerline
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