Thursday, June 16, 2011

Better Not to Marry

Matthew 19:1-9 (ESV)
Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. [2] And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
[3] And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" [4] He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, [5] and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh'? [6] So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." [7] They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" [8] He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. [9] And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."
“Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so and I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
What always strikes me about this passage is the male prerogative that it assumes. It was written to a culture in which it was the man’s, not the woman’s prerogative to divorce. For this reason malicious abandonment is not addressed as Paul does later in 1 Corinthians. The abandonment is the divorce in essence. But here Jesus is speaking to a culture where it was the man’s prerogative to leave, women in only very extreme cases would be allowed to divorce, and their father’s would have to represent them in court for that, I believe. If they wanted a divorce they had to make life miserable enough for their husbands that he would give them the certificate so they could leave. But there was not concept that the woman would actually in any legal sense divorce her husband. I doubt that this culture was much different than our own though when it came to divorce. Though it was not in the woman’s best interest to divorce.
Actually it just isn’t in the best interest of anyone to divorce. People seem to think it is the easy way out, and somehow it is going to make them happy again. Studies show that divorce tends to make people unhappy. As a rule, it doesn’t improve finances, for either party. So it’s funny that financial difficulty seems to be one of the primary motivators for divorce.
I have heard a lot of people tell me that their divorce did make them happier. I wonder if they are confused though. Sure my life became a bit more livable when the papers were signed and the deed was done. Divorce though did not make me happy. And here is where there is a double standard in marriage and divorce. The marriage is always said to be more than a piece of paper. In fact it is argued by many that they don’t need that piece of paper. But when you mention divorce, automatically it is assumed you are talking about the piece of paper that gave you freedom from a bad relationship, and not the breakdown of that relationship that was your marriage.
Matthew 19:10-12 (ESV)
The disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." [11] But he said to them, "Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. [12] For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it."
“If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” Somehow you get the impression that the disciples knew the harder realities of marriage, that marriage isn’t always an easy thing, and that it can test a person’s patience. The disciples were quite worldly it seems. It would just be best not to marry, it would at least be easier on the man.
Unfortunately, too many today take this advice, at least partially. They don’t marry. They are afraid of divorce. This wouldn’t be so bad, but they still attempt to enjoy the benefits of marriage without the responsibilities. Biblically speaking it is doubtful that Jesus would mark any difference between their relationship and a marriage, though there is that discourse with the Samaritan woman, which means Jesus at least understood that the world made a distinction. But then Jesus didn’t view her situation as any less sinful. Jesus indicates that he would have had her be married even after the divorces. I’ll tackle that one when I get there though.
The point is, avoiding a legal marriage because you want to avoid a legal divorce is not alleviating any of the problems, and is really quite silly from a moral perspective. It is no less a divorce when two people shacked up, break up and take up separate leases. It has the same devastating effects on children if there are any. Neither does it insure a solid marriage should the shacked up couple decide to get marriage. Studies actually show that this weakens the odds of success. Why wouldn’t it? The idea that you are going to see if you are compatible before getting married rather, than working to be compatible afterwards is a recipe for disaster. Everyone knows how to pass a test. But once you get married the test is over, or so the silly people think. That’s actually when the test begins.
In any case, Jesus doesn’t quite disagree with the disciples, knowing the sinful nature of man. But Jesus brings out a bigger reality, it would only be better if you were a eunuch. Paul says it is a gift. Jesus says some make themselves Eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom. That has got to be a tough thing to do if it isn’t a gift.


Scottydog said...

So, putting aside the theory and getting down to practicality, would you refuse the sacrament of the altar to one who is remarried to another spouse after a divorce? If not, how can we justify it? Are there criteria. Let's assume that the first marriage was between believers so that we don't have the exception Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians.

This is a very difficult piece of scripture because any answer seems to require legalistic gymnastics, which runs counter to much of what Jesus talks about elsewhere.

Bror Erickson said...

Scotty Dog,
I commune myself. Does that answer your question? If the person is repentant, that is the criteria.
In the end there is only forgiveness.

Scottydog said...

Sorry about it getting personal. I guess that's the nature of blogging.

I tend to agree with you and I would rather err on the side of commune, rather than not commune. I just wondered because for a lawyer, such as myself, we thrive on questions like this where we can make all kinds of rules and exceptions to rules, but my own pastor suffers with this issue intensely. He has a child to whom he refuses the sacrament, and I agree, although her situation is slightly different. But it hurts me to see him agonize over this.

Although in a perfect world we would not have pastors who have gone through divorce themselves, in a prefect world we would not have divorces. It's good that we do have a pastors that experience life and can make a case by case determination.