This, as I am sure you know, is a point of great contention among believers and churches. My parents have been married for over 60 years and my wife and I are approaching our 30th anniversary. I believe very strongly in the holy covenant relationship in marriage and the great evil in breaking up a marriage. However, there do seem to be some instances where God recognizes that a marriage no longer exists and that there is an innocent party. I myself struggle with the passages that deal with this issue. I do not want to encourage divorce or remarriage, but I do not want to wrongly enslave those who have fallen victim of wrongdoing. As such, I think there may be three possible exceptions to remarriage. Here they are:
- Death. Although most would not think of this as a divorce and it is not by the will of man, yet it is certainly a cessation of marriage. And, it is one which allows for remarriage. Romans 7:1-3 is very clear on this matter. If a woman's husband is dead, she is free from that law which binds her to her husband.
Fornication. Matthew 19:9 states, "And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." Some have claimed that fornication can only be committed before marriage during the time of engagement. However, the word fornication more often refers to any unlawful sexual union. It would include adultery but also such perversions as sodomy or bestiality. It seems that when someone who has taken the marriage vows commits such a sin, they have broken the marriage covenant. God is not giving permission for the marriage to be broken. He is only recognizing that it has already been broken.
Desertion. 1 Corinthians 7:15 states, "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace." There is no doubt that God allows divorce in cases where a lost spouse leaves a saved partner. The argument comes in reference to remarriage. However, the verse states that the brother or sister (the saved one) is not under bondage in such cases. As noted earlier, Romans 7:1-3 states that marriage makes two people "bound by the law" (v.2). If a person is not in bondage, it seems that they would be not be in bondage to that law that keeps them from remarrying. However, this passage deals specifically with spouses who leave because they cannot put up with the Christianity of their partner. It may not refer to every kind of desertion.
In conclusion, I can only point people to the scriptures. Each person is responsible for their decisions in these matters. I understand that many people just want a way out. However, with God's word, there is no easy way out. The marriage vows are serious and they are meant to be taken for life. Of marriage, God states: "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:9). We should avoid divorce in almost every case, but we should be gracious to those who have suffered from the sins of their spouse.