By Joel A. Hess –
A couple of years ago, Pope Francis announced that it would be easier for people to have their marriages annulled.
In 2016, Pope Francis released his Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, “The Gentle Judge, our Lord Jesus, the Shepherd of Souls.” In this document, the leader of Rome makes it clearer and easier for couples to get an annulment. Many hailed this as a merciful move in line with many kinder gentler changes coming from Vatican.
At first it does sound “gospely” to the rest of Christendom and I suppose to anyone else who is paying attention. He seems to say all the right things such as, “The new norms imbue the search for truth with the mercy of God. Mercy is based on truth and the new process is just as thorough as the former one in establishing the truth as to whether or not a marriage is invalid.”
“Marriage invalid?” you ask? Why yes, the Roman church does not believe in divorce. It’s wrong. Sound good so far? Indeed, Christians should take a hard line on divorce in this no-fault divorce age. Plenty of pastors seem to turn a blind eye to couples divorcing, remarrying, ruining kids’ lives and fa-la-la-ling down the road like everything is fine. Divorce is a sin and certainly not a victimless one at that. Lord, have mercy.
Yet we get divorces, don’t we? Sometimes way too much water has gone under the bridge for a couple to reconcile. Moses allowed for it, but as Jesus explains in chapter 5 of Matthew, it doesn’t make it right or righteous. Jesus calls it a sin even if it’s “legal.” There’s no wiggle room for Jesus. Want to feel unrighteous? Listen to Jesus. He often makes you feel like a worm.
So what do we do with our divorces? If they are sins and they make us unrighteous and we need to be righteous, what’s the answer? Well, it’s extremely obvious if you listen to Jesus and the New Testament writers. But if you want to listen to someone else, listen to the Pope.
In order to get rid of this sin of divorce, one can just pretend it never happened! That’s right. You aren’t divorced. The marriage was never valid in the first place. They will get their best men on it to try to find somewhere somehow something was done incorrectly in the proceedings and marriage. This definitely used to be quite a Kafkaesque ordeal. I wrote a couple different letters to various priests for friends vouching for their character etc. It also included a little money! Seriously, indulgences were nothing compared to this.
But now Pope Francis declares that he is making it much easier. He calls this grace. Jesus isn’t a jerk. He is a gentle judge. Oh, they are still going to hammer you with the Law, but they will be nicer and kinder!
The problem is that Rome is trying to justify people by making the Law easier. That’s why they have the annulment. Sinners can’t go to heaven, and they certainly can’t take communion. So what is a sinner to do? What’s a divorced person’s hope for righteousness? In order to justify people, Rome needs to move the laws around, invent excuses, pull some bureaucratic levers. Poof! It never really happened. It doesn’t matter how easy you make it. Just because you make it easier than ever to order a burger from McDonald’s doesn’t mean you still aren’t charging people for burgers!
Jesus has provided a wonderful solution for those troubled by divorce and every sin. It isn’t a kinder, gentler legal system; it’s complete and free forgiveness. Jesus didn’t die so it would be easier to follow the Law but to free us from the Law! Otherwise He died for nothing. We don’t need to pretend we have good reasons for divorce or any sin or struggle we have endured. We can be honest about it. We can call it what it is. Jesus doesn’t want our righteousness or our pretend righteousness. He wants our sins. When a church helps people justify themselves in any way except by the blood of Christ, that Church robs God’s people of the joy and peace of Christ.
We all do it, though. I get it. Like Adam, I too try to justify myself before God. I blame others for my faults. I come up with reasons for my failures. I downplay my sin, compare with others, and come up with degrees of sins. It’s a lot of work, really.
So Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” That rest only comes from the words, “I forgive you.” It only comes from knowing your sin is blotted out for good – not from pretending it never happened.
You are forgiven!