Mark 10:10-12 (NIV): When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
Jesus’ words sound harsh to the ears of 21st century Americans – hopelessly out of touch with the times. But again, Jesus’ context is not really the topic of divorce, but the topic of marriage.
The people of Jesus’ day, much like the people of today, had developed a very cavalier attitude toward marriage. They had devolved to the point where they believed marriage to be a social contract, entered into by two consenting adults (and/or their families), ratified by a ceremony, and celebrated by a party. Therefore, they believed that the contract could be nullified at the consent of either of the two parties, and a new contract entered into.
But Jesus’ frame of reference (which is also God’s frame of reference), is that marriage is not a contract, but a covenant. It is not something that originated in the mind of man, but a key part of God’s original design for people. It is one more thing that separates man, created in God’s image and likeness, from the animals – the ability to enter willingly into a covenant with God.
Even many of those who do believe in marriage as a covenant see it as being a three-way arrangement: a covenant primarily between the man and the woman, with God overseeing it – kind of like a triangle with God at the top. But in reality, marriage is a two-sided covenant. On one side is God, the author and guarantor of the covenant. On the other side is the one-flesh entity of husband and wife. That is the source of Jesus’ saying, “What God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Mark 10:9) God is the one who ratifies the covenant because, even through many promises are made by the husband and wife to each other, the covenant between the husband-wife entity is made with Him.
Therefore, marriage must be entered into with great seriousness. A man or woman who divorces to marry another, as the people of Jesus’ day were prone to do if they found someone more to their liking, did not avoid adultery by merely breaking the previous covenant through divorce. As long as God remains true to His covenant promises (and He always does), divorce does not nullify it. Only adultery by one of the parties nullifies it, breaking the covenant from the human side (Matthew 19:9). So, unless there is adultery by one or both parties, the marriage covenant remains in effect.
Again, this language sounds harsh and unreasonable to the ears of the people of today, just as it did to the ears of the disciples. (“If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Matthew 19:10) But this viewpoint is not based on narrow-mindedness, lack of compassion, or staunch traditionalism. It is based on a true understanding of what marriage actually is, and the clear, straightforward, non-nuanced command of the One who crated marriage in the first place.
It is also vital to understand that divorce, even divorce and remarriage, is not an unforgiveable sin. As in every other case of disobedience, God can provide forgiveness, restoration, and a fresh start to anyone who sincerely turns away from their sinful actions and attitudes (repentance), and turns back to Him for forgiveness.
Father, it is easy to see that the reason that this view of divorce sounds so “antiquated” and even harsh to many today is that we hold a different view of the nature of marriage than You do. Of course, because You are the one who designed marriage in the first place, Your view of what it is and how it is to be conducted is always the correct one, no matter how “progressive” or “enlightened” we think our viewpoint is. Forgive us, Lord, for treating something as holy as marriage with such disregard. Forgive us for taking a covenant relationship that You created, and recasting it in our own image, doing untold damage to it in the process. Help us, at least Your people, those called by Your name, to recapture Your design for marriage, and to live it out in our own lives. Amen.