If the Bible is perfectly clear, why are there over 37,000 Christian denominations?
It seems like when the subject of divorce comes up in conversation, we church types have lot’s to say. Often the first thing someone hears from one of us is “the Bible is perfectly clear, Christians are not allowed to get divorced!”
News flash, Christians do get divorced, and it happens with alarming frequency. This was true in Biblical time, and is true today. Perhaps that’s why both the Old and New Testaments have detailed rules on how and when a follower of God can get a divorce (at the same time is says God hates divorce). Actually most denominations have policies, and when read carefully, look more like a list of legal loopholes a mile wide, rather than a strict prohibition.
For now we want to leave the theological heavy lifting and the legal scholarship to those who have such inclinations and determination and training. The real work of those of us in the pews, the coffee shops or around the dinner table is even harder, yet far more simple: we need to come to grips with the reality of divorce.
Divorce happened in Moses’ times, it happened in Jesus’ times. It’s happening right now. And most likely with someone you know quite well. Maybe even you. So, when confronted with the news of a pending or finalized divorce, which is more important; a) the correct theological parsing of scriptures, or, b) our loving and helpful response to someone walking through one of the most difficult circumstances in their lives?
We happen to choose option “b.” The last thing that needs to come from our lips is the phrase: “the Bible is perfectly clear about…” — unless we’re talking about the command to love God and love our neighbors. I have yet to meet a divorced or divorcing Christian (and surprisingly a number of non-Christians) who was not very familiar with what the Bible says about divorce. In the vast majority of circumstances divorce is not taken lightly, or entered into capriciously. It’s a serious, life-changing event with dire consequences to the couple, their family and friends. So, when you hear about divorce as a done deed or as an option under discussion, remember it may be news to you, but certainly not news to the person doing the sharing. They have already had a head start in both prayer and considering the Word of God. They know what the Bible says!
What we’ve learned is that the best first response is to:
- Listen with great sympathy, rather than talk.
- Console rather than confront.
- Sympathize rather than censure.
- Pray rather than preach.
You may have very strong personal or denominational opinions on what “the Bible is perfectly clear about!” We hope you do. But realize there is a time and place for you to apply that belief.
Picture this: a close friend invites you out for coffee to share that they are considering divorcing their spouse. Your first response could (and may naturally) be a “the Bible is perfectly clear” statement. Please think twice, or three times. If you want to keep the relationship and the dialog safe for your friend, try something like,
- “I’m so sorry to hear that”
- “This must be very tough for you”
- “Please let me love you through this”
- “I’m not a big fan of divorce, but I’m your friend, let me love you”
- “How can I help you?”
In many cases there will be opportunities to pray, study or discuss Biblical perspective on divorce, remarriage, etc. Those opportunities will be real and most useful if you first establish love and take yourself out of the judgment game.
Here’s the scary part: you may firmly believe “the Bible is perfectly clear about (fill in the blank).” But you really don’t have a clue what is going on, deep down and at home with your friend. You don’t know the depth of their pain. You do not know if there is abuse or other hidden behaviors. You may not know about mental health issues or patterns of betrayal.
Our humble advice is to always lead with love, consider leaving your Bible at home for now.
What are your suggestions for the first words to say when confronted with divorce or marital difficulties?