If a marriage breaks down, we know they weren't really joined by God, so they can divorce.

Someone emailed:
I heard a testimony from someone who said the Lord told him to divorce when he read Matthew 19, "What God has joined together, let no man separate". He said his wife wasn't a believer, so God hadn't joined them, and so this verse said he could get divorced. He also said this would apply to someone who had been disobedient to God in their choice of a life partner, which they would find out when the marriage broke down, because if God had joined them, it wouldn't have broken down. Do you think this is a legitimate way of reasoning?

Reply: Well, it is certainly ingenious - he should train as a lawyer! No, I don't agree that he can argue this way. I guess that the Corinthians were saying something very similar because they started divorcing their non-believing partners. Paul's answer is that in God's eyes a marriage to a non-believer is just as valid as a marriage to a believer, otherwise their children would be illegitimate in God's eyes! (1Cor.7.12-14).

When Jesus talks about "those whom God has joined" I understand this as a reference to the marriage vows which have been made before God, which must not be broken. Even if someone did not mean these vows, or did not consider them to be made in God's presence, they are still bound to keep the vows which they made.

Anyone who makes a promise to a person should keep it, and if they make a promise before a court they can be held in contempt if they don't keep it, and even sent to prison. But if they make a promise before God and don't keep it they have sinned - which is much more serious than any contempt of an earthly court.

For more on abandonment by non-believers see When Your Partner Walks Out in Divorce and Remarriage in the Church


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