Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Divorce is Sin?

It was said,
‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’;
But I say to you that:
Everyone who divorces his wife (except for the reason of unchastity) makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  
Matthew 5.31-32  

Now we come to the third of six teachings of Jesus in this section of the SOM. 

Divorce is a hotly debated issue among some Christians.  As we study this section, let’s keep it in our context as we have been doing, and see if we can understand what Jesus wanted his disciples to understand. 

First, remember what we've been saying about this section of the SOM – Jesus is interpreting the Torah as a Rabbi … what he is NOT doing is simply making stronger rules!  Most people who study divorce pull out verses from here-and-there that have to do with divorce, so they miss the context of this teaching.  They turn this into an absolute statement that unless you can catch your spouse actually having sex with another, you must stay married, no matter what.  Do you see what just happened?  They turned this teaching back into another “rule” or “law,” even more strict than the one given by Moses.  Unfortunately many people have suffered needlessly because they've been told this is the whole truth. 

In actual practice, most people – even devout Christian leaders and teachers admit that this cannot be the final word on the subject.  For instance, I don’t know a single minister who say that a woman must endure abuse.  But then that’s where the debate gets interesting.  Some will want a definition of ‘abuse,’ and exclude emotional, sexual or spiritual abuse.  And around and around it goes.  And this isn't new!  Even the religious people in Jesus’ day bickered about this, and it’s the very teaching they brought to Jesus just to trap him!  (Matthew 19.3)  So the teachings we have on this from Jesus are really just a response to religious people who are trying to mess with him. 

Later in Matthew Jesus is teaching on marriage and divorce and the apostles respond that this is too strict of a teaching.  So strong, in fact, that one might as well not marry.  Jesus responds this way:
“Not all men are able to accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.”  Matthew 19:11
Not only does Jesus admit that there are certain occasions and/or people who cannot live with it, in some cases, divorce is actually an act of obedience to God. 

When the Israelites returned from exile, they had taken non-Jewish wives and started families.  Ezra calls the people to repent and to divorce their wives.  Can you imagine that God would actually approve of a man leaving his whole family, just because his wife isn't Jewish? 
Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful and have married foreign wives adding to the guilt of Israel.  Now therefore, make confession to Yahweh, God of your fathers, and do His will; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”  Ezra 10:10-11
And yes, even in the New Testament Jesus makes this statement:
“Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.”  Luke 18:29-30
As with the other teachings in this section of the SOM, Jesus is not laying down a stricter law, rather he is trying to teach about God’s intentions.  And as with the other parts, the problem here is really with our hearts.  People with divided hearts need rules.  People whose love is truly focused on the kingdom need directions, not rules. 

Look again at that last bit from Luke above, and you’ll see that the reason for leaving one’s wife is given: “For the sake of the kingdom.”  Jesus isn't saying we can leave our spouse just because we don’t like them or they us … but he is acknowledging that (Like in Ezra’s case) there are times when staying married isn't helpful to one’s walk with God. 

For example … I know a couple of cases where a woman is submitting to a man in marriage “for the sake of the kids” she won’t get divorced, even though her husband is keeping her from the Lord’s work or making it difficult.  The children will not only grow up in a home without proper love, but they will be influenced away from “seeking first the kingdom.”   The dad has issues, and the mom’s response is to stay married “for the kids,” not the kingdom.  What if she trusted God enough to leave the man and show her children what it looks like to live fully committed to God and His Kingdom? 

Ask anyone who has grown up in a “Christian” but unloving home … there’s little peace, and no discipleship.  This teaching breaks my heart, because for most of my life I've believed (and taught) that people had to stay married, no matter what – it’s the law!  But as I get older, I know several lives of men and women who stayed married when perhaps they should have followed Ezra’s advice – and they have lost years of their lives to suffering and enduring bad relationships. 

Worse yet, some children who have grown up in bad situations, and now they live with scars that will never heal.  In one case I know the mother stayed married way after she knew it was bad … but everyone told her she had to stay.  Her girls now live with lots of pain that’s not their fault.  Their husbands and children will one day inherit the mess that might have been flushed.  

Let me be clear: I am not encouraging divorce.  Divorce is wrong, and that’s Jesus’ point.  You must not divorce merely because you’re unhappy, or don’t feel connected, or other selfish reasons.
      But: the bible shows there are occasions where it is right; just as there are occasions when it’s right to take someone’s life (in war, or as a civil punishment, or to protect one’s family), or to do other things that are generally accepted truths. Just as we must obey the government, or our parents ... so also when those insist that we do something contrary to God, we must obey God.  

God made women to be helpers, partners and lovers to men because it’s not good for most men to be alone (Genesis 2.18).  When people work together as they should, it is a great gift from God.  When a man marries someone like Jezebel, even if she doesn't technically “cheat,” it will end in the man’s destruction, and often also his children.  Similarly, if Abigail had not been disobedient to Nabal, it would have led to the destruction of their family and perhaps also David (1 Samuel 25).

Marriage is like any relationship understood by disciples – it’s either good for the Kingdom or it’s not.  God will judge your heart … not merely hold you accountable to the rules.  So don’t enter marriage lightly – and don’t leave it lightly, either.  Whatever you do, whether it’s to eat or drink or pray or worship or marry or divorce … seek first the kingdom and God’s righteousness, and the rest of it will be taken care of by God.  Trust that – even more than “the rules.”  Love your spouse and stay close until he/she is “unfaithful.” 

No comments:

Post a Comment