Divorcing An Unbeliever

Q. I was married to a non-believer who after many years of marriage chose to leave the marriage based on our differences. I wouldn’t allow certain behaviors in our home, drugs, drinking, and other illegal activities, for my safety and my child’s. He attributed my resistance to my faith (not to mention they were illegal) and told me I wasn’t any fun. He didn’t want to live with the rules and ethics that I needed and lived by, and even felt judged though I didn’t, because I asked him to keep these things out of our home. We went to counseling with a Christian counselor who met with us together and separately, who eventually told me our marriage was over because there was no desire on my husband’s part to be my husband and give up the things that were destroying our marriage, my love for him, my trust in him and my respect for him. We remained separated for 4 years before mutually filing for divorce and now today are on good terms and he respects my faith as mine, though he wants nothing to do with it.

I was told by the marriage counselor that my divorce was permitted by 1 Corinthians 7:15, and that if I remarry, it would not be adultery (Matt. 5: 30-31)

Can I have your opinion on this verdict? I have met a great man who I am interested in, but he would like further clarification as he too is a Christian and there was not infidelity in my marriage that led to the divorce.

A. I agree with your marriage counselor. In Matthew 5 Jesus was instructing those under the law just how completely they had misunderstood its obligations. Being angry with a brother makes you guilty of murder, lustful thoughts make you guilty of adultery, etc. In the same context, he let them know that they couldn’t get a divorce just by giving their wives a certificate of divorce. It took the grounds of marital unfaithfulness.

But even the Law carried different responsibilities for men who married outside the religion. Dissolution of those unions was much different. (Deut. 21:10-14)

In 1 Corinthians 7:15 Paul wrote about an unbelieving spouse who wanted to end a marriage for religious reasons. He said that the believer couldn’t initiate the divorce but if the unbeliever did to not oppose it. The adultery requirement doesn’t apply in these cases.

The reason for these different standards is that God has never wanted His people to marry unbelievers, but when believers marry, He wants them to stay that way. Marriage between believers is a mystical model of Christ and the Church and is meant to show that Jesus will never leave or forsake us.

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