In the previous blog on this subject, I objected to our unchristian habit of stigmatizing divorce more than other kinds of behaviour. This is especially hypocritical when we restrict divorced people from serving in the church when they have demonstrated by their life the transformation redemption brings.
Why is this hypocritical? Simply because every single Christian is a sinner by action and intent. Whether a person is the guilty party in a divorce or not, he or she is the object of God’s love and a candidate for transforming forgiveness.
Does my outrage at this hypocrisy mean I do not value marriage as instituted by God? By no means.
The marital standard of Jesus Christ is commitment of a man and a woman to a lifelong covenant of love with each other. Having made that clear, I must add that the subject is complex.
During his final journey to Jerusalem, the Pharisees sought to trap Jesus on this very subject. They said, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” Jewish interpreters held two opposing views; Shamei held that divorce was only possible if adultery had taken place while Hillel and his followers felt that even serving slightly burned food could be grounds for divorce. What would Jesus say?
Jesus rebuked them for their emphasis on divorce instead of marriage. “A man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (See Matthew 19:1-12). Marriage is a divine gift that is meant to be indissoluble.
The Pharisees pounced on His response. “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate and divorce her?”
Why? Jesus explained that it was because of their hard hearts. He went on to clarify God’s standard; “Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
The disciples were aghast at this high standard. They should have been prepared. In the Sermon on the Mount He had already raised the bar, for example, from a prohibition to murder to condemning anger. But they responded, then, “It is better not to marry.” In today’s context they might have said; “But what if two become incompatible? What if two stop loving each other? What if the husband or wife is abusive?
In seeking to understand the Christian approach to marriage and divorce we need to address four questions. This blog cannot do more than touch these areas.
1. Why is maintaining a high standard of marriage important?
2. What can be done to decrease the incidence of divorce?
3. Under what conditions may Christian divorce occur?
4. How should divorced believers be treated?
First, maintaining a high standard is not designed by God to make life hard on married couples. Nor it designed to keep people from all the supposed fun of sleeping around. The LORD cries out to Moses, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it
might go well with them and their children forever.…Walk in all the ways that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land you will possess” (Deut. 5:29,33). Abstinence from sex before marriage and faithful love in marriage leads to greater enjoyment in marriage.
The moral laws of God, including those concerning marriage, were given to promote blessing, prosperity, harmony in society and general happiness. As I’ve already quoted in the previous blog, “Divorce breeds poverty, particularly for women and children. With fewer economic resources, most children of divorce experience disruptions—changes in child care, living arrangements and schools—that create turmoil in their lives. Long-term effects of poverty from divorce are most obvious in girls.” (https://info.legalzoom.com/effects-divorce-society-20105.html) Divorce injects an enormous array of problems not only into the lives of the husband and wife and their children but into society. Society’s stability and harmony itself is affected.
No-fault divorce, which currently results in the break-up of almost 50% of marriages harms society. By contrast, stable marriages promote a healthy and stable society.
Secondly, the incidence of divorce and marital unhappiness can be reduced by teaching young people the joy of maintaining godly standards, by careful pre-marital counseling, and by the counseling of those in troubled marriages. In choosing a partner, wisdom beyond a passionate sense of romantic attraction is vital. Proverbs is right, “in the multitude of [godly] counselors is safety.” Couples need to realize that consciences polluted by affairs hinder the enjoyment of marital intimacy.
Churches need to have a support-structure in place. While we can do little to change society, we can ensure that those in our churches commit themselves to wholesome marriages. Churches can also work toward the restoration of damaged marriages. After all, redemption and healing are the hallmarks of a genuine church.
Thirdly, Jesus said, “Not all men can accept this statement” [about indissoluble marriage]. (See Matthew 19:6-12). In the text He points out that some have been created for singleness. In the case of the adultery of one party of a marriage, divorce and remarriage is permissible for the innocent partner. Paul also explains, “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): a wife must not separate from her husband but if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband…But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances” (1 Cor. 7:10,11,15).
In most cases of tension or separation in marriage, reconciliation should be sought. However, Christians have grounds for divorce in the case of adultery or abandonment by one spouse.
When abuse occurs in marriage the victim has a right to seek divorce. Why? Among the moral commands of God, the threat of murder or harm trumps the threat of marital breakup. Civil authority has a responsibility to protect its citizens. Abused spouses cannot be protected if they are not urged to separate from their abuser.
Fourthly, Christians who are divorced should be treated like any other sinner being sanctified. Divorce is not the unpardonable sin. That Jesus deals compassionately with our failures and offers to forgive us is seen in His tender treatment of the woman caught in adultery. In our churches we must not vilify the forgiven divorced any more than we do the forgiven thief, liar or cheat. All of us are sinners taking the cure through the application of the blood of Christ who bore our sins on the cross.
(Let me know your thoughts on this subject. Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright –– )