Divorce and Re-marriage (rev. 2008/11/28)
Divorce, like the separation of Siamese twins, at best allows both individuals a chance to live emotionally and spiritually to a degree that they couldn't while together. Often it allows at least one to live. Sometimes both die and perhaps should not have been separated — but that's a dim proposition either way.
Divorce happens in the heart. Many married couples have been divorced for years, some know it, some deny it. They need to be remarried.
The typical marriage vow contains promises Jesus would never make, or at least his Sermon on the Mount would strongly discourage. At length, Jesus warned against taking vows and swearing. Let your "yes" be "yes." Anything beyond that comes from the evil one, who would add hypocrisy onto your other sins.
This is the big vow: "Till death do us part..." Taken as a hope, that's a good statement. Taken as a commitment, only a tentative statement, knowing that you don't know the future or the whole picture (of yourself, let alone another). Taken as a moral imperative, a potentially deadly statement. How many beaten wives (or murdered husbands) thought they had to stay in the marriage at all costs? How many uncaring spouses have used that promise as a platinum credit card against which they can amass emotional debt at the other person's expense, never considering their own need to change?
"What God has joined together, let no man tear asunder." Now those are the words of Jesus (in an early English translation). The obvious meaning is that the man—especially the man in a culture where men own their wives as long as they find them useful—should not leave the wife. Don't do it, man. However, other "men" can tear asunder. Other men can destroy a marriage—child abusing fathers, rapists, adulterers, and bad counselors. Let not those men tear apart a marriage.
Remarriage? Certainly don't consider it without fully owning one's contributions to the failed marriage, even if the major contribution was choosing the wrong person—and the contributions usually extend beyond that.
The result of divorce, according to Jesus, is worded this way: "If you divorce, you cause your wife to commit adultery." Here is adultery in its most naked form: the moving from one body to another, from a husband to a different man. If the wife cannot have her husband, for one reason or another beyond her control, and if she will have a man (which the words imply), she must go outside her marriage.
The same is true with husbands who cannot save their marriages. If they cannot have their wife, and will have another woman, they will move to a different body, which is an adulterous situation, although it wasn't at their instigation. There is no sidestepping these words.
Divorce is messy, and those divorced who seek a new union may be free from guilt but not from the recognition that their choices in life failed them. They are asking for mercy, for a second chance after having declared spousal bankruptcy, whatever the reasons. Remarriage is a likely trajectory of divorce—the words in this passage do not imply that all will be eunuchs.
If these words of Jesus are mitigated by anything, it is by some other words he spoke—that any man who looks upon a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If we allow (as in other cases) for this to work across the gender lines, this statement puts a mark of adultery on many if not most the people we know, single, married, and remarried. This excruciating standard, like much of the Sermon on the Mount seems to have one goal, and that is to urge us to "Walk humbly, love mercy, and act justly," leaving the final judgments to the all-seeing judge.