So can I get divorced or not?

By Joel A. Hess

That’s really all you want to know, right? What’s the rule, Pastor? What can I do? What can’t I do? Just tell me, and I’ll do it. Just say it. Or, is this is a good reason? What if he does this? What if she does that?

This is not an unusual conversation that confronts a pastor at least a couple times a year. How often I have had a man or woman tell me they wish their spouse either cheated on them or beat them so they would have a good reason for divorce. 

So it shouldn’t surprise us that the Pharisees wanted to test Jesus with the same question. It was likely a big debate back then as it is now. Like most of their questions, these experts in the law figured Jesus would be stuck having to give an answer that will make one side of the debate angry, thus diminishing his popularity.

But they probably really wanted to know too. Some of them were divorced and they wanted to make sure they weren’t sinners because of it. The Pharisees truly wanted to do what was right. They wanted to follow the rules just right. And they had the masses looking to them for answers as well.

They didn’t ask whether divorce was right or wrong. They asked if it was “lawful.” Is there a legal route one could take that would result in a divorce but not be unlawful? They were concerned about being legal. They confused righteousness with legality. They confused a good public image with being right with God.

So Jesus’ answer kind of surprised them. Divorce is wrong—period. He then goes to the root of the matter, creation. No law can change that or make it better. Moses’ allowance for divorce didn’t make it right and certainly didn’t make a man or woman righteous. It only allowed for a peaceful way of negotiating between a rock and a hard place.

Divorce is wrong—period. There is no getting around it. It’s not supposed to happen.

How many preachers avoid preaching on this text as they look out at their audience full of divorcees and mixed marriages? Oh, I get it. How many times do pastors do the pastor dance to avoid allowing Jesus’ words to have any sting? Somehow we just don’t want Jesus’ words to be left without verbal gymnastics.

Most of us tend to think we need to water the Law down to make it swallowable. Unless, of course, we are talking about someone we don’t like! So preachers wink their eye and say, “Jesus was really just talking to men who divorced their wives for no reason.” Or, Jesus didn’t know the crazy hardship your marriage is going through. We like to do this with all of God’s laws because we think we are being compassionate. Like the Pharisees who made up all sorts of extra loop holes and laws to get around the Law, we think we are being loving by making the Law easier to do!

If we can dilute or soften the harsh right or wrong of God’s Word, then people will not be so afraid of God. God loves you. Surely He isn’t a stickler.

That would be absolutely true, and the Pharisees would be absolutely correct if following the Law was the only way to being righteous in God’s eyes. I would look for every loophole in the book. I would be like Johnny Cochrane in God’s court if I had to depend on my righteousness to enter heaven.

Jesus steps on that wiggly little lawyer pharisee snake in all of us like Khabib strangling McGregor in the big UFC fight a couple days ago. It is wrong to divorce your wife. Man literally is not given the right to separate a marriage!

But you can’t wiggle out of it. You’re dead. Be silent. Stop trying to justify yourself, your divorce, your remarriage, etc.

You don’t need to.

You don’t need to.

You don’t need to.

You don’t need to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. You won’t. You can’t. Go ahead and try. You should, but you won’t.

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law” (Romans 3:19-20a).

You will never be righteous by doing everything right or avoiding everything wrong.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24).

Time and time again, Jesus slams people down with the Law. Slams them down. Shuts their mouths. They didn’t like being called sinners, so they killed him.

Worse than killing Jesus is when we make Him into a new gentle and kinder law giver. Worse than cursing at Him as He hung on the tree is when we play the Pharisee to Jesus’ words and make all these new loopholes to fulfilling God’s command.

We can let Jesus’ words about divorce rip us of all our merits because He has given us His own merit! He has given us His righteousness.

For those who are divorced, you have something better than your excuses and good reasons. You have Jesus’ forgiveness! You don’t need His acceptance because you have His body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.

You don’t need to find space in His words that make you feel awful, because you have His words that say, “It is finished!”

Stop trying to turn Christianity back into a rule-following OCD religion like every other religion. Stop trying to water down God’s Law to make yourself feel better. It won’t work.

Instead, Jesus says something better, “Come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest!”

Come to me, all you who are divorced, all you who are scared about judgment day, all you who know deep down you can’t make it right, all you who are tired of managing your sins and counting your sins and categorizing your sins, and I will give you rest!

So to your question, “Jesus is it OK that I am divorced?” Wrong question. “Jesus, am I forgiven?” Yes.

Lord have mercy on us all