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I am a divorced Christian.
I know that to many Christians, the term “divorced Christian” may be an oxymoron. I made a covenant before God and man, and that covenant is broken. Or, according to some, I am still bound by it because my ex-husband is still living.
Trust me, I know all of the arguments. I’ve read and studied all of the scriptures. I am very well aware of my own shortcomings, my own sins.
I am also deeply in love with my Savior, in awe of his grace and his mercy. I revel in his lavish love for me, his immeasurable grace and forgiveness poured out over me. I want nothing more than to walk in holiness, to walk in purity, to walk in complete communion with my Father. There will be no greater reward than to one day hear him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done.” I long for those words more than you can imagine.
But there’s this pesky issue of a divorce in my past.
It wasn’t something I wanted. I always dreamed I would be like my grandparents, looking back over a 72 year marriage, more madly in love with my spouse on the day of his death than the day of our marriage. There was nothing I wanted more on this earth than to have a marriage that went the distance, to be a shining example of how two people can commit and thrive with Christ at the center. I wanted to point the world to the life-changing power of prayer, to a God who hears our pleas and acts on our behalf.
Enter man’s free will.
I’ve learned some powerful lessons over the last seven years. I’ve learned that while marriage takes two people committed to God and to one another, divorce only takes one hard heart. I’ve learned that there are many judgmental Christians out there willing to quickly point out failures, even to those who are hurting deeply. I have learned that I was once one of those judgmental Christians. I have learned that I am a sinner, desperately in need of a Savior. I have learned that I have no idea what I would do in a given situation until I’ve been in it. I have learned that many people heap heavy loads upon us based on human interpretations of Holy Scripture.
And I have learned that my God is bigger than I could have ever imagined. I have learned that my Father’s love and forgiveness goes deeper than any sin I could ever commit. I have learned that I truly am a sinner in need of forgiveness. I have learned that my Savior is everything I could ever need, and more. I have learned that God can and will take any hurt, any heartache, any pain and redeem it and make something beautiful from it. I have learned that my God truly is good all the time.
I frequently write about adultery and divorce because that is my experience, because that is where I have experienced the redemption of my Father. But, maybe that’s not your experience. I pray that you never have to endure that pain because it is a devastation that you cannot imagine unless you’ve been there. But, no matter what the pain or sin you have lived, you can still learn from these lessons. You can still experience the new life given to us by our Father.
Because of my divorce, I am frequently accused of preaching heresy, of neglecting certain scriptures. I am criticized, told I am going to hell, warned that I must repent. I have scripture thrown at me, telling me I must pray for reconciliation, that I am bound to my ex-husband until one of us dies. I am told that if I choose to remarry, I will be an adulterer, forever condemned to hell.
We, as Christians, need to be very careful about holding others to a narrow view of scripture. I don’t pretend to know all the answers, to fully understand God this side of heaven. If I thought I had all the answers, I would be guilty of a sin spoken of in scriptures far more often than divorce: pride.
I won’t go into a long explanation of scriptures. Let me suffice it to say: look carefully at the passages you are using to condemn those of us who have suffered the immeasurable pain of divorce. Read the context. Study them in various versions. Read Malachi 2:16 in the Holman Christian Standard Bible. The words, “God hates divorce,” are not even there, not ascribed to God. Read 1 Corinthians 7:27-28 in the Common English Bible. It clearly states that it is not sin for the divorced to remarry. Is it possible that we are using fallible human interpretations to hold people to standards that God never intended?
I don’t know the answers. I don’t understand God’s ways. I know that God’s ideal is one man, one woman for life. But I also know that God recognizes we live in a fallen world. I know that God came to set the prisoners free, and I—personally—was a prisoner in an abusive marriage. I know that God is a God of love and forgiveness and grace and mercy. And I know that his words to the woman caught in adultery still stand: “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
So what is our response to those who have suffered divorce (or any other sin)?
There is none righteous, not even one. Can we stand on our convictions about the word of God? Absolutely. Can we continue to affirm that God’s perfect will is to see one man, one woman for life? Absolutely. I know I do.
But we must remember that we are all sinners saved by grace. Divorce is no more a sin than pride or lying or greed. Divorce is no greater a sin than idolatry. Divorce is no more of a sin than gluttony or drunkenness.
Before we start picking at the splinter in the eye of those hurting from divorce, we must take a long, hard look at the log in our own eye. We must examine our own hearts, see where we are failing our Savior. We must make sure that our vision is clear so that we can then—and only then—see to help others rid themselves of sin.
If we are carefully listening to God and allowing the Holy Spirit to do his job of convicting us of sin, we just might be surprised—and embarrassed—to see what he sees.
The greatest command we have as Christians is to love. Scripture is clear on this topic. Loving God is the first and greatest commandment. Loving our neighbors as we love ourselves is the second. By our love, others will know that we are Christians.
Perhaps it’s time we stop pointing out others’ sins, and just start loving, loving extravagantly like this world has never seen! Heaping blessings upon one another. Giving of our time and our resources. Being the hands and feet of Christ to a world desperately in need of hope. Offering words of peace and encouragement instead of words of condemnation. Perhaps if we stopped focusing on what others were doing wrong and just started living out the gospel, this world would see the light of our Savior.
Yes, marriage and divorce are important to the body of Christ, important in reflecting the relationship Christ has with his bride. But the greatest commandments are to love God and love one another. That is a reflection of our Father’s heart for us.
Christ prayed for unity among us. John 17 records Christ’s prayer for believers. And, he very clearly prayed for Christians today as he included those who would come to know him.
And, of all the things Christ could pray for believers, he chose to pray for unity.
I wish I could say that his prayer was being answered. Instead, I see a whole lot of dividing going on, dividing over human interpretations of scripture, dividing over theological differences. Is alcohol a sin? If you don’t believe like me, you are wrong. Is remarriage a sin? If you disagree with my theology, you are wrong. Is homosexuality a sin? If you don’t agree with me, you are wrong.
What if we put aside theological differences, accepted that not one of us has all the answers, and we decided to love and seek unity for the greater good of the Church? What if we chose to recognize that every human is created in the image of Christ and is worthy of love and respect? What if we were able to discuss our differences and accept that others who believe differently love God just as much as we do?
What if we were to focus on the pillars of Christianity—that Christ was the perfect Son of God who came, gave his life as a ransom for many, and is the only way to God—and let peripheral arguments be just that?
My heart breaks over the judgmental attitudes and condemnation thrown around by so many Christians today. We are doing more to harm Christ than we are to represent him. I will always choose to err on the side of grace and love than on the side of judgment.
And guess what? My dream of pointing the world to the life-changing power of prayer, to a God who hears our pleas and acts on our behalf? It is a reality! God has redeemed my life from the death of divorce. He has breathed new life into me. He has answered my prayers—nothing like I imagined, but far beyond my wildest imagination! Divorce is not an end; nothing is an end with God. It’s only a new beginning, a new chapter in the story of life. When you have God on your side, there’s always more to come in this story of life!
This article is part of our larger resource: The Christian Woman’s Guide to Starting Over after Divorce: 7 In-Depth Steps to Take Starting Today. If you’re going through a divorce or are already divorced and looking for more resources, be sure to visit our guide!
Dena Johnson is a busy single mom of three kids who loves God passionately. She delights in taking the everyday events of life, finding God in them, and impressing them on her children as they sit at home or walk along the way (Deuteronomy 6:7). Her greatest desire is to be a channel of God’s comfort and encouragement. You can read more of Dena’s experiences with her Great I AM on her blog Dena's Devos.
Publication date: October 28, 2015