Ewald Schmidt
'It has been said, "Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce." But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:31-32, NIV
Like yesterday, today’s verse is a difficult one to talk about. We are living in such a broken world, where many of our readers would have experienced the hurt of this subject. It is not my intention to reopen old wounds or to bring a sense of condemnation in any way. When we talk about a disease, we really want to know what “healthy” looks like. And when we talk about divorce, we need to ask what God’s original plan and purpose of marriage is.
Jesus again starts this discussion by quoting a known passage of scripture, in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The Law of Moses talks about when a man finds something indecent about his wife, displeasing him, he can give her a letter of divorce. It surely must be an unbelievably bad experience being trapped in a loveless marriage. In some instances, it would be the lesser evil to rather divorce, than to completely destroy each other. In practice, many men grabbed this verse to find something displeasing in their wives, when a younger, more beautiful woman happened to pass along. In biblical times, a woman was very vulnerable; there was no paid employment available to women. They were dependant of the financial care of their husband or their family of origin. A divorced woman, who could not return to her father’s house, was desolate and had a battle to survive. This practice of divorce for lesser reasons led to much pain; it ruined lives.
Jesus again sets the bar higher than the original law, when he again says “but I tell you …”. Jesus takes the “displeasing” out of the equation. The only grounds for divorce for Christians would be sexual immorality. When one of the couple commits adultery, the trust in marriage is broken. It is exceedingly difficult to restore trust. My understanding of this verse is that we have the freedom to choose who we love, but when we commit to marriage, we must love the one whom we have chosen. Marriage bounds us for life. In a positive sense, this urges us to invest in our marriages. We invest in growing old together, serving one another with our body, mind and spirit. We create a safe and secure space for our spouse to grow in love. This was God’s original plan for marriage. This is why the warning against divorce sounds so hard to us – we are called to give our best to protect and build up our marriages, and to not divorce so easily.
I would just like to caution, from a pastoral point of view, that marriage was never intended for a spouse to be physically or verbally abusive. It was never meant to be a space where one gets humiliated and treated badly. This was not the deal when a couple got married. If physical or verbal abuse takes place in your marriage, please get good counselling urgently. If it is dangerous to be in your marriage, walk away. There is forgiveness and healing after divorce.
Prayer: Lord, you have such a high regard for marriage. You have intended it for good, a place where two people grow together in love and grace. You have planned that we would be much stronger and better together, than we would ever have been on our own. Help me to love and cherish my spouse as a gift of God. Amen.