Is there a time limit on seeking a divorce?




My wife had an affair about a year ago. She said she wanted to stay married and we should work on our marriage. I signed us up for counseling; she went to one session and has not gone back. She also seems to be doing some of the same things she was doing before that. I expressed to her that these things made me uncomfortable. She said, "get over it." I understand that Jesus taught that you can get a divorce if a spouse is unfaithful. I need to know if there is a time limit on seeking a divorce. I think I am beginning to hate my wife. I need to leave before I do something I will regret. If we were to take time apart, I can't trust her to stay faithful or tell me the truth about it. I need to be rid of her and find someone who will at least try to love me.

Unlike our human laws, God's laws do not contain statutes of limitations. However, there is something deeper that you need to consider. I recall that you have written in the past and mentioned that shortly after the affair you had forgiven her and accepted her back. It appears that you suspect that she is continuing her past sins, but you are not certain. Hence, your desire for a divorce is due to not resolving the past adultery.

What I would like you to consider is whether forgiveness for a past sin can be withdrawn because that is truly the heart of your question.

Forgiveness is granting another person a favor. You are pardoning them of some wrong that they have committed against you, fully releasing them from any debt that they may owe you. We can see this in the forgiveness that God has offered us. "Indeed it was for my own peace that I had great bitterness; but You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back" (Isaiah 38:17). To place something behind your back is remove it from the forefront of your thoughts. It is no longer considered and when the person is view it is no longer the first thing of which you think. But God goes further than this. "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more" (Hebrews 8:12).

It is not that the one forgiven doesn't remember his past sins. Paul sometimes mentioned his past. "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (I Corinthians 15:9-10). But when we discuss God's forgiveness of our sins, we understand that God doesn't hold those past sins against us. Once those sins are forgiven, God doesn't constantly remind us of our sins.

Yet, while God desires to forgive our sins and freely offers forgiveness, it is not granted until conditions are met that God lays down. One of those conditions is repentance -- a turning away from the sin that damaged our relationship with God. "But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?" says the Lord GOD, "and not that he should turn from his ways and live?" (Ezekiel 18:21-23). Hence, God wants sinful man to leave his sins so that God may pardon him. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7).

Far too often when we seek to forgive another, we are in such a rush that we never stop to consider whether someone has actually turned from their sins. After one of the school shootings of recent years, I remember seeing a photo of people holding up signs saying that they had forgiven the shooter. There were several things wrong with the idea. First, these people were not among those who had been shot at or wounded. Other than the grief they felt at what the young man had done, none of them were injured by the young man. Yet they were offering him forgiveness.

Such would be like a man going around the neighborhood telling his neighbors that he is releasing them from their mortgage debt to the bank. He doesn't pay off the debt; he just tells them that the debt no longer exists. Such an action is ludicrous. He isn't owed the money, so he cannot wipe away the debt.

The only people that could offer forgiveness are those who are injured. The people shot at, the families whose loved ones were injured, and God who suffers from our sins are the ones who can forgive -- not unconnected third parties.

The second problem with the school shooting was that the man involved was not sorry for what he had done, let alone doing anything to turn away from his sinful deeds. Yet people were offering him forgiveness while he remained in his sins. Why should he change? He "got away" with a horrible and evil deed and people accepted him as he was.

Too often, when a spouse has broken the marriage vows, the faithful spouse is so desirous to have the marriage saved that they immediately offer forgiveness without any indication from their spouse that they have changed their ways. Using your case as an example, hindsight would indicate that it would have been better to have told your wife that after you had gone through counseling together and she desired to remain faithful, you would happily forgive her. By offering her forgiveness without a change, she had no motivation to change, and she has continued her past ways.

The reality is that by offering forgiveness before repentance, you have placed yourself in a difficult situation. If you divorce her for the adultery that you claimed you had forgiven her, then you are stating that you had lied. You had not forgiven her because you continue to hold it against her. If you divorce her now because of her misbehavior (but not renewed adultery) you are giving up your right to marry another. "Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife" (I Corinthians 7:10-11).

The only proper thing to do is to stand by your word and your vow. Continue to work to repair the breach that she has caused in your marriage, even though it might literally take a lifetime of effort. If in the future you discover that she has returned to her unfaithful ways, then you can consider whether divorce is called for at that time. In the meantime, don't give her an excuse to be unfaithful. If the marriage must end, you will want to walk away with a clear conscience. Part of this means that you are going to have to follow your word with action. You said you had forgiven her, but at the same time you are saying you can't trust her to remain faithful. You need to honor your word and give her your trust. Yes, she might abuse it, but then that is her sin, not yours. Yet without offering her trust, you will not be able to repair your damaged marriage because one of the foundations of love is trust.

See also:

Questions and Answers regarding Divorce and Remarriage
Questions and Answers regarding Forgiveness