Recently, one of my friends in group asked if I had read David Instone-Brewer’s book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church. She had been told the book was very interesting and wanted my input on the book.
I had not read it but her interest in the book led me to secure the book. The first thing I noted about the book was the author’s research notes. (I am always impressed by an author who seeks other’s opinions and historical facts, versus strictly one’s own opinion.)
Secondly, I was barely into the book when I realized that this is the first author I have read who is bold enough to state his opinions on divorce which counter so many other church leaders. I, myself, have not felt many theologians were grasping God’s directives on divorce and remarriage as their opinions did not support the theme of the Bible, which is God’s love and freedom for his people. Yet, I did not have the research at hand to support my thoughts. Thank you Mr. Instone-Brewer.
The author starts his book referencing Jeremiah. “…the Old Testament describes God’s relationship with Israel like a marriage that ended in divorce because of Israel’s adulteries. So God is a divorcee—and he hates it as much as any victim of divorce.” (pg 18) Did you get that, God is a divorcee. The author meant no disrespect, just fact. “In other words, his warning is not to the person who finally tidies up the legal mess after the marriage has broken down but to those who would violate their marriage vows and, in so doing, cause the marriage to fail.” (pg 18) God is holding those who sinned and did not honor their vows responsible for the break up; not the one sinned against.
“The marriage was broken and dead, and God merely carried out the legal formalities of divorce that recognized that fact.” (pg 41)
Next, the author sites Exodus 21 for the four grounds for divorce; neglecting to provide food, clothing, conjugal love or committing adultery against your spouse. “Abusive situations were covered by [Jewish] laws because physical abuse and emotional abuse are extreme forms of neglecting material support and physical affection.” (pg 37) Therefore, these poor behaviors were assumed and not re-enlisted. “Likewise the church should not decide to teach the Old Testament morals about sex outside marriage and yet reject its morals about neglect or abuse within marriage. (pg 52)
Many theologians cannot condone divorce as they state it is a covenant versus a contract. This thinking has always bothered me as the result of remaining in a dangerous marriage did not seem to align with God’s love for His children.
The author states, “the two words have the same meaning, and there is only one Hebrew word (bereth) behind them both.” (pg 38) Marriage is therefore not different than a contract which can be broken by only one party.
Finally, Deuteronomy 24 addressed the fact that Jewish men could divorce their wives for “any cause”. This became known as “the any cause clause”. It worked fine for men but left the women totally vulnerable. In Matthew 19:3, some “Pharisees came up to him [Jesus] and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’” (Mt 19:3) This has been misinterpreted as meaning can a man divorce his wife for any cause versus is the “any cause clause” acceptable for Jewish divorces. Jesus responded, “because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Mt 19:8) Jesus was not saying it was not okay to divorce with cause; but that it was not okay to divorce under the “any cause clause.”
This further explains why remarriage was not accepted under these conditions as God does not recognize divorce under the “any cause clause” and thus, one divorcing under it is really still married in His eyes and one is therefore committing adultery in remarriage.
Please take time to locate this book and read it if you are struggling with the idea that you felt you had to leave your marriage for you and/or your children’s safety and well-being. God accepts this action even if you have to be the active person in the divorce proceedings. God is looking at the sinner as the responsible party, not the one who does the paper work. I hope this book will free you of unnecessary guilt. Furthermore, I hope you can encourage all members of your church staff to read it as well.