Sunday, May 20, 2007

Forgiveness that Transforms

I got the call one week before the big training event was to begin. I had planned for months for this event and I was very surprised to get a call from a fellow worker from another agency asking for my help. He wanted me to include Thorin in my two month disaster management training program. I asked him why and he replied that Thorin had recently confessed in his local church that he had got a girl pregnant. His eldership in the church was removed and he was under church discipline. Ok, I thought, what does this have to do with me? My friend said that everyone knows that Thorin is a capable worker and some don't care about his sin. He has had several job offers from other agencies saying if he was not going to be a leader in his church then they could make him one in their organization. My friend said, 'Look Strider, just put him in your two month training program and I will pay the stipend. Thorin needs time and healing. If you don't take him I think he may go off and do something rash; either joining another organization or quitting everything altogether.' I am a big believer in redemption so I told him that I would add him to the fellowship. That made ten the total number in the training.

Thorin needed the time we spent together and I consider the effort I spent on his behalf to be one of the most important things I have done here in Gondor. As we studied together, worked together, traveled together over the next two months I learned alot about him. He was a middle aged man around 50 years old. He had come to faith in Jesus nine years ago. He had been divorced before he became a believer. His ex-wife lived in up in Arnor with a second husband but he still saw his teenage daughter on occasion. After his conversion from Islam he became a passionate evangelist. He and three other men started a Church here in Minas Tirith. He had been an elder in this church for four years. How did he fall?

When he told me his story I was shocked. He said that he had been single ever since his divorce and that since he had become a believer he had never even considered remarriage. He worked hard at his church and did not think about women. One day a woman from his same tribe up in Ithilien came and joined the Church. She caught his attention. They discussed marriage and she was agreeable. He approached her family and got their permission. They agreed. He was very excited. This would be the first marriage between two believers in their church. He met with the other elders and announced his plan. He asked them for help in planning the wedding and expressed his desire to make this event an opportunity for bold witness. They looked at him like he was crazy. What was he talking about? He could not get married because he had been divorced. They instructed him to call it off and tell the family. The family, who were not believers, were furious. He and the girl were heart-broken. A month later he took her anyway secretly without getting married and six months after that she was pregnant. It was a huge shame for them and for the church. He stood up in church and publically apologized.

I was pretty angry when I heard all of this. I really felt that the elders were as much to blame for this mess as he was. Did not Paul say it was better to marry than to burn with desire? But, there are a lot of verses and words from Jesus' own lips that indicate that remarriage is in fact, a sin. I didn't want to go off half-cocked (for a change) so I said nothing to Thorin and the guys for a while and I prayed about a response. It was tough for me to wrestle with the scriptures on this. I had been very legalistic as a young christian but I had swung way in the other direction during college days. This means that as I approach the Word I have presuppositions like everyone else but I am not always sure what they are. Is it the letter of the law- or isn't that what kills? I have seen remarriage be a key redeeming factor for many people, including my own father but does experience trump the Bible? I think not.

I prayed and studied and I worked with the team. One day as I was praying it seemed that God gave me the answer. So, I waited for the right time to give it to the guys. The last week of training we went down to a village and spent the week doing a pilot project on Disaster Preparedness. We set up the tent and field office. We began canvassing the village and working with the people. One night a small argument arose among the guys concerning this issue. We met the next morning and I took out my Bible and we began. This is what I gave them.

Jesus teaching on divorce is found in Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18. Most all of these are the same so I will just quote Matthew 5 here:

It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

It is interesting to note that in the Mark passage he does not give the unchastity clause but the point is the same throughout Jesus teaching. Divorce is a sin against God's original design for man/woman relations. But of course, no one knows that like divorced people. It is a painful, horrible experience. But what then? Well, as I kept studying there were two other passages that interested me. In 1 Corinthians 7: 10-11 Paul says that a woman who is divorced should not seek to be remarried but remain single. Interestingly however, he goes on to say that if an unbelieving spouse leaves and refuses reconciliation then they are 'free' or as my version in verse 15 says, 'not bound.' So, to the original question and the situation with Thorin what is the Church to do with such individuals who have been divorced? Romans 7 became my answer. In Romans 7:1-4 NRSV it says:

Do you not know, brethren- for I am speaking to those who know the law- that the law is binding on a person only during that person's lifetime? Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress. In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit fo God.

We can see that this passage is not actually a passage about divorce per se, it is actually about sin and our relationship to God. But look at what it says! It describes us as being married to sin, death, and hell and that we were bound in this marriage. Death is the only release from this contract so someone had to die. Christ died for us! This is the bedrock of our faith, the reason for our hope, the truth of our salvation. Christ died to free us from our eternal contract with death. So, follow me here for a minute. We have determined clearly that divorce is a sin. Sin leads to death. Jesus died that death for us to set us free. Therefore, in my limited human logic I conclude that Jesus' death sets us free from even the sin of divorce and if we are free then what? Romans 8:1-2 is clear:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of Christ has set you free from the law of sin and death.

In all my teaching experience this is the hardest concept for people to believe. No condemnation. None, zilch, zippo, nada, it's not there, it's out the door, we are free. If you show up at a meeting of believers and they say here comes that murderer, you can say, 'No, I am not. You can not condemn me, I am free.' If they say, 'Here comes a liar and theif.' You can say, 'no, not anymore. I am forgiven, clean, free.' If they say, 'Here comes a divorced person.' You say,'No, I am not. I am forgiven, free, clean.' Don't beleive me? Look at the much stronger words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17:

So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old is passed away (except divorce and homosexuality of course. Wrong!! that is not in there!); see, everything has become new.

New, free, a new creature. The old creature was a liar, was a murderer, was divorced but not the new creature. So, if this is true why do we see the new creature behaving as if he/she were bound? I mean, 75% of second marriages fail- even among followers of Jesus. Why? I think I know why. Would you walk up to me and ask me for $100,000? Of course you wouldn't. You do not believe I have that much money to give- and you would be right! We do not ask for that which we do not believe exist. The Church has taught that while divorce may not keep you out of heaven, there is no forgiveness here on earth. How many of you have said, 'Oh yes, you are forgiven but there are consequenses.' Brother, you can have that kind of forgiveness! Thanks for nothing. Either I am forgiven and the slate is clean or I am not. The answer from the Church has been 'not' and divorced people know this. We need to recover Jesus true message of forgiveness. Forgiveness that transforms us from death to life. Forgiveness that truly cast our sins as far as the East is from the West. Forgiveness that burries our sins- all of our sins- in the bottom of the ocean to be remembered no more. If we do this then the divorced among us can be set free to ask for transforming forgiveness that will set them free from the sin in their lives that killed their first marriage. Then they will be free to marry again and love and honor and cherish as a new creature in Christ. And brethren, when they say to you, 'You are divorced, you can not serve, you can not marry, you can not lead, you can not....' you tell them, 'I am set free by the blood of Jesus who died in my place. I am a new creature whom you have no right to condemn. I am free to live the life Jesus has called me to.'
And then friend, please, live free and set others free.

After teaching the guys this there was much discussion. The next day as they continued to argue about this Thorin rebuked them, "No condemnation means no condemnation! You can not bind me." He meant these words and he went on to marry the girl and raise the daughter in the Church. He has gone to Mordor itself and planted a church in a city where no Gospel witness has ever been known. He continues to serve faithfully and whenever he stops by to see me he hugs me hard with a big smile and thanks me again for teaching him the truth of the freedom he has in Christ. You can not set others free unless you are free yourself. Be free my friends and live a life of freedom. This will transform your life and our world.


Anonymous said...

Hey Strider A HUGE shout out AMEN! Free means FREE and NEW CREATURE means exactly that.... NEW! I have found the older I get the more I resent those who want to limit God and forgiveness broad statement yes but both you and me know it is true! IF or when you see him again pass a message from the west there are some people that WILL be praying for him & his family that God will bless them abundantly!!! Angie.

GuyMuse said...

While the whole divorce-remarriage issue is a tough one, I think this story illustrates the importance of dealing with each individual situation on its own merits. This subject has come up probably more often than any other in our own work and ministry. It is always a struggle to walk the line between being true to what Jesus teaches on the matter and the endless variations taking place in the lives of the individuals involved. Thanks for your excellent insights. I too think redemption is what we are to be about, not condemnation. We need to do everything we can to help reconcile and heal people who have gone through this horrible ordeal.

marie said...

This is gooood stuff! Would you mind if I copy it and give it to my pastor?

My husband used to be a Single's Minister in an SBC church. Wow at the struggles people have in and after divorce. Your post should be shouted from the roof-tops!

Thank you, Strider!


Strider said...

Thanks all for the kind words so far. I am expecting someone to disagree soon. Surely?
Marie you can use this for what it is worth, a story of God's Grace. SDG.

Tim Patterson said...


This story illustrates why we live under grace and not the law. The church was finished with this brother, but not God. Anytime someone truly repents, Jesus forgives and restores. It is a shame that we find it so difficult to forgive what we classify as "unforgiveable sin".

Alycelee said...

Well I'm not disagreeing!
This was great. The churches have held people captive for too long with restraints we issued. (God doesn't and says yes, no condemnation)

I believe this misguided mindset has little to do with one's view of scripture and more to do with traditions of men. You make this pretty clear with your insights.

I'm so encouraged to know that you are representing Christ where you are.

marie said...

I visit your site just about every day hoping, praying that you have a new post!!! :)

You have an incredible ministry and I pray that wherever you are the LORD is protecting you and going before you to prepare the soil to make it ripe for harvest.

God's abundant, overflowing blessings on you and your family!