Remember Angela and Andy? They're a young couple who have been dating for the past year and they've now come to you/your church to be married. As you speak with Andy you learn that both have been divorced. This will be their second marriage.
In Andy's case, his first wife had been unfaithful and they eventually divorced over the adultery. Andy and his first wife were professing Christians. In Angela's case, she had been unfaithful to her husband, leading to a divorce. At the time, neither Angela nor her husband were believers.
Andy's first wife has gone on to remarry and now lives with her second husband and four children across town. Angela's first husband has not remarried.
These are individuals who will find that following Jesus requires counting the costs, denying themselves and bearing their cross. I think we sometimes forget the weightiness of this for people looking to follow the Savior.
Most people would say that Andy is free to remarry since he was not the one who broke the marriage covenant with his first wife. I think that's the majority interpretation of passages like Matthew 5 and 19. But there are some who argue that remarriage isn't appropriate even for Andy. See here for one example.
But what is certain is that Andy cannot continue a relationship with Angela. The cost of following Jesus will be ending a one-year romantic interest on the verge of marriage. And that won't be easy. I think most people in this situation would make an appeal to forgiveness or grace or freedom, and leave off any personal application of the divorce and remarriage passages. They'll miss the import of Titus 2:11-12; grace teaches us to obey Christ. Grace never makes it okay to disobey. The challenge for Andy will be deciding that marriage to Angela is not a "right" to be jealously grasped. Rather, he must embrace the freedom that comes from obedience and choose what appears an inconvenient and perhaps foolish course.
Angela will have the same cost to pay: she cannot marry Andy. Moreover, as I understand the Scripture, she cannot ever remarry. To remarry would be adultery.
Consider the cost of following Jesus for Angela. There is terminating the relationship with Andy. There is the foreclosure of any romantic relationship for the remainder of her life. There is the preclusion of ever having children naturally. Having known the joys marital intimacy, there is now a life of celibacy ahead.
For most people, that's a staggering list of costs. In my short experience, most would rather disobey the Lord and pursue these desires than obey Him in love. When presented with these issues, many walk away from the faith and the church, unwilling to pay the costs once counted.
Helping Andy and Angela
It's the church's call to help this brother and sister walk worthy of the callings they have received in Christ. What does that look like?
1. Helping Andy and Angela think in biblical terms about grace. There's much that could be said here, but at least two aspects are critical. First, as Titus 2:11-2 points out, saving grace actually teaches us to say "no" to ungodliness and to live sober, godly lives in this evil age. One dark, domineering thought they each will have is: I can't do this. This is too much. I don't want to say 'no' to this desire. How will we make it? The answer from the Scripture is God will teach you with His grace.
Second, this means that in whatever situation God calls us, His grace will be sufficient for us. People in this situation imagine the happy, harp-playing glories of love and marriage. They daydream about a life of joy and bliss on one side of the ledger. And they compare that to an imagined life of unrelenting suffering, loneliness, and so on. Their imagination is rigged, biased in favor of their desires and against God's calling. They are sympathetic with their own sinful impulses and resistant to God's path and wisdom. In that sense, they're loving darkness rather than the light. What they need help to see is that a life of fruitful, joyful singleness is not only possible but real for many. Moreover, the same grace that meets them in their sin provides for them in all God's callings and commands. His commands are not burdensome. His yoke is easy. He will not quench the smoking flax. Grace calls us to imagine that the best possible future lies in the path God chooses instead of the path of our desires.
2. Help Andy and Angela understand the necessity of the local church family. Rather than leave the church, Andy and Angela should be helped to plug even more deeply in their local fellowships. They'll need the support and counsel of godly family in the household of God. They'll likely want to go places where no one is "butting into their business," or someplace where people tell them what they want to hear. They'll likely begin pulling away from the family. But this is when the family needs to be most aware of their struggles and most caring. Whether through a small group of fellow saints or with concentrated one-on-one discipleship, Andy and Angela need to be tethered tightly to the church so that they're helped to think in biblical ways, process their feelings, and walk out their callings.
3. In time, help Andy and Angela with finding ways of expressing their desires. This may mean helping Andy to remarry as the Lord provides a woman free to marry. This might mean helping Angela consider adoption if she wants to parent. The difficult part of this situation is that Andy and Angela can't have the lives they desire with each other. But that doesn't mean they can't have elements of their desired lives at all. Careful counseling, pastoral leadership, and support from the church family should work to encourage each of them to fully embrace the range of life opportunities the Lord provides within the good boundaries of His word and will. There will be a million opportunities for glorifying Jesus with their lives, even if they aren't the traditional ways of doing some of them.
Well, that's my sense of things. No easy answers. Or perhaps there are some easy answers, but the implementation is emotionally taxing and messy.
I would love to hear what you think. How would you counsel a couple in a situation like this? Do you know any situations like this and how have you helped/failed to help in the past? What can we learn from each other?
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