Traditionally, we have been told that about 50% of marriages end in divorce. This statistic may not be entirely accurate but according to research by George Barna, Christians divorce at about the same rate as non-Christians. In other words, there is a good chance that about half of you that read this post are going to be mad at me. That’s why I’m glad this is a blog and not a church—I can’t be voted out. The very worst that’ll happen is that I’ll get a bunch of snarky comments. I think I can take that.
First of all, we should observe that the regulations related to divorce had been taught incorrectly to the people. As Matthew notes, Jesus said in verse 31 “It was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce '” This was the common perception regarding divorce among some Jewish teachers. All you had to do was put your John Hancock on a piece of paper and voila, instant freedom. While Deuteronomy 24:1 does mention a document it also mentions something else that the Pharisees conveniently left out.
The concept of a no-fault divorce is alien to the Bible. In fact, according to scripture there are only two situations where God gives His divine blessing for a divorce. I Corinthians 7:15 mentions a Christian being married to an unbeliever who no longer wants to be married to the Christian. In such a case, the believer is free if the unbeliever divorces him or her. Jesus mentions the second reason in verse 32 when He says “everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity” not only sins but causes their former spouse to sin. This is consistent with the teaching found in Deuteronomy 24:1-2 where divorce was permitted in the case where a husband discovered his wife was guilty of some sexual sin. The word used here for “unchastity” is the Greek word “porneia” (4202). Originally, this word referred to having relations with a prostitute but it came to mean any sort of sexual immorality. In other words, the divorce if it occurred on these grounds would happen for pretty serious reasons. Such was not the case in the culture Jesus lived in while on earth. In fact, there was a school of thought that a man could divorce his wife for trivial, subjective reasons as overcooking his supper or being difficult to get along with. In other words, once again, the religious leaders had taken something that the Bible taught and watered it down so that it was more palatable to them with none of that wangy aftertaste.
Marriage is serious business and should not be entered into lightly or without an intense reflection as to the commitment you’re making. That commitment is supposed to be for a lifetime and Jesus says here that to break that commitment brings serious consequences. Matthew records that Jesus said a man who divorced his wife for something other than sexual immorality “makes her commit adultery”. The sin of an unbiblical divorce leads to other sin. Since the marriage is dissolved according to the law but not according to God any marriage resulting afterwards is considered by God to be adultery. In God’s eyes, the two people are still married and cannot take another spouse.
Now, the question we are left with is “What now?” I have a good friend from college who was like an older brother to me who told me he was going to divorce his wife a few years ago. His reasons were not in line with reasons the Bible gives for divorce. Basically, he didn’t feel like his wife was pulling her weight to help him out around the house. He did divorce his wife and has since remarried. His grandmother is very unkind to his new wife and the child that they have since had because in her mind they are living in sin. Since marrying his new wife, my friend and his family have started going to church and he says that he is saved. He is very frustrated by how his grandmother acts regarding his new marriage. When I talked to him about it, I told him the questions of whether he should have left his first wife and should have married this woman now were pretty academic—it’s done. He can’t get a divorce and go back to his first wife. If a person repents of the sin of an unbiblical divorce and commits to remain faithful in their current marriage, in the end that is all they can do.
Further, while the Bible does not say physical abuse is grounds for divorce as far as I can tell from my study, it seems quite obvious that God has given human beings an instinct for self preservation. If a man or woman is in a situation where they or their children are in danger and they feel like they have to leave they should by all mean “get out of Dodge”. I was home by myself one afternoon and I heard a panicked knock on my door. A frightened woman begged me to help her get her car loaded so she could run from her abusive husband. He was on his way home and she needed my help to run. I didn’t spend time discussing the theology of her position. I went to her apartment, helped her gather her things, and loaded the car so that she and her child could run. I have read that a fairly prominent denominational bigwig advised a woman who told him she was being abused to go home and pray for her husband. She got beat up that night. Only a moron would suggest such a foolish course of action. If you are being beaten, get yourself some help and get to safety. While I would never advocate divorce in those situations because I can’t find anything that suggests that the Bible considers that acceptable I would certainly understand why someone would get a divorce and perhaps remarry. In the end, we must recognize that God can and does work in situations that are less than ideal and that nothing catches Him by surprise.
Staying committed to a marriage for a lifetime takes supernatural stamina. You cannot do it on your own. It is only through the indwelling power of God’s Holy Spirit that you can love as He loves, forgive as He forgives, and remain faithful as He is faithful. Marriage is serious to God and therefore should be serious to us as well.