Is Divorce Ever Okay? Part 1

This originally appeared on http://www.whillschurch.org as a weekly devo.

This is part 1 of a 2-part devo.

Our Art of Marriage series has been absolutely incredible. We are hearing some incredible stories as a result of it but any series on marriage is going to bring up one question:

Is divorce ever okay?

Very rarely is this question asked for theory’s sake. There is normally a very personal, very painful reason for the question. There is no easy button with this question but any answer must start with Jesus’ dialog with the Pharisees in Matthew 19:1-12 on the same exact subject.

It’s not very encouraging to realize that religious leaders have wrestled with this question for centuries. In Jesus’ day, there were two common position that the Jews held concerning divorce. The first one believed it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any offense – disagreement, disrespect, disobedience, burnt the toast. The other position believe that only for the reason of sexual immorality was it allowed. The Pharisees came to Jesus to get his position on the matter.

If you are asking about divorce, you’ve missed the point of marriage.
Jesus takes them back to Genesis 2:24. God’s intention from the beginning was that a man leave his mother and father, be united to his wife, and the two become one flesh. Forever. What God has put together, let no man tear apart. Ideally – even in the instance of sexual immorality – marriage is one man + one woman for life. The story of Hosea makes this crystal clear. God designed marriage to reflect His character and His character is to seek and love us even while we were still sinners.

The Concession of Divorce
This was obviously NOT the answer any of them expected. Even the disciples were a bit shocked by the answer (we’ll get to them in a minute). The Pharisees counter with the story of Moses issuing divorce certificates in Deuteronomy 24. The Pharisees claim that this story shows that God allows divorce and the real issue is figuring out the parameters of what is a ‘lawful’.

Jesus corrects their memory. He reminds them that divorce was already happening and the certificates were issued as a concession to protect the woman from the hard-hearts of the man. Women were being abandoned with no legitimate way to provide or protect themselves. With no proof of divorce, remarriage was dangerous and could get her accused of adultery and killed. The certificate of divorce allowed the women to remarry without fear of punishment from the ex-husband. Concessions like this in Jewish law were common and they sought to protect victims from further abuse or harm, to mitigate the damage of a sin. Laws concerning the treatment of slaves or accidental deaths are other examples of this.

The concession on issuing the certificate of divorce didn’t justify divorce as option anymore than the slavery laws justified slavery. It was allowed and provided for the protection of the woman.

Then Jesus dropped these words – “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

There are two ways to understand Jesus’ words here. The most common understanding is that the only legitimate reason for divorce is adultery. While I think this is acceptable, I’m not convinced this is exactly what Jesus meant nor am I convinced this is how those around Jesus understood it.

I think Jesus was reframing the morality of marriage – much like he did in the Sermon on the Mount. I think Jesus was saying – remove the clause – if anyone divorces and remarries, he has also committed adultery. The clause just says the obvious – a marriage that has experienced adultery is already shattered and already experienced adultery.

I think everyone left there, including the disciples, just completely dumbfounded at what they had heard. Neither side was “right” in their understanding of marriage or divorce. Marriage was lifted to a whole other stratosphere with this teaching.

There is even a hint of despair in the disciples response to Jesus’ words:

“If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

Jesus response of “Not everyone can accept these words but those who have ears to hear, let them hear” seems to support this same understanding – DIVORCE is never on God’s agenda.

So does this mean there are NO concessions today? If a woman or man is in an abusive, or adulterous relationship they are just stuck there forever?

Next week, we will look at some more scriptures to round out our answer to this question.

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