“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:31-32
Divorce has been a custom as long as there has been marriage. Some people can repair the damage caused by infidelity, but it’s never the same as it was before. Most people won’t repair it, however. Or can’t. It isn’t coincidental that Jesus talks about anger, then adultery, then divorce. We all know too many couples for whom this has been a naturally progressive pattern.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t condone divorce. He’s the same man who said, “what God has joined together let no one separate.” Jesus is God, and it means it’s clearly His (God’s) intention for married couples to stay married. Yet He’s also realistic, pragmatic. If couples divorce for adultery, there is no sin. If not…let’s just say that we don’t like the answer but we know what Jesus would likely say.
What’s more, consider again what He says about how divorce makes the woman a victim. If we extrapolate this verse to mean “if anyone divorces” (meaning “anyone” replaces “anyone divorces his wife”), they are making the other person a victim, especially if, or when, that other person remarries. Jesus doesn’t ask us to be victims.
Part of what Jesus is saying is that the sins of adultery and divorce likely form circular sins of victimhood, hurt, and more sin. Maybe you could say that about any sin; maybe that’s why Jesus came to forgive it and teach us how to avoid it in the future. Sin leads to frustration and anger, which leads to treachery and cheating, leading now to hurt, and, most likely, another sin. Most will simply cut bait and divorce, perhaps not fully grasping the torturous outcomes of it. So many people are affected; so many are irrevocably hurt.
Jesus doesn’t tell people to put up with abuse, or adultery, or to live this life in misery. He also doesn’t tell us to immediately seek divorce when those things happen. In all things, even marital dissolution, Jesus tells us to trust Him, to put our faith in Him, to invite Him deeply into our lives to remake us and the situation. Divorce is undesirable. The Lord promised to abide with us in everything, even this. In these verses, He cautions us on avoiding, if at all possible, the permanent break of divorce and all the tremendous damage to real men, women, and children that results from it.
If you’re in danger of divorce, seek help, first for yourself, then for your kids. And, before doing even that, seek out the Lord and ask Him to fully guide you forward.
For more reading: Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Mark 10:9, Luke 16:18, Matthew 5:33
Lord Jesus, come into the hearts and lives of all undergoing divorce.