“Let marriage be held in honor among all…”
(Heb. 13:5, ESV)
I remember it like it was last year. My parents arguing incessantly in front of my brother and I. I remember how badly I wanted them to stay together. I remember being too young at age 5 to understand their problems and feeling absolutely powerless to fix them. And I remember being caught in the middle of their custody and child-support arguments after their bitter divorce. The scars of divorce are still felt in my family decades later when my own kids ask questions like: “How come Grandma and Grandpa aren’t married anymore?” And “How come Grandpa’s wife isn’t Daddy’s mom?”
Divorce is messy. Like a tsunami, its ripple effect is far-reaching and its impact is long-lasting. For these reasons and more, the Lord sets boundaries in His Word to protect His children from the seismic effects of the marriage covenant being broken.
BIBLICAL PRESUPPOSITIONS ABOUT DIVORCE
A survey of the Scriptures reveals God’s heart regarding divorce and some boundaries He has put in place to protect Christ-followers from it’s destruction. For example, we know the Lord…
- Hates divorce. (Mal. 2:16, NASB)
- Permits divorce but does not prefer it. (Mt. 19:6,8)
- Allows divorce under two conditions: sexual immorality (Mt. 19:9) and desertion of the unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:15).
- Desires separated spouses pursue reconciliation until it is no longer possible. (Mt. 19:6; 1 Cor. 7:10-11)
- Does not consider Christ-followers free to re-marry until they have been declared legally (Rom. 13:1-2) AND biblically free (1 Th. 12-13; 1 Pt. 5:5; Heb. 13:17). The court system takes care of the former and the Board of Elders at your local church should counsel you on the latter.
The advent of online dating, divorce becoming so common in our culture and several other factors has caused professing Christians to wrestle with these two questions:
- Do I have to wait for my divorce to be finalized before dating?
- How long to do I need to wait to date after my divorce?
2 REASONS TO DELAY DATING
I believe God’s Word provides two compelling reasons Christ-followers should NOT date while separated and delay dating for a season after their divorce is finalized.
1. Dating while separated is sinful.
Since the purpose of dating in our culture is to find a spouse, then biblical reasoning tells us that both parties need to be legally and biblically free before dating. Thus, dating while still married to someone else is a type of emotional adultery because you are not keeping the vow you made to God to share you’re your heart and your body only with your spouse. Dating while separated begins the process of linking yourself to someone when you are not yet legally or biblically free to do so. The Scriptures tell us it is sinful to break vows made to the Lord (Dt. 23:21-23; Job 22:27; Ps. 50:14; 76:11; Ecc. 5:4). This becomes a real temptation when your spouse has already broken their vow and moved on because your flesh will want to do the same as well. I urge men and women I have counseled NOT to do the same because the Lord is watching how you will respond to that temptation. He expects us to keep our commitments even when doing so is painful, inconvenient or delays us from moving on to what we want to do (Ps. 15:4). Some Christians have tried to use divorce proceedings held up in the court system or by their spouse as an excuse to “move on with my life”. However, I always challenge such thinking with a reminder of the sovereignty of God. Because the Lord is both sovereign and good, a delayed divorce should be interpreted as the Lord slowing you down for your own good instead of the courts preventing you from “moving on with your life”. He does this because He believes the best plan for you is to “conform you to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29), not to just give you what you want when you want it. And if necessary, He’ll use civil authorities and a disagreeable spouse to achieve this purpose (Pr. 21:1; Rom. 13:1-2).
Dating while separated is also sinful because it deceives the person you want to date by giving them the impression that you are legally and biblically available. Dating under these circumstances is fraudulent because you are presenting yourself as being free---when you are not (Mk. 10:19). It’s also unloving because you’re leading the person you date into your own tsunami before your reconstruction and healing has begun (Mk. 12:30-31). For these reasons and more it is important to remember…
Separation is not divorce. God sees separated couples as still married.
2. Dating immediately after a divorce is unwise.
Wisdom is the application of God’s Word for skillful living. Paul counseled the Corinthians that although something may be legal it does not mean it will be beneficial (1 Cor. 10:23). Solomon urges us to persistently pursue wisdom so that we can obtain favor from the Lord (Pr. 8:35). Without wisdom we “injure” ourselves and others (Pr. 8:36). I generally counsel Christians who have recently gone through a divorce to wait at least a year after their divorce is final to begin dating again. And I say this with great hesitation. Depending on the circumstances, even more time may be beneficial. This is wise because there needs to be a season after the divorce for self-assessment, emotional healing, spiritual growth and time for your children to heal (if applicable). Dating is not a therapy that will lead to reconciliation or even healing for the next chapter of your life. Instead, it tends to be a distraction from dealing with the root issues that led to the downfall of your previous marriage. For these reasons I encourage Christ-followers who have experienced the devastation of divorce to get biblical counseling and focus on growing their relationship with the Lord.
No one that has experienced the devastation of a tsunami is able to begin or complete the recovery process on their own. They need the community and their civic leaders to help them find housing, work, medical treatment and so much more. If you’ve experienced the tsunami-like destruction of a divorce, I urge you to let the church community help you recover and give the Lord the time he needs to clean up the mess. True healing will come if you surround yourself with godly counselors that love you enough to tell you "wait on the Lord" instead of "do whatever feels right". There is no one in Heaven right now regretting that they waited on the Lord. And you won’t either.