Dose of Truth
Jesus on divorce
My church is starting a support group for hurting people whose marriages have been shattered by divorce. I recently learned another disturbing side effect of COVID-19 has been a sharp rise in the number of divorces.
You may be surprised to hear divorce was a problem in Jesus’ day too. In Deuteronomy 24 the law said a husband could not divorce his wife unless he found something “indecent” in her. The famous Rabbi Shammai taught this meant a husband could divorce his wife only if she were guilty of sexual sin. However, Hillel, another respected rabbi, said a husband could divorce his wife if she displeased him. Burning the bagels or speaking disrespectfully to his parents could justify divorce. Rabbi Akiba took it even further suggesting a husband could divorce his wife if he found a more beautiful woman.
Since these viewpoints were common in biblical times, it is not surprising Jesus was asked his view of divorce. He said, “…a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” (Matthew 19:5-6, NLT) Jesus’ point was that instead of trying to get out of our marriage, we should do our best to strengthen it.
Jesus’ statement reminded me of a conversation I once had with a young husband. His wife had been unfaithful, and he asked if he had the right to divorce her. He was not interested in figuring out what had gone wrong in their marriage or in taking any personal responsibility, his focus was on punishing his wife.
I wish I could have told him Aron Ralston’s story. Ralston was hiking alone when a large boulder fell on him, pinning his arm. He was trapped beneath the bolder for five days. Facing dehydration and certain death, he made the desperate decision to amputate his own arm with a pocketknife. I can only imagine how desperate you would have to be to conclude you had no other choice than cutting off your own arm? You would never do that quickly. You would first eliminate every other possibility. Only when it was clear no other option was available would you do something so irreversible.
Jesus’ teaching suggests it should be the same with divorce. It is a desperate act of self-mutilation. It is the amputation of a part of us. Divorce should never be a first step; it should always be the last resort.
Love and compassion are needed both for those who succeed in keeping their marriages intact and for those suffering the pain of a divorce. Those of us who are married are to be fully committed to our spouses and just as Jesus always showed compassion to the hurting, we should follow his example in caring for those who experience one of life’s most difficult pains.