This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
Last night, we continued our summer Q&A series “You Asked For It” by taking a look at an issue that hits very close to home for many people. The question asked was “What Does the Bible say about divorce and remarriage?” Certainly, there are none of us who are completely untouched by the pain of a divorce. This makes the issue a difficult one to discuss, as emotions can often run very deep. However, my interest last night wasn’t in commenting on divorce as it pertains to the parents or family members of my students, but in ensuring that they understand what God intends marriage to be so that they may have strong, God-glorifying marriages themselves one day.
To understand the Bible’s teaching on divorce, we looked at Matthew 19:1-12, where Jesus tackles the topic head-on. The Pharisees approach him with a question, once again intending to trap him into a no-win situation so that he loses stock in the eyes of the massive crowds that followed him around. They bring up the question, “Is it okay for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” Since the Old Testament law made provisions for divorce (though not for “any cause” and certainly not commending it), if Jesus says no then it appears he is rejecting the Law of Moses. If he says yes, then his moral authority takes a big hit. However, Jesus approaches their question from a different angle, pointing out that they’re beginning in the wrong place entirely. Jesus points out that to ask questions about the permissibility of divorce is to miss the point of marriage entirely. In essence, he tells us not to plan for failure. Jesus takes them farther back, to Genesis 2:24, to discover God’s plan and purpose in marriage, which is for a man and a woman to become one in an inseparable union, forsaking all others. In marriage, God joins two people together on a level that we can’t fully understand, and so Jesus says that we have no business undoing what God has done. If we go into marriage looking for an exit strategy in case things go south, then we show that we don’t fully understand what marriage is to begin with. Marriage is an incredibly difficult commitment, and if you’re planning in any small way to fail, you probably will.
At this point, the Pharisees think they have Jesus cornered. Since he’s saying that divorce is not an option, they seize on the moment and point out the fact that Moses permits divorce in Deuteronomy 24. They fire this comment at Jesus with a bit of a “what then?!?” flair. However, Jesus here points out that we shouldn’t confuse “could” with “should.” Christ says that because of human sinfulness, divorce was accommodated. However, it is never commanded and it is never a positive. Christ says that divorce is a betrayal of what God intends marriage to be. He comes down strongly, saying that divorce and remarriage is adultery, allowing only one provision for cases of “sexual immorality.” Now, the common interpretation is that Jesus is allowing an out in cases of adultery. While this interpretation is common, I’m not entirely convinced by it. You see, there’s a perfectly good word in the Greek language for adultery, and Jesus doesn’t use it here – he uses a more vague term. Some believe (and I think a rather good case can be made) that he is here referring to immorality during the betrothal period - a time like modern-day engagements but much more substantial, to the point that a divorce was required to dissolve the betrothal. This is what I believe the text is saying here, but I’ll admit that I’m not 100% certain. At any rate, even if divorce is permissible in cases of adultery, that doesn’t mean it’s commendable. After all, we – as the bride of Christ – are unfaithful to him time and time again, and he never “divorces” us spiritually speaking. He always forgives and promises to never leave us or forsake us. My question is, as Christians, why would we think we are called to anything less in our marriages or any other part of our lives? If I’m truly committed to my wife, I shouldn’t be looking for unfaithfulness great or small as an opportunity to abandon my commitment.
Realizing the high calling he’s just issued, Jesus further pleads with us not to take marriage lightly. The disciples’ reaction to his teaching is to say that a person is better off not getting married at all! Notice that Jesus doesn’t attempt to take the edge off their sentiment in any way, but he affirms that this is a calling that not all will be able to handle. Marriage is not something we should ever enter into on a whim, but knowing that it is a matter of the greatest joy – and also the greatest responsibility. I hope and pray that God would make me a better husband to my wife and strengthen my love for and commitment to her, and I pray the same for you if you are married. If you’re divorced, know that God is a God of grace, and no sin is too great to be covered by the cross of Christ. And if you’re unmarried, may you take with great gravity the teaching of Christ about the seriousness of marriage vows – for only when we see the gravity and significance of marriage will we truly be ready to experience its deep joys and the profound mystery that points us to Christ.