In the beginning, God spoke this world into existence, and when the earth was ready to support life, animals were spoken into existence and with each animal was given a mirror partner – every animal after his kind.
But on the sixth day, God produced two beautiful beings as the crown of His creation. He breathed life into man, took a rib from Adam's side and made a woman. “And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” — Genesis 2:22-24
The first marriage with God as the officiator, what a solemn occasion! That was how God ordained marriage, the happy union of one man with one woman as long as they lived. It was to be an eternal marriage– and Adam loved his wife, Eve.
Then we sadly have chapter 3 of the fall of man. Tragedy of tragedies, we have had to live with the consequences ever since. But the institution of marriage has never changed. Jesus, when ministering here in earth, used virtually the same words in regards to marriage, ”And said, for this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?” —Matthew 19:5
But from the beginning, the institution didn't stay pure for very long. By the time we get to Lamech, “...Lamech took unto him two wives:” —Genesis 4:19
From this point on, the institution of marriage has been a target of the devil, to smash couples apart and cause sadness and mayhem in the family, only to affect the next generation for generation after generation, until it becomes 'normal' to see, and for many to experience broken marriages, step parents, step children, strange men and women coming into the home, etc. But from the beginning it was not so.
Jesus summed this up in a very few words. “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” —Matthew 19:6-8
So with this, let us briefly investigate the effects a broken marriage has on our families and our society. This article on the subject is brief, as it is such a vast subject to cover in full detail with the space allotted.
Firstly, what is the result of Satan attacking the marriage unit? Does it even have results? “Satan is constantly busy to hurry inexperienced youth into a marriage alliance. But the less we glory in the marriages which are now taking place, the better. In consequence of hasty marriages, even among the professed people of God, there are separations, divorces, and great confusion in the church.” —Adventist Home, p.80
But obviously divorce has been in existence for a very long time, even back in Old Testament times, emphasised in Christ's own words in Matthew 19. So are there any standards in regards to divorce? Do we have any counsel as a church to offer for those going through, or have been through this traumatic situation? Well yes, there is one condition for divorce. In regards to Matthew 3:31 & 32, we have this counsel. “Jesus declared plainly that there could be no dissolution of the marriage tie except for unfaithfulness to the marriage vow.” —Mount of Blessing, p.63. Also, “Men are not a liberty to make a standard of law for themselves, to avoid God's law and please their own inclination. They must come to God's great moral standard of righteousness. God gave only one cause why a wife should leave her husband, or the husband leave his wife, which was adultery. Let this ground be prayerfully considered.” —Adventist Home, p.342
When a couple have divorced, even though each party may think they are free, there may still be ties binding that marriage. “A woman may be legally divorced from her husband by the laws of the land and yet not divorced in the sight of God. Although the laws of the land may grant a divorce, yet they are husband and wife still in the Bible light, according to the laws of God. I saw that a particular sister as yet has no right to marry another man; but if she, or any other woman should obtain a divorce legally on the ground that her husband was guilty of adultery, then she is free to be married to whom she chooses.” —Adventist Home, p.344
Marriage is for Life
This is how it was in the original. Marriage was a tie that bound a couple together, and it still is for us today. “The vow, links the destinies of the two individuals with bonds which naught but the hand of death should sever. Every marriage engagement should be carefully considered, for marriage is a step taken for life. Both the man and the woman should carefully consider whether they can cleave to each other through the vicissitudes of life as long as they both shall live.” —Adventist Home, p.340
In fact, the marriage is just the same as the other ordinance God gave before the fall of mankind, that of the Sabbath. “Let this, God's institution of marriage, stand before you as firm as the Sabbath of the fourth commandment.” “The marriage and the Sabbath had their origin, twin institutions for the glory of God for the benefit of humanity. Then, as the Creator joined the hands of the holy pair in wedlock, saying, 'A man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one.' He enunciated the law of marriage for all the children of Adam to the close of time...Like every other one of Gods good gifts entrusted to the keeping of humanity, marriage has been perverted by sin; but it is the purpose of the gospel to restore its purity and beauty.” —Letter 8, 1888; Mount of Blessing, p.63,64
Incompatibility No Excuse for Divorce
“There are many unhappy marriages because of so much haste. Two unite their interest at the marriage altar, by most solemn vows before God without previously weighing the matter, and devoting time to sober reflection and earnest prayer. Many move from impulse. They have no thorough acquaintance with the dispositions of each other. They do not realize that the happiness of their whole life is at stake. If they move wrong in this matter, and their marriage life proves unhappy, it cannot be taken back. If they find they are not calculated to make each other happy, they must endure it the best they can.” —Spiritual Gifts, vol.3, p.120
But honestly, life is far too precious and short to be locked out of each other's lives because of incompatibility. Rather than just give up on each other, change the dispositions towards each other. It comes back to the fact that, rather than try to make your spouse the right person, you in turn be the right person for your spouse. “If your dispositions are not congenial, would it not be for the glory of God for you to change these…? You must both study how you can assimilate, instead of differing with one another… The use of mild, gentle methods will make a surprising difference in your lives.” —Adventist Home, p.345
Sometimes it does come to a point where two people are just unbearably incompatible. “I have received your letter, and in reply to it I would say, I cannot advise you to return to D unless you see decided changes in him. The Lord is not pleased with the ideas he has had in the past of what is due to a wife. . . . If he holds to his former views, the future would be no better for you than the past has been. He does not know how to treat a wife… it would be perilous for you to again place yourself under his dictation. I had hoped that he would change… The Lord understands all about your experiences… Be of good courage in the Lord; He will not leave you nor forsake you. My heart goes out in tenderest sympathy for you.” —Adventist Home, p.343,344
But just having a non-believing husband does not give licence to leave. “If the wife is an unbeliever and an opposer, the husband cannot, in view of the law of God, put her away on this ground alone. In order to be in harmony with the law of Jehovah, he must abide with her unless she chooses of herself to depart. He may suffer opposition and be oppressed and annoyed in many ways; he will find his comfort and his strength and support from God, who is able to give grace for every emergency.” —Adventist Home, p.344,345
In another case, one was also counselled to stay with her unbelieving husband. “She should remember that her marriage does not destroy her individuality… to an overbearing, tyrannical man… Her marriage was a deception of the devil. Yet now she should make the best of it, treat her husband with tenderness, and make him as happy as she can without violating her conscience; for if he remains in his rebellion, this world is all the heaven he will have. But to deprive herself of the privilege of meetings, to gratify an overbearing husband possessing the spirit of the dragon, is not according to God's will.” —Testimonies, vol. 2, p.100
Provoked Into Adultery
Then there was the case of a wife who provoked her husband into adultery, divorced him and as a result, he finished up remarried to another woman. His father then persisted that he should leave the second wife and return to his first .
Seeking for counsel in this situation, James White, Ellen's son, wrote to his mother. “Will Wales was married to Emma Miller a good many years ago. I presume you know what kind of a woman she was...She understood to manage him in everything he did…
“After enduring this kind of life with his wife of the some time, he became acquainted with this woman that he has since married, and they lived together in wrong relations for some time. At last his first wife secured a divorce from him and was married to another man. Will Wales then thought the only proper course there was for him was to marry the woman whose life he had ruined, and this he did. Now of course he is in a peculiar situation and the question is, can he better matters by repudiating the present wife with whom he is living?” — James Edson White to Ellen White, Oct. 30, 1901.
Ellen White's response to her son's letter was; “I have just read your letter concerning Will. I regard the matter in the same light that you do, and think it a cruel, wicked thing that the father of Will should take the course that he is taking, but I have not dared to answer his letters. If anything can come from me through you to him, I would say that his case cannot be improved by leaving the present wife. It would not better the case to go to the other woman in the question. . . .
I have not written to Will, but know that if the father would repent before God and do his first works, and cease to consider himself as one that can help his son, he would ask himself the question, ‘Is my name written there, on the page white and fair?’ He might well begin to humble himself before God, and leave Will with God.
“Let the father and brother make diligent work for themselves. They both need the converting power of God. May the Lord help these poor souls to remove spot and stain from their own characters, and repent of their wrongs, and leave Will with the Lord.
“I am so sorry for the man, for his course is in such a shape that it will not answer to be meddled with, for there are difficulties upon difficulties. I would say that the Lord understands the situation, and if Will will seek Him with all his heart, He will be found of him. If he will do his best, God will pardon and receive him.
“ Oh, how precious it is to know that we have One who does know and understand, and will help the ones who are most helpless. But the rebuke of God is upon the father and the brother who would drive to destruction and perdition one who stands in the sight of God under no worse condemnation than themselves, and yet they will so use their gifts of speech as to dishearten, discourage, and drive Will to despair.
“Will may hope in God and do the best he can to serve God in all humility of mind, casting his helpless soul upon the great Sin Bearer. I have not written a word to either father or son. I would gladly do something to help poor Will to make things right, but this cannot be done as matters are now situated, without someone's being wronged.
“I understand perfectly the situation between Will and his first wife . . . and I knew how the case would terminate, for Will cannot endure to be a slave, his identity lost in a wife who made herself his judge in conscience, in his duty, and in his work generally.” —Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, p.225-227
Caution On Treatment of Victims
There should also be caution if a church body decides that a marriage is without Biblical grounds, they must be careful how it is handled.
“I found that those who were so zealous to tear things down did nothing to build them up in right order. They had the faculty to confuse, distress, and create a most deplorable condition of things, but not the faculty to make them better. You have asked my counsel in regard to this case. I would say that unless those who are burdened in reference to the matter have carefully studied a better arrangement, and can find places for these where they can be comfortable, they better not carry out their ideas of a separation. I hope to learn that this matter is not pressed, and that sympathy will not be withdrawn from the two whose interests have been united. We should not move hastily in such matters, but look on every side of the question. We should move very cautiously and with pitying tenderness, because we do not know all the circumstances which led to this course of action. I advise that these unfortunate ones be left to God and their own consciences, and that the church shall not treat them as sinners until they have evidence that they are such in the sight of the holy God. He reads hearts as an open book. He will not judge as man judgeth.” —Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, p.218
What about those who find themselves with an unfaithful spouse, but choose not to leave the guilty one, even though they know of the sin? “… if the innocent have forfeited the legal right to a divorce, by living with the guilty after his guilt is known, we do not see that sin rests upon the innocent in remaining, and her moral right in departing seems questionable, if her health and life be not greatly endangered in so remaining.”
So while there does not seem to be absolutely definite clear answers to any found to be in these situations, discernment is required on our part to seek God in every case, and each case will need to be addressed on their own merits.
But regardless of toleration and compassion, it does not lessen the sin of adultery, it must still be rebuked. “Today there is need of the voice of stern rebuke; for grievous sins have separated the people from God. Infidelity is fast becoming fashionable… John the Baptist… provoked the anger of Herodias by telling Herod that it was unlawful for him to live with his brother's wife? The forerunner of Christ lost his life by his plain speaking. “Why could he not have moved along without incurring the displeasure of those who were living in sin? So men who should be standing as faithful guardians of God's law have argued, till policy has taken the place of faithfulness, and sin is allowed to go unreproved. When will the voice of faithful rebuke be heard once more in the church?” —Prophets and Kings, p.140,141
So as we read in these quotes that there is compassion for those who finish up in these circumstances, it does not mitigate the sin of adultery at all. It is still breaking God’s law and probable for punishment.
But to save a whole lot of tragedy when facing marriage difficulties, it would be wise to try to go back a generation. Parents, be your child’s best friend when it comes time for them to choose their lifetime partner. You, as their parents, have valuable experience to lean on as a courting couple and young newly-weds in your day. You have the pitfalls, the joys and the experience of your own marriage. This, in turn emphasises the need for young ones to listen to their God-fearing parents and not be driven by a short-sighted romance. Take the path of a long view vision of wedded life and careful observance of the intended marriage partner.
As mentioned at the beginning, we cannot do justice to this subject. But those facing such cases and needing to deal with them, just be aware of the following counsel. “To hate and reprove sin, and at the same time show pity and tenderness for the sinner, is a difficult attainment...There is need of showing Christlike patience and love for the erring, but there is also danger of showing to great toleration for his error that he will look upon himself as undeserving of reproof.” — Acts of the Apostles, p.503,504
To close, Elder W. C. White, son of Ellen White, wrote the following letter to workers who had inquired of Ellen White on marriage, divorce and remarriage: “Mother has received during the last twenty years many letters making inquiry regarding the matters about which you write, and she has many times written in reply that she had no advice to give different from that of the apostle Paul. Recently she has refused to deal with letters of this character, and tells us not to bring them to her attention.” — W. C. White, Letter Oct.6, 1911, to Elder W. W. Anglebarger, Denver, Colorado.
And what was Paul’s counsel? “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.” — Romans 7:1-3
“And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.” — I Corinthians 7:10,11
Based on: James Hayward Snr., The Time of the End, p.524-527