Uncompromisingly Caring About Divorce
As previously stated this series of posts stems from questions that I anticipated to arise and statements that have arisen as a result of talking about divorce from Mark 10. Mark 10 is a clear, uncompromising statement that there is no occasion or circumstance in which God blesses divorce. Jesus goes on to say that those who divorce and marry others commit adultery. We could not only consider this statement uncompromising as we acknowledge that it is tight and allows for no wiggle room in interpretation, but we could also say that it is abrupt and seemingly harsh. If Jesus is uncompromising is He also uncaring? They key is context.
Because Jesus said it “like this” we have warrant to adopt a direct and uncompromising tone, which may at times seem harsh, when communicating the Scriptural position on divorce. The current culture, as well as the church culture, is much too flippant (much like the Pharisees of Mark 10) when it comes to divorce. We have adopted a cavalier attitude that since divorce is so common it must not be as “bad” as it used to be. Indeed, there may be a sense of moral erosion in the culture, but when it comes to the absolute nature of Scripture, bad is still bad. Divorce was bad in 30 AD. Divorce is bad in 2010 AD. During counsel I have had people communicate to me that others have gone through with divorce, they have survived it, their kids have survived it, and their life is “just fine.” They speak as if there are no consequences to divorce. This is an awfully shortsighted view not only scripturally but experientially. To say there are no consequences to divorce casts a blind eye toward the societal pain that is most apparent. Even atheists use the term “broken home” to describe the aftermath of divorce.
The other attitude I commonly encounter is that because divorce is sin just like any other sin, God is obligated to get over it. If God forgives me for covetousness He will also forgive me for divorce. True, sin is sin, but there are two glaring errors in this assumption. 1) That because sin is sin, sin must not be a big deal. Sin is sin and all sins are a big deal. 2) Assuming that because sin is sin and God will forgive me anyway, is a presumptuous attitude when it comes to any sin and extremely dangerous. God is not obligated to forgive anyone. The truth is that God doesn’t forgive everyone (Hebrews 12:12-16). Forgiveness is offered to those who are broken, repentant and seek the mercy of God as they realize what they have done is dreadfully wrong in the eyes of God. To confess means “to agree.” When we enter into sin and presume upon God’s grace we are in serious “disagreement” with God.
Yet, because of this presumption of Jesus’ tone some have taken the cue that the church should be uncompromising (yes), but also harsh and abrupt at all times when dealing with divorce. While I do believe the church needs to be direct in its statements concerning divorce, we should also be careful not to be so direct that we are impersonal. We can be uncompromising, but we have no warrant to be uncaring.
In his commentary on Mark, Dr. David Garland calls attention to the importance of interpreting Scripture in context. In the case of Mark 10 he writes,
“When applying what Jesus says about divorce to our context, there are several things we should recognize. (1) Jesus is responding here to hostile questioners, who are bent on trapping him (10:2). We should therefore not expect to find in this passage instructions for pastoral care of divorced persons. Jesus is not addressing those contemplating divorce and seeking his counsel or those struggling in broken relationships and needing encouragement. He directs his answer to bitter opponents, whom he has already accused of mishandling Scripture and distorting God’s will (7:6-13).”[i]
Garland goes on to say,
“In answering this question, however, one should recognize that Jesus was not speaking here to those who had experienced the brokenness of a marriage failure; rather, he was responding to a ‘test’ question of the Pharisees. What he might have said to the people in the throes of divorce we can only surmise from what he said to the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) and to the Samaritan woman who had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband (4:4-29).”[ii]
If the topic for a chosen Sunday is that divorce is bad, sinful, and that it should be avoided at all costs, then surely the topic for another is that there is hope for recovery from something as bad, sinful, and unavoidable for those who have suffered from divorce. In a room of 400 people there are a million variables. Not everyone wears the same size shoe. No sermon can be tailor made so that one size fits all. Pastors should say what needs to be said, but the hearer, in time, should also afford them the opportunity to say something else. Pastors – in time – need to take that opportunity. Pastors must proclaim “don’t do it.” Pastors must also proclaim “let’s seek to redeem what’s been done.”
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:1-2
At the same time those who have suffered divorce are in no need of compromising Biblical convictions. I have lied. Yet I believe it is wrong to lie and do not mind telling others that this is so. To support Biblical proclamation is not necessarily self-condemning or hypocritical. If a person has gone through divorce they can stand alongside their pastor and church leaders and affirm that divorce is wrong and that others shouldn’t do it. If a person has been married to an abusive spouse they can help affirm the message by warning another who may be entering into a relationship with someone who exhibits character traits that suggest they may be abusive. Experience is a wise tutor.We can be uncompromising and caring. We can be direct and personal. Jesus exhibits such tone when it comes to divorce. There is a proper context for condemnation and there is also a context for restoration. Let’s be careful to exegete the context and fully proclaim the Word of God in every season.