Living the Questions: Why Divorce?

Written by Pastor Mark

Theme Background

Why divorce?  Why do we have to talk about this hurtful and emotional issue?  What does the Bible say about divorce?  What did Jesus say?  Do we care what Jesus and the Bible say?  Divorce is a horribly painful personal experience, and it doesn’t seem to make any sense to bring it out in the open and beat it to death.

On the other hand it has such an impact on so many people we love.  Many of my closest friends have gone through a divorce, or are going through one.  How do we help people in the midst of this painful disintegration of what they at one point viewed as a permanent relationship?  Well, let’s start with the Bible and see where that leads.

Invariably talk of divorce in the Bible goes back to the book of Leviticus.  It is interesting to me that people who ignore almost all of the commandments of this Old Testament book will suddenly perk up and quote it to talk about personal morality.  I always want to ask such people when their Friday night butchering will take place.  There are very explicit laws in Leviticus about how to sacrifice animals to please God.  There are also rules against wearing clothing containing two different types of fabric.  And God forbid you should ever eat a sandwich with mayonnaise, or any kind of shell fish like, say crab.  Off with your head!  I always get a picture of a guy eating a cheese, mayo and pork sandwich, pointing at his Bible and saying, “See it says right here in Leviticus that divorce, or homosexuality, or whatever) is wrong.  As a Lutheran, I have a solution to this problem.  We just don’t give as much weight, or attention to those parts of the Bible that don’t bring us God’s grace.  Leviticus doesn’t bring much grace, and lot’s of luck if you decide you want to truly start living in harmony with it.

However, Leviticus says that a man can divorce his wife by handing her a certificate.  In Leviticus 24 the instructions are laid out: “Suppose a man enters into a marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house.”  Some of us will notice how male dominated this society really was.  Also just a chapter before this it talks about how if a man rapes a woman, he must give her father a cash payment, and then marry her without the possibility of divorce!  Is this really the spiritual path we want to pursue?

Jesus is being tested in the Gospel lesson for today.  Notice the question isn’t, “Can you help us with the idea of divorce, or can I divorce?”  the question is one of legality.  “Is it legal for a man to divorce his wife?”  Legal?  By what standard?  It was legal under Roman law for either a woman, or a man to initiate divorce proceedings.  Jesus appeals to the Bible.  What did Moses teach?  Now Jesus leaves the question of legality, and addresses God’s intent.  God wants married couples to stay married.

This is shocking to the disciples.  We must infer from their reaction that divorce was pretty well accepted at the time.  Jesus goes into hyperbole at this point, and tells them if they divorce and remarry they are guilty of adultery.   Pretty cut and dried, except Jesus also said that if you look at a man or woman with lust in your heart you’ve also committed adultery.   What is Jesus’ point?  We mess up.  We mess up all the time, and we need God’s grace.  It is not an invitation to rub salt into the wounds of others, but to admit our own complicity in our own messed up lives.

And, finally, who gets to marry whom?  Can only men and women get married?  Why?  To answer that question with a yes, you will almost certainly have to go back to Leviticus, and I think that is a very dangerous place to go.  Who should get married?  People who love each other and want to make a commitment to each other and support one another.  Love is our goal as Christians, not judgment.   Are we happy that people get divorced?  Certainly not, but we love them, and we let them know that God loves them, and wrap them in God’s loving embrace.  That’s our mission.

Quotes for the Week

“If you dislike being married, then log on to Facebook.  The social network was implicated in a third of all divorce filings last year, according to Divorce-Online, a survey by a British legal service.”                New York Daily News


I do not consider divorce an evil by any means. It is just as much a refuge for women married to brutal men as Canada was to the slaves of brutal masters.            Susan B. Anthony


When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” –Helen Keller

I’m not convinced about marriage. Divorce is so easy, and that fact that gay people are not allowed to marry takes much of the meaning out of it. Committing yourself to one person is sacred.                Natalie Portman


My wife Mary and I have been married for forty-seven years and not once have we had an argument serious enough to consider divorce; murder, yes, but divorce, never.     Jack Benny

He taught me housekeeping; when I divorce I keep the house.        Zsa Zsa Gabor

1st Lesson Genesis 2:18-24 (The Message)

God said, “It’s not good for the Man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper, a companion.” So God formed from the dirt of the ground all the animals of the field and all the birds of the air. God brought them to the Man to see what he would name them. Whatever the Man called each living creature, that was its name. The Man named the cattle, named the birds of the air, named the wild animals; but he didn’t find a suitable companion.

21-22 God put the Man into a deep sleep. As he slept God removed one of his ribs and replaced it with flesh. God then used the rib taken from the Man to make Woman and presented her to the Man.

23-25     The Man said,
“Finally! Bone of my bone,
flesh of my flesh!
Name her Woman
for she was made from Man.”
Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife. They become one flesh.



Gospel Lesson Mark 10:1-16 (version)

10 1-2 From there Jesus went to the area of Judea across the Jordan. A crowd of people, as was so often the case, went along, and, so Jesus taught them. Pharisees came up, intending to give him a hard time. They asked, “Is it legal for a man to divorce his wife?”

Jesus said, “What did Moses command?”

They answered, “Moses gave permission to fill out a certificate of dismissal and divorce her.”

5-9 Jesus said, “Moses wrote this command only as a concession to your hardhearted ways. In the original creation, God made male and female to be together. Because of this, a man leaves father and mother, and in marriage he becomes one flesh with a woman—no longer two individuals, but forming a new unity. Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart.”

10-12 When they were back home, the disciples brought it up again. Jesus gave it to them straight: “A man who divorces his wife so he can marry someone else commits adultery against her. And a woman who divorces her husband so she can marry someone else commits adultery.”

13-16 The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.


Questions for the Week

Do you know a couple who divorced and remarried and are now happy?

What are the tools of maintaining a good marriage?

Does it bother you that some people in our society are not able to get married?  Why, or why not?

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