Pharisees came up to Jesus and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 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'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."
-- Matthew 19:3-6, ESV
Francis Scott Key wrote the first national anthem in 1814. Tammy Wynette sang the second in 1968. It's entitled: D-I-V-O-R-C-E. As that song climbed the country music charts, no-fault divorce rose from being legal in one state to being routinely practiced in all 50. The national epidemics frequently criticized by conservative Christians -- sexual immorality, homosexuality, illegal drug use, and underage use of alcohol -- can largely be traced by the chalk outline of families killed with the weapon of divorce.
Many of the Pharisees, as hypocrites often do, had taken a biblical text out of context to justify their sin and castigate those who dared to disagree with them. These Bible-thumpers had interpreted grounds for divorce to include something as trivial as burning of toast.
Through the years, religious hypocrites have used Holy Scripture to justify their divorces, their misogyny, their racial prejudices, and other mutations of their pride, greed and lust. A leather Bible can provide a good cover for sin.
Jesus, on the other hand, wants the sanctity of marriage to be kept by sanctified people. The church must hold one another to a higher standard, and the sanctity of marriage is a perfect place to start. We must look at all the texts in context, we must carefully listen to the words of Christ on the subject, and we must love and obey the entirety of the word of God. So let's begin here and breakdown what Jesus taught.
Jesus said that divorce should be permitted but by no means encouraged. Jesus said about the only proper grounds would be when a spouse engaged in serious and ongoing sexual experiences outside the confines of covenant marriage. The Apostle Paul also addresses abandonment as a reason for permitting divorce and remarriage. That's it, adultery and abandonment, not the pursuit of happiness or burned toast.
Jesus said that lifelong commitment in marriage is God's original ideal. God ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman for one lifetime. As with any other of the plans of God, when we do it His way we are blessed. When we do not, society suffers and people are hurt. If you are a Christian, do your dead level best to stick with God's plan. Make a commitment and keep it. If it gets broken, seek repentance and reconciliation. Don't stand one day before God with the blood of a broken marriage on your hands.
Broken hearts abound in the wake of divorce, and these hearts can find repair in the loving and healing hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. In all of God's revealed disdain against divorce, there is no hint of any disregard of divorced people. God loves the sinners who cause divorce and holds out his hand for repentance and forgiveness. God loves the sinners who are victims of divorces, and points the way to recovery and renewed life.
I was born in the '60s, grew up in the '70s, and became a married adult in the '80s. In my lifetime, D-I-V-O-R-C-E has truly been our national anthem. It has been an extremely personal and painful issue for me. Too often I've seen it play out like a crime for which the victims are punished instead of the perpetrators.
Perhaps if there were tougher laws and stricter penalties there would be less divorce. But laws can't make people love. And at the end of the day, this is what divorce is, a lack of love for God, for the people God placed in your life, and for the lives of the many other people affected by the culture of divorce. The remedy is not law, but grace. Grace can heal the broken hearts of the spouses and children who are the victims of divorce. Grace is the answer because grace births faith, faith brings love, and love is what we need to change our current national anthem.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]t.com.