Saturday, December 11, 2010

Divorce

"For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 2:16 (NKJV)

Marriage is a wonderful blessing from God. It is the picture of God's love for the Church, it really is the last remaining vestige of what we had in paradise. We acknowledge that in marriage God joins one man and one woman together and that we should not put them asunder. God even expressly, directly says that He hates divorce, by name, without any doubt to what He is referring. Indeed, divorce is the ultimate sign of condemnation - Consider Jeremiah 3:6-8, which reads "The LORD said to me in the days of King Josiah: "Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, 'After she has done all this she will return to me,' but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore."

Divorce is the very picture of condemnation and destruction. It is the opposite, of what God created man and woman to be together - it is the failing of the fall made manifest, and it undercuts and destroys the blessing that God intended marriage to be. God hates divorce.

The above is truth, is solid, is what the Scriptures say.

Do we on the basis of the above make a hard and fast rule - "No one may ever divorce!"

Of course we don't, because, even though Divorce is expressly decried and vilified and condemned, in both the Old and the New Testament, there is an allowance for it.

Leviticus 24 allows for the writing of a certificate for divorce.

And in the New Testament, we see our Lord engaged in the following discussion Matthew 19:

1Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. (2) And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

(3)And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?" (4) He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, (5) and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? (6) So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." (7) They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" (8) He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. (9) And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."


Even as our Lord points and teaches that Divorce is not how it should be - it's not how it was in the beginning, it is a result of human weakness and frailty, it should not be done simply for "any cause"...

He never says "Thou shall never divorce." He doesn't say, "Nope - you must never do this thing, for it is vile." He does not say, "If you were just more faithful and trusted in the God who put you together with your wife, you would know that you can never, never, never divorce."

God understands perfectly well that our sin, that life in a sinful world, breaks and shatters things He would not have broken. He understands that things now are not as they were in the Garden. And because of this, He makes allowances for us -- not putting us as liberty to be vile or wicked, but rather when the consequences of life in a sinful, fallen, imperfect world fall upon us, He provides us a way of escape.

Is this ideal? Is it His Will? It's His will that there be no more sin -- but He doesn't pretend that sin doesn't exist, doesn't impact, doesn't vilely abuse us.

His solution to sin is not simply to toss out absolute Law. God does not say, "As I hate divorce, therefore, Thou Shall Be No Divorce Ever!" That is not His solution. He, for as long as we live in this vale of tears, allows a way of escape - not that we should run at the first sign of trouble, but if we must escape or be utterly crushed - there is a way of escape.

And then, He sends His Son, Christ Jesus, to enter into this world, to suffer and die, so that we might be restored unto perfection, might be rescued from this vale of tears on the Last Day.

We can be eager for this - indeed, I would imagine every Christian desires perfection, desires to be free of the burden of sin, can say with Paul - Oh wretch that I am, who will save me from this body of death. Indeed, we confess that we look forward to the life of the world to come.

But until then, God is aware of the burdens of living in a sinful world - and even as He redeems us through His Son, He makes allowances, gives us ways of escape so that sin and doubt and fear do not crush us.

He does this even concerning divorce - something He expressly states, teaches clearly and unequivocally that He hates. Is not His mercy and compassion to us a wondrous thing.

Let us rather remember that in all things, as Paul says, whether we live or die, we live or die to the Lord.

11 comments:

Mike Baker said...

I get what you're saying, but...

...this sounds alot like when Joel Osteen was saying that homosexuality "isn't God's best".

I think that "weakness" or "frailty" as the cause of divorce can be misunderstood as a soft-peddling of the law because of the pop-psych overtones of those terms. I hear these words alot when people just give up on their marriage because its too haaaaaard. Christ uses a much stronger phrase as the cause for the divorce in the gospel text you quoted: "Hardness of heart".

I think that this hardness of heart is the real test of the unfortunate justification for a divorce. Too often people--because of their hardness of heart--will just callously "put away" their spouses for selfish reasons... like their spouse is an object or possession that is no longer pleasing to them and can be thrown away.

Marriage as a life-long commitment is on the ropes these days in the eyes of even the American church. So, yes, there is a way of escape in cases like abandonment, infidelity, and abuse. ...but this way of escape is not an excuse for mortal sin and the destruction of a family that could have been preserved.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

While is may sound a lot like... it isn't the same. Here is the difference that comes with issues of homosexuality. Here's what we have with divorce.

1. God commends marriage.
2. God condemns divorce, which destroys marriage.
3. God allows for divorce (and as you note, when other sin has basically destroyed marriage already).

Does Homosexuality fit this pattern?

I don't think so, as homosexuality is describe as wrong and an abandoning of ones own self over to passion. Nor at any point is an allowance ever made for it. Nor is homosexuality something done as a way of avoiding your hard heart.

If anything, as much as people wouldn't like it, the way of escape from the passions of our flesh, all the passions of our flesh, is (heterosexual) marriage. That's where we are to go not to burn.

Again, when we speak on the Law, we must not forbid what God has not forbidden (such as divorce), nor must we allow what God has condemned (homosexuality).

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

And Mike,

I think I ended commenting across your point. With the contrast between "weak and frail" and "heardness of heart", I tend to think of the hardness of heart as the chief and summation of human frailty. It is that point where you cannot go any further.

If we were perfected, we would never reach that point.

Also - there is a difference in focus. People will complain that marriage is too haaaard (I like the extra "a"s). The execption for Divorce has nothing to do with marriage and whether or not it is hard -- you said "for better or worse". It's about you - are you too weak, to hardened to go on. Don't tell me about your spouse, tell me about you - why can't *you* handle it.

A lot of times excuses simply shift focus off of me and my responsibility onto the situation at hand. I think that is really what soft pedaling of the Law does.

Mike Baker said...

Pr. Brown,

Just to clarify:

1. I agree with your post in principle, but I was "nit-picking" the language you chose because it is so often misconstrued... like when Purpose Driven guys use the codeword "Brokeness" so they don't have to say "Sin". Are we broken? Of course! Are we weak and frail? YES! ...but how a theologian uses those terms and how the average person hears them in this day and age might be two different things.

2. That was why I brought up the Joel Osteen comment... not to contrast divorce with homosexuality (which I agree are two different animals), but to illustrate how "fluffy sounding" language is used by our opponents to remove the law completely. I propose that "weak" and "frail" are fast becoming words that are being twisted and should not be used without qualifiers (like the "love" conversation we had in a pervious post of yours.)

And in the end, we both agree: the main issue here is a matter of focus... on me? Or on my spouse? This is where the exceptions fall... where self-sacrifice, love, compassion, and loyalty are just not enough to keep the marriage together because of what the other person is doing/has done/could do in the future.

In the end, this topic is a matter of idolatry. Hardness of heart is both a symptom and a defense mechanism for worship of the self. Too often, divorce occurs because of idolatry... because one person in the marriage is worshiping the great idol of "ME!". This is horrible sin. In contrast, divorces happen because we live in a fallen world full of of sinful people doing horrible, wicked things TO us as well. This is where divorce is permitted.

3. So the end point is correct and consistant with what we both said during the Contraception discussion: You cannot apply a "one size fits all" answer to a very complex and unique human situation. People are messy. Our responses should reflect that.

4. Good blog.

jace said...

divorce is necessary for many who are trapped in an unhealthy relationship, i do not believe God would allow man to live his life unhappy just to prove he is faithful
http://www.simpledivorceadvice.com/

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Jace,

The problem is that as Lutherans we hold to what is revealed in the Word of God. We have to go by what the Word says - and we cannot add or subtract from that.

Also, I would note that Divorce is never "necessary". One may choose to suffer and endure what one wishes - but it is certainly understandable in many cases.

Mike Baker said...

haha... where is it written that God promises or even advocates for the prosuit of happiness in this life? :P

Phillip said...

The Declaration of Independence, duh Mike. Don't you know it was handed down to our forefathers by the Archangels and Christ himself.

http://www.mcnaughtonart.com/artwork/view_zoom/?artpiece_id=353

Mike Baker said...

I've been thinking alot about this topic. My thoughts were too long to post in a comment. They can be found over on my blog. Here:

http://christianaar.blogspot.com/2010/12/thankfully-god-hates-divorce.html


Philip,

That's right... I forgot! "Annuit Coeptis" (He approves of our undertakings) right? :P

Mike Baker said...

Philip,

In looking at that painting you referred me to, I am wondering why McNaughton didn't include in his work the part where that devout masonic leader, Ben Franklin, did a rationalistic edit to Jefferson's first draft of the Decleration of Independence.

He took the line that originally read: "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable that all men are created equal."

...and changed it to: "We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal."

Self evident. Not sacred. Not undeinable. Just obvious through the powers of human reason alone.

And Jefferson was no prophet of God by any means. Don't get me started on the Jefferson Bible! :P

Phillip said...

Mike,

Well of course it's self-evident. Man can fully understand God, so we all naturally know all about the sacred. Jefferson shouldn't have tried to demean our intelligence by telling us they were sacred. You sound like some ignorant neanderthal thinking God's smarter than us or something.