Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Divorce "for just any reason?"

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Tuesday, January 28, 2014:  Matthew 18:21-19:12

The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”  And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”  Matthew 19:3-6 (NKJV)

Getting Harder to Stay Together

Divorce is one of the most persistent and painful problems facing America today.  Few of us are untouched -- whether directly or indirectly.  It's always been that way, but the frequency is growing. 

The U.S. Census Bureau tells us:

In 1920, there was one divorce for every 7 marriages.   ... 14%
In 1940, there was one divorce for every 6 marriages.   ... 17%
In 1960, there was one divorce for every 4 marriages.   ... 25%
In 1972, there was one divorce for every 3 marriages.   ... 33%
In 1977, there was one divorce for every 2 marriages.   ... 50%

Today the divorce rate is even higher.  Fifty percent of all children will watch their parents separate and divorce!  The trail of pain that follows marital breakup is epidemic. 

Divorce "for just any reason"

Jesus always addresses the deepest human needs.  It is therefore not surprising that the Pharisees threw "the marriage problem" at Him.  Jewish marriages were falling apart -- based on an interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1.  There we read "If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house," (NIV)  Old Testament verses such as this were used to subvert the integrity of marriage "for just any reason."

In similar fashion, it seems today couples divorce for the most frivolous of reasons.  If one "displeases" the other, the marriage is over.  It reminds me of someone changing coats.  When you get tired of one, just lay it aside and get another -- "for just any reason."

A Bible Basis for Divorce

Every bad marriage seems to be a unique, never-before-seen challenge that requires unusual treatment. Jesus cuts through the confusion.  He points to God's original plan.  Marriage is more than a temporary merging of fickle friends.  It is the joining together of one man and one woman into one flesh -- one entity -- one new being.  Divorce sunders that which God has put together.  It is a tragedy.

At question here is the basis upon which God grants a divorce.  Forget man's reasons.  We could come up with a million "good" reasons to end it.  The real question is when does God allow divorce?  The only concrete answer Jesus gives seems to be adultery or sexual misconduct (see vs. 9).  But in vs. 8, He refers to "hardness of heart."  What does that mean?  Is this the loop-hole by which anyone can exit the marriage "for just any reason?"

Frankly, most of the divorces today fall  into this category.  It's called "no fault divorce" or "irreconcilable differences."  But, what does God say about that?

Jesus is completely compassionate with our failings and frailty.  He sums up His views on marriage by an appeal to ORIGINAL PURPOSE.  To paraphrase, He says,

"Listen, many divorces happen because this harness of heart thing causes so much bitterness and hatred that the marriage has no future.  In such cases, it is just plain sad.  It is wrong.  The only recourse is to seek God's forgiveness and try to put the pieces back together.  But," He says, "just remember this:  From the beginning, God never wanted it this way.  He ordains marriage and He upholds marriage.  If you can't  cut it, He will forgive you and He will heal you.  There will be a future.  But this was never God's good plan.  He wants husbands and wives to LOVE one another -- despite their differences.

A Loss of Character

I believe perhaps the greatest reason divorce has grown in our day is the LOSS OF CHARACTER. Young couples have never learned how to tough it out. They don't know about commitment for life.  The "ME GENERATION" wants to keep its options open.  Their wedding vows have been changed from, "so long as we shall live" to "so long as we shall love."

There is so much more that should be said.  But, I will close with a re-statement.  The secret ingredient for a successful marriage is CHARACTER.  The ability to make a commitment and keep it.  The dedication of give yourself to someone else and pay the price for a God-filled, God-blessed life.  The restoration of committed marriages is not only central to a successful life, it is foundational to a healthy nation. 

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