“Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:8)
Marriage is so fundamental to the Lord’s design that it is the second ordinance established after Creation (the first being the Sabbath). God recognized Adam’s need for a companion and then beautifully provided for that right from Adam’s own body, close to his heart. This is more than poetic. It’s a very real picture of a wife’s relationship to and dependence upon her husband, and his commitment to and responsibility for her.
God’s intent for man was to have the fulfillment of a partner with whom to share life. But that is often arrived at in ways that are unanticipated. It comes through the pressures of having to grow in patience, understanding and moderation of one’s own traits and temperaments. It is a blending together that, because we are mere flesh, can only transpire by a miracle work of God and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Yet when there is an unwillingness to learn that blending, or hesitation to submit to confidence in the living God, there is no capacity to grow together in His highest design. That leads to the reason for virtually all divorce: because people will not forgive one another. So rather than being transformed by the renewing of their minds, believers in Jesus Christ become vulnerable to the world’s increasingly acceptable attitude toward divorce.
Compounding the confusion is that the pendulum of the Church may swing from virtually blackballing anyone who has ever experienced the tragedy of marital failure, to a less-concerned stance toward sustaining marriage vows and ministering to troubled marriages. Because social acceptance of divorce has increased so phenomenally, people assume the Church ought to be more broad-minded. But the breadth of the mindedness of the Church should never exceed the breadth of the revelation of the Word of God. The revelation of the Word of God has been, for a long time, far wider than the thinking of the Church, which has tended to be far narrower in its view toward ministering to the divorced situation.
We have those who legalistically cling to the Bible on the subject of marriage and take only a small part of those things that are revealed in the Scriptures on divorce. By that narrow view, they leave no room for redemption to penetrate where sin has damaged a human marriage relationship. On the other hand, as the world and the Church become more “liberated,” they in fact become more deeply bound. Neither the legalist nor the liberal have adequate reasons for their stance. Our perspective on divorce and remarriage has to go beyond “feelings” and be grounded in the eternal Word of God.
The Bible is authoritative, God is gracious and merciful, and He has made possible restoration, recovery, and healing—all at a great price—to men and women who are living in pain. Understandably, when there is great pain in a marriage, people begin looking for a way out. But the “way out” is out of the pain, not out of the marriage. Jesus is capable of healing a troubled marriage without dividing it.
Divorce was never in God’s plan. However in Matthew 19, Jesus says that with a fallen race and a bruised people, God made an allowance: divorce was allowed because of the limitations of the human heart. I’m being gentle in using the word “limitation.” Jesus used the word “hardness.” I want us to understand Jesus’ use of the word because He often spoke to His disciples saying, “It is because of the hardness of your hearts.”
The “hardness of heart” he is talking about is the human incapability of receiving the maximum of Divine intent. Quite frankly, I don’t think any of us have a heart so tender and sensitive to God that we receive everything God has for us. It is interesting the way Jesus, time and again, never compromises the Divine standard, and yet He never condemns human weakness or failure. It is an incredible dimension of the bigness of God as manifest in His Son Jesus.
When we talk about divorce, we are also dealing with the issue of remarriage. God doesn’t want people to be divorced. It isn’t His will. Yet that doesn’t blackball anyone who’s been divorced or write them out of the possibility of a fulfilling life because of their divorced status. Rather, it puts them onto a learning path of the Lord’s way, so that He might lead them on to the life He has for them.
If you are experiencing difficulty in your marriage or have been divorced, I believe that the Lord can and will meet you where you are, and I believe that He wants to work a total healing. In Jesus Christ, there is the possibility that “hard” hearts can be made soft so that every marriage has hope. Where divorce has transpired, there is a responsibility for the believer to be obedient to a local body. Submission to the oversight of healthy eldership is essential because there is no future for a divorced person in another marriage if you are carrying into it the same seeds that produced the last failure.
Let me add that people who presumptuously head into sin, counting on mercy and grace to flush them out, do not have a promise to hold onto. That’s the same kind of presumption Jesus rejected when the Devil tempted Him to jump off the pinnacle of the temple saying, “God will take care of You.” There is a difference between taking a flying leap off the pinnacle, and people falling from the pinnacle of circumstance in which they are wounded and hurt. God can deliver the person who falls, but you won’t find much help if you jump. I think it’s important to see the difference.
I believe it is possible with time—and those are important words—to see God’s purpose restored in our lives. Jesus is, after all, our Redeemer. Those possibilities come on the terms of God’s Word, and are lived out in the power of His Holy Spirit.