How Can God Sanction A 2nd Marriage?

Q. There is something I am very confused about with second marriages. It seems clear to me God hates divorce (which makes it a sin) and  the Bible clearly states that a man who divorces his wife and takes another commits adultery.

I do believe God can not contradict himself so this states to me that after the ceremony is performed that he holds you to better or worse, rich or poor till death do you part.  So why all the buts and ands and continuations of this very important commandment?  Yes it is hard to swallow and of course people fall away but that does not change the command.

God said no adulterer will enter into heaven. I do not see where he forgives what to me is a sin for the second marriage and then allows these people into heaven.  If marriage represent Christ and the church I just don’t see how God would sanction a second marriage.  It just does not make since to me.  What am I missing? I appreciate your hard work and in helping us find answers to difficult questions.

A. Whenever a major topic is mentioned for the first time in the Bible it’s important to consider the context in which it’s contained, because you’ll often find bits of related information that give you added perspective on the topic.  Theologians sometimes call this  “the principle of first mention”.

The Lord’s first mention of divorce is in Matt. 5:31-32, the Sermon on the Mount.  The context was whether sin was exclusively a physical act or also involved a motive or intention, and He began by warning them that unless their righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees, who were obsessive about keeping the letter of the Law, they could never enter the Kingdom.

Then He gave them some examples of what He meant.  They believed that if they didn’t kill anyone they hadn’t violated the commandment against murder.  Jesus said that anger was a violation every bit as serious (Matt. 5:21-26).  They believed that if they didn’t have sex with a woman other than their wife they hadn’t committed adultery.  Jesus said that their lustful looks condemned them. (Matt. 5:27-30)  They believed that a certificate of divorce was all that was necessary to end a marriage. Jesus said that divorce for any reason other than unfaithfulness was also a violation of the commandment against adultery. He re-stated this view in Matt. 19:1-9 even though the Law of Moses said that divorce was permitted.

So the idea He was trying to get across is that no matter how diligent they were, outwardly obeying the law wasn’t good enough to satisfy God’s requirements for righteousness. In Matt. 5:48 He said that they had to be perfect, just as His Father in Heaven is perfect. Later Paul would explain that we can only become perfect in God’s sight by having His righteousness imputed to us by faith.

This because the motives of  our hearts have to be pure as well, and of course that’s impossible because of our sin nature.  We can’t avoid ever being angry, and we can’t avoid  having a lustful thought now and then.  That’s why we need a Savior.   And for those who find themselves in the middle of a divorce, the same forgiveness is available.  His mercies are new every morning just as they are for the “murderer” and the “adulterer”.  To put it another way, divorce is called a sin, but never an unforgivable sin. That’s how God can sanction a 2nd marriage.

In light of this, consider the one who stays married but secretly hates his wife and fantasizes about being being with another, or just being free.  He keeps himself busy with his career, or by doing good works, to avoid going home.  From outward appearances everything looks fine and he’s considered to be successful, but inwardly he’s just going through the motions, living a life of “quiet desperation” as someone once put it.  Has he kept the commandment, or is He a modern Pharisee? We know that half of all marriages end in divorce, Christian or not.  But how many of the remaining half have I just described?

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