Matthew 19:4-5, “[Jesus] said, ‘Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh?'”
Today , as I write, I am going to try to proceed with sensitivity and humility, especially as I have dear family and friends who have suffered through the torturous pain of divorce. My heart is grieved because of the brutality that has been committed against the innocent in divorce, even by well intentioned people of the Church. And for the record, a lot of evil has been committed in the name of religion, especially when it comes to this topic. But, as I study this passage, I do notice a couple principles that are encouraging.
First, as God is extending His hand before man, pointing them down the path that leads to fullness and life, we will find that marriage between one man and one woman is a landmark that God wants us all to enjoy. As we study Jesus who is addressing the Pharisees cornering Him in a debate about divorce, what I hope we can see is that God is greatly concerned about the innocent and weak.
Jesus points back to God’s intentions for marriage. He says “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife…” For what reason? To find the answer we must go back to Jesus’ reference in Genesis 2 where God created Eve for Adam.
Back in the Garden….
One of the first responsibilities God gave to Adam was to cultivate the land. He was to take responsibility for God’s creation and he had the unique privilege of naming all the animals. As God was bringing the animals to Adam for them to be named, Adam discovered his need: there was not a suitable helper for him (Gen 2:20). That is, there was nothing that corresponded to him, no companion or anything that related to Adam.
God’s response to this problem was, “It is not good for the man to be alone. (Gen 2:18)” God said that he would make Adam a companion who corresponds to him. Man was created to do God’s work in relationship with another. From the beginning, marriage was created to serve each member in marriage. Each person in the relationship had a distinctive purpose. Not only that, but marriage was an institute created as a natural means of physical, spiritual, and emotional provision for the man and woman.
In the Ancient Near East, and at the time of Jesus, it was often detrimental for the woman to be divorced. Women who were divorced could not necessarily just get up and get a job to put food on their table. Their provision was solely dependent on their husband if they were married- or on their father if they were not married. For the woman who was divorced, she could not certainly count on her family to take her back into the household because assumptions made by the community about the divorce could bring shame on the family. So she would often be left destitute. It was not a good thing for divorce to occur.
Fast forward to Jesus…
So Jesus says, “What God has brought together, let no man separate.” Woman is God’s provision for man as a wonderful gracious gift to help him accomplish his tasks that have been given by God, and man is made to live with the help of woman. Two are better than one. Of course, in the intended circumstance, it would not be good to separate.
Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away? (Matt. 19:7) The Pharisees were asking why Moses allowed for divorce. The certificate of divorce was given to the innocent dismissed wife of a licentious husband. It was a certificate to document the divorce that was given to the woman so that she would be free to marry again. That way, if she chose to marry again, the original husband could not claim that he never divorced her and accuse her of adultery. Divorce was allowed as a way to protect and provide for the innocent who suffered on account of the hardness of heart of an unfaithful spouse.
The husband who divorced the woman did not necessarily dismiss her because of his own immorality. He could have done it for financial reasons or other motivations. In this situation with the Pharisees, I think that what Jesus was getting at is that we are to pursue Oneness in marriage.
When Jesus provides the exception for allowing divorce (immorality) he stresses that if a man divorces and marries another woman, he commits adultery. In this situation, it seems that Jesus was speaking against an individual who becomes infatuated with a person other than his spouse, or an opportunity for personal gain, and pursues another. The principle: lust and greed for another person or opportunity are not acceptable grounds for the violating member of marriage to divorce the other. We are to pursue reconciliation and oneness in marriage and to keep our vows before God and the community that we would love, protect and care for the one we married.
So looking at everything in context, I can see that we can draw a few humble conclusions or observations.
1. We are all the “innocent and week” in some sense. Because of God’s concern for us, he created marriage as a vehicle to accomplishing the tasks he has given us. Marriage was an institute created as a natural means of physical, spiritual, and emotional provision for the man and woman.
2. Divorce is not good. Even in today’s culture, divorce has shown to have detrimental effects on all members of a family. God does not want us to divorce per say, but neither does he want us to live together “undivorced” because of a contract. The goal is oneness. God wants us to pursue oneness with each other and fight for reconciliation against a hardening of heart that leads to divorce.
3. We must be careful to guard our hearts. Proverbs says that it is the “wellspring” of life. A hardened heart allows for lust and greed. This is essential because Jesus does not prescribe divorce, rather he prescribes faithfulness to God and the spouse. When we make vows, we are expected to fulfill them- especially when our vow is to love and care for another! Marriage is the most direct means of extending God’s love, justice and mercy. A hardened heart equates to a drift towards unfaithfulness.
While this text doesn’t necessarily speak to these principles, here are a couple others that Scripture does support.
4. We must be careful how we treat and perceive those who are going through a divorce or who have been divorced. Ultimately, especially for the Community of Christ, our responsibility is to simply love others and to be there for them. We do not ever know the big picture or a full picture of anyone’s marriage except the 1/2 of our own marriage- if we are even married. But if we know someone who is openly at fault causing a divorce, then we should do what we can to keep them accountable to their vow. If we know someone who is suffering on account of another’s hardness of heart– unfaithfulness- then we should love them and support them during the decisions they make through such difficult trials.
5. A lifestyle of habitual authenticity in community is vital to a healthy marriage. We need to be open about our struggles- the hurts, habits and hangups. The counsel of others can help us effectively deal with these problems that will plague any marriage. The problem is that such authenticity is rare to find and difficult to achieve and maintain. But the difference is like that of dealing with a scrape before it gets infected. An infection that goes too long without treatment will eventually cause the flesh to die. In such a case, amputation is inevitable.
Marriage will help us to see our scrapes. We need to show them to others who can help us treat them with the Biblical “ointment”- truth and love. Authenticity keeps us from hiding our wounds until they are infected. When our hurts, habits and hangups rule in our marriage, the marriage begins to stink like an infection before others. People notice. Left untreated, divorce is inevitable. So if you are struggling in marriage, tell someone before your infection gets worse!