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

5 thoughts on “So can I get divorced or not?

  1. Nice to see “Jagged Word” writers tackling issues that need to be addressed, like divorce, and doing it in a realistic way. These are the types of discussions Christians need to confront. I like the fact that the exposition has an uplifting message here, leading us to grace and Our Lord Jesus.

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  2. Pastor Hess,

    “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.”

    Amen. We all agree.

    Now let’s talk turkey.

    The other day, I linked to Paul Koch’s article from this blog on this topic (https://thejaggedword.com/2018/10/07/what-god-has-joined-together/) with the caption:

    “In today’s confessional Lutheran world, there is increasingly no such thing as unjust, or if you prefer, impermissible divorce. All divorces aren’t the same of course, but details don’t really matter.”

    Your article: In effect, by framing matters this way, you are saying to the man or woman who has been cheated on, who has had their heart torn out and who forgives but can’t continue to live with that person – that they are wrong. That they need see that they are wrong, be broken, and receive Him. Really. Then, of course, they will *really forgive* like Jesus.

    No. You get the part about how divorce is never supposed to happen and how none of us can follow the law. Many of us get this. But I’m not sure you appreciate the weight of Jesus’s “except…”

    “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?”

    No. That’s not all people really want to know.

    +Nathan

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  3. Aside from repentance of the log in our own eye (in the cases of divorce in sustained abuse – physical/substance/faithfulness/etc. – we can lead our brothers & sisters to repentance, but we cannot make them drink. Therein, to me, lies the pain – lack of repentance.

    Are our responsibilities the same as husband/wife, pastors, the church, Christians… to wipe the dust from our feet, treat them as a Gentile…?

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  4. I have a friend who is. Christian, she gas been one for a long time. She just divorced for the 4th or 5th time, I’ve lost count if her marriages /divorces. But I know it’s at least 4. The last marriage was to a man she met at church, it lasted less than a year. Since he wasn’t doing things her way she said he wasn’t being a good spiritual head if the house so the marriage wasn’t “honoring God”. By the way her pastor at her church married them. Sorry but what kind of pastor performs a marriage knowing of the multiple divorces, none on Biblical grounds. But hey all is forgiven so carry on, next….

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  5. Men (and Cindy and Hillary)

    Since my last comment above did not get a reply, I’m back. Sorry if I’m a pain in the butt, but really, I think some people need a voice against the approach you push on this blog.

    I said above: “Your article: In effect, by framing matters this way, you are saying to the man or woman who has been cheated on, who has had their heart torn out and who forgives but can’t continue to live with that person – that they are wrong. That they need see that they are wrong, be broken, and receive Him. Really. Then, of course, they will *really forgive* like Jesus.”

    Here is a comment that was left on the blog of a man affiliated with the whole 1517 Network. Just ask yourself: what is it about what we are confessing and professing that would make a person feel like s/he needs to leave a comment like this?

    2018-10-11_0504

    Again, “I’m not sure you appreciate the weight of Jesus’s “except…””

    Someone wrote a pseudonymous post at my own blog, theology like a child, called “The Truth About Being A Prodigal and Why You Never Want to be One”. I urge you to read it if you haven’t already. It touches on all this stuff and think it is a genuinely compassionate and pastoral response to the conflicts about the law that we face in our Synod.

    Pax Christi,
    Nathan

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