I wrote as a pastor for two reasons. One, I believed that I had a unique perspective on the scriptures that I was "called" to share with the world. So it was sort of a requirement for me. Two, had to do with what I believed about Jesus. Jesus spoke up when it was important. So, that is what I am doing here.
Notice I did not say I am opening up my blog for debate on this matter. I am well aware that there are plenty of folks out there with differing views on the subject of divorce. In fact in the Christian world, there are as many views on the subject as there are denominations (which last I checked was around 41K)
I will start by saying that if we are going to review what a Christian believes or should believe about a subject it is important to ask the bigger question of "What does Jesus think about the subject." It doesn't matter to me what this church believes or that church or this denomination or that, but what does the tongue of God have to say on the subject, the very embodiment of God in the flesh according to our faith.
I believe that in the context of the Christian story, that Jesus came to earth to be the spokesperson of God to a generation of people that were completely missing the point thus far. God had tried using prophets and seers and Kings and weirdos from the wilderness to deliver his message, but to no real avail. I mean the scriptures are full of the stories in the OT, read them.
If after reading the story of Abraham, Noah, Elijah, or Moses you feel like you drank way too much wine and just want to go to bed, well then you might agree with me and God that, this approach simply was not working.
So here comes god as a baby, and then tadah he's a grown up with a lot of grown up words for the established religion of the day. Notice that Jesus does not spend any time criticizing the world at large, the Romans who had held his people captive and ruled them mercilessly, the Samaritans whom the Jews despised or any other nations or peoples. His major gripe was with the Jews and the religious leaders among them.
It is their laws, their edicts, their doctrines that he rails against in the Sermon on the Mount. Many people read these words as nice little phrases that are fun to remember and recite, but living by them seemed more a task of angels than men. I mean "Turn the other cheek" and "Walk a mile" and "Give up your coat", and "Don't sue?"
Really Jesus? I mean really?
But many don’t know that Jesus actually addresses divorce in a powerful and stunning way in the sermon. He literally goes on attack for and about divorce. He often gets quoted out of context from the sermon and people take his words and twist them to say that "Jesus says its only ok to get a divorce if your spouse cheats on you." But, if you examine the context of the sermon along with the words spoken around the subject you will begin to see that Jesus was really an advocate for a good divorce.
Turn your wife into a Prostitute?
I know. Believe it or not there is such a thing. Even Jesus would agree. In order to get my meaning here you will have to understand first of all that marriage was a construct of human people at a time prior to Jesus arriving. Back then it was used more like a contract regarding the ownership of the man over the wife. She in a sense becomes his property through the contract. Now I know this sounds crude and you're probably thinking "who would sign up for that?" I mean what woman in her right mind wanted to become property to a man? Well, as the saying goes, "it's just what you did back then." There were benefits too. As the mans property you were entitled to take on his name and management of everything he owned and you garnered a certain amount of respect based on who you were marrying. Still doesn't sound exactly like a win-win to me.
Unfortunately the opposite was true for any woman divorced by a man back then. As a divorced woman you lost everything and you were not allowed to own property. You lived in a sort of shame that was carried on by the people around you -- friends and family members. You were considered to be damaged goods and the only way you could raise any money was by completely illegitimate means.
So in order to survive a divorce, a woman would have to either marry another man in a degraded relationship, work for her family as a sort of maid, or sell her body for money. In a sense, when a man divorced a woman back then he gave her very little options but to become a prostitute and to commit adultery.
"Society simply would not then, as ours does today, support a divorced woman to any degree or allow her to support herself in a decent fashion." Dallas Willard, The Divine ConspiracyJesus the first women's rights activist?
Every body knew this and the religious folks of the day protected the men in their society and liked very much that the men made out while the women suffered here. The only rule they had in place is that when a man divorced his wife, he had to give her a piece of paper saying they were divorced -- a legal document -- a right of passage for most of the men back then who were tired of looking at their current wife, who wanted sleep with other women openly or who simply did not like the way their wife looked after having ten of their children.
Jesus, being the activist and lover of all people, and advocate for women did not like this. He saw that women were not being treated fairly. Let's just say this, God saw this. God in his glory looked down on man and despised they way men treated one another in the name of… him. So he came here as a man and said this:
"31 "It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." - Matthew 5:31-32 ESVJesus is not making this stuff up. He is merely stating a fact that this is what men have been doing to women the whole time and it was wrong to divorce a woman because you grew tired of the way she looked. He is saying that unless there is "Sexual immorality", that the divorce forces women into a sort of adultery.
Why Sexual Immorality?
Remember marriage is man's construct blessed by God. It is what men chose to do. Jesus is saying that if you choose to marry, then you have to play by the rules. You cant just dump your wife in the street when you grow tired of her and want something new.
So why sexual immorality and not some other reason? I mean assault and battery is a pretty good reason, and so is accidentally marrying a criminal or a glutton or a person that is morally bankrupt. I mean isn't all sin…. SIN?
Well if we read our bibles right it is! ;) Was God somehow obsessed with sexual sin? Is sexual sin worse than the other stuff? Any victim of a sex crime would shout "Yes" right about now, but in religious terms all sin is sin according to God.
This is where it really pays to read the scriptures in context. The entire time that Jesus is speaking here he is drawing this picture of how God wants us to love one another and not harden our hearts towards each other. If we read the sermon carefully we can easily draw from the previous words that sexual immorality is one of the few crimes in a marriage that will cause a person to harden their heart to another growing angry and contemptuous with each passing moment.
There is a sort of death that occurs to a human being when one hardens their heart to them especially within the bonds of marriage. We have already read earlier in the sermon that to merely be angry at someone is the same as murder in god's eyes (Matt 5:22) . Imagine what hardening one's heart can do to them. It is a never ending state of constantly murdering the other over and over again in one's mind. This happens to people when they are cheated on. Jesus is saying that if you cannot love the person you are with and rather that you are contemptuous and angry at them constantly it is not good for either of you to remain married to one another. This is not the purpose of marriage, but a broken version of the original contract.
A Good Divorce
It is better to divorce than to stay married and constantly and mercilessly kill one another through contempt and anger and lost love. Save yourself, and be merciful to the one you signed on to love regardless if you can find love for them ever again or not. Jesus is saying that if you are in a marriage where the other is cheating on you, and you have tried to forgive them time and again, but simply can't, it is better to divorce.
Jesus is saying that if you hate your spouse because he has ruled over you from day one with an iron fist and has threatened you and physically hurt you and hurt your children. It is better to divorce.
He is saying that if you have lived with a woman who has stolen money from you and your children to buy drugs and who refuses to get help and doesn’t seem to care about you or your children or anybody for that matter and you can find no compassion in your heart for her, it is better to divorce.
He is saying that if you married someone who is mean, and who puts you down and refuses to listen to you when you speak and who disrespects you in front of others and who emotionally abuses you on a regular basis - get out now. It's not good for you, it's not good for them and it is especially not good for the kids to stay.
God says that he hates divorce when done frivolously by men to dispose of unwanted property (women). He hates to see people treated this way. Hates it so much he sent his son to speak up about it. But don’t get lost there. God hates divorce, but he hates human cruelty more. He hates contempt and anger and murder with the mind, way more. SO much so that when given an opportunity to speak (Jesus), this is all he seems to want to talk about. None of the fire and brimstone stuff you see from the prophets, but this. God loves a good divorce.