Day 51 – On the Reason for Marriage and the Difficulty of Divorce

Mark 10:1–12 NRSV

He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Consider This

In this text, Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem. He’s teaching along the way when a group of Pharisees approach him with this question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

They put Jesus on the spot, attempting to get him to position himself. Remember John, that prophet who lost his head over his conviction about marriage and divorce? It looks like the Pharisees are trying to get Jesus caught up in that controversy; maybe there’s another beheading service just around the corner.

Jesus lays a bit of a trap for his trappers.

“What did Moses command you?”

They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”

Now that Deuteronomy 24:1 is in play, Jesus takes them to school with his skills of interpreting Scripture by Scripture. He’s not going to go tit-for-tat, litigating Mosaic law. No, Jesus goes for the proverbial jugular, turning all the way back to Scroll #1 and creation (i.e., Genesis 1:27–28 and 2:24).

“Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Did you note that move from the letter of the Law to the spirit behind it; that bit about hard-heartedness? Divorce is not the creational intention of God. The Law made allowance for it via post-Eden legislation and mostly as a measure of protection for women, but divorce is never God’s best.

Many reading along today have likely been through a divorce and, in most cases, they could reference the inevitability of irreconcilability. Just as divorce was never God’s intention, no one who has been divorced would claim it was ever their intention. In a broken world, things break despite our best intentions and efforts. For those who have been divorced, you need not live under condemnation but in Christ, where condemnation has been crucified. Our God brings beauty from ashes and new beginnings from broken promises.

(Permit me a pastoral word of caution: while reconciliation of a marriage may not have been possible, working through forgiveness is essential. Remember, unforgiveness is akin to drinking poison and expecting it to kill the other person.)

For those reading along who may be in a difficult moment of marriage, let me offer these words of grace. Marriage between a man and a woman is God’s creational intent for those who he calls to marry. The covenant of marriage, which is a fiery hot crucible, is designed to withstand all the chaos human brokenness can bring. Given time and patience and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, nothing is impossible with God. The chaos of conflict can only be reconciled at the foot of the cross.

A learned woman once remarked to me that there were four movements of the transforming grace of God. 1. Justification. 2. Sanctification. 3. Marriage. 4. Children.

Another learned man put it like this: “Love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener.”

Back in the days before he married, my friend Chris Tomlin recounted to me a conversation he had with Steven Curtis Chapman about marriage. Chapman said to Chris, “Can I tell you what marriage is? Marriage is when God gets your life on an anvil and beats the #@%* out of you.”

I love how Jesus picks up the language of “Because . . .” Only he doesn’t explicitly identify the reason. My take? Marriage, like no other institution on earth, holds the capacity to reveal the glory of God through the practice of suffering love.

Note: Persons suffering in an abusive marriage may find the concept of “suffering love” particularly unhelpful. If you find yourself in an abusive marital relationship, all bets are off. Seek help. Take refuge. As hard as it may seem, extricate yourself from the situation. There are many resources available to help in such situations.

The Prayer

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

The Questions

  • Can you think of a marriage where you have witnessed the glory of God manifested?