I must admit that when I read the Gospel for today, my first reaction was, “Oh no!” This is one of the more misinterpreted and argued about reading in all the religious world. It has the disastrous effect of making many wiggle uneasily in their seats while others settle back into theirs in self-righteousness.
Neither answer is right. One of the purposes of Christianity is, after all, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Here we have chance to do both.
To the comfortable, let us remind each other that in God’s sight no sin is greater than the other. Sexual sin is not worse than any other, despite what the media might have us believe. Just because we may be stronger in an area to prevent one sin does not make us better than our Christian brother or sister who is not. And for some pride or vindictive actions could be your cross. Remember – God is displeased with the proud but gives grace to the humble. There, but for the grace of God, go I.
To the stricken, those of us who struggle uncomfortably in our seats, let me say something very important: God loves you. He knows that you are divorced, and he loves you. Divorce is not one of the unforgivable sins.
I’m going to repeat myself because there are many, and I’m sad to say, particularly in the church, who will oppose this message. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin.
God in his great mercy can forgive all sins, including those that cause divorce. So, if you are divorced, know that God still loves you. (Remember everyone sins and if you’re not divorced you have another one).
In fact, I’m going to say something, and some will not agree: Divorce is not a sin. Now before you get upset and walk out and never return take a minute and listen. I am not condoning divorce. Divorce is horrible. I’ve been through it. It’s really, ugly. I’m not saying for one instant that divorce is anything less than terrible and outside of God’s will. But not, itself, a sin.
It’s the result of sin. And that’s different. It is not sin in the same way that going to jail is not crime. It is the result of a crime.
I have worked in the jail and been in and out taking people there for various reasons. God created a world where there was no need for jails or prisons, and there will be none in heaven. But we live in a fallen world and because of free will there is a need for jails. Being in jail itself is not sin, what you did was the sin. Ending up in jail was the result of sin. In the same way, I would argue, divorce itself is not sin. The little things or the dozen huge things that caused the marriage to fall apart were the problem. Divorce was the consequence.
Let’s make sure we base our thinking on what the Bible says about divorce, not what we think it says. We don’t have time right now to examine all the verses, but I would recommend that you take time to do a careful study. And it may surprise you. (It surprises me every time.)
Throughout the Bible you will see a repeat. In Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Ezekiel, divorce is cited in a matter-of-fact way, as something that happens, with no judgement. In Isaiah and Jeremiah, it is the faithlessness that causes divorce that is rebuked. In Malachi 2 God says he deplores divorce and I totally agree. If you read the entire chapter, you know that God is referring to the sin. Divorce is the result of the transgression, and it’s the transgression that is the result.
In the New Testament, Jesus has strong teaching about divorce. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, its repeated so we know it’s important. But look carefully. Jesus does not say “don’t get divorced”. Really, he doesn’t. He is, however, very clear about the seriousness of divorce. In the rest of the verses, he restates Gods original purpose for marriage, as a life-long union; not something to be dismissed when troublesome or when someone more intriguing comes along.
You may know that it was a common practice in the days of the New Testament to allow divorce on the most unimportant of grounds, based on Deuteronomy 24, and that’s what Jesus is criticizing against in today’s reading. Jesus is stressing that marriage is a serious commitment and not to be taken, or ended, lightly. He’s differing treating marriage like the latest phone, which you can swap when the next model comes out, instead of like a heart pacemaker, which is supposed to be with you for life.
Jesus acknowledged, however, that there are times when divorce is the less of two evils in an imperfect world. Which would you rather face, an earthquake or a volcano? The debris from that earthquake smashes families and hits friends, hurts children and wrecks relationships for years and years – even when we have confessed and been forgiven. But sometimes in real life we have a choice between bad and worse. And God knows this. We don’t live in Eden anymore. Divorce is never part of God’s plan for the best, but so is much of life. And God is bigger than any of our messes and bad decisions.
So, is divorce always bad? Yes. Always bad. Is it sin? I would say it is the result of sin, and God, in his incomprehensible mercy, forgives sin.
If you are living with the pain of broken marriage, firstly, I understand. You are not alone in this. Secondly. God understands. Really, he does. He knows all the hidden bits of you and still loves you. Let that sink in. Try reading Ps 51 or Ps 139 and tell your Loving Lord all the nasty stuff. He knows it anyway, so you won’t shock him. Then let his forgiveness wash you clean for a fresh start.