March 17, 2009 by Stacy McDonald
“To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. “ (Isaiah 61:3)
[Because of the length of this testimony, I have broken it into two parts. If you are going to read this, I pray you read both parts, so that you are able to get a complete picture of what I am hoping to communicate.]
Our story is a true vignette of God’s mercy and love. It is proof that He doesn’t leave us alone or forsaken. It’s a tale of redemption, mercy, grace, and hope—a story of restoration.
When I look back over the tapestry of my life, I am both humbled and amazed at how God in His mercy has creatively transformed each and every painful experience, as well as my many failings, for His glory. Where Satan sought to steal and destroy, God healed and redeemed. He took the smoldering embers of a ravaged past and lovingly fashioned for His glory a golden testimony of hope.
Those who have never endured the wrenching pain of an adulterous betrayal cannot fathom how truly devastating it is. James and I have both experienced it first hand. You see, we were both married before. Though we each bear the scars inflicted by infidelity, we also carry the indelible mark of healing that comes from the One who gave us beauty for ashes—the One who did not leave us hopeless and forsaken; but, instead blessed us by bringing us together and choosing to use us as a couple—as a family—for His glory.
This does not mean that James and I were blameless in every aspect of our past relationships. We made mistakes, sinned, repented, and were forgiven, fallen creatures that we are. There is no question of whether or not we were perfect spouses—we were not! But that does not negate the fact that we were both the “innocent victims” of adultery.
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” (Isaiah 42:3)
I could write volumes of heartbreaking stories from both of our experiences. However, my point is not to gain sympathy or make excuses, but to make it very clear that neither of us simply walked away from marriage. In both of our situations, we clung tenaciously to an adulterous spouse bent on leaving.
Looking back, we both agree that while our staying was out of a desire to live biblically, it was also, to some extent, out of an unhealthy obsession to remain joined to someone who had already “left” the marriage. Sometimes, it isn’t love or conviction that keeps the victimized spouse in the marriage; but, rather obsession and fear.
For me, I think I was afraid of being alone. I so desperately wanted to be loved that I thought I could force it to happen if I had enough “faith.” Rather than viewing the directive in 1 Peter 3:1 as an act of obedience that God might use to bring my husband to Christ, I viewed it as a formula that required Him to. I was terrified of being rejected and alone, not realizing that it was out of my control; and that it had in fact already happened.
I eventually had to come to terms with the fact that it is God who changes hearts. While I wanted and prayed for reconciliation, it wasn’t up to me to “make” it happen; I was simply called to trust and obey. And if God’s answer was, “No, I have something else for you.” I needed to be obedient and walk in that.
1 Corinthians 7:15 was a great comfort to me. It reminded me that God had not left me in bondage—He had indeed called me to peace. My hopes and dreams were not dashed on the rocks of despair; and though man had rejected me, God had not. He heard my cry and answered me in my trouble.
“For the LORD hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God.” (Isaiah 54:6)
God had for me a future and a hope!
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
We always share our testimony with a bit of fear and trembling. One concern has been that those who may be in shaky or difficult marriages would say to themselves, “Well, look what God did in James and Stacy’s lives. Maybe divorce is the answer for me!” We want to make it clear that God’s intention for marriage is permanent (until death). “What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Mark 10:9)
But it must be understood that an adulterous spouse is the one who has “put asunder” the marriage. It is done. Yes, it can be forgiven, but it is not the victim of adultery or desertion who has “put asunder” the marriage.
Consider this quote from Jay Adams:
It is altogether true that God hates divorce. But he neither hates all divorces in the same way nor hates every aspect of divorce. He hates what occasions every divorce—even the one that He gave to sinful Israel. He hates the results that often flow to children and to injured parties of a divorce (yet even that did not stop Him from willing divorce in Ezra 10:44, 11) And He hates divorces wrongly obtained on grounds that He has not sanctioned.
James and I work very hard to honor marriage. That’s why we invest so much time and energy ministering to families on this topic. We want to see marriage honored among all—to see God glorified in every Christian marriage! That means we Christians must instill purity, faithfulness, and sound doctrine into our marriages. Teaching the truth about what Scripture says regarding divorce and remarriage is promoting, defending, and honoring marriage.
“Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” (Hebrews 13:4)
Perpetuating the Pain
While Christians are called to comfort the fainthearted and uphold the weak (1 Thessalonians. 5:14), in some Christian circles, the grieving “victims” of divorce are victimized a second time…by the church. While ministering to numerous Christians devastated by a divorce they didn’t want, and then wrongly judged by those in the church, we began to wonder if perhaps God could use our testimony to help minister truth and healing to the huge number of wounded families in our midst.
This article is not meant to be a comprehensive apologetic for the biblical allowance of divorce and remarriage. For a deeper understanding of what the Scriptures are truly teaching in this area, we highly recommend the book, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible by Jay Adams.
It is our prayer that our testimony will encourage the church to rightly minister to the many casualties of divorce. Too often, rather than help to bear the burdens of those who are suffering, many in the church add more weight to their already staggering load.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
I am of the opinion that the word “victim” is highly overused and that it often enables us to dwell on our circumstances, rather than move forward in the Lord. So, as I was writing this, I wondered how we should refer to the “blameless” one who has been divorced for the cause of adultery or abandonment, without perpetuating the “victim” role.
According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, written in 1646 by the Westminster Divines, the “innocent” party in a divorce may marry another, as if the offending party were dead:
In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce (Matt. 5:31-32) and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead (Matt. 19:9, Rom. 7:2-3).
What would the husband or wife be called if “the offending party were dead?” They would be called a widow or widower. Scripture makes it clear that it is lawful (but not mandatory) for the innocent party of an adulterous affair to seek a divorce and marry another without sinning.
And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. (Matthew 19:9, emphasis mine)
Furthermore, a widow can be defined as one who has been abandoned by a spouse, either through death or divorce. The offended party is not obligated to “chase after” the spouse who has chosen to leave, or to wait indefinitely for him/her to return.
“But if the unbelieving [spouse] depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.” (1 Corinthians 7:15)
Matthew Henry has this to say about a deserted spouse:
If the unbelieving relative desert the believer, and no means can reconcile to a cohabitation, in such a case a brother or sister is not in bondage…not bound servilely to follow or cleave to the malicious deserter, or not bound to live unmarried after all proper means of reconciliation have been tried…In such a case the deserted person must be free to marry again, and it is granted on all hands.
And some think that such a malicious desertion is as much a dissolution of the marriage-covenant as death itself. For how is it possible that the two shall be one flesh when the one is maliciously bent to part from or put away the other?
A woman divorced or separated from her husband by a dispensation of the Pope, and not by death… E. Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. (1810–1897)
The term [grace widow] originated in the earlier ages of European civilization, when divorces were granted [only] by authority of the Catholic Church. Indianapolis News (1876).
[Grace Widow] often applied to a divorced woman, or a woman who has been abandoned by her husband. – William Dwight Whitney, The Century Dictionary 1889
Though this may seem like a good term for describing the innocent party in a divorce, we are not Roman Catholic; we don’t seek the “favor” of the Pope in granting us liberty in regards to our treacherous treatment or abandonment. But could we borrow the term?
The victim of adultery or abandonment may be rightly considered simply a “widow;” but, for the sake of clarity, it seems we should distinguish between someone who is widowed through death, and someone who is widowed through the treachery (Malachi 2:15) of an unfaithful spouse who is still living. With all that being said, I’ve decided to take a chance and borrow the antiquated term, “grace widow,” to describe the “innocent party” of divorce.
Often, rather than rally around the grace widow with prayer, comfort, and support, many Christian leaders instead sentence them to a life of celibacy. They are often told that God is honored by their suffering and loneliness and that remarrying would cause them to be in a perpetual state of adultery.
After watching the adulterous spouse move on with life, many grace widows are left with little hope of ever having the godly family they so desire. For the record, self-inflicted suffering does not honor God any more than self-flagellation does. In addition, ministering to the widow and his/her children is a command of Scripture.
“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble…” (James 1:27)
The Attack on Marriage
I find it incredible how many different ways Satan attempts to keep Christians from entering into godly marriages: Convents, homosexuality, careerism, monasteries, the forbidding of remarriage after divorce…
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons… forbidding to marry…” (1 Timothy 4:1-3)
Perhaps it is the godly seed Satan wants to prevent; or maybe he just hates the beautiful picture of Christ and His Bride that marriage depicts. Regardless of the reason, it is clear that Satan wants not only to destroy godly marriages; he desires to keep them from existing in the first place.
But did He [God] not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence…” (Malachi 2:15, 16 emphasis mine)
Ministering Hope to the Brokenhearted
In each of our cases, God was gracious in providing pastors and friends who had a solid (and historic) understanding of divorce and remarriage. There were those who faithfully walked with us through our valleys: praying, counseling, listening, weeping. In our lives, they served as God’s instruments of peace and healing along the way.
For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. (Matthew 25:35-36)
After hearing some of the horror stories others have endured, we realize we were very blessed to have such support during our trials. Still, during our marriage together, there have been times when we too have experienced the sting of judgment from those who don’t seem to know any better.
Over the years, there have indeed been those who viewed us as second-class Christians—tainted. We experienced seasons when we felt we were merely tolerated, and were tempted to believe we were virtually useless to the Body of Christ because of what we had been through. How could we glorify God with a marriage that should not be?
When James and I met, we were amazed at how God had brought us through similar circumstances. While there were marked differences in our trials, we were truly able to understand the unique pain of the other. Just as someone who has experienced darkness can better appreciate light; so too, could we, having experienced a marriage filled with pain and chaos, appreciate the beauty and holiness of a God-ordered marriage, adorned with love and respect.
We knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had brought us together, and we could see how he was doing great things in the lives of our children—our family; yet, there were still some who insisted that we should never have married. Later, we found out there is an aberrant teaching out there that instructs couples that if a Christian has been married before, he/she should now divorce the current spouse! Such a perversion of Scripture!
By their logic, I should have remained a struggling, single mother, working outside the home while strangers trained and nurtured my daughter each day. And this is what I did at first. In fact, for a long time, I remained legally married (without child support), quietly hoping for God to change the heart of my ex-husband while he lived with his girlfriend in another state. But, as I prayed and studied Scripture, I eventually realized I was free to move on with my life—for the sake of my daughter, for my own sake, and most of all for the glory of God (1 Timothy 5:14).
If James had followed this doctrine of perpetual celibacy, he too would have remained alone for the rest of his life, with very little impact on the lives of his children (Deuteronomy 6:7).
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18, emphasis mine)
But as we studied Scripture, God (as usual) gave us hope.
A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation. God sets the solitary in families; He brings out those who are bound into prosperity… (Psalm 68:5,6)
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