Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Is It Lawful for a Man to Divorce His Wife?

John the Baptist had been killed because he came down on the wrong side of a marriage issue, at least as Herod and Herodias saw it. The Pharisees who approached Jesus with the question, "It is lawful for a man to divorce his wife," were testing Jesus, probably hoping that when his answer became known, Herod would have the head of Jesus on a platter, too.

Jesus was direct. He spoke with authority. He answered with scripture and he cleared up the question. He reminded them of God's plan that predated Moses' permission. The plan was that a man would leave his father and mother, be united with his wife, they would be one flesh, and never be separated (Genesis 2:24). Because humans had hard hearts leading to unprotected divorced women, God demanded through the word of Moses that when divorce occurred, a protective order was to be given to the wife. It was a divorce certificate. Still due to the hardness of hearts, men began to use the certificate of divorce as a permission slip for adultery. They knew they couldn't just go have sex with another woman, so they divorced their wives, felt justified because of the divorce certificate, and married the current attraction. The protective order was never intended to be an adultery pass, but that's the way they used it. Jesus taught the testers what God intended from the beginning. "What God has joined let no man separate."

We need to go back to the beginning, too. Sometimes with all the discussion about who can remarry when there has been a divorce, what should the church do when a couple has divorced, and what roles can divorced people fill in church life, we miss Jesus' main point; a point which is not about remarriage. His main point is that God has made two people one flesh. They are joined by Him, and mankind must not separate what God has joined.

Here are three major ways that we have missed the focus of Jesus:

First, we've ignored divorce altogether. People get divorced in our communities and churches and we wear blinders so that we can keep thinking happy thoughts and don't have to address it. Perhaps divorce is so common, it doesn't register when people who aren't in our immediate family are going through it. Maybe the pain of divorce is so real to us, we can't talk about it ourselves or we don't want to inflict pain on those going through divorce so we don't say a word. Anyway, at the end of the day, it looks like we ignore divorce.

Second, we get focused on whether someone is going to remarry. A couple can have trouble for months and few if any offer them help to stay together. Then they say they are going to divorce and everybody wants to know, "Is it scriptural?" What we mean is, "If you are going to remarry, your divorce has to be because of fornication, or you'll be committing adultery." God's first concern is to keep the marriage together, and that must become our first concern, too. Church, get involved earlier!

Third, we've offered long-term divorce care in churches, but not divorce protection. We love Divorce Care. We believe it ought to be part of your comprehensive marriage ministry. For many churches, however, it is the marriage ministry. We must help divorced people heal. We must also help married people heal so that they don't divorce!

We can't let any of these things keep us from speaking the truth about divorce in love. Surely there is a way to communicate the message of Jesus about divorce complete with his call to sticktuitiveness, and his compassion and forgiveness for those who have stumbled in this way (James 3:2).


To the divorced: There is a message from God for you and it is a message of healing and hope.

To the married: Remember God's will. He made you one and he wants you to remain "one flesh." What God has joined, let no man separate.