The next thing Jesus preached about in His Sermon on the Mount is a hard one. It is an area where the brokenness of the human race has created a painful, destructive disaster in the hearts and lives of many precious souls. Jesus talked about divorce. Here us what He said:
“‘It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce”’”
That was the standard the religious leaders had for the nation of Israel. One leader taught that a man could divorce his wife if she burnt his food on accident. Another religious leader taught that a man could divorce his wife if he found a prettier woman. All they had to do was write up a piece of paper called a bill of divorce. It declared that the marriage was over and that the wife could go marry someone else. It was exactly the opposite of the kind of rich love, honor, and protection that God had designed marriage to provide a husband and a wife. In a culture and time when women were already vulnerable, the religious leaders were undermining their stability and security even more. Instead of being leaders that protected the vulnerable, they exposed them to even greater risk.
The religious leaders that were meant to elevate God’s vision of marital love had replaced it with a cheap, selfish version. Their teaching had become twisted and distorted. They held outrageously high standards about pointless things that gave them control over the people, like their crazy rules about the Sabbath. Then they failed to uphold the most sacred things, like God’s holy, beautiful plan for romantic love. Jesus had a much higher hope for His followers. He said:
“‘But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.’”
Jesus said that the only right reason for divorce is if one of the spouses commits adultery. And it’s not just the wives who have to live up to that standard. The husbands have to as well. Then Jesus pointed out why it is important to hold on faithfully to the first marriage vows. Once a couple is divorced, they want to remarry. Then they will give to another person what they were meant to share with only one living person.
Think about the complications when we don’t follow God’s plan. There are manifold, painful problems that come when people marry and remarry, having kids all along the way. Consider the confusion for the kids, the disordering of loyalties, the pain of betrayal, the toxic relationships that form. Men enter the homes of children that do not love them. Everyone learns the lie that love is not enough, that leaving is okay, and that our family connections are disposable. Divorce devastates the heart, divides the security of a home life, and destroys financial stability. This is not what God wanted for us. That’s why He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). He created marriage to be a total commitment of the heart, no matter what.
Jesus came to pour out His love in ultimate sacrifice. That is the kind of love that the covenant of marriage is meant to promise. That commitment is the only love that is worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. As the disciples of Jesus share this devoted love in their marriages to each other over a lifetime, surely it will be like salt to the rest of the world. Who does not understand that lifelong, persevering love that stays true even when it is hard is a beautiful thing? Why do we all love the movies about dedicated husbands who visit their deteriorating wives every day at the nursing home? Why do the stories of devoted wives who stand by their husbands after they have been maimed in battle touch our hearts so deeply? It is because we all long to be loved that way. The first step is to become the kind of person who has chosen to live that kind of love. The obedient subjects of God’s Kingdom were meant to elevate the bright hope of marriage in every community they live in.
The subject of marriage is an intensely sensitive subject for many of us. The deep human need for the fulfillment of love, companionship, and desire that marriage is meant to bring makes it touchy because of all the ways romantic love falls short in this broken world.
According to the way God made the universe, it is a big deal. We were created as male and female to become one soul with a member of the opposite sex. In a fallen world, the bright dreams of God have been diminished, but our hearts tell us that we were made for something more. The disparity between the dream and the reality can be a form of agony. Those who are divorced feel judged and shamed. Those who are in hard marriages feel like they have been robbed and grow weary of persevering. Those who are single or have lost a spouse to death often feel the heavy burden of loneliness. Those in relatively healthy marriages go through the daily struggle of loving a sinful spouse. What are we meant to do with the pain?
This answer may seem trite, but it is not: Go to Jesus. Cry out in prayer with all that you are. This matters to Him. Bring Him your pain, anger, loneliness, despair…tell Him about your confusion and frustrations. Pour them out. Repent. Go through the long lines of your sin…lay them out before Him as a surrender of confession. Seek His forgiveness and find it. Ask for His transformation of your own heart, of your spouses heart, of your children. Ask for empowerment to forgive and love again. For those who are not in a marriage, come to know the desires of your heart and take them honestly to Him. Bring Him your fears and doubts and disappointments. Ask Him for wisdom, direction, and strength. Listen to Him. Refuse to see your life as anything but the journey that He has for you. He is the Lord who brings beauty from ashes, the oil of gladness for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of despair. Our God is the God of reversals. Seek friends who will pray and listen with you. Let this be as important in your life and communication with Jesus as it is to your heart. Let this be a process, a journey, that you go on with Christ…let Him show you how to trust Him, wait on Him, and find rest in Him. Let His plan and timing for you be your guide. Allow God to use your circumstances, whatever they are, to form in you the purity of heart…the hunger and thirst for righteousness, the mercy, meekness, and the capacity to be a peacemaker…that bring the blessings of God. You can trust Him with your love story. He is the great lover of your soul.