Volume 34 Number 12

Thinking about Divorce?

If you’ve gone through a traumatizing divorce, you’re not alone. No, I’m not thinking about all the other divorced couples out there. I’m talking about God himself who reluctantly divorced his bride, Israel. It’s not the same, certainly, but if God used the language of divorce who are we to say otherwise? Sometimes it must come to that, if for no other reason, ironically, than to bolster the sanctity of the marriage bond.

And that is what marriage is: a bond. Not a contract, but a sacred bond. Were it otherwise, divorce would not be the emotionally-charged nightmare it is. It’s not difficult to understand the trauma. If in marriage the “two become one,” divorce rips apart that mystical union leaving both parties less than whole. Yet if divorce is so devastating, why does God allow it under any circumstances?

A clue is found in the single cause God recognizes as a legitimate ground for divorce and remarriage: sexual unfaithfulness. (Note carefully the qualifier: and remarriage. Although a woman is not required to stick around and suffer abuse, remarrying is a separate matter.) The rabbis who approached Jesus about divorce were divided over the grounds for divorce. Some thought a man could divorce his wife for any reason and marry whomever he fancied. But Jesus surprised them, employing a term they could all agree on. Knowing that not a single rabbi would condone adultery, Jesus told them that–absent an act of spousal unfaithfulness–divorcing and remarrying was the same as committing adultery! No mere piece of paper could clean up the obvious.

So does an act of sexual unfaithfulness give one a license for divorce? Not exactly a “license.” A spouse eager for a legitimate divorce virtually nullifies the grounds for divorce by having the wrong motives. Indeed, God takes serious interest in what the “innocent spouse” might have contributed to the conduct of the “offending spouse.” In spiritual terms, rarely is there such a thing as “no-fault” divorce. Even as a perfect husband, God did not put away his bride at the first instance of unfaithfulness. Repeatedly, he pleaded for her return and welcomed her back into his embrace. Only when Israel persisted in her adultery with pagan idols did God finally send her away…only to restore her yet again!

If you’ve not gone through a divorce but are thinking about it, no one has to tell you what a serious step it is. When Jesus’ own disciples questioned the strictness of Jesus’ teaching about divorce (protesting it would be better never to marry!), Jesus brought home the seriousness of a divorce where the bond has not been broken by unfaithfulness. Using the analogy of eunuchs, Jesus said that while some are born eunuchs and others are made that way by force, spouses without a divinely-recognized basis for remarriage must courageously commit themselves to living thereafter as sexually-pure, unmarried eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom. Is that a commitment you can make…and keep?

By F. LaGard Smith via Church of Christ, Kirksville, MO

End of this issue.