I enjoy reading about the things that Jesus said, because I feel that even in Christian circles the following verse is misunderstood. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (verses 31-32). Jesus is referring here to Moses’s law on divorce. And here we have the main source of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus was/is the ultimate authority on morality. The Pharisees held Moses as the ultimate authority on morality, and they weren’t necessarily wrong, but Jesus trumped Moses because he was God and Moses was merely a servant of God. I wish Moses could’ve just shown up and pointed to Jesus as the Messiah. I believe it would’ve removed the blindness the Pharisees chose to have when viewing Jesus. Later on in Scripture, when the Pharisees came to Jesus speaking about this Mosaic law, Jesus says the reason Moses gave this law was due to “the hardness of heart” (Matthew 19:8). It seems as though God frequently has a divine standard, but humans just can’t live up to that standard. Is this unfair? I don’t believe so. We’ve just substituted our own standard for God’s. That may sound terrible, but think about it. Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce. Though I’m unsure of the circumstances in each marriage, I can’t believe that all of those divorces come on the grounds of sexual immorality. So people are getting divorced for reasons that aren’t acceptable to God. But let’s dig into that issue a bit. Why should sexual immorality be the only reason to get divorced? And why do we consider marriage sacred? Similar to my last post, I believe it to be due to the fact that we’ve strayed so far from God’s intention for marriage. So let’s look into His original design for marriage.
It’s time to take a trip back to the Garden of Eden, very far removed from the time that Jesus is speaking at. The first verse I want to look at is Genesis 1:28. “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on earth’” (verse 28). To me, this verse speaks strongly as to what constitutes a marriage: A man and a woman in a relationship where they can bear offspring. Now I understand that God never uses the word marriage here. But I don’t think it a coincidence that the first relationship that existed between two humans was between a man and a woman. To me, this brings up the issue of homosexuality. I have a friend who doesn’t like the Bible because he says God is too homophobic. I understand why people have an issue with the Bible’s stance on homosexuality, but I think Christians have done a poor job explaining to people the real issue with homosexuality: homosexuals can’t bear children. “But they can adopt!” Right, but where are those children coming from? A relationship between a man and a woman! I’m not trying to label homosexuality. I can’t speak to other people’s experiences. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to be in a relationship and not be able to have children, whether a homosexual or heterosexual couple. But I think we were uniquely designed as opposite genders by God to have children as a man and a woman. Look at the way this verse begins, with a blessing from God. God wanted humanity to increase and spread, and I still believe that to be the case. And I think God designed us anatomically so that His original design for childbearing for that special kind of relationship would only be extended to men and women in a relationship with one another. I understand people might not like that and that it seems exclusive. But I don’t question God’s grand design. I think He knew that specifically for childbearing, men and women would have to come together in unity and bring out the others best qualities in order that that child may have a good quality of life. I’ve done a poor job of it, but this is what I believe to be one important characteristic of marriage as intended by God: that it occur between a man and a woman, in order to at least have the potential blessing of bearing children.
My next characteristic speaks to the longevity and quality of marriage, found in Genesis 1:24. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” I think most people know the beginning and end of this verse, but they forget the middle part, hold fast to his wife. And this is where I bring it back to Jesus’s thoughts. Jesus and God the Father wanted marriage to last. And I believe they wanted it to last a lifetime. This isn’t a conditional command in Genesis. It doesn’t have a list of escape clauses or issues that would make the marriage contract voidable. It kind of makes me sad to think of God’s intention and desire for marriage, and the mess we’ve made of it all. Marriage has become a joke in our society, a place where two people live in a kind of mutual tolerance for one another. Not all marriages are like this, but many are. I submit the divorce rate as proof. Tolerance doesn’t lead to sustainable marriage. Because tolerance is selfish. But look at how a marriage is described in this verse, as two people becoming one flesh. Can you imagine if men and women joined together in marriage treated the other person as they would themselves? It goes back to the Golden Rule. God didn’t want us to go into marriage expecting happiness; God created marriage so that we could learn to serve each other and work hard to make the other person happy. That is a tough thing to accomplish! It’s tough to serve people on a day to day basis, but imagine doing that for decades in a marriage. No wonder the divorce rate is so high. It kind of makes me laugh thinking about marriage, because men and women can be so different, and yet God obviously wanted us to be joined together in relationship and have children together. God knew it was going to be challenging for us, and I think that’s why He created it, He wanted us to be pushed out of our gender specific comfort zones and societal norms and serve our husbands and wives. Because similar to our transformative sanctification, marriage done correctly transforms men and women and brings out the best characteristics in a united and joint effort to make one another happy in submission to God. It’s really quite a beautiful idea, and unfortunately, because of our selfishness, it rarely translates into how marriages actually exist.
Now that we’ve looked at some characteristics of marriage, let’s go back to the verses about divorce. No wonder Jesus didn’t want people to get divorced. Look at the divine design for marriage. If you created the most beautiful relationship that could possibly exist between two people on earth, one in which people learned to truly love each other and serve one another and raise children while learning together, but people were getting married for selfish reasons and then divorcing for selfish reasons, wouldn’t you be frustrated too? Our marriage system fails so frequently because God designed something beautiful and all He asked for was commitment to an ideal of servitude, and we refuse to budge from our platforms of selfishness. We only seek our own happiness. By going back to the Garden of Eden, I see that God’s intention for marriage is incredibly different from man’s intention for marriage. God’s is so much better and beautiful, and Jesus knew that. His idea was not to create loopholes for marriage; it was that men and women would really examine themselves to see if they were dedicated to serving their husbands and wives in unselfish ways. And this would lead to men and women really becoming one flesh, because this servitude would bring them closer to each other. What I learn from looking at marriage through a Biblical lens is this: similar to Christianity, marriage is tough. But the reason it’s made even harder is because we’ve strayed from its original intent, which is to serve. Jesus wasn’t about the easy way out. He was about heartfelt commitment which would translate to transformative lives and marriages benefiting from the enduring longevity of looking towards God’s eternality and loving design for relationship.