Dear Pastor Lawyer,
My husband and I have been married for over 20 years. We have never had a good marriage, but we do have several children. Over the course of our marriage my husband has had several adult-erous affairs and has on occasion hit me and is addicted to a couple of different things. Last November he filed for divorce. I’m wondering what my options are.
I have heard that Christians should remain single until their husband dies and I’ve heard that if I do remarry, I will have to live in adult-ery for the rest of my life. Can you help?
Troubled in Soul
Thank you for writing. I’m sorry for the situation you find yourself. Sometimes life can have a very ugly side and it sounds like you are seeing one of the darker sides. I don’t have many certain answers for you but here is what I do have.
I suggest, first of all, that you go through your church to find the answers to these questions. If you go by my answers and then go to your church where they strongly disagree, you might be in for more trouble than you think you have now.
That said here are my answers to your questions. The first thing to know is that everywhere the Bible talks about divorce it assumes remarriage. This is why, for example, Jesus said that if a man divorces his wife for some reason other than s exual immorality, he causes his wife to commit adult-ery (Matt. 5:32). She would commit adult-ery because she would remarry but her previous marriage covenant was not really broken, even though a legal divorce had occurred. She wouldn’t commit adult-ery just because she is alive and divorced.
If s exual immorality was a part of their relationship the marriage covenant would have been broken thereby and the resulting divorce would have simply been the recognition of that broken relationship. In that case remarriage would not be adult-ery. But remarriage is always assumed.
If everything in your letter is true: your husband committed adult-ery, beat you, and has now divorced you—you are free to remarry. The marriage bond was certainly broken by the s exual immorality and if he hadn’t divorced you, you would have been free to divorce him.
Having said that you are free to remarry, however, does not mean that you should marry any Tom, Dick, or Harry that comes along; the Bible adds the stipulation that you must marry in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39). This means that you are free to remarry, but you must marry someone who is also a Christian. It is important to point out, moreover, that in our age simply claiming to be a Christian really isn’t enough when you are looking at someone with a view to marriage. Wisdom says that you need to look for more than someone who is male, breathing, and claims to be a Christian.
Life is messy and so you should be very careful to make sure that you don’t get yourself into the same sort of mess you were in before. As a way to work on making this more of a certainty I’ve listed a few wisdom issues that you should put into place before you begin looking for someone to marry. First, make sure you join and become active in a good church. Second, make sure you read some good books on marriage (books and articles by Nancy and Doug Wilson are a good place to start). Third, make sure your sins are confessed all the way down to the ground, especially to your former husband (I would not recommend that you try to see him in person, rather write him a letter.) and to your children.
When this groundwork is laid and things are going well with you and with your children do these things: Make a list of qualities you are looking for in a man. Be very careful to make sure you look for a man that you respect; one that is already godly and who will lead you and your children in worship and devotion to the Lord. Do not settle for less. Do not pretend that “he will change after we’re married”—he won’t and you’ll be miserable for a long, long time. Make sure this man can take care of you and your children in every Biblical way and that he and you understand that this is a marriage not simply some sort of strange partnership. Along with this be very sure that he is a leader, or at least that he leads you easily. Don’t think he leads you if he is good at letting you lead him. You will not respect him for long if you are doing the initiating, even if you are leading him to lead you and this is into good things.
Above all, take your time. Let God guide you. Don’t jump at the first man who smiles at you and seems to be a good guy. Take your time. Don’t get impatient. Check out everyone who shows interest in you with the leadership of your church to see if he is really a nice guy or if he is just on the make and is focusing on you…for now. Let the elders guide you. They know men better than the women you know. It is much harder for a guy to blow smoke up another guy’s skirt than it is to do it with a woman. Take your time. Don’t rush. Love your children, draw close to them and especially to the Lord.
Finally, when you get lonely, and you will, draw near to the Lord for comfort. Don’t go looking for a man, the men you find that way will only make things worse. Draw near to the Lord, trust him, talk to him, lean on him, let him be your man. Take your time. Learn, grow, walk with God, bring your children to God, use this time to come together as a family and let Jesus be God in your lives.
I hope this helps.