November 6, 2006
Earlier today I picked up a Bible and flipped open to 1 Corinthians 7:11 (a passage that Kierkegaard mistakenly refers to in his notes on Problema II in Fear and Trembling). It is in the section discussing divorce—that couples shouldn’t divorce, but if they do they should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to one another. And it got me thinking about how the church handles situations like divorce. Many times I’ve heard of pastors not being allowed to minister at certain churches because they were divorced or remarried, and I always find that ridiculous. Just because the pastor has gotten a divorce and has remarried (which Paul says not to do), that doesn’t mean that he is unfit for service. Perhaps it is fair to call that act wrong, but once it is done it is done. What does the church expect him to do? Divorce his new wife, too? Of course not. Perhaps he made a mistake in getting divorce or in getting remarried, but that does not disqualify him from service any more than the fact that at some point in his life he has lied.
Here’s the point that I’m getting at—too often we (the church) dwell on past sins and talk all about what we should have done, instead of dealing with the situation at hand and moving forward. We need to deal with the present reality, not past possibilities. Even Paul acknowledges this in the section on divorce. He gives the command that a wife should not separate from her husband, but in the next verse he deals with the reality of divorce saying, “But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.” I believe Paul would also have taken the next step—the woman should not remarry, but if she does she should strengthen that marriage and make it holy and pleasing to God.
The truth is there are a lot of things that we shouldn’t do but that we, in our infinite wisdom, go ahead and do anyway. Why? Because we’re stupid and sinful. But once we have made the mistake, there often is no going back, so we should move on and work with the situation at hand. It does no one any good to sit around and point out each others’ past errors at length (of course some accountability is both humbling and needed)—we need to work with the present reality. Sure, perhaps the pastor should not have been divorced and remarried, but if he is called by God to minister, let him minister. I have lied and cheated and stolen and hated and lusted—and that makes me a sinner—but that does not disqualify me from the service of God. Sin is a reality that we must deal with. We can’t engage the world if all we can do is talk about how people should have made better choices, letting them know what a tragedy their life is. Neither we nor they can change what they’ve done, so let’s talk about the future! Sure, we must understand the past, but dwelling on it does not promote growth or healing. Let’s move on, let bygones be bygones because that is exactly what God has done for us (see Psalm 103).