September 3, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 16:18.
“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”
This has caused a lot of people a lot of agony or continuing misery while living in failed relationships. Jesus had been teaching about the worship of wealth and possessions and about the law.
Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures, absolutely forbids adultery but doesn’t connect divorce to adultery. Moses, a pragmatist, had allowed divorce if a husband had found “something indecent” in his wife. Subsequent teachings about the law and its interpretation over the centuries were eventually compiled in written form. A good deal of it was devoted to divorce. Obviously, this problem bedeviled people since monogamous marriage became the ideal standard. In actual practice, custom had become quite liberal even allowing a man to divorce his wife if he found another woman more attractive. It may have been this laxity that Jesus was addressing.
The Jews had used all kinds of justifications and rationales for subverting the laws to their own ends instead of God’s intention. Some put the letter of the law before the spirit so that they could circumvent God’s commands. Come effectively made idols of wealth and material possessions and worshipped them above God. They invented all kinds of ways to satisfy their own desires rather than surrendering to God’s will. We are still doing that today. We seem to be steadfastly intent on refining our justifications even to the point of deceiving ourselves that our will is God’s will. We believe it because we want to believe it.
Jesus was calling their consciences to account. Notice that he’s not forbidding divorce. According to Barclay, “A Jew must surrender his life rather than commit idolatry, murder or adultery.” Jesus was reminding them of the seriousness of divorce, which could cause a sundering of their relationship with God. He didn’t give people any wiggle room like Moses did because he knew that people would abuse it by justifying their own selfish desires.
I don’t believe that God wants us to tolerate situations that are destructive. So, I don’t think divorce is always against God’s will. I think Jesus is telling us that it is against God’s will if our true motivation is to satisfy our own will, our own desires, whether that be because we’re more attracted to someone else, or we don’t feel in love with our spouse any longer, or we can’t get what we want from the relationship, or any number of other self-indulgent motivations. If we make those our idol in seeking happiness, we’re not following God’s will for us. That’s true of anything, not just marriage.
Richard Rohr in The Good News According to Luke has good advice, we need “spiritual directors, people with breadth and depth of knowledge to help confused spouses discern these kinds of things and call them to faith decisions on either side….The law cannot always resolve our inability to live out our ideals. We would do better to offer rituals of separation, forgiveness, healing, and sending than annulment courts.” We need to let God in on our decisions.
P.S. Happy 42nd wedding anniversary, Cindy. I’m grateful that God has been part of our married life from the beginning.