Monday, November 23, 2015

How to read the Bible (part 1, maybe)

3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
This is Matthew 19, of course, and it's one of several passages where divorce is addressed. Interestingly, in Matthew 5, when Jesus talks about divorce during the Sermon on the Mount, he mentions the sexual immorality clause, but in the corresponding verses in Mark and Luke, that is left out.

I am NOT a fan of "I'm not happy" divorces. There have been some of those in my family and among acquaintances. It seems like people sometimes just wake up in the morning and say "I want out" and despite their spouse's pleading, won't articulate any specific problem and won't go to counseling. Among the people I can think of that that has happened to, they're about evenly split between the men and the women.

Sometimes the spouse has articulated a grievance, and the other dismisses it until it's too late. It's sad when that happens, and the offending spouse promises to go to counseling and the whole nine yards - and maybe does go - but the offended spouse just has no love left. That still doesn't make it all right, of course, but one could wish that the offending spouse had not been quite so closed-minded about his/her faults.

I think part of the picture is what the disciples touch on here - if it's that grim maybe people just shouldn't get married. Definitely engaged couples should understand that they are in it for the long haul, and "for better or for worse" isn't just a phrase we say b/c it sounds nice. I am willing to bet that the number of starry-eyed lovers who believe what they're told, that the day will come when they are so mad at their loved one they could kill him/her, could be counted on one hand. But still, you enter marriage hopefully understanding that there will be bumps and you have to cling together and get through them.

All that to say this:

When you look at this passage in Matthew, if you were to pick one of these as being more central to Jesus's point than the other, which would it be?

1 - It's wrong to make up reasons why it's OK to divorce frivolously. God takes marriage very seriously. Don't try to weasel out of your commitments.

2 - Let me present to you an exhaustive and comprehensive list of acceptable reasons to divorce. Whoops, there's only one.

Things can happen nowadays that simply weren't possible 2000 years ago. Suppose your spouse has been rightfully convicted of serial murder and has been imprisoned for life w/o parole. You have little children to raise. Are you doomed to being a single parent, and your children doomed to growing up in a single-parent household, just because your killer spouse never committed adultery? How could Jesus have addressed this? They didn't imprison people like that. A serial killer would simply have been put to death, freeing his/her spouse to remarry.

Once you open that door, then there you are. When is divorce OK? When is it not?

I think ... I think ... that rather than to try to find ways to shoehorn specific exceptions to the no-divorce rule, like abandonment is OK b/c Paul said ... and abuse is a kind of abandonment ... the thing to do is to try to get at the purpose behind all of this, which is to say that once you've married somebody you shouldn't try to get out of your marriage unless you have a truly drastic reason. Yes, that can be abused. OTOH it's not right to put unbearable burdens on people for no good reason, especially if we're not the ones who will ever have to carry them.

Is anyone else willing to touch this with a nine-foot pole?

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