In the controversy surrounding defeated congressional candidate Richard Mourdock’s statement about conception following rape, all sides could agree on at least one thing: The act of rape itself is never God’s will.
I wish all of us could agree that divorce is never God’s will, either.
Divorce happens. We live in a fallen world. Sin affects us all.
Jesus knows that.
Divorce was easy and frequent in the culture of his day.
It wasn’t simply that people divorced and then remarried. People were divorcing so they could remarry.
Jesus was asked by the Pharisees, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
It was something of a “gotcha” question. No matter how Jesus answered, someone would take offense.
His answer shocked even the Pharisees, and it still shocks us.
“A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. … Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
He added, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
Marriage is lifelong. Divorce, according to Jesus, is never God’s will. It is never lawful in the sense of being righteous, as the Pharisees had assumed.
But when we hear that, we become defensive. We immediately think up scenarios in order to justify divorce and make it acceptable in our minds.
We become Pharisees ourselves, searching for legal loopholes.
Jeffrey Gibbs of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, says that we fall into the Pharisaic way of thinking by arguing, “There are two biblical grounds for divorce — adultery and desertion. If a man beats his wife, we say, ‘That’s desertion of the wife,’ or if the mother takes drugs, straps the kids into the car and drives around town while she’s high, we say, ‘That’s desertion of the children.’”
Without realizing it, we have transformed divorce into God’s good and gracious will for ourselves and others.
We try to dignify divorce in ways God never does.
Divorce may be necessary at times from our perspective, but that does not transform it into God’s will.
Because marriage is God’s craftsmanship, destroying that bond is due to man’s will, not God’s. It is sin.
Our solution to our sinfulness is to rationalize it, blame others for it and pretend God approves of it.
Such behavior, however, cannot remove guilt. It only compounds it.
God’s solution to our sinfulness is to take responsibility for it himself at the cross.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”
Christ became sin for us, in our place. We have become the righteousness of God, in Christ’s place.
Whether or not we have personally experienced the pain of divorce, all of us have failed God and others in our relationships. All of us share the same sinful condition.
Christ forgives the guilty, not the self-righteous.
Our hope lies not in our futile attempts to exonerate ourselves, but in God’s ability to justify us, to count us as righteous for Christ’s sake.
His redeeming work creates confident hearts and frees us from the stigma of failure.
Marriage endures until death, but God’s love endures forever.
The Rev. John Armstrong is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Columbus, and may be reached at gracecolumbus.org.